Tuesday, November 18, 2014

New Girl 4x08 "Teachers" (This Far, No Further)

Original Airdate: November 18, 2014

I've always been a rule-follower. I blame it on my birth order, as I'm the oldest of my siblings and was always terrified of disappointing my parents. But it wasn't just at home that I followed the rules. I was a goody two-shoes at school, too. I never talked out of turn. I always turned in my homework on time. I never goofed off. I was (and still am, even as I approach my twenty-sixth year of life) a "good girl." Being a rule-follower doesn't seem like it would present any actual drawbacks, but in the case of Jessica Day, it does. "Teachers" finds our favorite vice principal struggling to avoid spending any quality or alone time with Ryan (who she has a crush on) during a retreat because her principal forbids any romantic relationships between administration and teachers. Jess has always self-identified as a rule-follower and a "good girl." And we have always known this to be true of her. She has a very healthy fear of authority and a commitment to both her job and to the promises she makes to others. What is so great about this episode though was that we got the opportunity to see Jess take a risk and not a reckless one. Not really, anyway. We, instead, see her take a very bold and brave risk not against her boss but FOR herself and for her heart. Season four of New Girl finds Jess back in the dating game, but more importantly, it finds her back in the realm of possibilities -- it finds her in an exhilarating and scary place. And Jess is not the type of woman who openly embraces those places. She's more likely to run away from her feelings than run toward them. But in "Teachers," we find Jessica Day learning what it truly means to be vulnerable with someone again. And it was lovely.

Elsewhere in the episode, the theme of identity is also prominent. With Coach and Jess out of town on a retreat, Winston, Schmidt, and Nick are left at home to have a boys weekend (which hilariously goes slightly awry) where they have the opportunity to teach each other things and really be vulnerable with one another too. This story wasn't just hilarious; it was also extremely insightful and really touching. Meanwhile, at the retreat, we learn more about Coach's fears and insecurities as a teacher (wow, the theme of identity and vulnerability really WAS prominent, wasn't it?) and though a lot of the story is played for laughs, as is typical with New Girl, nothing is ever quite as shallow or cut-and-dry as it seems.

Kim Rosenstock wrote "Teachers," and that made me excited because she is one of three women on the New Girl staff that I honestly love and admire (Rebecca Addelman, Kim, and J.J. Philbin are my three favorite writers on the show, in case you were wondering). What I've realized that Kim does so well is this: every story she pens features the characters doing something absurdly sentimental for each other. In "Big News," we saw the entire group hold hands and hum. In "Birthday," we watched as everyone scrambled to try and prepare a surprise party for Jess. In "Menzies," Nick cheered Jess up by giving her a water massage (okay, that one ended badly but the sentiment was there). My favorite episodes of New Girl are the ones that remind me that -- above all else -- these people know each other and love each other and will always seek each other out for support and comfort and encouragement. Moreover, I love when this show reminds us, as it does in "Teachers," that even though the group knows each other well, they are STILL learning things about one another that alter their relationships.

And I really enjoyed this episode, so thank you to Kim for doing such a fabulous job!

Let's talk about the plot of "Teachers," then, shall we? The episode opens with the men disussing their impending "boys night," since Coach and Jess will be out of town on a work-related teacher retreat. Coach is not looking forward to this at all, nor is he looking forward to teaching Health class at school. Throughout the series, we have seen Coach as this "cool" figure -- he is too cool for friends sometimes and too cool to be vulnerable and emotional and definitely too cool to CARE. And I presume that a lot of the reasoning behind Coach's behavior is pretty simple. He is afraid. He is afraid to be real with people because they may walk away from him. If he is the "cool guy," no one will ever walk away from him. They'll all run TO him and he'll never be lonely that way. But "Teachers" is such an important episode for Coach because we see his vulnerability (and inebriated state but that's beside the point) and fears about not being a good teacher. Coach is afraid that what he doesn't know will directly impact his kids and will permanently affect them. He is afraid that he will not be good enough for them. He is afraid of that because unlike Jess who has been called to be a teacher, he stumbled into it. And I loved that we got the chance to see Coach admit those fears TO Jess -- we got to see him as vulnerable and scared and behind all of those defense mechanisms, Coach is a really endearing character. I've loved seeing his relationship with Jess evolve and I cannot wait to see more of it in the future.

