Every relationship that lasts longer than a few weeks is going to have its struggles; those ones that only last a few weeks are all struggle. Turn those weeks into years and the struggles typically become more substantial. The hope though is that they’re balanced out by necessary support, joy, and love. Cultivating a loving relationship—just let me go all Ask Polly for a second, okay—is about finding someone who truly understands you. That doesn’t mean they remember what your favorite movie is or which pizza toppings you detest, but rather it means they understand what makes you tick. They know what makes you mad, they know what makes you feel vulnerable and insecure, and they do everything in their power to make sure that they don’t contribute to those feelings. Instead, they actively battle against them, building you up and weathering the rockiest portions with compassion and commitment. Whether it’s a marriage, a friendship, or an eight-season relationship with a TV show, you have to give and take in order to reap the rewards.

Phil Dunphy is an emotional man, one quick to get his feelings hurt and go quiet when he feels he’s being persecuted or ignored. Sometimes those feelings are unwarranted, an exaggerated manifestation of his insecurities. Other times though, those feelings are just who Phil is. You don’t get sensitive, caring, “I’ll happily raise a bunch of baby ducks” Phil without those moments. So it should come as no surprise that when Phil goes through the trouble of acquiring the swing where him and Claire shared their first kiss as a gift for Valentine’s Day and gets only a busted, old watch in return, he’s distraught. After some harsh words from Alex, dealing with her own strange love life, Phil worries that the spark has disappeared from his marriage.

What’s great about the Phil and Claire plot from this week is that it doesn’t go down a typical road, with Phil pouting and chastising Claire. Instead, Phil remains hopeful throughout the failed day, trying again and again to get Claire to reciprocate his passion. Of course, she does reciprocate in the end—Claire gets to rise above the incompetent TV spouse trope—going above and beyond with her gift of learning magic for Phil. The endgame isn’t the point though, even if it’s a nice affirmation of the way these two understand each other so thoroughly. Instead, the reward is in the journey, in seeing Phil, and secretly Claire, refuse to give up on the romance in their relationship.

Cam and Mitchell attempt to keep their romance alive as well, but their endeavor is derailed not only by the boisterous Sal, but also by their own ego. They believe that they contain the power to peek into other people’s lives and know what’s best for them, and they have no problem stating that opinion. To their credit, they take the blame when it all backfires, even if it may be too late for Sal and Haley to salvage their relationships. Still, in their own way, Mitchell and Cam are perfect for each other. Sal even says so, and while it may be a backhanded compliment, it’s still an affirmation of their connection. Plus, watching them dish out choreographed insults is a lot of fun.

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Gloria and Jay aren’t as interested in the Valentine’s Day routine, but they do reckon with the idea of relationships and offering support and guidance. For them, it’s all about their kids. Manny is stressing out about two potential dates, and Joe is giving an inappropriate valentine to his teacher in the form of Gloria’s lingerie. Both moments are somewhat predictable—listening to Manny babble on about his relationship woes is rather tiring, which is perhaps the one time I’ve agreed with Jay on anything—but they also work to illuminate Jay’s own insecurities. While he loves seeing Joe grow into a miniature version of himself, he’s never really connected with Manny. It doesn’t mean that he doesn’t love him, but rather that he has trouble finding common ground with him. So, when Joe repeats a line Jay previously said in regards to Manny’s romantic troubles—”is it still talking?”—he has an epiphany. He realizes that the way he treats Manny rubs off on Joe. He says that when he saw the “ugly, impatient” side of himself that he hates coming out of his sweet little boy, he knew he had to step up and make things right, telling Joe that he’s not to disrespect his brother in any way.

Now, I don’t want to give Jay a pat on the back for doing the bare minimum as a parent, and it shouldn’t have taken Joe’s behavior to make Jay reconsider how he treats Manny, but I’d be lying if I said that moment didn’t hit me in the gut. Seeing Jay finally stand up for Manny really is a revelation. In these reviews I tend to harp on the idea of character development, and to some that’s a pointless criticism because this is a sitcom, and character development isn’t exactly built into the sitcom mould. But this is what I’m talking about. A moment like this, which shows real growth from Jay, has a meaningful impact, especially when it’s surrounded by such strong storylines. “Do You Believe In Magic” isn’t a perfect episode, but it does hit a rewarding sweet spot between saccharine and hilarious.

Stray observations

  • Jay’s Valentine’s Day directive to Manny: “If you do not come home smelling like light beer and chlorine, don’t come home at all.” There’s no way Manny is a light beer drinker, Jay. Pay attention.
  • Claire’s assistant asserts that Valentine’s Day is the “best night to go to the grocery store.” His apparent love for Alex makes this even more creepy, but not as creepy as the revelation that he sleeps with a body pillow that he dresses in a nightgown on.
  • How did Phil and Claire meet? “She hit me with her car while I was breakdancing in a KFC parking lot.” Get yourself to a Popeye’s, Phil, that’s all I have to say.
  • Joe’s teacher upon giving back Gloria’s lingerie: “I didn’t know that real humans have these dimensions.”
  • “This boy Jagger, because that’s a name now.”

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