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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Illustration for article titled iModern Family/i shifts its focus before it says goodbye for good
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It’s been awhile since the previous episode of Modern Family, but all you really need to know is this: the season’s most interesting arc shifted into something completely different. All season long it looked like Cam and Mitchell would be moving back to Cam’s home state so that he could coach college football, a move that would make a lot of sense in this final season. It would seemingly give the whole family the emotional farewell it needs. In the previous episode though, Cam learns that he didn’t get the job, but that’s quickly followed by a call from their old adoption agency. An error in the system results in their account being reactivated, and they are now a match for a child up for adoption.

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It’s a good thing that Cam and Mitchell have that narrative arc, because nobody else is really doing anything. This final season has lacked a lot of narrative momentum; nothing here really feels like a final season, where everyone should be set up with a substantial ending. At the same time, I wonder if that’s maybe okay. By focusing solely on Cam and Mitchell, and not worrying about tidying up every other character’s future, perhaps the show could deliver a more meaningful finale, one that’s a lot less scattered than many sitcoms.

But let’s begin with the other characters. Alex is graduated from college, back from her arctic expedition, and now she’s working a fancy job for a tech company that specializes in face recognition software. She thinks it’s a noble pursuit because the technology helps with medical issues, but when she attends a campus job fair, she’s confronted by protestors who are angry that the company is making software that fascists leaders use to identify and track rebels.

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“Baby Steps” moves through the stages of Alex’s moral conundrum too quickly, but a lot of what happens feels true to the character. As the independent child, she’s always managed to thrive by herself. She’s never needed the attention or guidance that her brother and sister desperately needed, always managing to succeed on her own. But that comes with its own issues, like not feeling appreciated. Now, she’s getting a ton of attention. The company gives her a driver, she’s wearing expensive shoes and clothes, and she feels important. She loves it, but it’s not her. So when Haley’s ex-boyfriend Arvin chastises her for using her brain for evil, she realizes her mistake and shifts course, accepting his offer to work on his research team. That feels more like Alex.

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And yet, nothing with her arc feels all that substantial, even if it’s mostly satisfying. The same can be said of Claire. She’s someone who needs to work, and she was always going to end up finding another job. Here, she interviews for a job at a company that sells organizational tools, which means she’s perfect for the gig. But chaos reigns during her interview, and she’s sure it’s a disaster. But that chaos ends up paying off, as she gets the job based on being able to create some sort of order out of the mess that is her home life.

All of this is fine, but it hardly feels like the big moves that typically define a final season. But that’s why I’m grateful for Cam and Mitchell’s storyline, and why I think maybe, just maybe, Modern Family is purposely avoiding emotional arcs elsewhere in order to underline this moment for Cam and Mitchell.

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Like everyone else in the family, Cam and Mitchell have been stagnant, and they’re looking for something new in their life. Then, they got a call from their adoption agency, presenting them with the opportunity to take in a baby boy. It’s no easy decision; they spend the night awake, discussing the pros and cons, but they can’t come to a decision, and are only more worried when Lily thinks they’re too old to be parents again. They visit Gloria showing a house, and imagine what their life might be like in this bigger space with a new baby. Still, they don’t know. Then the agency calls, the deadline finally here, and in that moment they know. They want to do this. They agree to adopt the baby, and they make an offer on the house.

Perhaps this is exploitative. Perhaps the show is going to a predictable well in order to create outsized emotions. But perhaps that’s the role of the sitcom, taking the moments that define our lives and amplifying them. The moment when Cam and Mitchell realize that all their hemming and hawing is simply fear, and not a true representation of whether or not they want this baby, is moving. There’s history and connection and bravery there, and it’s exactly what this season needs as it comes very close to saying goodbye for good.

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Stray observations

  • Cam and Mitchell know that they need another kid in case they’re ever on their death beds and need someone to make a call on pulling the plug: “I’m worried that Lily has an itchy trigger finger.”
  • “You’re not even in the terrible twos!” “When do those start?”
  • The mushroom bit was pretty solid. Jay questioning his outlook is always fun.
  • The finale is set for April 8. We’re closing in on that real quick, folks. No new episode next week, so only two more to go.
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Kyle Fowle is a freelance writer based out of Canada. He writes about TV and wrestling for The A.V. Club, Real Sport, EW, and Paste Magazine.

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