The Middle: “Halloween II”
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The Middle: “Halloween II”

Given how much Frankie and Mike have been dealing with the horrors of home ownership, from their malfunctioning dishwasher to their leaky room, it was nice to settle into this week’s episode, which tackled the effects of Halloween on the Heck household. I entered into the proceedings figuring that I’d be seeing a fair amount of myself in Brick’s general annoyance with Halloween costumes. As a toddler, I decried my locomotive engineer costume, shouting, “I’m not an engineer; I’m Will Harris,” and sometime after hitting double digits, I went trick-or-treating in my normal attire but carried a briefcase, claiming to be dressed as an insurance salesman... and I was not disappointed. What I didn’t expect, however, was that I’d find far more familiarity in the relationship between Mike and Sue.

That Sue should have believed that dressing as a die was a good idea for a Halloween costume party is in no way surprising, but what was somewhat unexpected was the fact that, post-party, not only did she realize that it was a poor choice of costume, but she also began to consider the possibility that she might not be following the best of all possible paths to achieve social acceptance. As much as I love her seemingly ceaseless optimism and naiveté, sometimes she slips into a level of obliviousness that’s simply unbelievable, so it was nice to see her peek her head into the real world at least a little bit.

Unfortunately, things got a little too real for Mike as a result, with Sue’s uncertainty resulting in a desire to reach out to her dad for advice about what boys want… and that’s a real shame for Sue, since, statistically speaking, dads consistently rank at or near the bottom of the list of people teenage girls should ask for advice about what boys want. You’d like to give Mike credit for trying, but he’s so flustered about the situation that he spends more time trying to get Sue to talk to Frankie (“You know, your mom really likes to chat at night. She’s not a deep sleeper. You can just poke her. She’ll wake right up!”) that the best nugget of parental wisdom he can cough up is, “Tomorrow’s a new day.”

Not the most comforting thing he could have said, admittedly, but, still, not what you’d call damaging, either. As a father, to my way of thinking, it could have gone much worse. This, however, is not Frankie’s perception, and after she unabashedly preys on every father’s worst fear (“Girls who are close to their fathers start having sex later in life”), Mike’s back in the game, offering Sue a helpful tidbit about romance that I have already saved on my hard drive, so that I might quote it back to my own daughter when she starts dating:

“Some boys like some things about some girls, but then there are other girls who have other things. And the thing is, what you want to do–not now, but at some point in the future–is find the person that likes the things that you have that are good.”

I’m sorry, but that’s just brilliant.

Sadly, it’s also completely unlike Mike’s additional conversational efforts. His effort at shooting from the hip (“Maybe you could stop dressing like a third-grader”) results in Sue digging through her closet and pulling out ensembles so hideous that you can only imagine how much fun the producers had in selecting them. Flummoxed, Mike falls back on cold, hard cash, handing Sue a 20 and suggesting that she go to the mall and ask a saleslady to help her pick out a new outfit… and damned if that doesn’t backfire on him, too. Turns out that there’s a major parental benefit to your daughter dressing like a third-grader: It doesn’t reveal how much her body has changed since third grade. Although tempted to play the bad guy and make her switch out of her cute new outfit, Mike realizes that he can’t do anything about the fact that his little girl is growing up and opts to keep his mouth shut… and it pays off, since she ends up covering up with a hideous Halloween sweater before entering the party.

Yes, I know, I’m totally giving short shrift to the other storylines in the episode, so let me tackle those for a moment, too.

First of all, Axl’s Halloween plans, a.k.a. Operation Sell the Suckers Back Their Suckers, were so low that I knew they’d never ultimately come to fruition, but having him and his friends turn into neighborhood superheroes was a light but fun way to have things play out. I also liked Brick’s increasing desperation over creating a costume that he didn’t even want to wear in the first place (“Look, I’m just trying to get through the night”), and I’m sure we can all empathize with Frankie’s annoyance with people who, when you say, “I’m sorry,” can’t just say, “That’s okay.” I did not, however, have a whole lot of love for the idea of Frankie having to take Brick’s social-skills group trick-or-treating. In the midst of all of these sweet and/or heartfelt storylines, it all seemed a bit too slapstick to have Frankie running through the neighborhood with all of these eccentric kids strung behind her, getting tangled up in trees and what have you. Yes, I know it was all leading up to a payoff in Frankie’s closing narration (“You know, we’re all tied together…”), but I’m still not convinced it was worth it.

But, damn, the Mike / Sue storyline was 24-karat gold… so much so, in fact, that it made up for many (though not all) of the shortcomings in the others.

Stray observations:

  • “Are you too old to still be dressing up for How-lame-ween?”
  • “Roll her again! Roll her again!”
  • “What do boys want?” “You know, your mom’s just down the hallway…”
  • It was in no way surprising that the one Halloween costume idea that Brick could get excited about was dressing up as a book, but the fact that he even knew what font he wanted to be? That was the kicker.
  • “You can’t talk to me when I’m sleeping. For the seven hours between bedtime and breakfast, this world is dead to me.”
  • “I don’t know if we have time for a ton…”
  • “We can talk again… but it feels like we don’t need to.”
  • I say again, I can’t imagine how much fun the producers had in putting together the parade of Sue’s possible new outfits, but the highlight had to be Eden Sher’s animal growl.
  • No daughter of mine would be caught dead wearing that Lady Gaga costume.  That child’s parents should be ashamed of themselves…
  • Personally, I think the social-skills group members are way too over the top. Okay, we get it, Brick’s weird, but do we really have to create the full scale to clarify that he’s not that weird? But with that said, I laughed pretty damned hard at the line, “I TALK TOO LOUD AND INTERRUPT!”

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