I’m not big on finales: season or series. In the modern TV era, we place too many expectations on them. There has to be some sort of big event, big reveal, or satisfying conclusion to make them “worthwhile,” and as an open-ended form of storytelling, television is notoriously bad at coming to a definitive stop. As New Girl’s second season comes to a close, it does so at that most hallowed of finale locations—a wedding—but “Elaine’s Big Day” doesn’t try to place a period, exclamation point, or question mark at the end of the last 25 episodes. If there’s any punctuation on the episode, it’s an ellipsis; the episode succeeds (and stands as one of my favorite finales in recent memory) by serving as a beginning, rather than an ending.
“Elaine’s Big Day” provides some conclusions, but otherwise, it places its priorities on tying the season’s hanging threads into loose bows. In terms of narrative, the more satisfying conclusion may have come during “Winston’s Birthday”—or “Virgins” even. Instead, the actual season finale encompasses all of the major strides New Girl made in its second season. The episode functions as a tribute to the core quartet of Zooey Deschanel, Max Greenfield, Jake Johnson, and Lamorne Morris, eking a few more comedic and dramatic beats from the season’s most fruitful character pairings (Jess-Nick, Schmidt-Winston), while also giving time to combos that haven’t seen as much action in recent weeks. The escalation of the Jess-Nick romance has reduced the amount of time Deschanel and Greenfield have shared on screen, and the playful, sibling-like antagonism between their characters yields some of its best results in their time together during “Elaine’s Big Day.” They get tremendous mileage from their “Was I?” duet; I suspect Jess’ noogie torture to Schmidt’s well-maintained coiffure is already looping its way ’round the Internet as an animated GIF.
After a few midseason experiments in high-stakes capers yielded mixed results, tonight’s episode finally nails a broader plot with the clear-cut promise of shenanigans. I’ve watched “Elaine’s Big Day” a few times now, and the scenes in the vents grow on me with each subsequent viewing. At first blush, this is silly, silly stuff: Winston and Nick plan to drop a badger on the priest officiating Cece and Shivrang’s wedding because… Winston loves pranks? And has an affinity for University of Wisconsin mascot Bucky the Badger? (“Yeah, I got a sweatshirt with his face on it. And he’s wearing a sweatshirt with his face on it.”) Sure, Winston’s defining trait this season ended up being his love of a good practical joke—and ineptness at pulling them off—but that storyline just doesn’t have a lot of promise on the surface.
Scratch at that surface (like a badger), however, and it reveals something about what Nick thinks of himself and his chances of finding something real, meaningful, and lasting with Jess. Crawling through the vents with a collegiate rodent, drinking his feelings, running away from his problems—all of these paths present themselves to Nick in “Elaine’s Big Day,” and they’re each a similar road away from his own eventual happiness. Nick isn’t a “broken” person, per se—he’s a blocked one, and he lets himself do most of the blocking. When he leans in to kiss Jess at the end of the episode, it’s the kiss that’s mattered the most all season. It might not carry the surprise of the “Cooler” tag or the epic sweep of the grand romantic gesture that wraps “Virgins”—but it does represent a major breakthrough for the character, a moment of clarity and purpose the writing staff has been building toward all season.
Beyond that, the “sabotage” that Schmidt masterminds (out of a sense of friendship, he swears) is just a whole lot of fun. “Elaine’s Big Day” is the big, zany extravaganza that New Girl gets to throw at the end of a stellar run of episodes, and the show really leans into that sense. And for once, it doesn’t detract from the lower-concept aspects of the show’s charm: All of the characters are served well here (Cece gets the short end of the stick—thanks a lot, Taylor Swift), and there’s great relationship work all around. With Fox throwing the curveball of a 25th episode at the showrunners late in the season, “Elaine’s Big Day” functions less as a tidy summary of everything that’s come before and more like the victory lap for season-two triumphs like “Eggs,” “Parking Spot,” and “Winston’s Birthday.” It’s a stunt-filled episode—physical stunts, animal stunts, stunt casting—but it’s also a spectacle that has some substance.
In the rom-com vision of New Girl, season two was very much about getting these characters to a place where they could love and be loved again. The origins of Nick and Jess’ relationship are all about giving in and diving headlong into something that could be messy, scary, and harmful to the characters’ mental health. When they decide to “call it” mid-episode, they’re doing so out of fear—knowing there are certain aspects of their personalities that just won’t mesh as a couple. Yet none of the characters they dated throughout the second season comprehend the bad and the good about Jess and Nick like Jess and Nick. There was no connection to Angie or Sam deep enough to inspire the show’s protagonists to sabotage a wedding or head off into the unknown together. “Elaine’s Big Day” toys with the notion of pushing Nick and Jess apart, but the episode is also a testament to why they should be together.
