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New Girl season finale recap: Clean Break

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Ray Mickshaw/Fox

This post contains details from the New Girl episode that aired May 5.

If four seasons of New Girl have taught us anything, it’s that a season finale with the loftmates isn’t complete until Schmidt and Cece take a significant step—forward or backward—in their relationship. Forget Nick and Jess (well, we’ll get to them in a minute): Schmidt and Cece have been the true rollercoaster couple on the show. Season 1 had Schmidt consumed with a nasty bout of jealousy, season 2 had Cece confessing her feelings after her botched wedding, and season 3 had Schmidt trying to win her back. Which means that, four years in, tonight’s Big Moment—with Schmidt proposing to Cece and Cece accepting (!!!)—shouldn’t have been all that surprising.

But it was (at least for me) because of the way it was done, and because “Clean Break” spent most of its time saying goodbye to Coach, watching Schmidt struggle with a donation box, and having Jess and Nick re-circle each other. In fact, the episode felt subdued for the most part, with the exception of Schmidt’s high jinks with his “box of Cece.” When Jess’ goodbye party for Coach goes underappreciated (props to Winston—and actor Lamorne Morris—for committing, though), she realizes the boys only want to pack up what’s necessary; this isn’t a loft for unpacking feelings. Coach goes as far as setting up an assembly line in which each loftmate throws out the belongings they don’t need. (He calls this process a “clean break.” I call it believing in a little motto called “hakuna matata.”)

Of course, clean breaks are never easy. Coach finds himself remembering his epic crêpe-making with Winston and becomes nostalgic enough to upgrade his duffel bag to a suitcase so he can fit their as-seen-on-TV Regis Philbin-touted cookware (“We were drunk, but our judgment was on point” is an on-point reason) inside, along with a blanket, some of Jess’s mystery novels, Nick’s CD of workout jams, and even the TV remote. Winston’s the first to break, and the two cry in the living room, collectively emitting a tearful wail that sounds something like a crying cat crossed with whatever sounds Jamie Foxx was making in his rendition of the national anthem last weekend.

Jess and Nick aren’t doing too hot either. The two find their old “sex mug”—say it with me and Schmidt: “Ewww”—which they used to leave out for each other when one of them needed, uhh, a fill of the other. (Sorry, sorry.) But Jess, in a moment of weakness, asks Nick if he ever thought about leaving the mug out for her after they broke up (read: if he still thought she was attractive), and he, in a misguided attempt at a clean break, tells her the thought never crossed his mind. Cue Jess furiously knitting a scarf for Coach and Nick trying to patch things up by calling the two of them “two true beauties” and complimenting her glitter pantyhose. Nick Miller, Nick Miller, he’s a stone-cold killer…

Before we get a chance to see them finish their debate, Schmidt bursts in after a long day fighting Wally (guest star Jack McBrayer) to retrieve the “box of Cece” he had attempted to donate while pursuing his clean break. Schmidt thinks all is lost for him and Cece, but a sympathetic Jess tells him—or wait, she tells Nick in front of Schmidt because girl code, duh—that Cece is in love with him, and the two fools should be together.

Up until this point of the finale, all of the characters acted as we would have expected them to. We know them well enough to know that of course Jess doesn’t want Coach to leave, so she makes him a “Jess cube,” throws him a goodbye party, and knits him a scarf. Of course Coach is a big softie at heart. Of course Schmidt couldn’t bear to abandon his “box of Cece.” Of course Winston takes weekly selfies with his cat. Of course Nick and Jess are back to ogling each other and not doing anything about it. (Or maybe they will now that the mug’s out of the trash—and in Winston’s room.)

So when the moment came, and Cece appeared on the doorstep out of nowhere to confess her love for Schmidt just when Schmidt was getting ready to track her down and confess his love for her, well, that’s New Girl being a little more old-school New Girl. This season’s seen a revolving door of potential significant others for the characters, from Fawn Moscato to Kai to Ryan Geauxinue, it’s a bit of a relief to see it return to the core relationships developed since day one. Maybe the second time’s the charm—even if that also means losing Damon Wayans Jr. as Coach.

Still, was it overkill to have two characters who had previously driven each other crazy and spent the entire season not sharing scenes agree to marry each other in less than a minute? Sure, a little. But New Girl has gotten to a point where most anything the characters do has become predictable or can be accepted as just another quirk. So to have Schmidt get down on one knee in the spur of the moment—and in the loft with some Jess-provided confetti instead of somewhere on Mount Shasta with, say, a thousand doves and something douchebag-jar-worthy—makes for a good capper to a season that’s seen the characters travel across the country and around the world in pursuit of story lines that went nowhere. And besides, using The Head and the Heart’s beautifully subdued “Rivers and Roads” to close out the final minutes of the season didn’t hurt either. 

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