Wednesday, February 26, 2014

New Girl 3x17 "Sister II" (You STILL Can't Choose Your Family)

"Sister II"
Original Airdate: February 25, 2014

I’ll admit something to you right now that I’ve probably admitted before and will definitely admit again: I’m a lot like Jessica Day and a lot like Annie Edison. I’m a fixer. I like to fix people. And that’s not to say that I believe myself to be better than everyone else or that I think I have all the right answers. It’s just… I long for people to be the way that I want them to be. I want them to act according to their age and potential; I want them to make the “right” decisions. I want them to be better. I want them to be fixed. I think this part of my personality derives directly from my slight compulsion for perfection. I like things to be neat and well-ordered, so it makes sense that I want my relationships to be the same way. But here’s the problem: people aren’t toys to be fixed or pawns to be improved upon. I learned that the hard way when I got into a relationship with a guy who wasn’t where I wanted him to be emotionally. I thought that if I just spent enough time with him and influenced him, then he would change. As if people can change because I will them to, right? People change when they want to change, not when I want them to. It’s a truth I have had to learn the hard way and it’s something that Jess learns in “Sister II” in regards to her relationship with Abby. Abby is a mess. She makes Nick look like the most responsible human on the planet and makes Schmidt look like the most selfless person alive. She’s a train wreck and I think it’s just because she’s bored. I think she acts the way that she does and treats people the way that she does because she knows that she CAN; because her life is an endless ring of screwing up and then leaving that mess behind to go face a new mess or adventure.

Nick is actually the one to deliver the hard truth in the episode though. It’s one thing for the show to contrast Abby and Jess’ behavior, which I think that it does rather well. I’m glad that the presence of Abby has not only illuminated her character but also the characters within the loft. But what I loved about “Sister II” was that the “point” of the episode wasn’t that Jess suddenly accepts her sister’s behavior or that Abby suddenly changes and becomes less selfish. That would be a quick, tropey sitcom fix to a situation that is much more complex. I admire that New Girl didn’t try to wrap a bow on the relationship and resolve everything. What I truly loved about “Sister II” was that the truth Nick presented the sisters with was this: neither of them was honest with the another. And since they both avoided confrontation, a complex web of lies and deceit and manipulation enveloped both sisters, Nick, and Schmidt in the process. Actions have consequences, but similarly INACTIONS also have consequences. It’s a truth that threads its way into our B-story this episode, too, when Winston tries to prolong checking his entrance examinations core for the LAPD. But before we get to all of that good stuff, let’s talk briefly about the episode’s plot, shall we?

I really enjoyed Ryan Koh and Luvh Rakhe’s episode and their writing style (both have written some of my favorite episodes) because I feel like they both manage to balance A/B stories very well and always have such a good grasp on characters like Nick and Winston. “Sister II” was an interesting episode though. I really enjoyed the comedy and the character development throughout, but it felt a bit disjointed and it took me a while to determine exactly WHY, but I think I realize what it was: there were too many different settings throughout the episode, so it felt like we were bouncing from place to pace. To rattle them off, we had: the loft (both the kitchen/living room scenes and Nick’s room), the museum, Schmidt’s apartment, Jess and Cece’s apartment-hunting adventure, the coffee shop, the gym, and the police station. Those are a LOT of places to bounce between within the course of one episode and it made “Sister II” feel a bit more disjointed than most episodes, not truly allowing time for the audience to settle in one location before being transported to another.

Nevertheless, I really DID enjoy this episode and the development of these characters. The episode opens with Nick, Winston, Coach, Schmidt, and Abby playing a newly invented game where they throw knives at the ceiling and watch them stick, blade side into the ceiling. Jess is a little less than thrilled about the new game called “Sky Knife” and gets tackled by Nick just in time before one falls on or near her. (This game is just a tiny example of how irresponsible Abby really is and how she doesn’t quite think things through before she does them.) The entire loft gang, including Schmidt, has taken to Abby though. They enjoy her games and the fact that she messes with Jess. But Jess, the responsible sister, sees Abby for what she is: an earthquake that manages to inflict chaos wherever she goes. And perhaps it’s because Jess is so close to Abby, being a blood relative or perhaps it’s because everyone in the loft wants to have fun and relax every once in a while, but Coach and Winston and Schmidt – and even Nick to an extent – find Abby to be entertaining. But then Abby drops a miniature bomb on Jess and the rest of the loft: she’s been enjoying her stay so much that she wants to live in the loft. Permanently.

It’s interesting that in episodes titled with “Sister,” we actually learn more about our loft characters and their flaws and faults than we do about Abby herself. We don’t know how old she is or what her past is like. We don’t know much about her, apart from the fact that she seems reckless and carefree. I still chalk that up to Abby being bored with her life. And I understand this – in “Sister,” the young woman expressed discontent with her life and with having to return to Portland; she lamented having to move back to the place she fought so hard to get out of. What I gather from “Sister II” about Abby isn’t much more: I don’t know anything concrete about her, but I don’t think I NEED to, necessarily. I see how she impacts people. I see how she affects strangers. I see how she frustrates Jess and I see how she manipulates Nick. I see how she treats Schmidt and messes with Winston’s head. So perhaps New Girl is doing something right in not providing an extensive background of Abby. I understand exactly who she is just by seeing the impact that she has on those around her.

