The problem with using costumes in a Halloween-themed episode is that the device typically breaks down into one of two uses: Either a character is dressing up to express something they’re too timid to say under normal circumstances, or they’re doing so to hide something. It’s easy to forget in the case of the latter that a costume is also a disguise—it’s a way to compensate for unrealized dreams, to put space between yourself and another person, or to hide real scars under exaggeratedly gross, oozing makeup scars. Or, as Winston finds out in “Halloween,” it’s a lot easier to tell a lie from under a fake mustache that you’ve glued on top of your real mustache.
“Halloween” hits its honesty theme hard and often, taking a step back to evaluate ongoing romantic relationships that were put on the back burner for the last two episodes of New Girl. The half-hour is funniest when the characters are lying to themselves, but if they were to carrying on doing so, there’d be negligible room for growth—for the principals as well as the show. By cutting the few lingering threads from the first season, tonight’s episode marks a turning point for season two, which continues to portray itself as the year where the roommates and Cece truly figure out what they want out of life.
In light of the episode’s segmented storylines, let’s take a quick survey of New Girl’s All Hallow’s Eve Massacre, an event where the hearts being ripped out of chests aren’t haunted-house props—though, in some cases, that particular brutality occurred before the episode even began.
Jess and Sam
Relationship status: Dead
Costumes: Zombie and Business Casual Clown
Something to consider about the beginning of Jess and Sam’s relationship, which factors into the couple’s end: These two didn’t meet on the most sincere of terms. Jess assumed the role of “Katie” to get with Sam—and that was shortly after she put on the guise of “Ivy” in her post-layoff funk. To that end, their whole “no strings attached” relationship has been one big costume. (And really, now that I think about it, hasn’t this early part of the second season been entirely about Jess trying on different outfits and personas?)
In its first act, “Halloween” cannily introduces the notion that Jess’ experiment with casually dating Sam has escaped her control. Because the most innate truth about Jessica Day is that she’s made of feelings, and to deny and attempt to downplay those feelings is like slowly chopping her to pieces. In turn, she’s dressed like a zombie for a significant portion of “Halloween”—a bit on the nose, but also an honest acknowledgment of the fact that Jess’ unemployment has been sucked into the vortex of seasonal part-time labor.
David Walton’s Sam, meanwhile, pulls a Jim Halpert with his Halloween attire, topping off an everyday work outfit with a clown nose—the application of which implies that the freshly-revealed-to-be-a-pediatrician Sam is the Patch Adams of his particular emergency room. This would be enough to kick him to the curb, but the real sticking point is when he and Jess confirm there’s a disparity in what they each want out of the relationship: Having seen him in doctoring mode, she’s pushed over the edge into wanting to enter into something exclusive; elsewhere in the episode, he’s indiscriminately texting his “weekend” lady. That bit of caddishness leads to “Halloween”’s most forced development (scared Nick punches costumed Jess in the face), which in turn leads to the natural dissolution of Jess and Sam’s arrangement. It all comes to an end because he’s being honest—it’s just not the type of honesty she wants to hear. Which she should’ve seen coming when Sam ended up the only guy with less of a costumed than Nick “Bee Arthur” Miller.
Winston and Shelby
Relationship status: Dead for quite some time; remains only recently discovered
Costumes: Police officer and a queen covered in stuffed animals (“Reigning Cats And Dogs”)
Take it from the guy who spent Halloween 2007 cracking up himself (and himself alone) in the guise of “The Lincoln Continental” (That’s Abraham Lincoln plus Christopher Walken’s recurring Saturday Night Live lech, The Continental): Elaborately punny costumes are a tremendous, annoying hassle. The Lincoln Continental was a poor attempt at being the smartest guy in the room; Shelby’s “reign” coat is the newest sign that intimacy is no longer a factor in her relationship with Winston. He wanted to her to revive the thrill by taking off a few layers—she preferred to put a dozen or so stuffed animals between them.
It’s sad to see Shelby go. After all, her relationship with Winston was one of the first story developments that Lamorne Morris could call his own. But I could sense the writing staff’s frustration with that storyline throughout “Halloween,” and the breakup proceeds like the writers admitting the relationship was holding Winston back. Of all the characters experiencing denial in this week’s episode, Winston’s runs the deepest—hence the doubled-up facial hair. And now that he’s free of Shelby (which Lincolned-up Schmidt puts in terms of “the emancipation of one black guy—from a terrible relationship”), maybe the character will start getting some more significant material
Schmidt and Cece/Cece and Robby
Relationship status: Dead, but vampiric/Too lost in reverie to notice the bite on Cece’s neck
Costumes: Young Lincoln and Bride of Lincoln/Bride of Dracula (?) and Raphael (of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle fame)
New Girl’s season-two love triangle—which is the only romantic configuration still in play by the end of the episode—provides “Halloween” with its slyest bits of wit and its baldest truths not stated by David Walton. Robby and Sam are simpatico in that way, as a function of the parts they play within the show: On the fringes of the core cast and only recently introduced, Walton and Nelson Franklin’s characters aren’t afforded much space within the script to hide their feelings. Franklin begins the episode in doofily affable mode (stating that his homemade Raph costume and Cece are both childhood dreams come true), but he’s forced to cut the crap and get real with Max Greenfield midway through the episode. It’d be too reminiscent of the big confrontation in “Jess And Julia” were it not for Schmidt’s response: A very un-Lincoln attempt at head-butting his rival for Cece’s affections, thwarted four times (and possibly more, depending how long that original take went) by Robby’s huge hands and Schmidt’s obvious head-butt tell.
