It’s always a treat when the entire Modern Family clan comes together, when the households aren’t divided by diverging plotlines and cast members get to switch up their interactions a bit. Last night’s episode was totally like that, except for one tiny element missing from the ensemble: Lily. Seriously, where has she been? Does she have some awesome new babysitter we haven’t met yet? Or was she banished once she started talking and became maybe a little less adorable than she was as a baby?
Aside from that one missing toddler, the family is all about rallying together — a recipe for plenty of misunderstandings, many long-coming revelations, and at least two stellar “Tube Dude” impressions. When the Rands, an unseen neighborhood family, lose their home and all of their possessions in a fire, Claire organizes a drive (Phil, of course, wants to call it Rand-Aid) at the Dunphy house, and the whole gang comes over to volunteer. Cam in particular is having trouble coping with the tragedy. Other people may sleepwalk, but when Cam is on certain meds Mitchell often wakes up to find Fizbo in bed with him: Cam sleep-clowns. Still, when Jay throws out his back while lifting boxes, Cam is the one who wants to pick up Jay’s truck. He drove a tractor to his high school prom (“At least something got plowed that night”), so how tough could the Pritchett Closets & Blinds truck be?
We know Jay must really be in pain because he agrees to let former massage therapist Phil work on his back. Knowing his son-in-law well, Jay worries that Phil will go overboard and make a big deal out of helping him — Phil still won’t shut up about that wireless printer he set up for Jay in season two (cue montage of Phil making printer-related comments through a variety of scenes throughout the show). Yes, Phil’s candles and oils and overall enthusiasm (“Welcome to Relaxistan”) skeave Jay out, and yes, Jay blanches when Phil mounts him like the steed they rode together in this season’s premiere. But ultimately Phil makes Jay’s back feel so good that Jay is inspired to say three little words to Phil that he can never take back — an almost post-conjugal “I love you.” Jay regrets it immediately, but too late: Phil acts as over-the-top as Jay would expect. It’s all awkward and terrible until Jay learns that while he was spouting sweet nothings, Phil had received an important text: Two of his colleagues are leaving to start their own agency, and they’d like Phil to join. Phil realizes he doesn’t always do so well with big decisions (cut to Family Guy–esque sight gag of Phil holding an alpaca on a leash), so he seeks Jay’s advice, even before Claire’s. Jay tells him if he wants to do it, “then gamble on yourself. I’d gamble on you.” Phil has a new business venture and Jay’s sincere seal of approval — an unparalleled win.
Meanwhile, Claire has a breakthrough of her own. When Mitchell won’t join her in talking smack about Gloria, she’s horrified to learn that Mitchell and Gloria have been hanging out. They even have a date to go shopping for “big boy pants” together! Jealous Claire accuses Mitchell of having mommy issues, but this time instead of latching on to their own mother, he’s turning Gloria into her. Claire works through much of her psychodrama while climbing into bed and cuddling with her dad, which. Yeah. Freud would have a field day with those Pritchetts. In a genius move, Jay is silent through Claire’s entire monologue, as she figures out that she’s the one who’s scared of being left out and therefore turning Gloria into her neglectful mother, which is really disturbing because she and Gloria are the same age. “You’re older,” are the only two words Jay says in response. Burn! To Claire’s credit, she shares her revelations with Mitchell and apologizes to Gloria: “I’m sorry, I got this crazy idea that you like Mitchell better than me.” “I do like Mitchell better than you,” counters Gloria. Claire has never made an effort to get to know her, but Gloria would be open to it if she would. All of this real talk appears to have chastened Claire, and to that we say, Finally!
Cam is on the receiving end of some much-needed truth bombs, too. Alex and Haley are sent along on his mission to get Jay’s truck, and all goes surprisingly well until they stop for burgers and the girls point out how surprisingly well it’s going. Cam immediately takes this as a gay slur. When they return to the parking lot to find the truck boxed in, Haley innocently asks, “Want us to help guide you out?” “That question? It was like a hate crime,” confesses Cam. After many failed attempts to back out, an increasingly panicky and shrieky Cam admits he doesn’t want to get help because he needs to teach them a valuable lesson — gay men can do anything straight men can do. The girls are like, “Duh, we know that.” They never doubted his driving abilities because he was gay, half the people they know are gay. They doubted him because he was … HIM. (And so did we!) Cam apologizes for being sensitive about stereotypes, but when the girls enlist the help of a fellow trucker who responds, “Sure thing, sweetie,” Cam pouts, “Oh, like she’ll be able to help us.”
The girls and Cam return to the neighborhood just in time to see Luke and Manny, who have taken — and lost — a toy helicopter that was supposed to be donated to the Rands and is now in the evil clutches of a band of nerd bullies (“Don’t pigeonhole us — we can be both”). In a win for nerd-girls everywhere, Alex Dunphy lets down her hair and charms the stuttering dork posse into returning the toy. When a confused Haley wonders how she became such a heartthrob, it appears Alex has some life lessons for Haley, too: “You have your fans. I have mine. Someday your fans are gonna work for my fans.”
“I think we can both agree we had a happy ending,” Phil says to Jay, a fabulous double entendre for the closing minutes of the massage episode, and also perhaps a subliminal hint that viewers should stick around for the show that follows immediately after. So, all’s well that ends well, even if some questions remain. Is Claire still running for office? Are Mitchell and Cam still planning to adopt a baby boy? Did viewers hate new Lily so much that she was sent back to Vietnam? We hope next week’s Thanksgiving episode offers some answers.