When The Middle works at its best, it manages to call attention to social conventions, then poke fun at them while explaining and justifying their existence. When it doesn't entirely work, like tonight's episode, it turns into a superficial, easy-to-describe theme, like “The Letting Go Episode.” Such is the case tonight, in which two of the three storylines involve letting go, both of things and of negative emotions.
A neighbor delivering mail to the Hecks sees their house and assumes that, because it's such a mess, it's been ransacked by robbers. It hasn't. It's just a mess. So Frankie makes the family clean, promising that if they work hard at it, they'll be done by lunchtime. They aren't. Or by midnight. Or the next day or the day after that. Frankie tries, but the kids (especially Sue) are too attached to their things, and Mike's too blasé.
The scene pictured at the top comes when Frankie simply gives up on the cleaning process, saying that they should just give up their stuff and live in a van filled with familial love. It seems like it's leaning towards a somewhat satirical view of American consumer and ownership culture, but it doesn't go anywhere. Just a mildly entertaining monologue with a fun visual.
The emotional part of “letting go” comes when Frankie discovers a list Mike made of “Pros” and “Cons” for marrying her and lets it get to her. There's nothing in particular wrong with either plotline, but, with one exception that I'll get to later, they just don't fire. Sue's attachment to her hair curlers is kind of cute but never manages to get to laugh-out-loud funny. In the same fashion, Frankie's squabbles with Mike seem like they should be comic gold but never quite get to that point. The humor feels a little meaner than normal, but its bite is more cruel than kind, let alone comic.
A third plot, involving Brick realizing that he can sell information in front of the house, manages to lead to the episode's best moment. Another neighborhood boy finds this out and asks “Why do divorces happen?” Brick researches the subject but eventually asks his parents while they're engaged in a shouting match, “Mom? Dad? Why do people get divorced?” It's a damn funny scene, as they realize just how they look, while maintaining the dramatic irony of the parents being wrong about why Brick is asking. It's also a clever way to bring the multiple plot threads together, finding an unexpectedly obvious resolution to both at once. It's a nice ending to an episode that is otherwise a set of missed opportunities.
Lines From The Show Which I Approve Of:
- “These animals have no regard for human decency.”
- “Oh no, that wasn't TOO embarrassing.”
- “You had all these in your room, and you still watched me eat pot roast from a measuring cup last night?”
- “You can choose one, Sue.”
- “I'm van-ready all the time.”
- “Pro-con Marry Frankie....” “Oh yeah. Hehe.........Uh-oh.”
- “What am I really good at?” “Letting go?”
- “Somewhere out there is a homeless man with straight hair who will use these to curl his locks and get a job and get off the street.”
- “You have to jiggle the plug! YOU HAVE TO JIGGLE THE PLUG!”
- “That's part of being tall.”
- “But we're allowed to go there? Cause I'm going there.”
- “THEY'RE WHIMSICAL!”