Despite the words “To Be Continued” appearing at the end of the previous episode of The Middle, setting “The Name” and “The Bachelor” side by side and describing the affair as a two-parter is seriously stretching the definition of the term. Sure, there was a slightly tantalizing plot thread left dangling last week—has Cassidy really gotten back together with her goateed, Gyllenhaal-esque boyfriend?—but…well, maybe this is just the father of a future college student in me talking, but the show handed us a much more dramatic end-of-episode moment earlier in the season, when it looked like Axl might’ve lost his scholarship. Why didn’t we get a “To Be Continued” slapped on the screen for that one?
Perhaps it’s just that we’re nearing the final stretch of the season, and the producers of The Middle are trying whatever tactics they can to get a few more folks to tune in, whether it’s by convincing casual viewers that they need to come back and see the continuation of last week’s episode or, I don’t know, maybe unabashedly pimping another ABC series in a plot thread.
Yes, that seems like something worth trying. They should totally do that.
Actually, while it would be very easy for someone who hasn’t watched The Middle to turn up their nose at the idea of having Frankie obsess over the season finale of The Bachelor, it’s been documented more than a few times that Frankie obsesses over tons of reality shows, and she has never limited that obsession to ABC shows. (Two words: Celebrity Rehab.) Granted, this particular development is coming on the heels of an episode where she was stricken with Oscar fever, but, not entirely surprisingly, the writers offer up a wink to that as well: when Mike questions her claim that both the Oscars and The Bachelor are her escape, she instantly snaps, “I have a lot to escape from, okay?” It’s a bit of a dodgy claim on Frankie’s part, given that she doesn’t even have a job at the moment, but, okay, we’ll let her have it…this time.
In addition to the fact that it’s surprisingly easy to accept the idea of someone getting so completely caught up in the conclusion of a TV show that they’d stay in bed all day, then finally find the strength to haul themselves to their feet, only to wander around the house sobbing, taking to online forums to abuse fellow fans who disagree with their position, and eventually succumbing to the desire to suck down the better part of a box of wine (guaranteed: three out of four AV Club readers and/or contributors fit this profile), it’s also standard operating procedure for Frankie to pay so much attention to something that she completely tunes out anything else going on around her. As such, it was a great funny-because-it’s-true gag when it was revealed that Brick, Sue, and Axl regularly drop their bad-news bombs on their mom while The Bachelor is on, and it paid off at the end as well, with the revelation that she was so caught up in the show that she didn’t even realize that Brick was paying attention to it, too. Lastly, it should be noted that we now have yet another testament to how much Mike really loves Frankie: he puts up with her TV obsession. Still, this was clearly the worst it’s even been (“20 years and I’ve never once slapped you, but God help me…”), so let’s hope she doesn’t reach these depths of despair again anytime soon.
Sue’s storyline is oddly retro, feeling more like something that we would’ve seen from the character during the first season of the show, when there was little more to Sue than the awareness that she was a loveable loser who was upbeat to a fault. Although we get a brief tease of her continued inability to pass her driver’s test and a few sweet moments with Darrin in the hallway which serve a perfect reminder of the awkwardness of a new couple when leaving each other’s presence at school, the rest of the episode is spent focusing on her new role as the accidental new member of the tennis team. She knows so little about the sport that she isn’t until halfway through her first match that she knows it’s even called a match, but it turns out that she’s got at least a little bit of aptitude…or, at least, Mike’s convinced himself that she does because it might actually give him an opportunity to bond with his daughter over something for a change.
Mind you, he starts out not wanting to help her practice at all (“I yell, you cry, it’s a whole thing”), only taking on the responsibility after Frankie drafts him, and even then his compliments tend to be along the lines of telling her, “I gotta say, you are not totally horrible at this!” Once he latches onto the idea that she could have some semblance of talent at tennis, however, he dives headlong into trying to help her as much as possible, but he quickly finds frustration at her desire to be nice to her opponents. By the time it’s all said and done, Sue’s taken it to absolutely absurd levels, but it’s still a pleasant enough storyline for two reasons: 1) it’s a Mike and Sue storyline where both of them end up enjoying the time they’re spending together, and 2) we hear the words “Sue Heck wins.”
Okay, time to bring the suspense to a close and talk about the Axl/Cassidy romance, which, big surprise, continues unabated. Maybe it was a surprise for some, given that this show often zigs when you think it’s going to zag, but even if I hadn’t seen this week’s episode before last week’s, due to the way the network’s promo DVDs went out, I still would’ve bet on them staying together, at least for the time being. Given how well the opposites-attract methodology has worked for his parents, I could totally see Axl and Cassidy making it work as a couple, provided that they’re both able to be a bit flexible when it comes to each other’s behavior, as they proved tonight that they can be.
Axl’s frustration and annoyance with the challenges of having a proper girlfriend seemed right on the money. You have to pity the kid: he does everything he can to try and be amenable, to be the bigger man, only to seemingly have it backfire on him. He wants her to know that he’s pissed, so he doesn’t answer her calls or respond to her texts, and then when she finally confronts him in person, he realizes that he misses her and tries to woo her back. Having his attempt at a Say Anything moment literally go up in flames was simultaneously horrifying and hysterical, but while you can’t say it wasn’t attention-getting, it wasn’t half as effective on that front as his decision to get into a thumb war with the school’s queens of vapidity, cheerleaders Courtney and Debbie. The next thing you know, Cassidy’s outside his window with sparklers, preparing to serenade him with the most gut-wrenching yet crazy-cute version of Bruno Mars’ “Just the Way You Are” you’ll hear anytime soon.
That’s right, I swooned. So sue me. I love those two kids together, dammit. They’ve got to make it work. They’ve just got to!
- Axl’s line of the week: “Why don’t you two just buy a hippie van and go spend the rest of your lives on a commune, delivering vegetables in a box to people?”
- Sue’s line of the week: “A bird flew in the bus window on the way home. I never saw it coming. Beaks are sharp!”
- Seriously, people, it really isn't that hard to use a Chip Clip. (Throwaway gag or not, that may have been the single most relatable bit in the episode.)
- I love that Axl's first instinct when he realizes that Cassidy's still mad at him after setting fire to her parents' house is to mutter, "Maybe if you'd heard the whole song…"
- Even though there wasn't enough Sue/Darrin time in this episode, I appreciated that they kept their relationship alive through Darrin's refusal to stop talking about how much he cares for Sue, even under threat of being stabbed by Axl.
- Best long-term callback of the night: the continued sleeping arrangements of Brick and Axl in their shared room.