Everybody loves a happy ending. I accept this as a truism because Tears for Fears said as much in a song, and those guys would never lie to me in their lyrics. I also tend to put a decent amount of stock in the words of Stephen Sondheim, who once wrote the immortal line, “Perpetual anticipation is good for the soul.” Neither of these artists have anything in particular to do with tonight’s episode of The Middle, but their songs tie in rather nicely nonetheless: it’s hard to imagine anyone who didn’t love seeing Sue and Darrin kissing over the closing credits, but at the same time, there’s no denying that one of the reasons it was such an effective reunion is that we’d waited so long for it to finally come to fruition.
Truly, this was Sue’s week to shine. I mean, to think that she started out the episode without a date to the prom, only to have five dates by the halfway point of the proceedings…
The opening tag, with Sue telling her troubles to her mom, only for Frankie to get lost in her own thoughts (of Beyonce) and then have to fake an appropriate response, feels oddly tacked on, but I guess we should just be happy that we got any mother-daughter time at all. I’m sure I’m not the only one who found it odd that, on an evening destined to be remembered as of one of the most important nights of her daughter’s adolescence, there’s no other interaction between Frankie and Sue. It’s not exactly challenging to imagine Frankie being so caught up in trying to throw the perfect dinner party that she was oblivious to the fact that it was also prom night, but it still felt weird that she was almost entirely absent from Sue’s storyline.
Then again, the episode was called “The Walk,” a title directly pertaining to Mike and Frankie’s storyline, which finds them taking to heart a claim from Dr. Oz that “sitting is the new smoking” and starting a regular routine of going on walks through the neighborhood together. It doesn’t take long for them to realize that walking is pretty boring, but things liven up when they cross paths with another couple, Vicki and Dale (Nicole Sullivan and Matt Braunger), and find that they have a great conversational rapport with them. Having proven that they haven’t lost the ability to be fun and charming, Frankie convinces Mike that they should try turning on the charm with each other…but not ‘til the next day, ‘cause she’s tired.
Turns out being tired has nothing to do with it: they’re just not very good conversationalists with each other. After realizing this to be the case, however, they decide to gather their friends together and regain the chemistry they had with Vicki and Dale, figuring that it’ll only be better if they add the Donahues and the Norwoods to the mix. Unfortunately, what they quickly discover is that their gift for conversation is limited to situations where the other couple doesn’t have anyone better to talk to, creating a situation where Frankie and Mike both end up baling out of their own get-together and loitering in the utility room. Ironically, this puts them in a position to overhear a huge argument between the Donahues, thereby giving Frankie and Mike something new to talk about for a change. No, it’s not a hugely substantial storyline, but it does tackle a legitimate concern between men and women after they’ve been together for an extended period of time – don’t you ever get tired of talking to each other? – and it does so in a funny way.
Even less substantial is the Brick / Axl storyline, which can be basically summed up with the phrase “Brick asks Axl for help with his ‘outside the box’ book report,” but they make the most out of it, thanks to the visual gags involving the books being used as dominos in the video presentation and then having Axl scream about what a genius he is, only to find that he doesn’t even know how to hold a video camera properly. The best part, though, comes when Axl realizes his error and has only the simplest, most blame-evading response to his brother’s accusing stare. Hey, it’s okay, Brick: haven’t you heard that grades don’t really matter ‘til high school, anyway?
All right, we’ve spent as much time as we need to spend on everyone else’s goings-on: it’s time to get back to talking about Sue and the prom.
Sue may have started the episode as a dateless wonder, but all it takes is a day at work for her boss to ask her to be his date to the prom. Given how incredibly bummed she was about not having been asked by anyone, it’s no wonder that she was out of her mind with excitement about her change in status, but she’s such a nice person that, when Sean showed up on her doorstep to tell her that he’d come home from Notre Dame to take her to the prom, she felt so bad about all he’d gone through to get there that she couldn’t bring herself to tell him that she already had a date…nor could she tell Brad or Derrick Glossner when they asked her to the prom.
When Darrin asked her, though…well, that was another story altogether. Yes, the ultimate reaction was the same, in that she said “yes” and didn’t tell him she already had a date (or four), but it’s evident in her face and even her body language that he’s the only date who she actually wants to go to the prom with. In fact, the whole scene in the laundry room is just as cute as the dickens, an easy back-and-forth between two people who clearly don’t have a problem finding things to talk about. It’s no wonder that, as soon as she says “yes” to him, the first thing she sets off to do is break off the dates with her other four suitors.
As it turns out, it’s pretty easy to gently kick the rest of the guys to the curb, but it all falls apart when Darrin – misunderstanding the situation when Sean tells him that Sue had four other dates to the prom – calls Sue and breaks their date, thereby breaking her heart. But Sue being Sue, she refuses to let it get her down, opting instead to pull an Andie Walsh: she puts on her best pink dress and heads off to the prom all by her lonesome, inspiring Brick to muse that, even though he’s only 12 years old, it’s still the saddest thing he’s ever seen in his life. It also hits Axl square in his protective-big-brother muscle, but he restrains himself from doing anything about it until Darrin shows up at the Hecks’ front door long after Sue’s at the dance and sharing the evening with Weird Ashley, at which point he lays into his friend for being such a dick to his sister. Darrin, realizing the error of his ways, literally runs down the street to find Sue at the prom, and once he finds her….well, that’s where we came in, but I’ll say it again: it’s hard to imagine anyone who didn’t love seeing Sue and Darrin kissing over the closing credits.
After battling through several Sue-centric storylines this season that’ve made us sigh rather than cheer, it’s just nice to see her back in a position where it feels like she might actually have a shot at moving forward and maturing a bit rather than just treading water.
Oh, and I’ll just say it: when Sue saw Darrin and started crying, I started tearing up, too. It wasn’t something in my eye, it wasn’t the air conditioning, it was just the effects of The Middle. Stupid show, making me care about its characters.
- “Oh, no: am I over-chiving again?”
- Sue’s multi-hued outfit that she’s sporting pre-prom may never catch on as something that kids today would wear, but I thought it was super-cute.
- Derrick Glossner’s only request for Sue’s prom dress: “Show some leg.”
- “I love books. Remember Pet the Bunny? You can feel the bunny!”
- I wouldn’t want to know what Sean’s blood pressure is. Given the way he held in his reaction to Sue breaking their date to the prom, I’m surprised there wasn’t steam shooting out of his ears.
- “It's Arena. It's definitely Arena. That's a real name.” – Brad finally reveals to the viewers, if not necessarily Sue, that there’s no way his girlfriend in Canada actually exists.
- It’s a shame about Edwin, but when the chick down at the Orange Julius gets gorgeous after her lapband surgery kicks in, he’s gonna be set.
- Watching Sue run through the living room, avoiding the book dominoes, and making it to the couch without knocking a single one down, was a thing of beauty.
- “He was an old man who fished alone in a skip. You hooked?”