I’ve been thinking a lot about the end of New Girl these last few weeks, even though there’s no real indication that the show is coming to an end. I’m not alone in this: At the top of her review of “The Crawl,” Vulture’s Jenny Jaffe notes that the episode felt like it could’ve been a series finale—I don’t agree with that observation 100 percent, but recent episodes of the show have felt like the writers and producers are preparing for a worst-case-scenario come upfronts. There’s a finality to the OTP treatment that Cece’s feelings for Schmidt are getting, while the introduction of May clears the runway for Damon Wayans Jr.’s departure. In “Spiderhunt,” Schmidt offers a touching tribute to his “team of six,” and the whole episode plays like something of a toast to the show’s primary setting. New Girl might not be ready to call it a day, but it feels like it’s performing some necessary wrap-up so as not to be a spider caught off guard by Fox’s smoosher.

Thinking practically, there’s probably a good reason the show went loft-only so soon after “Background Check”: There are a lot of expensive ingredients in the season-four sauce. An airport episode, multiple traveling episodes, an epic bar crawl—and that’s not to mention the fact that actors’ salaries tend to grow alongside a series’ episode count. Add the visual effects work required by Schmidt’s arachnid “Spiderhunt” tormentor, and it only makes sense to stick with the pre-existing sets for this episode.

But just as it did with “Background Check,” New Girl responds to self-imposed austerity measures with a deft hand and daffy humor. “Spiderhunt” doesn’t have the narrative and emotional backbone of “Background Check,” but it pitches its jokes with a similar strength and accuracy. Its low-key but high impact, and little touches like sticking Nick behind the stove for most of the episode yield big laughs.

That type of choice also focuses “Spiderhunt” on members of the team of six who don’t always get the meatiest roles. Schmidt has the centerpiece freakout, and Jess is on a spider hunt of her own (for the truth!), but for all intents and purposes, Cece, Winston, and Coach take the lead here. “Spiderhunt” wisely seizes on the connections that Hannah Simone has sparked with Jake Johnson and Lamorne Morris across season four: The friendly workplace friction between Cece and Nick; the trust Cece put in Winston when her feelings for Schmidt reappeared. Two characters working to keep something like this under wraps is like sitcom-relationship alchemy, but there’s added tension because of Winston’s inability to keep a secret. The mix-and-match game of smooshers and jar men (it’s like a booze-free True American) doesn’t run Winston and Cece through a gauntlet of secret-keeping, but it does make good, farcical fun out of the truth, which has one more protector after Cece comes clean to Jess at episode’s end. (It also prompts one great visual gag, as Winston reaches in from offscreen to turn a tender moment of solidarity into something much weirder).

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Like few episodes before it, “Spiderhunt” really honors the history of New Girl—and the history its characters share. They call out one another for tendencies established (“Freaking Winston—that slow-puzzler”; “Are we in another purse thing that I don’t know about?”) and new (Schmidt’s whole spider thing), and the new ones are all well within reason. After all, what’s the Miller family’s signature Sauce if not fancy-fixed fondue?

In a bigger treat for the longtime viewers, Schmidt’s spider-hunting activities force him to investigate certain features of the loft. A TV show’s setting ought to reflect its characters to a certain extent, but the look and decor of the loft was also locked in before these characters became the people we know them as today. New Girl doesn’t usually go in for meta humor, but if Schmidt’s going to spend an episode poking around his home, he might as well address those weird glass grapes, or his roommates’ seeming overabundance of Coachella posters. Maybe the “end of series” vibes New Girl has been giving off are actually “goodbye to the loft” vibes; characters have found new places to live in the past, but none that the show has ever committed to. I wouldn’t expect the writers to eliminate the physical space that holds their characters together, but it’s been pretty crowded in that loft for a pretty long time. If some of the roommates are going to start moving out, at least tonight’s New Girl gave a fitting tribute to the space they’ve shared.

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But that’s all in the realm of speculation, empty theorizing that ignores “Spiderhunt” charms like Nick and Jess’ misunderstanding about the popcorn machine, Coach’s jangled email nervers, or Winston’s inscrutable advice to Cece. (That advice, transcribed as accurately as I could get it “Don’t slink your head in the dumps—you’ve got to raise your hand with the sunshine, where where where where where people walk. You know? Because that’s what the whole point of the—if you can lead ’em to water, but you can’t make a sound. Right?”) The latter is a good example of how “Spiderhunt” excels where “Oregon” tended to flounder: It’s a gag informed by serialized storytelling, but not dependent upon it. Without the burden of providing a larger payoff or advancing the plot, it’s a couple of funny actors stringing out a funny premise—and then stringing it out, and stringing it out, and stringing it out some more. (To put it in Schmidt terms: Like a spider making its house from a rope that comes out of its butt.) It’s a joke for the sake of a joke, a creative freedom that “Spiderhunt” can afford. Here’s hoping New Girl still has plenty of time to make jokes like that—and to make episodes like “Spiderhunt.”

Stray observations:

  • “Who’s that girl?”: This week in New Girl pseudonyms, alter egos, and nicknames: “Spiderhunt” gets bonus points for resurrecting this long-dormant feautre, thanks to the second part of Jess’ “You trusted Winston but not me?” dig: Officer Cat Fancy.
  • In all honesty, I’d be shocked if Fox cancels New Girl this year. The show might get more expensive with age, but the network and the show’s production studio (20th Century Fox Television) now operate jointly as Fox Television Group, so the money it’s paying to air the show and the money the show makes in syndication next year are winding up in the same place. Other usual indicators—low ratings, changes in the network’s top ranks—probably aren’t a factor here. Fox needs established live-action comedies in its lineup, especially ones that skew female like New Girl and The Mindy Project. (If either gets canceled, it’s likelier to be the Universal-owned Mindy.) And the people now in charge of Fox, Gary Newman and Dana Walden, are the people who’ve been in charge of 20th Century Fox Television since way before New Girl started, so it’s not like they’d axe the show because the old boss put it on the air. They are the old boss!
  • I’ve been down on a lot of season four’s romantic prospects, but you know who I really like? I really like Fawn Moscato. That there’s the type of weirdo who fits in this universe, and she’s showing up just often enough (and in small enough doses) not to wear out her welcome. Too bad she’s about to be bulldozed by Cece (and too bad Zoe Lister Jones is booked on an ABC pilot this spring), because I wouldn’t mind her hanging around as an indication that the world of New Girl is just as strange outside the loft.
  • Schmidt misses an opportunity to say something Schmidt-like; fortunately, Jess and Coach have his back: “Good for you. When you said ‘Fawn’ and then ‘fondue,’ I definitely thought you were headed in the direction of ‘Step 1: Fondue. Step 2: Do Fawn.’” “And I was like ‘Fondue gets Fawn done.’”
  • Officer Cat Fancy fails to impress with cop lingo: “Jess is starting to find your behavior—suspicious. That’s a police word.”
  • Jess calls shenanigans on Schmidt’s summary of the post-American Pie zeitgeist, but Coach and Nick can corroborate (“Spiderhunt”’s cold open is a goddamn gold mine, by the way): “Everyone was doing it with pies?” “Y2K was an uncertain time.” “I don’t know everyone Jess.”
  • Does Nick’s bolognese get its name from the bologna he adds to it? “Trick question: It gets it from the mayonnaise.”
  • Winston doesn’t know who Dylan was on Beverly Hills, 90210—he’s more of a CW 90210 guy: “Was his nickname ‘The Peach Pit,’ because I remember that being a thing.”
  • Nick spins a doomsday scenario: “Can you imagine how powerful that spider would’ve become if he entered my Sauce?”

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