At the very least, the show’s big star is great at underlining that thought; Deschanel truly sells that “Before you say no, don’t say no” line, and her reaction in the “call it” sequence is a poignant bit of conveying emotion as an actress while trying to stifle it as a character. Hannah Simone gets a similar moment when Cece’s eyes meet Schmidt’s pre-ceremony; it’s an instance of stillness and genuine longing—which then initiates some classic Schmidt over-reacting. (Pick the most representative sequence starring the roommates: The cold open photo op or everyone’s reaction to Schmidt saying Cece doesn’t want to get married with her eyes.) It’s the least the show could do for Simone in an episode that frequently pushes her character to the side on her own wedding day.
But that marriage, like Bucky’s cage and the vents that later hold him and three of the roommates, would’ve been a trap. Cece was committing herself to a relationship she didn’t truly believe in, all because of the biological clock that began ticking in “Eggs.” From a dramatic perspective—and there are few sitcoms currently on the schedule that can apply a dramatic perspective with the potency of New Girl—season two put plenty of energy toward reminding the characters that they have a limited time on this earth. You wouldn’t want every sitcom to be so concerned with its ensemble’s mortality; the contemplating that Winston does up in the vents in “Elaine’s Big Day,” while played for laughs, is one of the facets that makes New Girl stand out from the crowd. Judging from our Walkthrough conversation, if Elizabeth Meriwether had her druthers, the characters would be going through this kind of stuff all the time. It’s to the show’s benefit that those types of scenes are either tweaked or left out of the second draft, but amid the horseplay of a wacky wedding, it’s nice to be reminded that you’re watching the show that produced “Injured.”
With “Elaine’s Big Day” throwing the door off of cages physical and theoretical, there’s an enormous sense of promise in what’s to come from New Girl’s third season. The back half of the first season found New Girl becoming a show people loved to watch; in the back half of the second season, New Girl became the type of season its writers and producers loved to make. Or it at least became the series they knew how to make: There were bumps and happy accidents along the way, but the run from “Cooler” to the end of the season displays a tremendous confidence on the part of the people responsible for New Girl. And that’s a confidence reflected in some of “Elaine’s Big Day”’s boldest choices: Jess and Nick leave the reception together, but nothing definitive has been said about their relationship. Schmidt is backed into a corner, and rather than forcing a decision, the writers sent him scrambling to the exit. These might look like cop outs, but I think they’re the opposite: There’s consideration behind these decisions, consideration for the future of the program and the intelligence of the audience.
And the loyalty of the audience, too. Can you imagine how awful Schmidt would look if he chose either Cece or Elizabeth at the end of this episode? It’d ruin the character, make him as callous and/or shallow as he appears on the surface—destroying four episodes of excellent character development and invalidating the valiant efforts of Merritt Wever. In this case, no choice wasn’t just the best, boldest choice: No choice was also the only choice.
Along that line of thinking: “Elaine’s Big Day” doesn’t end New Girl’s second season; it begins its third. Jess and Nick drive off into the moonlight, bickering all the while, heading toward endless horizon and unknown possibilities. For a season that defined and broadened the horizons of the series, that’s a fitting place to leave these characters for now.
Episode grade: A-
Season grade: A-
- So: Taylor Swift, huh? Do try to avoid spoilers about the actual role she ended up playing, but as someone who’s instantly skeptical of all stunt-casting, I thought she acquitted herself nicely. (Elizabeth Meriwether and Brett Baer have more on Swift in the final installment of the season-two Walkthrough, which posts tomorrow.)
- The writers’ stated goal of defining Winston in season two largely extended to who Winston is to his roommates, and not on his own, but I will say that as a physical presence and a voice, Lamorne Morris has really got the guy nailed down. I just love the way he turns on a dime when the sabotage plan is put into motion; his “I couldn’t stop it if I wanted to” is also a nice, soft touch to the maniac that is prankster Winston.
- Schmidt refuses to get in the vents: “Look, I’m the kind of guy that likes to enjoy the A/C, not see how the sausage is made”
- And that does it for New Girl, season two. Thanks so much for showing up every week to read these reviews and share your comments on the episodes; it’s been great watching this show turn into something special alongside you. And now, follow the lyrical example of the galloping number that follows Jess and Nick down the open road, “I Always Knew” by The Vaccines, and “let’s go to bed”—because I’m exhausted.