I’m gonna try to keep the turnaround time quick on this one so folks who watched it live can discuss it; I myself am definitely going to watch it again as soon as I find the time. I think this may be the best episode the show has done so far, so you bet I wanted to turn around this review and try to drum up enthusiasm for the show among more reluctant viewers.
Jack has two major goals this episode, continuing from what we’ve seen of him before, and ultimately a testament to the show’s long-term plotting: insinuating his way back into his ex-girlfriend Meredith’s bed, and destroying Miles. Of course, those each conflict with the needs of others: The kids actually want to learn Biology, and Ralph Durbin needs a friend.
Let’s kick off with the former. Jack asks the students to Google “Miles Leonard” and get the top autocomplete results. (They are: “Miles Leonard Stanford,” “Miles Leonard handsome,” “Miles Leonard shirtless,” “Miles Leonard great penis.”) Jack’s plan is to have them google “Miles Leonard pedophile” until that becomes the top suggestion. Then he returns to his other goal– continuing to text Meredith during a rocky time in her relationship, giving her the shoulder to cry on in hopes of becoming something else. (This seems suspiciously like a Nice Guy plan to me, although maybe it works if you’ve dated the woman previously? Regardless, I don’t endorse it.)
Meanwhile, Mary, Stef, and Michelle only make a brief appearance this episode, in the break room discussing Wyoming, a prestige show that as far as I can tell is closest as an analogue to Big Love. Durbin walks in and asks them to stop because he hasn’t caught up, as his wife has forbidden him from watching the show (It gets him too riled up). He leave and goes to Jack for advice. Jack texts Meredith through the whole thing and barely listens, eventually offering (sort of) the advice for Ralph to stand up to his wife.
Jack gets back into the classroom and the kids are all smiling creepily. They did the math and realized it would take them eight months to alter Google’s algorithm… but they came up with a plan that will allow them to do a little biology: Frame Miles for a crime. To do that, they’ll need DNA– and they’ve done their research: hair, saliva, blood, and semen are the big sources. With this, they can destroy his ass. “I’m a little worried about the learning biology part, but I’m intrigued by the ass destruction.”
And Ralph, for his part, stood up to his wife… and got kicked out for his troubles. Now he has nowhere to go, and Jack did say to let him know if he could help. Of course he didn’t really mean it, but Jack’s not so heartless to make Durbin sleep on the street. He lets him stay on the couch, in the process discovering that Ralph has sleepwalking dreams where he imagines he’s in the Underground Railroad.
Jack agrees to let Durbin make Clams Durbin for him once he also agrees to do the grocery shopping and restock the liquor cabinet. Jack bumps into Meredith at the grocery store, where Durbin sells Jack way too hard, weirding Meredith out a little. So much for that.
So Jack’s had enough. Even though Durbin seems invigorated by his being apart from his wife, Jack can’t have him messing with his life. So he takes Ralph back to Brenda (played by Angela Kinsey) to apologize… and discovers that she’s passive-aggressive and manipulative to the point of possibly having a personality disorder. Jack may be tired of Ralph, but in a sign of his growth, however small, he can’t selfishly abandon him to this.
So Ralph is back on Jack’s couch, and they commiserate over beers. Jack seems to be genuinely bonding a little with Ralph, and they talk about their failed relationships. Of course, Ralph’s is a little more serious than Jack’s– his was a ten-year marriage, “it wasn’t this one-way obsession with my high-school ex.” Uh oh– he seems to have crossed a line. But Jack realizes he has a point and lets it go.
This was maybe my favorite episode so far. We see a little bit of growth and change out of Jack without fundamentally changing who the character is. (He’s still selfish and misanthropic, but that misanthropy actually informs his reaction to Brenda and serves to help his friendship with Durbin grow. He’s also found a way to let the kids get what they want, although, of course, it’s still by helping him.)
And then we get the tag, but if you saw the episode, you know why we’re going to wait to discuss that. Suffice to say for now, step one of the DNA project is successful. The next step is to luck into a murdered body. (Jack: “Well, we’re in Toledo, so there’s probably one in this room.”)
STRAY OBSERVATIONS (mostly about Ralph)
- Colin thinks Anthony is stalking him. “I’m not stalking you! We have the same class schedule!”
- Things Ralph misses about Brenda: Her little sneezes, the way she prints out Facebook to bring to bed to read.
- Things Ralph likes about single life: Getting to wear a Kangol. Jack does not approve.
- Jack is confused by Ralph’s reaction when he agrees to let him stay. “I tried to click my heels, but I was going down before I even got up.”
- Paula Pell is back as Helen; her devotion to Ralph leads her to show up at Jack’s house in the morning to make breakfast. “Where did she come from?”
- Clams Durbin apparently has a lot of dairy. “It’ll make you sick. But it’s worth it,” says Helen.
- Ralph’s morning announcements include another defeat by the volleyball team, which Ralph both takes in stride and suspiciously likens to his own failing marriage. “Sometimes you lose for ten years. Twelve, if you count the time you dated… sixteen years, in the volleyball team’s case.”
- In case you forgot Jack has a Ph.D in philosophy, he encourages Ralph to go back to Brenda by way of quoting Epictetus.
Holy smokes, our show’s Stealth MVP killed it this week. She delivers the list of Miles Leonard auto-completes, and at the end of the cold open is on her phone: “Damn, homeboy!” I think we know which one she was looking up.
And in the tag, the class is gathered around a microscope. Jack breaks up the biology happening, but Heather drops a bombshell: “I got a lock of Miles’ hair, boss.” And in a callback all the way to the pilot: “Remember when you had me catfish him? It blossomed into an online relationship.”
Jack offers some good advice now that that’s done: “You should probably break things off with that 40-year-old man.” Heather: “It’ll be easier after the holidays.” All hail Heather.