As is only fitting for an episode entitled “Change in the Air,” there are indeed plenty of changes going on in the Heck house, some of them good, some of them not so much. On the more positive front, Frankie and Mike are both shocked to learn that there’s no need to hammer on the kids’ doors to make sure they’re awake and out of bed: without Axl to drag them down, both Sue and Brick have managed to get up, get showered, get dressed, and make it into the kitchen to eat breakfast before either of their parents have even started their way down the hall. In fact, the status quo is so different in Axl’s absence that Sue’s been able not only to rinse but also to repeat. It’s like a whole new world…except it really isn’t, as evidenced by the fact that the Hecks’ A/C is on the fritz, a problem they can’t afford to fix for the time being. (“You don’t fix the air conditioner when it’s hot,” argues Mike. “You wait ‘til winter, when the A/C guys are desperate, and then you get a discount.”)
It was established last week that the close proximity of Axl’s college means that we’ll still end up seeing him just about as much this season as we have in seasons past, but the mere fact that he’s neither living in the same house nor attending the same school means that Sue’s life has instantly taken a tremendous upswing. Not only will her hair look far more lustrous thanks to the addition of “repeat” to her morning routine, but she can dance like a dork through the halls of the high school without fear of anyone related to her calling her out for her dorkiness. No more will she be forced to endure an average of 56 insults and various other random acts of torture throughout her days and nights. “We’re free now!” she exclaims, in a moment of unbridled joy. “Our brother can’t hurt us anymore!” Of course, there’s still the possibility of being injured by falling vents, but compared to past Axl-induced injuries, that’s small potatoes. A broken heart, though… That’s another matter entirely.
The combination of a hot Indiana summer and the Hecks’ limited funds leads Mike to place a call to the only person he knows with any sort of air conditioner repair training: Darren. Unfortunately, he’s only attended two classes at the Midwest Institute of Air Conditioner Repair so far, one of which involved picking out his shirt, so you can kind of see just how desperate things have gotten. In the end, it’s hardly a surprise that Darren politely admits that he has absolutely no idea whatsoever about what the problem is or how to fix it, but his temporary presence at the Heck house isn’t a complete loss, in that it reunites him with Sue, the two of them once again sharing a moment over a trashcan in a nice callback to their big kiss last season. Unfortunately, Darren’s appearance also serves to definitively wipe away any hopes you may have been harboring that he and Sue might be picking up where they left off now that the only thing standing in the way of their happiness – one A. Heck – isn’t around anymore.
Sue and Darren each suffer from their own unique obliviousness, making their curbside conversation a wonder to behold and a torture to endure: it takes a painfully long period of time for Sue to realize that Darren’s actually dating Angel, his new friend from the cosmetology school, while Darren never determines that the reason Sue wanted to talk to him was because she wanted them to start seeing each other again. Even Sue’s attempt to translate her heartbreak into air-conditioner terminology blows completely past Darren, which leads me to believe that the only reason we never saw Sue again in the episode is because she was still in her room sobbing. Frankly, I might’ve had a sudden influx of tears in my eyes as well, but the fact of the matter is that this does serve to clean the slate for Sue to stop pining for Darren and start playing the field. That doesn’t make it any less depressing, though.
Brick doesn’t exactly have it great this week, either, having been petrified by recurring middle school legends about upperclassmen doling out swirlies to any sixth graders who dare to cross the threshold and enter the restroom. As such, he decides that he’s going to lay off liquids ‘til June, which isn’t exactly the healthiest way to handle the situation – as Frankie warns him, “Your kidneys will shut down…and we can’t afford that!” – but he sticks to his guns despite suffering through several sweaty situations, only finally giving in when some muy caliente salsa drives him to down a pitcherful of water, resulting in an inability to avoid the boys’ bathroom. As it turns out, the whole thing was a hoax...and it’s a good thing, too, since not a single one of his friends had his back. It’s not the strongest subplot he’s ever had, but it does speak to how disconcerting it can be to step into new surroundings, not to mention how easy it is for ridiculous rumors to get started, even if they have no actual basis in truth.
But that’s not the only rough stuff Brick has to endure this week. We’ve seen over the run of the series that Brick and Mike have never really had a close relationship, but with Axl gone, Mike seems unable to resist commenting on just how little he and his youngest son have in common, a running gag which, while funny to the viewer (or at least to me, anyway), seems to grow increasingly annoying to Brick. After the third time Mike says or does something that indicates how much he misses Axl, Brick finally just gives up and texts Axl to say, “Call Dad,” which Axl promptly does. But given that we never cut back to Brick after that, one can’t help but wonder if his spirits have been left about as low as those of his sister.
So let’s talk about Axl and his parents, shall we? For all of you who’ve regularly complained about how shrill and annoying Frankie can be, it must’ve thrilled you to no end to see her finally get a bit of comeuppance for her actions. The kid’s finally got a chance to live his own life, so it’s only inevitable that he’s going to make an attempt to distance himself, anyway, but as Mike’s always been the parent who’s least likely to talk, let alone nag, he’s clearly the one who Axl’s going to be most likely to stand in touch with. Still, surely any parent can appreciate Frankie’s frustration at trying to get in touch with Axl, only to be met with radio silence. And to have Mike take a shot at it instead, only to have Axl pick up on the first ring? Ouch.
Although the episode started with the suggestion that Frankie missed Axl more than Mike did, you knew that, by episode’s end, Mike was going to end up admitting that he missed his son, too. I mean, that was as predictable as Frankie rubbing it in as soon as she finally got a text from Axl. But even though she teasingly tells Mike, “Looks like I’m the new favorite,” it’s clear that, even though Axl’s phone call was spurred by Brick’s text rather than being a spontaneous decision of his own, as long as there are still organized sports, he and Mike will always have more to talk about than he and Frankie will.
- Best “just think about it for a second” joke: when Mike suggests that Brick could just borrow school supplies from friends, Brick smirks and says, “That’d probably be more of a two-step process.”
- Funniest eye-cut: Frankie offering Mike a fast glance after hurriedly assuring Brick that his new school has gotten the asbestos “down to acceptable levels.”
- It’s always good to see Brad again, but, seriously, who was the old guy that helped Sue climb into the window every day?
- We’re only two episodes in, but I’m already willing to bet that the cutaway to Axl filling his mouth with frozen yogurt is going to end up being one of my favorite sight gags of Season 5. In fact, I don’t know if there was a conscious effort to make up for his limited screen time by making each of his brief appearance pretty darned hilarious, but between that bit, the montage of him torturing Sue, and the shot of him eating noodles in his dorm, Charlie McDermott probably got as many laughs this week as any other cast member.
- Butt-texting = always funny.
- “LOL? When have you ever laughed out loud at anything?”
- My greatest regret about the Sue / Darren relationship is that we never actually got to see them order from a drive-thru in British accents.
- Regarding Brick’s short-lived post-bathroom triumph, this is why my wife and I had a wedding pact to check each other's shoes whenever we come out of the restroom.
- “Still here, Dad!”