On Sunday night, with the conclusion of Breaking Bad, we lost one of television’s great antiheroes. On Tuesday, Heisenberg’s shoes and hat were filled by a new monster, a man with all the marks of a true villain. He acts in his own best interest. He offers hollow apologies to those he hurts. He goes by a single name. How foolish we were to obsess over Walter White’s machinations for five seasons, when the true face of evil has been staring us in the face for … well … about half of that time. As we now know, Schmidt is the danger. Schmidt is the one who knocks.
How could we not have seen it before? A man with health concerns drastically changes his image, becomes totally self-obsessed, and appropriates other peoples’ behavioral tics into a new, abrasive identity. Under the guise of protecting himself, he destroys the lives of those closest to him. Of course he convinced himself that he had to continue dating two women because he couldn’t bear to hurt either one. Really, he was a coward. He enjoyed living his double life. Marathon sexual trysts with Cece. Dessert, Netflix, less explicitly defined intercourse with Elizabeth. He was having his pie and eating his sock, too.
(Side note: I like how silly and fun sex seems on New Girl. Every week sheds light into another corner of Schmidt and Cece’s endless library of arcane and terrifying maneuvers. And this episode gave us Nick and Jess’s predilection for playing “Country Lawyer” in the bedroom, as well as her excitement to have something called “no-kiss sex,” which sounds like a very sweet euphemism for “sex-with-a-prostitute.” Sitcom sex often — not always! — falls under the heading of “this is hot because we shouldn’t do this” or “we are married, so I guess this has to happen once a year, LOL.” I was shocked to learn — this week! — that my real-life married friends don’t go to bed at the same time every night like people do on television. I like any show where a fuller spectrum of taste and emotion is represented.)
Back to the matter at hand. I love Evil Schmidt. I can’t wait to see his full douche uncorked, like an open fire hydrant full of Summer’s Eve. Even when we liked him, Schmidt was awful, but his antics were excusable because no one got hurt. Now he’s bringing the pain. He crushed Cece, who called off her wedding to be with him. He broke Elizabeth’s heart after she opened herself up to him a second time. And he’s vowed to drive a wedge between Nick and Jess. Schmidt’s come undone. He’s broken bad.
I like this development for a couple of reasons. First, it puts an end to his implausibly long run of dating two women who know each other and showed up at the same office party on last week’s episode. I was tired of watching Schmidt devolve into a total dirtbag while he continued to get everything he wanted. He deserved these consequences. Seeing Schmidt with his face disfigured by pastry like a delicious Harvey Dent released the tension that had been building up.
More important, though, by turning on Nick and Jess, Schmidt gave the couple a purpose beyond snuggling and squabbling. Even though they’ve only been together a short time, it feels like they’ve been working their relationship issues out slowly and with no real direction, the way a trust fund kid backpacks across Europe. Evil Schmidt can provide Nick and Jess with a common goal instead of letting them noodle around like the middle fifteen minutes of a Grateful Dead song. Now the series has a rudder in a way it hasn’t since Cece’s wedding. All three main characters are involved with each other in a new, intense way.
Oh, wait. There are four main characters. Sometimes that’s easy to forget when Winston is off claiming a table for eight for one. Lamorne Morris does a great job as a frantic mess desperate for companionship, but why don’t any of Winston’s best friends notice what’s going on with him? They barely acknowledge he’s even there. Winston has to resort to giving himself pep talks or chatting up the cat he stole. The last character I can think of who delivered his lines with less impact on other people was Bruce Willis in The Sixth Sense. If it weren’t for his antagonistic relationship with the restaurant hostess, I’d assume Winston had been actually dead the whole time. I hope we see some kind of resolution to this deepening sense of alienation. Maybe Haley Joel Osment can join the cast as the only one who understands Winston (or sees him at all).
In the meantime, we have someone to root against. The cool, mean teachers didn’t feel like a satisfying enough nemesis for Jess. I’d been having trouble deciding whether I thought Jess and Nick were a good couple, but now that they’re sympathy-burning themselves and battling a common enemy, I’m wholeheartedly Team Jick … Team Ness? Some names are hard to combine.
“Double Date” started slow with a lot of stalling and reluctance to tell the truth. Some of the waffling seemed to slow things down a little too much. (Did Schmidt lock his door and then unlock it, allowing the valet to pull it open. I would feel like a crazy person rewatching that for continuity.) Other moments of conflict and hesitation increased our appreciation for the characters. Nick couldn’t lie to Jess, even with a helmet on, which is why he deserves her. He may be a conspiracy theorist who thinks Photoshop is a myth, but he’s loyal to his beloved Country Lawyer.
Schmidt, on the other hand, could have continued his deceit indefinitely. Even his confessions were dishonest. He told Nick he saw his situation ending badly, but then he blamed Nick when he got busted. Schmidt never wanted advice; he felt better simply expressing his predicament out loud. That’s not confessing. That’s bragging. Schmidt even told Cece that he had been “cheating on her” with Elizabeth instead of confessing that he had feelings for both women. He framed everything in the most self-serving way possible.
“I was so fat,” he says by way of explaining his infidelity, “and now girls like me.”
Where have we heard that kind of flimsy justification before? How about:
“Everything I do, I do for this family.”
Just like Walter White’s refrain, Schmidt’s plea for Cece’s clemency is all theatrics. In reality, he wasn’t in over his head. He did what he did because he liked it. He was good at it. He was … alive. Then, when it didn’t work, he turned on his best friend.
The Schmidt we knew and (reluctantly) loved is dead, at least for now. In his place, we have Schmidtsenberg.
I hope the show follows through on this promise and doesn’t let Schmidt backtrack after a good night’s sleep. I hope that Schmidt uses his full power of spite and narcissism. But most of all, I hope that Jess and Nick’s love is a strong enough bullet to bring Schmidt down with his hand clutching a bottle of precious hair chutney, as he mourns the loss of the only one he ever truly loved: Schmidt.