Jess, meanwhile, tells Cece that she cannot allow herself to care about Ryan or be alone with him at all because of the rules that are set in place. Cece, of course, thinks that rules are absurd when it comes to romance and encourages Jess to allow something to happen between her and Ryan on the trip. Jess is all about boundaries though, and if she's told not to speed, she is the kind of person who will not even use a car. She takes a boundary and makes it a law. And, in doing so, she manages to isolate herself and drive other people away. It's hilarious when it's part of a comedy series, of course, but also kind of sad because Jess essentially spends the entire episode restricting her happiness. Jessica Day doesn't deserve that; she deserves every good and wonderful thing because she is a kind, careful, and hard-working person. But she is scared. Rule-followers often are. We panic over the tiniest of offenses and fixate on the thing we shouldn't do so much that we actually lose sight of things that deserve our attention. When Jess finally lets her guard down at the retreat (mostly because a depressed Coach decides to spend the night drinking at the bar rather than being the buffer that Jess requested between herself and Ryan), she actually has a really good time learning more about who Ryan is as a person.

Back at the loft, Nick, Schmidt, and Winston decide to begin their "boys night," which consists of jousting and watching women in the apartment building across from theirs stretching. Problems derail boys night. Actually, it's one particular problem: Schmidt spills sangria on Jess's bed. When Nick insists that Schmidt just wash the blanket, the man reveals a secret: he has never actually done laundry. And so, Nick Miller -- the only adult left in Apartment 4D -- decides that he is going to take their evening and teach both Schmidt and Winston how to accomplish the tasks they've never done before. I absolutely loved seeing the "grown-up" side of Nick Miller. It's extremely reminiscent to season two, where it was vocalized that Nick is the glue that holds the group together. Sometimes, Nick is presented as this very dumb character. And don't get me wrong, he is hilarious when he says dumb things. Much like Andy Dwyer on Parks and Recreation, it's fun to watch Nick Miller bumble across the screen, unable to pronounce the word "February."

But I have such a deep and intense love for Nick that stems way beyond the way he looks (or the way he looks at Jess) or his turtle faces or the fact that he is essentially a human grumpy cat. I love Nick Miller because he always -- ALWAYS -- takes care of the people that he loves, no matter how silly it may seem. This is the man who kept his family together in "Chicago." It is the man who is relied on by his friends. Everyone makes fun of him, but everyone NEEDS him, too. Isn't that kind of beautiful and awesome? What we often forget, then, is that just as everyone in the loft needs Nick around, so does Nick need them right back. Winston needs other people for affirmation and support. We see this in a lot of episodes, but none more so than his really serious moment in this week's episode. When Schmidt, Nick, and Winston have a heart-to-heart (in a blanket fort that they constructed, mind you), he admits that he is scared of becoming a cop because of what he may see and how what he sees may eventually reflect him. Winston doesn't want to turn into a jaded and broken man. He is terrified, honestly, that he will see something that scars him so badly that he can never return to normal; that he can never return to being the "weird one" or the "silly one" in their friend group. That little moment gave us more insight into Winston's soul than any episode ever has, honestly. It was so beautiful and painful to see him being vulnerable -- genuinely vulnerable -- with his best friends about legitimite fears. We are so used to Winston making zany remarks or trying to be funny with lame jokes but this was one of those rare moments of complete and total honesty.

Speaking of, Winston was able to be so honest and open with Nick because Nick was honest with him and Schmidt earlier in the evening. In a scene that might have otherwise been played for laughs, Nick admits that he doesn't know how to love because her never learned. Let's pause for a moment and discuss this, okay? Growing up, Nick never had a great example of what love should look like. He only knew that love meant leaving. He only knew that love meant giving up and that love meant fighting with each other and hurting each other and hurting others. Love wasn't some warm and fuzzy concept to Nick: it was an elusive idea that was shrouded in and tinged with pain. Flash forward to the Caroline years. All Nick Miller knew about love then was that love eventually broke your heart; love meant closing yourself off. Love meant pain. It meant repeated heartache. It meant wanting and longing but never really HAVING. Flash forward a little bit further and then... Nick meets Jess. What is important to know about what Nick said in this scene was the wording of it: "I never learned how to love."

Did Nick say "I never loved"? No. That would be a lie. Did Nick say "I couldn't love Jess?" No. That would also be a lie. He said: "I never learned how to love." And that, my friends, is entirely true. No one ever showed Nick how to really love another person. His mom, even after his dad died, cursed him ("may he rest in peace, the bastard"). Caroline wanted him until she didn't. She didn't teach him how to love -- she taught him that love meant giving up. Love meant leaving. Nick never learned how to love until adulthood. And even then, I don't think he LEARNED how to love Jess: I think he just did. Hear me out for a moment. Nick never had to learn how to love Jess because it just sort of  happened. He fell into love before he even knew it was love that he was falling into. He learned later on, I think, in hindsight that what he felt for her was love. I think for a long time, he believed that he really just strongly liked Jess.