Speaking of Abby having an impact on Winston, the latter is sitting at the table awaiting the results from his LAPD entrance examination when Abby enters and (surprisingly) praises him for being so calm and cool under pressure, since he’s about to receive potentially life-changing news. Winston explains that he’s actually not a calm individual and really is a choker – he chokes during important moments. It’s then that Abby either accidentally or purposefully makes Winston even more nervous by explaining that if his score isn’t passing, he’s essentially going to be defined as a failure. The moment he checks his score is the moment his life is going to be defined by either success or failure. And Winston… avoids that at all costs by running away. (Our loft characters are pretty good at this, actually.)

Meanwhile, Jess confronts Nick about Abby moving in with them and her boyfriend refuses to be placed in the middle of Abby and Jess’ confrontation. I love so much that Nick was the one to suggest that Jess just confront her sister about not moving into the loft and resolve their issues. Nick Miller suggested confrontation. Nick Miller suggested discussing feelings. Let’s just all take a moment and let that sink in, okay? (You beautiful white man, Nick Miller, and your beautiful character development.) Instead of listening to her boyfriend, Jess insists that Abby will never listen to what she says and will always try to do the opposite. I have a sister like this, so I can relate. However, Jess’ solution is to attempt reverse psychology on Abby – Jess is going to find a nice apartment and make Abby think it was her idea to move in there. And somehow (it wasn’t very difficult) Jess manages to convince Nick to help distract Abby for the day while she looks for apartments.

At Coach’s gym, the man has just wrapped up a session with an attractive young woman and is flirting away… just as Winston enters and informs his roommate that he booked him for an all-day session. Winston needs a win and he’s distracting himself from a potential loss by avoiding losing altogether. Let’s think about it this way: Winston is at a low point in his life and it takes Abby to make him realize exactly how much is riding on the entrance examination scores. He’s lost his girlfriend, his job, and possibly his cat within the last year and it’s beginning to take a toll on his self-esteem. Coach knows what Winston is up to, mostly because Nick texted him about it, but since Winston paid to train with Coach for the entire day, that is what they do.

Speaking of Nick, the man is trying to distract Abby at a car museum for the day, but Abby already knows what’s happening. (“You can’t lie to a liar,” Nick had warned Jess earlier that afternoon) and demands that he fess up. But Nick’s allegiance lies with his girlfriend so he feigns innocence and Abby demands answers, climbing atop one of the cars and refusing to move until Nick reveals Jess’ plan. And even when he does, Abby remains on the hood of the car, refusing to move. Meanwhile, Jess and Cece hit the jackpot in apartment-hunting when they find the perfect Abby-proofed place to live.

Back at the museum, Nick becomes desperate and calls the one person he knows can deal with crazy women: Schmidt. The man then explains to Nick how exactly to handle a crazy women. In short, they cannot take any of Abby’s nonsense. So Schmidt shoots straight with Abby, tells her to look at him and invites her to go and get a taco, and the pair leave the museum with a befuddled Nick Miller in their wake. At the gym, meanwhile, Winston is blocking all attempts at Coach sealing the deal with his attractive client. Feeling intensely frustrated, Coach grabs Winston’s phone and checks his entrance examination score for the man. Winston protests and Coach freezes upon reading the score. Winston failed. And though he tries to pass it off as something that’s unimportant, you feel a twang of pain for the man who really just needed some good news, some indication that things are looking up. You see it in Coach’s face, too. I really loved the Coach/Winston story and have actually quite enjoyed their dynamic ever since “Birthday.” There’s a mutual respect there that is palpable, even when they’re bickering. And Coach feels bad for Winston, just as we do.

At the apartment complex, Nick barges into Schmidt’s place, inquiring where Abby was… and stumbles upon Schmidt and Jess’ sister in a compromising situation. As it turns out, Schmidt revoked his no-nonsense policy to sleep with Abby because Schmidt needs a win, too, or at least something that makes him feel in control again. Remember this entire season, how the man was so focused on himself and his own wants and desires that he sabotaged two of his relationships? Recall the failed attempts at hook-ups he has had since. In an interesting turn of events, Schmidt is the one who is going to get his heart and soul demolished by Abby – usually it’s the other way around. And I love this role reversal. I love that we get the sense that this might blow up in Schmidt’s face and ABBY is the aggressor.

