Friendship, and especially a shared language of habits and small gestures, is the glue that holds New Girl together. But when a publisher’s rejection of The Pepperwood Chronicles sends Nick into a crisis, that glue gets a little sticky. That’s bad news for the characters and good news for the show.

Reagan doesn’t see any warning signs when Nick starts exhibiting what would, in any other adult, be healthy behavior: going for a run, doing laundry, eating edamame. She’s even more confused when Jess points out Nick’s wearing his sad hoodie, “And by the looks of it, it’s been washed, which is bone-chilling.” She’s still assuring them everything’s fine when Winston enters the loft shrieking, “I just passed Nick on the street, running! On purpose!” By the time Reagan admits maybe there’s something off about Nick after all, his old friends are already primed to ferret out whatever has Nick in such dire straits that he’d actually (gasp!) start taking care of himself.

With Robby out of the picture (the cold open of “Glue” quells any doubts that “The Hike” was the last of Robby), it would be easy for Jess to turn her full attention on Nick and drive Reagan to the side. But she consciously restrains herself, trying to let Nick’s girlfriend take the lead—and Reagan does better than anyone can imagine, landing Nick a bookstore reading that very afternoon…

… and sending Nick into another crisis. With his confidence already shaken, the last thing he can face is a room full of strangers—“Living people?” he asks incredulously—listening to his words. He can’t begin to face the secondary problem of producing the 30 copies of his book that the store requires him to bring.

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No one can fault Reagan for not picking up on the clues Jess, Winston, Schmidt, and Cece find so worrisome. “In my defense,” Reagan says, “no one here emotes in a normal way.” No one can disagree with that, either. Where else would one roommate try to calm another by screaming out to the street, “I see you! And I love you!” Where else would Jess ceremoniously step back from comforting her friend by handing a literal baton to his girlfriend? And where else would “passing the baton” and “stepping back” mean making a perfect prototype of a friend’s self-published novel on short notice and setting up an assembly line to create 29 more in an afternoon? Nowhere but on New Girl.

It’s not just Nick whose red flags are familiar to old friends. Seeing Jess let Nick and Reagan loose on the contents of her craft wagon, Winston asks, “Backing away from an active craft project? Are you okay?” She is; she wants to let Reagan and Nick cement their relationship by handling this crisis together, which is generous. But notice that she’s still orchestrating the design of his first book, his most important life project to date, even if she’s temporarily handing over the actual gluing-together of it to Reagan and Nick.

Even that doesn’t last long. When Reagan runs out to buy more glue, Jess stops stepping back and starts stepping in, taking Reagan’s place in the assembly line and bringing along a vat of “really good glue” from her non-mobile craft cart. (Isn’t a non-mobile craft cart just a box?) Between the very real satisfaction of seeing his years of hard work turn into a stack of substantial paperbacks and the dizzying effects of the really good glue, soon Nick and Jess are bonding as firmly as the bindings on those books. He imagines himself birthing his book; Jess cradles it adoringly, they smile and giggle and revel in the unlikely triumph of turning Nick’s words into an honest-to-goodness book.

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While Jess and Nick are getting high on glue fumes, and on the giddying intensity of their connection at this potential turning point in Nick’s life, Cece and Schmidt are helping Winston propose to Aly. Or so they think. As Winston sets up a perfect picnic (“right next to her favorite plant, the common cactus”), they spend the whole day distracting Aly, sacrificing the new paint job in their new home, and finally manufacturing relationship drama to keep her there until it’s time to drive her to Winston’s roadside spot.

But this isn’t the proposal. No one should be surprised that Winston’s proposal is a process, not an event. And Aly, who knows Winston well enough to suss out that something is going on, also knows him too well to find his over-intricate, underwhelming plans off-putting. She loves him for who he is, and she’s happy to go through a prank, a zotz (a zotz? anyone?), a goof, so long as he respects the boundaries she sets for him. (“If it’s a prank, please tell him I wore bad underwear today.”) How many more classic Winston-Cece-Schmidt mess-arounds will we be treated to in the course of this proposal? Who knows? This is phase one of 20, to be doled out daily with an array of sub-phases. “Think of them as annoyingly elaborate smaller phases,” Winston tells Cece and Schmidt sotto voce as Aly basks in the beautiful scenery of Malibu.

“Glue” is full of sotto voce conversations: Winston to Cece and Schmidt, Jess to Winston, Cece and Schmidt to each other, and especially Jess as she advises Reagan on every aspect of Nick’s psyche and how to cater to it. Megan Fox’s affect as Reagan can be a hard read—and I’m warming to that contained performance in this otherwise expressive cast—but there are hints of annoyance, even defeat, in her downcast eyes as Jess keeps counseling her.

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When Nick retreats to the bookstore’s playhouse, there’s real pathos in Reagan’s admission that “I am not good at this… obviously.” Resigned, she asks Jess’ advice, and the long, heartfelt speech Jess spiels out tells them both more than either wants to admit. But when Reagan stumbles over Jess’ words, she encourages Nick in her own much simpler words. “I believe in you,” she tells him.

And that’s enough. When Reagan tries to use Jess’ words, tries to inhabit Jess’ dynamic with Nick, she sounds insincere and condescending. When she tells him how she feels, it rings true and gives him courage. Nick gathers himself and returns to give his first reading, and to make his first sale. But it’s telling that Mariah (Gianna Gomez), his first fan, is a mini-Jess, with big glasses and broad smiles and an irrepressible enthusiasm for Nick and the sadness she sees in him.

Intense, intimate, frankly weird friendships are the glue that holds the characters’ frantic lives—and the ensemble comedy that is New Girl—together. That glue is more than secure; it’s intoxicating. And it can make these friends, so used to their own isolated language and dynamic, incapable of dealing with the larger world around them.

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In this metaphor, Reagan is more than an outsider looking in. She’s a breath of fresh air. She’s the (sort of) objective (sort of) observer who gives all these friends a much-needed dose of perspective. She opens the windows and lets the reality-obscuring fumes of their dynamic disperse a little. But as much as it helps to clear his head, Nick keeps going back for one last whiff of that dizzying glue.

Stray observations

  • A word of introduction from the staff at Book Bisque: “Okay, thank you for supporting your local bookstore! Quick reminder: We’re dying, please buy things.”
  • Nick, fingers covered in glue, insists he’s ready for the reading: “Let me just buckle up my shirt. Well, the problem with this author shirt is that it’s made of honey. It’s too sticky.”
  • Cece and Schmidt’s complete lack of poker face in the bar scene is only topped by Schmidt’s “I have a scream and nowhere to put it!”
  • Cece and Schmidt’s imaginary marital problems: She has a big mouth; he objectifies her; she has a sweet tooth and a violent streak; he keeps blowing paychecks on the ponies, then putting his winnings up his nose in the form of “the cocaine.”
  • My single favorite example of the shared language of these friends is Winston and Jess spontaneously bursting into the Reading Rainbow theme song.
  • The long take of Jess twirling the baton as Reagan watches is another demonstration of the growing chemistry between Zooey Deschanel and Megan Fox, which takes canny advantage of their wildly different demeanors.
  • Did anyone else tear up when “Glue” ended with Nick uncharacteristically cheering “Yeah, me!”

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