Not that all episodes of The Middle aren’t about family relationships, but tonight’s effort took the concept well beyond the norm for the series, managing to give all five main characters a decent amount of screen time, while also finding room for Aunt Edie and Big Mike. The result wasn’t necessarily what you’d call a knock-you-off-your-feet awesome installment, but it was solid enough, offering a few new developments that have the potential to turn into recurring storylines.
Picture it: the first warm day of spring. For any other kid, it’d be a day to celebrate, but when Mike whips open the curtains, Brick—his nose stuck in a book, as per usual—recoils from the sunshine in a manner not unlike a vampire. Given little choice in the matter by Mike, the lad heads outside, where he soon stumbles upon a four-leaf clover… of evil!
Okay, so it’s not really evil. Nonetheless, Brick quickly becomes obsessed with the idea that everything that’s suddenly started to go wrong in his life—the worst of which, inevitably, is the news that the library is closing because of budget cuts—is the direct result of having picked this four-leaf clover.
Meanwhile, Frankie and Mike are each battling with problems on their respective sides of the family. For Frankie, it’s the realization that poor Aunt Edie has grown so senile that she’s become a danger to herself, while Mike, in the midst of trying to deal with Brick in Big Mike’s presence, accidentally blurts out that Big Mike was kind of a shitty dad, thereby pissing off his pops. As Frankie desperately searches for someone—make that anyone—who can serve as Aunt Edie’s live-in caretaker, Mike battles against his instinct to maintain radio silence with his dad and tries and fails and then tries yet again to figure out a way to cross the emotional chasm that exists between him and Big Mike.
Leave it to Brick to accidentally—and only accidentally—provide a solution to both situations. In the case of Aunt Edie’s desperate need for a caretaker, it just so happens that one of the soon-to-be-unemployed librarians is a smoker who recently lost her sister, so, y’know, talk about your perfect timing. (I’m not saying that Frankie’s steadfast ignorance of what the poor librarian was saying wasn’t in character, but it seemed almost too predictable.) The resolution to the Mike / Big Mike quarrel is a bit more intricate, but, basically, in the process of trying to destroy the unholy greenery that is his four-leaf clover, Brick realizes that his issues are really a matter of genetics. Unfortunately, by the time he has this brainstorm, he’s managed to lose the clover, spurring Mike to help him find it and, ultimately, bringing grandfather, father, and son together on the same quest, making it a happy ending for all or as close as the men in the Heck family ever get to one, anyway.
And so we come to Axl and Sue, whose storylines tie together as a result of Axl and his buddies commiserating about the upcoming prom and their lack of dates. Well, actually, it’s not so much that Axl doesn’t have a date as it is that he doesn’t want the one he’s got, since regular viewers will recall that he once again put his foot in his mouth and accidentally invited Weird Ashley to the prom. Darren, however, is woefully date-free, which is just depressing, frankly, since all the poor bastard wants to do is dance his high-school heart out. His solution? To ask Sue. This freaks Axl out to no end, of course, as it would any brother glimpsing the horrific possibility of their sister dating one of their friends, but he attempts to find solace in a foolhardy plan to get Sean to serve as his place-holder, if you will, with his hot crush, Emily.
Things change quickly, however, as has always been the way with high school romance. Weird Ashley kicks Axl to the curb, having found a more appropriate date (he’s a Dungeons & Dragons player with ninth-level characters), but Darren’s definitely going to the dance with Sue, and Sean, the lucky bastard, has managed to bypass Axl’s original plan and actually start a proper relationship with Emily. In an attempt to take lemons and make lemonade, Axl decides to go stag to the prom and be the skeezy guy who tries to pick up the ladies whose relationships crash and burn while at the dance. Wouldn’t you know it: The first person who meets that criteria ends up being Weird Ashley. In the end, Sue’s the one who has the best time at the prom—after those matching outfits and awesome dance moves, if we don’t end up with a full-time Sue/Darren relationship, a major opportunity is being missed—but we’re still left with the very sweet sight of Axl having a heart and giving poor Ashley a hug as she weeps in his arms. There’s been some talk about the idea of seeing those two actually turn into a couple. I have to say that, were it to be handled semi-realistically, I actually wouldn’t mind seeing that happen. Stranger couples have proved successful, after all. (I’m looking right smack dab at you, Frankie and Mike…)
- The fact that Big Mike is more or less excited at the idea of having a seventh extra dishwasher at his disposal would seem ridiculous if my late father-in-law—who was born and raised in Iowa—hadn’t been just the kind of guy who would’ve said something like, “Only seven? That fella better pick up the pace.” When he passed away a few years ago, he left a shed full of more Craftsman hand tools than I’d ever want to count or than he was ever going to use. He’d buy them any time he came across them at a yard sale or garage sale simply because he knew they had a lifetime guarantee, and “you never know when you might need one.” I can only presume that the same goes for dishwashers.
- “I don't know how I feel about burning things off my neck. Or anyplace, really.” Brick vs. Tick: The Battle Rages on. (“Uh, hello, still very interested in knowing what happens when the head buries…”)
- Frankie’s first and only reaction to Brick’s news that the library is closing: “Oh, no! That's where I dump you all summer for free babysitting!”
- I loved the exchange between Frankie and Mike about the latter’s decision to stop talking to his father: “I don't talk to my dad anymore.” “Oh, gee, what are you going to do with the four words you save per year?”
- That’s Mrs. Sue Darren’s-Last-Name to you…
- Clearly, the word “chickitunity” needs to take off in a big way.
- I felt like the interviews for Aunt Edie’s new caretaker were somewhat of a missed opportunity, except for the last one, where the big win came with the stalemate on Edie’s smoking. (“Would she be willing to quit?” “Would you be willing to start?”)
- “You’ve earned my trust. But Darren hasn’t. He’s just so dumb.”
- Mike eating ice cream with a fork just to avoid talking to his dad…? Neil Flynn for the win.