Yet the good guy under all that stupidity maintains the spell he cast over Cece, a hidden attraction that ties nicely into her unidentifiable costume. She’s an angel of some sort, but each time she stands next to Schmidt, they end up looking like bride and groom—ultimately forcing Schmidt to surrender his Lincoln accoutrements to Robby and go with Halloween Plan B: Matthew McConaughey in Magic Mike. Which, if we’re all being honest with ourselves, is much more of a “Schmidt” costume than Young Lincoln—even for those of us who think of Honest Abe more than once a day.
Nick and Amelia
Relationship status: Never existed
Costumes: Bee Arthur and A Visiting College Friend Wearing Bee Arthur’s Hoodie
The flimsiest quadrant of “Halloween” contains the episode’s two best lines: One is a great callback/tie-in to the Zombie Woody Allen riffs from the beginning of the episode (Nick’s “dating as a haunted house” analogy); the other is a statement by Nick’s girlfriend of the week(end) that, like Robby’s confrontation with Schmidt, contains traces of “Jess And Julia.” For a show where even the most reprehensible character has a lot of redeeming qualities (insert joke about Schmidt’s “fleshy tree trunk” thighs), New Girl sure likes to have its characters defend themselves—and while the high-water mark of season one performed that service for the show’s ostensible lead, “Halloween” affords it to a pair of presences Schmidt and Nick are trying to scare off. “I’m not an idea of a person,” Maria Thayer’s Amelia admonishes Nick, initiating the last words she says to him before storming out of the episode. “I’m an actual person.” That’s a declaration that a paler version of New Girl would have Jess make on a weekly basis, so it’s exciting to see the show poke holes in other variations of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl myth.
But while “Halloween” refuses to treat Thayer’s character as the most recent in a parade of females that weren’t put on this earth to fix Nick Miller, it uses her as a device all the same. Her presence is an excuse to gin up an unrequited love from Nick’s past to balance out the rest of the episode, and when she finally gets the erstwhile dorm-room troubadour to admit that he’s scared to express his feelings for her, she makes her exit. Their torrid romance stands as a nice contrast to the slowly simmering thing Jess and Sam got going on, but it rings false. And in an episode all about honesty, that’s no good.
Unfortunately, a strong thematic throughline and a handful of solid laughs—Jess’ mundane workplace conversation with her fellow costumed haunters being a particular highlight—aren’t enough to keep “Halloween” from feeling like one act of setup and two acts of ’shipper service. Romantic love is certainly one type of fulfillment these characters are seeking—after all, the series was kicked off by the conclusion of a long-term relationship—but when such pairings overtake an episode like they do here, they mess with New Girl’s essential chemistry. I realize every episode of this show can’t be the roommates goofing off with each other while Jess tells off someone who underestimated her and Schmidt pretends to be a lost Romney son—and I also understand that the best episodes of the show’s brief run have featured storylines that isolated the principals from one another. But there’s a cordoned-off effect to “Halloween” that’s difficult to shake, even as the episode works toward limiting such cordoning off in the future. It’s frustrating to see the show do that to itself, as it’s frustrating to see it open the door to the next set of episodes by having Nick accidentally punch Jess in the face. The mistake prompts one of those quiet, genuinely sweet two-handers between Zooey Deschanel and Jake Johnson—but even that isn’t left alone for very long, as Jess’ fist must have its revenge on Nick’s punim. But at least that dash of slapstick comes from a real place within the character, rather than the machinations of the script. It’s a “mask off” moment for Jess, one that evens the score between her and Nick and eases New Girl into the next chapter of its second season.
- Through a combination of finding the right tone for Jess’ dialogue and Zooey Deschanel’s increased comfort in the role, season two is rediscovering the effortless charms of its marquee talent. It’s one of the unspoken achievements of these first six episodes: Jess’ visit to Sam’s office—and simultaneous realization that she’s falling hard for the guy—is like a lost scene from the actress’ pre-iPhone-ad, pre-ukulele days, when you could enjoy her understated delivery, unapologetically include her in an Inventory of “Character actors who should be in every movie,” and not have to constantly defend the quality of a show on which she happens to be a cast-member. Maybe we can give some credit to Max Greenfield, too: The old “she’s just trying to hard” knock is neutralized by the fact that Schmidt tries to hard at everything.
- And, hey, Deschanel even makes this exchange about Sam come off naturally—with a pair of winks nonetheless: “You’re starting to like him now…” “No no no no. We’re just coworkers—on the night shift.” [Wink wink.]
- Schmidt gets bizarrely specific—and scarily accurate—about how Nelson Franklin looks in full Raphael garb: “Oh, I get it: The guy who shot John Lennon dressed as a Ninja Turtle!”
- Schmidt has a closet full of Young Abe Lincoln alternatives, but he can’t touch them until the spring: “Those costumes are for Purim—Purim’s in March.”