After spending much of last week’s episode indulging in rather meaningless storylines, this week’s episode of Modern Family, “Torn Between Two Lovers,” gets back to one of the season’s predominant bits of conflict, which is the love triangle developing between Haley, her boyfriend Arvin, and her old and incredibly persistent flame Dylan. Ever since catching up with Dylan again, kissing him, and then sleeping with him while Arvin went overseas for a bit, she’s been struggling to figure out who she’s truly in love with. Dylan’s re-introduction felt like a narrative contrivance at the end of last season, but with Chris Geere always set to be in just a few episodes, his inclusion in Haley’s story suddenly makes more sense. Still, a love triangle here is a tired idea, and it’s with great relief that this episode puts an end to it all.

That sounds overly negative though, because the truth is that Modern Family has done a good job of making Haley’s indecision feel real. Haley’s always been a bit of a one-note character; she’s there as a punchline for everyone else, and rarely gets her own time to shine as a person with feelings and ambitions the way some of the other characters do. This tangled love business is some of the most substantial stuff Haley has received in the show’s entire run, and while Dylan will always feel a bit stale, it makes sense that Haley, having grown in a number of ways, would be challenged by a figure from her past, the one she simply can’t shake.

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That clash between past and future, between Dylan and Arvin, provides some interesting material for Claire and Phil to argue over. They’re overly invested in Haley’s decision, as Claire has always despised Dylan and sees Arvin as Haley’s opportunity to lead a stable life, while Phil sees himself in Dylan, the scrappy underdog who’s always punching above his weight with his crushes. No matter their reasons, they overstep their bounds, with Phil trying to get Dyaln a face-to-face meeting with Haley, and Claire creepily trying to set the mood for Arvin and Haley to reconnect.

Phil and Claire’s insertion into this storyline is the biggest drawback. Part of it makes sense, because they’ve always had conflicting feelings about Dylan, but the show leans on the ludicrous a little too much. As is typical in these last few seasons, Claire’s behavior is just too over the top. Her whole line of thinking isn’t simply that Dylan isn’t good enough for Haley, it’s that Haley is incapable of making decisions for herself. At what point will Claire’s character change along with her family? She’s stuck being the same neurotic, overbearing person she’s always been, and it hampers a lot of the potential that can come with the more “adult” stories the show is telling with Haley, Alex, and Luke. Plus, none of it is funny.

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At least the actual love triangle material is nuanced enough and true to the characters. Haley’s indecision rings true. Yes, Dylan popping up again is annoyingly convenient, but that’s kind of his thing. He’s always there when Haley needs a wake-up call. This time around it’s the fact that she’s not totally at home with Arvin. Sure, she says she loves him, and Sarah Hyland does a wonderful job of selling the angst of Haley’s torn feelings, but it’s clear that they’re missing something. That something is the kind of natural connection that also courses through Phil and Claire’s relationship. They may not always have a ton in common, but they balance each other out. They’re a good team in life, not just in love, and they make each other better. That’s what Haley sees in Dylan.

While the rest of the episode is defined by throwaway stories— I can barely sit through any storyline with Manny, Jay, and Gloria these days, while Cam and Mitchell’s reality check about how grateful they are to have kids is charming enough— Haley’s feels consequential in the context of this season, where Modern Family might be ending. The journey and outcome feels thought out in a way that’s rare for the show these days. Not only does she briefly ask for real advice from her parents, she eventually trusts her gut and breaks things off with Arvin. The real win here though is that she doesn’t immediately jump into anything with Dylan. She’s broken up about Arvin because there were real feelings there, so she needs to ease back into things. And what better way to ease into things than to ride a scooter into the sunset while your high school sweetheart, dressed in a goofy heart costume, walks next to you? It’s a sweet conclusion to a well-told story, and it gives me hope that Modern Family can add a little more maturity to its remaining episodes. 


Stray observations

  • Speaking of being true to character, it makes so much sense that Manny would have a truly obnoxious girlfriend.
  • That said, her Gloria impression is spot on.
  • Jay doesn’t think Manny’s girlfriend’s improv dreams will pan out because “we’re only lucky enough to get one Wayne Brady in a lifetime.” Just so we’re clear, Colin Mochrie is the true GOAT.
  • “Is any part of you still hearing first trip to Tanzania.”

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