Jake Johnson, Megan Fox (Photo: Patrick McElhenney/FOX)

A gift of fine wine from Jess’ former principal opens a whole can of worms, and “Socalyacon VI” gets just as jam-packed as the Southern California Young-Adults Convention. Schmidt and Cece are finally in their new home (and christening every closet in the joint). Winston and Aly fill the loft with loot from her secret history as a Japanese game show champion, and Winston decides to reveal his own (not at all secret) secrets in turn. Nick and Reagan head to Palm Springs for Socalyacon VI, where Nick has a chance to introduce The Pepperwood Chronicles to a generation of young-adult readers. Most dramatically, Jess is pushed to the crisis point by a revelation of the role she’s played in Nick and Reagan’s romance.

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With so much going on, so many settings, and all the giddy commotion of the toys and the convention, it would have been easy for this episode to get as scattered and distracted as… oh, I don’t know, two responsible adults might get by a rideable hippo, a motorized scooter/cooler, a professional-grade karaoke machine, and a trampoline. Instead, “Socalyacon VI” is an impressive blend of sweet, serious, and silly, full of sight gags and physical comedy but never overwhelmed by them, and balancing its characters’ emotional realities with the necessities of plot.

Finally facing her long-simmering ambivalence about her chemistry and co-dependence with Nick, Jess sees it’s even worse than she realized. Maybe it’s natural for long-time friends to do crossword puzzles or bake sheet cakes together or pick out clothes for important days. But as Cece points out, friends going on a “giggly late-night crime date so that they can steal one, that’s girlfriend stuff.” But when Reagan gives her an expensive piece of jewelry and takes her out to dinner (where they share a dish called “The Lovers’ Pork”), Jess sees it’s not just Nick who wants Jess to do “girlfriend stuff.”

In a canny series of flashbacks, “Socalyacon VI” shows Jess supporting, encouraging, and guiding Nick and Reagan. Every time one of them falters, she directs them back together. When they don’t know how to support each other, she tells them what to say. When they’ve spent too much time apart, she puts them back together. She’s the reason they met in the first place; she swayed the votes to make Reagan the newest housemate. Jess isn’t standing in the way of their romance; she’s propping it up.

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In addition to winners like “Spiderhunt” and “Goosebumps Walkaway,” Berkley Johnson wrote the episode in which Jess got herself into this mess of living across the hall from her ex and his new girlfriend. So it’s fitting that Johnson also wrote tonight’s episode, where she starts to get herself out of it… even if it isn’t clear to Jess (or to the audience) what “getting out” might entail. Taking off from the con is a start. Heading to Portland to hang out with her father is a start. Putting her own feelings first is a big start.

It’s a stroke of genius to parallel Jess’ floundering attempts to set boundaries with Schmidt and Cece’s attempts to secure every entry to their new home, always leading to new discoveries and new intrusions. It’s a solid metaphor and a great way to incorporate physical comedy into an otherwise very abstract idea. It continues to explore the new house (and newish series setting). And it even sneaks in a second metaphor, as Schmidt and Cece find their joy at settling into their own home tempered by the very plausible vulnerability they might feel striking out on their own after so many years in the loft.

Nick’s stall design for Socalyacon—a tarp as a tablecloth, swaths of crime-scene tape, and a single plastic lobster—is eye-catching, simple, and very on-brand for his “bayou noir.” (Although a crawdad would be more in keeping with the New Orleans setting, the lobster fits his once-treasured image of his readers as coastal Maine maritime workers.) It’s also a silent reiteration of the boundaries that are this episode’s central theme, and the bold black letters spelling out “DO NOT CROSS” all around Nick and Reagan as they flounder to get along without Jess don’t bode well for their future together.

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Jake Johnson, Megan Fox (Photo: Patrick McElhenney/FOX)

That foreboding background message fits in with an unconsciously revealing phrase in Nick’s voicemail for Jess: “I don’t know why you disappeared, Jess.” That emphasis suggests that if one of his companions in Palm Springs had to disappear, it shouldn’t be Jess, another of New Girl’s quiet hints that Nick and Reagan aren’t meant to last.

For the first time in a long time, I feel a glimmer of suspense watching New Girl. Nick and Reagan will have to muddle along without Jess’ unflagging support. Schmidt and Cece have to adjust to living in a freestanding house, with all its points of entry, and to living alone together instead of in the flurry of fun, support, and mess-arounds that the loft provides. Jess is heading off into the unknown, even if “the unknown” turns out to be her hometown.

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That modest, welcome suspense is bolstered by the equally comfortable confidence New Girl has earned over the past six years. If the show really is heading toward its conclusion, it will be going out strong, and my biggest sorrow will be the abrupt lack of Winston Bishop in my life. Even as “Socalyacon VI” cleverly cuts off point after point of re-entry to the show’s one true pairing, it seems obvious that for every door it closes, it’s opening a window and, uh, shoving someone drunkenly through it. Pushing Jess to the crisis point is more likely about pushing Nick and Reagan’s relationship to the crisis point… and, like Schmidt getting in through the chimney, sitcom love finds a way, even if that way is down a sooty chimney and through a stash of dead squirrels.

Stray observations

  • Jess’ response to Winston and Schmidt’s enthusiastic quoting of Seven: “I have got to see this movie! You guys make it sound so hilarious.”
  • Like Cece and Schmidt’s scramble to secure all of Jaipur-Aviv’s entry points, Winston and Aly’s story brings a hefty wallop of physical humor to the episode, and I could watch Winston tell Aly his not-secrets as the two of them play with her haul from Protocol Of Best Enjoyment for a solid half hour.
  • “What the hell was that? Are you the criminals? From the statistics?”
  • “What kind of taco meat do you bitches have?”
  • A few titles from Socalyacon VI: Mr. Mumblestache, The Bitch Witches, Agent Isosceles, Whoopsie Daisy, Cashless Jones.
  • That whole zookeeper riff, folks. Wow.
  • “Also, we have squirrels.” “I love squirrels.” “They’re not alive.”

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