Winston and Coach are sitting outside of a coffee shop, discussing how Winston choked and is lamenting his failures. Coach actually gives Winston sound advice: he should apply for a job at the coffee shop. Once he receives that job and begins working, he’ll feel like some semblance of his life is back on track and then can apply for the entrance examination. Coach pinpoints Winston’s weakness: the man lacks self-confidence. If his confidence can be boosted even a little bit, it’ll propel Winston toward success in greater areas. There’s only one flaw in Coach’s plan and that’s the fact that Winston overthinks everything (hey, another similarity between him and the rest of the loft characters!), which is why he chokes. And he hilariously chokes at the coffee shop interview. It’s bad. Like… bad. Coach is there to witness how bad it is and tries to help, but then the pair realize that Winston’s problem may not be that he chokes but that he’s careless. So they head off to the precinct to determine whether or not Winston forgot to fill out the back half of the entrance examination.

At the loft, Jess encourages Nick to continue to lie to Abby and insists that they’ll have dinner with her and make her believe that moving out of the loft and into a new apartment is her own idea. Nick withholds the truth about Abby and Schmidt and the fact that he told Abby the plan earlier in the afternoon and agrees to dinner. Later that night, Abby invites Schmidt over just to make Nick sweat (Jess has no idea the two slept together) and attempts to get him to crack. And Nick DOES crack, revealing Schmidt and Abby’s escapades to Jess and also that he let her plan slip to Abby. But what bothers Nick the most is that everyone spent the entire day lying – that HE spent the entire day lying – when it could have all been prevented by Jess and Abby just talking to each other like adults.

So Jess concedes and explains to Abby that all she wants is what is best for her sister. As an addendum, the brunette adds: “Because someone has to.” Abby then accuses Jess of wanting to fix people because she thinks that she is better than everyone else. And while she initially disagrees, Jess snaps back with the real reason that she doesn’t want Abby to live in the loft: the woman is selfish and doesn’t care or think about how her actions will affect others. In fact, Jess goes so far as to tell Abby that she doesn’t even CARE about other people and that all she cares about is herself. Abby is a bit taken aback by Jess’ honesty, but quickly recovers by explaining that she’s just going to live with Schmidt. This is, of course, Abby’s way of both being rebellious in being with someone Jess doesn’t want her to be with and also by being spiteful.

At the precinct, Winston learns that there was no back side to his entrance examination which means that he just failed. As he leaves, defeated, Coach stops him and gives him a pep talk that begins less-than-peppy. He explains that Winston failed and he failed hard at pretty much everything BUT that only means he’s hit the bottom and life can only get better. He can pull himself back up and doesn’t have to be afraid to fail anymore. He’s failed the most he’s probably ever going to fail. And this is what spurs Winston toward a re-examination appointment for the LAPD. (Have I mentioned how much I love Coach/Winston stories?)

In Nick’s room back at the loft, Jess thanks Nick for his honesty and for trying to help her out in her relationship with Abby. The couple then discusses their dysfunctional families which was such a brilliant and much-needed moment between Nick and Jess. These are two people who are a bit broken themselves, but who have managed to break free from their family dysfunction for the most part and become “the sane ones.” I utterly loved this moment because it puts Nick and Jess on equal footing. A lot of the series was devoted to Nick struggling to learn how to become an adult and Jess taking care of everyone in the loft.

But gradually, New Girl has become a series focused on an apartment full of broken people whose lives aren’t perfect but who are learning to love and live and just be better in spite of their brokenness. And through the power of relationships and friendships, these people HAVE become better versions of themselves. They’re still a bit crazy and they’re still imperfect, but if I’m honest, THESE are the type of people I want to see on a weekly basis.

Four for you, New Girl. Four for you.

Additional de-lovely aspects about the episode:
  • I really love Linda Cardellini’s guest stint in this show. She’s such a perfect balance to Jess’ demeanor.
  • “Good save, Nick. Good save.”
  • “She’s wanted in Canada. CANADA. No one’s wanted in Canada.”
  • Cece monologuing in the apartment was the actual best.
  • “Do you really think the ‘k’ adds to the sound of your name?”
  • “It’s like the Winston of pep talks.”
Thank you all for taking the time to read this review! I’ll be back next week with the final installment in our Abby Day arc – “Sister III.” Until then, folks! :)

1 comment:

  1. I have been enjoying reading your New Girl reviews this year. I appreciate your remarks towards your own relationship in contrast to the ones in the show. I often find similarities in my past relationship with the characters as well. I didn't even notice the multiple locations in the episode. That's a great angle. I felt that whole A-story was off in some way. I chalked it up to that fact that Abby was there and her presence was throwing everyone off. But, the more times I watch it the more I like the episode. It seems to be happening a lot this season with episodes that are like that to me. I like that you mentioned that Nick was sort of stuck in between the two sisters and it reminded me of how he got stuck in between Jess and Schmidt's manipulations in Parking Spot, even his shouting was similar. I was curious so I looked and Parking Spot was episode 17 as well. Also, episode 17 of season 1 had started an arc with a character, Russell, that sort of threw everyone off (not in a bad way). Anyway, sorry for my nerdy twirling on about the parallels. Thanks for providing the space for me to do so, though. Happy writing, friend!