For whatever reason, Fox only provided a screener of the second of tonight’s two episodes, meaning I wasn’t even aware that “Hawk And Chick” was airing until after I finished my review of “The Oeder Games.” As such, I’m going to have a little more to say about “The Oeder Games” than I do about “Hawk And Chick.” That’s not intended as any sort of slight on tonight’s earlier episode, because, man, is that a fantastic episode. Airing a pair of episodes 90 minutes apart, with one occupying that dratted 7:30 timeslot, sure feels like a way to burn off a surplus episode, but I truly hope “Hawk And Chick” doesn’t get overlooked, because it’s such a sweet, funny episode, one built around what is quietly the show’s best relationship, that between Bob and Louise.

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Anyone who has seen “Carpe Museum” knows how powerful a Bob and Louise episode can be, and how much emotion there is to be wrung from Louise’s genuine love for her daddy—it’s about the one way in which she consistently acts like a real little kid—but “Hawk And Chick” finds an ingenious way to take this all a step further. Bob’s Burgers is an endearingly good-natured show, but “Hawk And Chick” represents this impulse at its absolute apex, as everyone is just so damn happy to go along with whatever latest insane plan is being thrown around. Louise and Bob talk each other into following around an older Asian man, who turns out not only to be the star they think he is but also to be completely up for everything, from Linda’s ridiculous photo ops to Bob and Louise’s insistence that he keep his coat over his head throughout the entire screening because the theater is cold.

Then there’s the way the entire family is completely in support of Louise’s proposed film festival, even though she assumes they are going to hate it. That’s a neat storytelling trick, as it hints at a growing awareness on Louise’s part of how her schemes are typically perceived, yet it also allows the rest of the Belchers, and Bob in particular, to show they’re not always locked into their familiar patterns. This is, after all, an episode driven by a father’s quest to reconcile with his daughter and, more crucially, Louise’s fears that she and Bob could ever end up like that, so it’s crucial that “Hawk And Chick” portray the Belchers in about as positive a light as we’re ever going to see. The episode respects Louise’s concerns, but it also works hard to show why she need not be worried, that her anxiety is born not of any specific cause but rather a child’s inability to comprehend the sad complexities of adult relationships.

Beyond that, “Hawk And Chick” does a wonderful job taking what could be a fairly out-there premise and bringing it into the Belchers’ orbit; it’s maybe a little random that a Japanese child actress would immigrate to the United States and become an accountant in a sleepy New Jersey seaside town, but if that’s the contrivance necessary to get the story rolling, so be it. The masterstroke here is having Devon locate a print without dubbing or subtitles, forcing Bob and company to record their own dub. Beyond having Bob offer a monologue on the virtues of spell check—which might be the most Dad thing ever aired on network television—this allows the Belchers to insert themselves more directly into the central story, and the batteries dying during the screening allows for a still more intimate connection between the two father-daughter relationships. Kristin Schaal has rarely been better than when she lets slip just how scared Louise is that Chick’s fate might someday be her own, and H. Jon Benjamin matches her perfectly as Bob realizes mid-dubbing that this all might not be about what he thought it was. “Hawk And Chick” is a very real contender for the sweetest episode in the show’s history, and I really hope it doesn’t get lost in the shuffle, because it’s a gem.

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As for “The Oeder Games,” let’s just get this out of the way up top: It’s really hard not to look at tonight’s season finale and not think, “Ah, so this is Bob’s Burgers’ paintball episode.” The structural similarities run deep between “The Oeder Games” and the iconic Community episode(s), as the prospect of a simultaneously incredible yet mundane prize gets friends and neighbors to turn on each other in just about the silliest contest imaginable. Yet for all that overlap, this episode feels like its own thing, and that goes back to an emphasis on character that is distinctly Bob’s Burgers. “The Oeder Games” is a triumph because it keeps finding new ways to wring jokes and pathos alike from well-established relationships. Tonight’s story isn’t quite as obvious a season finale as last year’s epic two-parter, but it does feel like a conscious effort to expand what we know about the characters and, with it, the storytelling possibilities of the show’s universe.

Take the lengthy showdown between Tina, Jimmy Junior, and Zeke. The show has not so subtly hinted that Zeke has some manner of thing for Tina since at least the classic mad pooper episode, and Zeke’s hasty attempt to save himself from Tina’s water balloon finally brings those feelings into the open. Of course, it’s entirely possible that Zeke is just saying what he feels he needs to in order to avoid a dousing, but that’s kind of the point: These kids are still so young and endearingly dumb that it’s hard to say what an actual declaration of love would even look like; we’re talking about a trio where a perfectly valid opening bid for a romantic date is “the drugstore.” What makes all this work is how true the characters remain to themselves: Jimmy Junior to his general apathy about all things Tina, Zeke to his gung-ho hyperactivity about nothing particular, and Tina to her constant quest for romance and/or butts. There’s a sense here that the story is working on a slightly broader canvas with respect to what the characters say to each other about underlying feelings and all that, and that’s a byproduct of the charged atmosphere of the water balloon fight, but it’s all still fundamentally in support of the jokes.