But then he said things to her. He said she deserved someone who was crazy about her. He said he would do anything for her. He said she was the reason he came back and his feelings for her were the reason for the no-nail oath. And he kept saying all of these things and then one day, I think he just put the pieces together: it must have been love. But this was different than anything he had ever seen or experienced before. This didn't look like his parents' marriage or his relationship with Caroline so he was hesitant to label it as "love." Putting the pieces together though, he knew it HAD to be it: it had to be love. There was no other explanation. And then... they fell apart. Nick and Jess broke up and it was the right decision for them at the time but I think that experience is why Nick says (or at least part of the reason why he says it) what he does in "Teachers."

The unspoken end to the sentence is that Nick never learned how to love and he never learned how to love RIGHT. Everyone who Nick has ever had romantic feelings for -- true ones, not dirt-like ones, as Winston astutely points out -- has left him. He and Jess couldn't make it work and I think that it weighs on him more than he knows and more than we see. In this confession, there is this painful undertone that if Nick HAD learned to love earlier... maybe he and Jess would still be together. If his parents had been better examples or he hadn't been burned by so many women, perhaps he could have learned how to love. Perhaps he could have learned how to love Jess the way she deserved to be loved; the way he WANTED to love her.

All of this is to say that this whole moment between Nick and Winston and Schmidt was one of the best they have ever had because it was fueled by honesty. And both men encourage Nick to stop settling for the easy women that he knows he can get: those aren't the women that he deserves to be with. He deserves a prize because he is a prize. And I think that once Nick believes that he is worthy of love, he will be able to learn how to better love someone else. As someone who ships Nick and Jess, my hope -- of course -- is that Nick learning how to love himself will eventually draw the two back together. Jess has her own issues to conquer in terms of identity, but I am looking forward to seeing these two grow and hopefully grow back together in the future.

The point of the B-story was this, really: even if you know someone -- even if you have known them for years -- sometimes... you don't actually know them. You know what they want you to see of them. The boys wanted to have a "boys night" so they could drink beer and be stupid together. Instead, they drank sangria and had honest conversations and learned from each other. And it was really wonderful.

Jess continues to avoid Ryan on the retreat (much to his confusion), until she can't anymore. He ends up saving Coach (who is inebriated and ends up falling off of a roof into the hotel pool) and the two share laughter and conversation back at the room while a drunken Coach dozes off. And then... Jess accidentally admits her crush on Ryan. She's been avoiding him because he's seemingly perfect and she is a rule-follower and they definitely cannot happen. And when things begin to get too intense, Jess kicks him out of her room. The next day, the woman dismisses her confession and Ryan? Well, Ryan confesses that seeing her is the best part of his day.

So then, Jess kisses him. And she thinks about that consequence all the way home and while she is in her room and you know what? While she is obviously torn about blatantly breaking the rules, she smiles. She is HAPPY. For the first time in a very long time, Jessica Day let down her defenses and her rules and her plans and she let someone in. She let someone mess up her orderly life and it wasn't horrible. In fact, it was welcome.

Because if there is one thing that "Teachers" reminded us, it's that you can spend your entire life only letting people into the parts of you that you want them to see. But that is a lonely life. And it's not fun. And, worst of all, it's not FULL. Life means being messy, occasionally. It means being  vulnerable. And it means taking chances.

Additional de-lovely aspects about the episode include:
  • I am so glad that Julian Morris is back! I missed Dr. Wren (... I miss Pretty Little Liars, clearly). And his accent. ;)
  • "How was your weekend?" "That's personal!"
  • "I wanna French braid that girl's hair."
  • Winston doesn't know how to read a ruler. That made me so happy.
  • "She looks like one of those ladies who convinces you to have your baby in a tub."
  • "... You weren't born this way, were you?"
  • "Do you scrapbook?" "On rainy days."
  • "I craft. SO. MUCH."
  • Basically, Jess wrote herself a letter that she gave to Cece that described why she shouldn't pursue Ryan and why it was a horrible idea. Then she made Cece read it to her aloud and it was the exact same thing Leslie made Ann do on Parks and Recreation in "Road Trip" with Ben, which made me very happy.
  • "You ballet flat-wearing Oregon trash."
  • The boys singing "I Wanna Know What Love Is" was one of the best moments. Ever.
Thank you all for reading this week's review. I will see you back here next week! Until then, hit up the comments with your thoughts on the episode. :)


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