The Middle: “The Wind Chimes”
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The Middle: “The Wind Chimes”

Four stories aim for cohesion but never arrive

B

The Middle

The Wind Chimes

Season 5, Episode 19

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The effect that the titular wind chimes of this week’s episode have on the Heck family is not unlike the effect that the episode itself had on me: it started out rather pleasant, but over the course of time, it started to cause a bit of sensory overload, ultimately leaving me kind of annoyed. Sometimes four disparate pieces can, when combined, unexpectedly form a cohesive entity, but in this instance, that cohesiveness never emerged.

Frankie’s opening remarks about how the folks in her neck of the woods favor pretzels, beer, and TV over caviar, champagne, and theater lead directly into Brick’s story of the week, where he decides to call and complain to the manufacturer of his favorite pretzels about the decrease in the salt crystals, only to discover that their voicemail also presents the opportunity to suggest new products as an option. The next thing you know, he’s left a suggestion, but after being informed that there’s already such a thing as cheese-filled pretzels (they cost 10 cents more per bag, so Frankie’s never bothered to buy them), he then grows obsessed with the idea of coming up with a new product for the company, refusing to answer the phone for fear that the company might call back and find him unprepared to discuss their fate. The whole concept teeters on the cusp of cartoonish at times, but Atticus Shaffer’s increasingly frustrated delivery makes it work surprisingly well, particularly during the scene in the basement. (“God, I envy how mindless your job is…”)

Then there’s Sue and Darrin, whom we’re seeing as a couple for the first time since the prom, an event that—based on a throwaway joke from Sue—apparently only happened the night before. They’re so in love that Darrin gets thrown out of the food court because he’s loitered too long while visiting Sue, but they originally plan to keep the reprise of their romance on the down low. Those plans quickly change, however, when it becomes evident that Sue’s love for her beau is simply too profound to keep quiet. This news is greeted by her parents with what is clearly far less excitement and enthusiasm than Sue had expected, but things turn tense when Frankie begins to consider the future ramifications of the situation and decides that they need to crack down on this whole Darrin situation before he graduates from Air Conditioner Repair School and gets a place of his own. Sue’s confused by their sudden change of tune, and it clearly annoys Darrin, too, who decides that he’s not going to give up on spending time with the new lady in his life without pleading his case to her dad.

Axl’s storyline is in no way connected to anyone else’s—like, to the point where he doesn’t even have a scene with another member of his family during the course of the episode—and it’s the silliest of the bunch, with Axl and Hutch starting out with big plans to lay claim to an abandoned couch in order to furnish their new place in the fall, only to go through all the highs and lows of next year’s living conditions within a few days. Still, as the owner of a recliner that I inherited from my grandfather and subsequently “bequeathed” to a buddy of mine for his dorm when I graduated, I actually kind of liked the storyline, despite the fact that it was pretty thin. (I also attribute a fair amount of my good will to the Say Anything… homage that ended it.)

At last, we come to Frankie, who accidentally alienates her neighbor, the wonderfully white-trash Rita Glossner (guest star Brooke Shields), by losing her temper over the constant sound of the Glossners’ wind chimes, resulting in confrontations not only between Rita and Frankie but also between Rita and Mike. Frankie’s right that it sucks to be annoyed by the sound of the chimes when trying to sleep, since it’s “the only time we get a break from our own lives,” but she handles the situation very, very poorly, trying to rationalize with Rita when all Rita wants is to take some of the bliss she’s been carrying since wrapping her 6-9 month “mandatory spa,” i.e. jail, and keep cool. When their first encounter fails to convince Rita to put away the chimes, Frankie tries diplomacy and writes a letter, but that’s a flop, too. Finally, when the chimes get so bad that he can’t stand it anymore, Mike goes over the Glossner house and just starts taking down all the wind chimes himself. In return, Rita kicks his ass, even going so far as to wallop him with a metal pipe (which is actually kind of a dark moment), but even though he returned home bloody, bruised, and annoyed that Frankie drives him to handle things he doesn’t really care about, the mere fact that he went over there at all is enough to warm Frankie’s heart. Unfortunately, the story—and the episode as a whole—just kind of fizzles to a conclusion, with Frankie making the statement that she should’ve just let the wind chimes go, as the Glossner kids would—as they do with all things—eventually take a bat to them.

So there you have it: four disparate stories, each of which is funny and occasionally even poignant in its own right, but they never really feel like they mesh together at any point. It’s a damned shame when that happens, but, hey, it happens. Let’s just not make a habit of it, shall we?

Stray observations:

  • “That’s another one in the ‘just you’ column.”
  • “Remember the rule: no talking when the TV’s on.” “But the TV’s always on.” “And why do you think that is?”
  • I enjoy a good callback, so naturally I loved Frankie’s reference to needing the hairdryer to microwave taquitos. Also, as long as we’re on the subject, I also enjoy a good taquito.
  • Sadly, the four-person pedal boat will apparently not be appearing in a future episode.
  • I love that Frankie’s biggest concern about the lack of response to her letter is that maybe the reason she hasn’t heard back from Rita yet is that she can’t read.
  • “So you never told me: How’d your note go over with Rita?”
  • It’s a great sight gag with the whole family eating dinner while wearing headphones, but the fun really starts when they can’t hear properly and have to remove them. Best line: Sue says, “I didn’t say anything… did I?”
  • “You just don’t get it, Dad. You don’t have a creative job!”
  • “10 cents off my next purchase…? My first paycheck!”
  • Just as an aside, Modern Family continues to exist in a complete other universe from The Middle: Tonight’s episode focused on the characters all taking a trip to Australia. Yeah, because that’s the sort of trip that the average American family can afford to take.
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