A longstanding part of the show’s storytelling DNA is the notion that Bob just can’t catch a break, that even the most minor of successes has to be swiftly followed by cruel, hideous failure. The show has downplayed that aspect of the show since its early days, but it’s still rare for Bob to tussle with either Mr. Fischoeder or Jimmy Pesto—let alone both of them—and not come out the worse for wear. “The Oeder Games” is clever in how it approaches this latest conflict, as Jimmy’s awfulness is ramped up so that even other Bob nemeses like Harold and Edith come off as reasonable here by comparison. More than most episodes, this episode seriously emphasizes Jimmy’s terribleness as a father, using his eldest so as little more than a glorified yes-man for his boasts and his admittedly weird twins as human shields. There’s that old observation that all villains believe themselves to be the heroes of their own stories, but I’m not sure Jimmy can even go that far, considering pretty much all he does is mumble under his breath whenever the situation tilts in Bob’s favor. His final mutterings about how he wanted to hit Bob with a water balloon and maybe he’ll hit him with something later is the perfect encapsulation of Jimmy’s casual awfulness.

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What makes Jimmy easier to stomach here than in, say, “Family Fracas” is the sense that he doesn’t actually get away with anything here. For once, it doesn’t feel like the entire universe has aligned itself against the Belchers. Oh sure, there’s that whole middle portion of the episode in which the entire town turns on each other, and they’re all entirely willing to hunt Bob to knock 50 dollars off their rent, but Linda’s impassioned pleas ultimately do have the desired effect, and Bob’s neighbors don’t make him suffer just so that their lives can be marginally better. More than most episodes, there’s a fairness to “The Oeder Games” that makes more palatable the bad behavior of everyone, Bob very much included. After all, his descent from proletarian hero to angry shouting maniac may be justifiable, but it also really isn’t a good look for Bob. In previous seasons, such a momentary lapse in attitude might well have resulted in Bob getting pelted with balloons and having his rent spike, even if that was quietly forgotten by the next episode. Here, his family comes through for him with minimal fuss—intentionally or not, this plays as a nice culmination of the slightly increased maturity we’ve seen from Linda and the kids this season, notably in episodes like “Best Burger”—and the town realizes that, for all Bob’s foibles, they really don’t want to ruin his kids’ lives.

As is pretty much always the case whenever he puts in an appearance, special credit has to go to Kevin Kline for his work as Mr. Fischoeder. For much of the episode’s running time, Calvin is at his most diabolically supervillainous, constructing a transparently manipulative scenario to avoid having to admit that, yeah, he’s totally going to raise the rent. That could quite easily have been the end of it, but the episode smartly runs with Linda’s suggestion that Bob should have just talked to Mr. Fischoeder like a person before engaging in open insurrection; sure, Bob might have chosen the right course if this were the real world and he were dealing with a real landlord, but Linda has the much better read of how to properly act within the context of the Bob’s Burgers universe. After all, nobody except maybe Jimmy Pesto is a fundamentally bad person, and all Mr. Fischoeder really wants is for people to recognize that landlords have feelings, too. Kevin Kline hits just the right note in that final scene, maintaining the character’s essential corruption and self-absorption while layering in genuine vulnerability. The end of the episode wouldn’t be nearly as satisfying if Kline couldn’t hit just that right balance.

And that, more broadly, is what makes Bob’s Burgers remain such a wonderful show so deep into its run (at least by the standards of anything other than its fellow Sunday animated shows). It’s not that this is a character-driven show that is good at getting laughs, or that it’s a riotously funny show that happens to have well-drawn characters; those two facts are inseparable of each other and of the show’s success. The show can do big plot-heavy spectacles when it wants to—last year’s finale is the best possible example—but part of the joy of having such fully-realized, consistently funny characters is that the show can do episodes like this, where all it has to do is gather a ton of them together and let them bounce off each other in all imaginable permutations. The result is just about the truest expression of what makes Bob’s Burgers brilliant, and it’s a fine way to wrap up another strong season.

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Stray observations:

  • Sal the sex shop owner has one hell of an arc here, people. I think we can all agree that, when he picked up that balloon to throw at Bob, he was really aiming at that damnable, pervert-stealing internet.
  • After the renewed spotlight on Jimmy Pesto, terrible father, I’d really like to see Mrs. Pesto one of these days. (I believe she was referred to just once, at the end of “The Belchies,” in a context that made it sound like they split custody of the kids.)
  • I loved the random return of Zach Galifianakis as Felix Fischoeder. He seems like he’s in a good place!
  • Big thanks to Genevieve and Caroline for subbing in these past two weeks, and thanks as always to all you for reading along this season. I’ll see you in the fall.

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