Here are some things we learned about Schmidt last night, none of them surprising: He’s good at making ants on a log; he can’t resist a nice pair of flat-front dress pants; and he’s so skilled at domestic duties like cooking and cleaning that his roommates can’t survive without him.
All of these traits stem from a deep-seated need to create order out of chaos. When he was little, his mother told him Santa wasn’t coming because his room was dirty — not a nice thing to do to a Jewish kid. Now, he’s the kind of guy who gets twitchy looking at other people’s rumpled haircuts. Can’t you just see him carefully lining up raisins on a celery stick? They’re probably spaced exactly three-quarters of a centimeter apart.
Schmidt’s control issues are especially bad these days because he’s so helpless in his secret relationship with Cece. His lack of power is making him crazy: “It’s like you’re ripping the side block out of my mental Jenga.” Cece summons him for sex whenever she feels like it, then refuses to drive him all the way home, even when he’s wearing his slippiest loafers. All Schmidt can do is leave the shoes with her, carping, “I can get a tetanus shot but I can’t cure damaged suede.”
So when Jess brings home a hutch she found on the street, he’s in no mood to accommodate her. Schmidt points out that the hutch is made of pine, the wood of poor people and outhouses. Jess points out that she likes it. Schmidt tells her if she won’t behave, he’ll reinstate his ban on high-waisted shorts. Jess says, “That was the worst four weeks of my life.” Hey, girl: Let’s roll the theme song.
Over in the world of the B plot, Nick owes Winston $487 from an epic drunken poker game. Everyone knows the exact amount because it’s written on Nick’s stomach, “Thug Life”–style. (There’s also a lot of stuff written on his back, including items Jess identifies as cannons, long-stem mushrooms, and “a mossy cave.”) The problem is that Nick is broke, but so is Winston, and he wants to collect.
Both of them take time out of their arguing to warn Jess away from messing with Schmidt, telling her that their current arrangement — in which Schmidt happily cooks and cleans for his roommates — is a fragile ecosystem. But Jess is on the warpath. She brings home an afghan and a lamp she found under a dumpster outside an animal shelter, and even puts her non-Tahitian vanilla next to Schmidt’s Polynesian version. Also, she admits to making crayons with his coffee grinder. Pushed too far, Schmidt loses his temper and knocks over the hutch.
Jess brings him to Venice Beach to discuss his problems and engage in a montage. They go on a bike ride (Schmidt wears trash bags on his feet). They eat ice cream (Schmidt can’t stop staring at the messy child on the bench next to them). And they give money to a human statue (Schmidt starts yelling “No! No!” when the statue comes alive). At the end of their beach-based fun-times, Jess admits that she thinks Schmidt is crazy, which is when he tells the story of his mom and Santa Claus. That’s why he got fat: control issues. Jess replies, “I got fat because I used to eat Concord grape jelly from the jar using a candy bar as a fork.”
It seems like Jess’s spontaneity lessons have failed. But then a cute blonde hippie girl invites Schmidt into her drum circle, and all of a sudden his years of cardigan-shopping and shoe-polishing go out the window. By the end of the day, he’s danced shirtless, gone into the ocean without his aqua socks, and washed his hands in a public bathroom while accidentally cruising a guy in a stall.
Meanwhile, Winston decides to confront Nick about the money he owes with a prepared speech. It begins: “The subject of this talk is the debt of money between us.” Nick immediately tells him to relax. Winston: “If I am reading this to you, then I can only assume you have told me to relax.”
The speech involves elaborate metaphors about the economic ladder, as well as hand cues (“points to Nick.”) It works, but only sort of: Nick agrees to pay $200, although he immediately begins trying to bargain it down. Soon enough, he and Winston are squabbling again. Nick even tries to argue that Winston owes him for the time he saw Nick’s mom naked in eighth grade.
The argument is only made worse by the fact that Schmidt has fully embraced his inner hippie, giving up on housework and making crystal necklaces for everybody. Jess sends Nick and Winston to the store, but they only have $100 to spend and they’re too busy fighting to make it through checkout. After Winston mentions Nick’s mom’s boobs, a bona fide slap-fight breaks out.
Realizing that she’s made a mistake, Jess goes to find Schmidt near the beach. He’s wearing a Baja and eating street meat wrapped in street meat, and he hasn’t been to work in three days. Jess tells him he doesn’t belong there: “Remember when you said jazz music was America’s greatest mistake?” But he’s not convinced.
Back at home, Nick tries to explain to Jess how Schmidt works: “Being friends with Schmidt is really complicated, because you want to change him so badly, but you can’t, because he just gets worse.” Jess, tearful, says all she wanted to do was bring in some furniture so that she could feel like part of the family, and the guys tell her that she’s already a member. Jess: “Aww.” Nick: “We don’t ‘aww’ in this family.”
Clearly, it’s time for a house meeting. When Schmidt returns from the beach, the gang says they miss the old him. Nick needs him to explain which pants not to wear, and Winston misses his hair chut-e-ney. “Without you, we’re just three idiots who live together,” Winston says. “With you, we’re a family.” Schmidt agrees, though he thinks he’s the cool rebel brother when everyone knows he’s really the mom. What finally wins him over, though, are the bribes. Nick says he’ll let Schmidt clean his room. And Jess got him shiny grey twill Calvin Klein pants with the pockets still sewn shut. Newfangled hippie Schmidt doesn’t stand a chance.
The episode feels resolved by the ending, but the underlying problem still stands. Schmidt may have returned to his uptight self, but he’s still stuck in a one-sided relationship with Cece. At the very end of the show, he rationalizes things: If Cece’s breaking into his apartment to see him, clearly he’s the one who’s really in control. But it seems like their current setup can’t last much longer. Eventually, the rest of the gang has to find out what’s going on.