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Modern Family recap: Spread Your Wings

Lily’s sleepover puts stress on Mitch and Jay, Manny breaks some rules, and Phil learns to let his favorite feathered friends go.

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Peter Hopper Stone/ABC

Modern Family

TV Show
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In Season
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It was the dads’ time to shine tonight on Modern Family, as Jay, Mitch, and Phil all learned new lessons in parenting — even if Phil learned lessons when it came to both his biological children and his beloved ducks. Speaking of which…

Claire, Haley, and Luke vs. the Ducks

Just to get it out of the way: No ducks — mighty or otherwise — were harmed in the making of this episode (hopefully), though Claire and her children came close to doing so. When Phil heads out to visit Alex on campus, the trio try to abandon the ducks by taking them to a local park; after all, they’ve had enough of the ducks wandering around the Dunphy home, and the ducks probably want to leave the nest.

But when Claire opens the cage, she begins to reminisce about how cute the ducks were as ducklings and realizes just in time that the three ducks resembled the personalities of her three children — a fact she assumes is the reason why Phil wanted to keep them for as long as possible. When the ducks head for a pond (“Does everyone get rid of their ducks here?” asks duck-brained Luke), they figure out their original ducks by noting their actions. The Luke-resembling duck gets his head stuck in a Fritos bag. The Haley-resembling duck is the one with “big brown eyes that take up half her face.” And the Alex-resembling duck, the smartest, responds when Claire plays fetch with her. 

By the time Phil returns home, though, he’s already noticed the ducks are gone — a twist we’ll get to in a bit. 

Phil Visits Alex

To prepare for his visit to the Caltech campus, Phil dresses up as a Bill Nye the Science Guy lookalike. Ladies and gents, please meet Phil Nye:

…the Definitely-Not-a-Science Guy. He’s careless in the robotics lab Alex takes him to, when he accidentally turns on all of the robots in the room and embarrasses her in front of the school’s, um, “football” team. Thankfully, the rise of the machines is brief, and Alex gets a chance to tell her dad about wanting to commute from home to class instead of staying on campus. Phil, picking up on her anxiety, wonders if something happened, and Alex decides to spill, telling him she’s been feeling left out and uncomfortable and annoyed among all of her peers. She hasn’t fit in, and as much as Phil tells her it’ll take time to figure out where she belongs, she doesn’t believe it. “I’m smart enough to know what’s working for me,” she says indignantly. “This isn’t working.”

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Later, Phil approaches Alex in her dorm room, where she ignores his joke about uranium but listens as he touchingly tells her that everyone’s college experience is different but that, as her dad, he just wants to make sure that she’s tried her hardest at college life. He hands her a package (she asked for noise-canceling headphones), but after he leaves, she realizes he had given her a gown and a pair of goggles — the objects she needed to participate in a freshman tradition.

Still, after all that, Alex isn’t the only one learning a lesson: When Phil returns home, he chides Claire for attempting to abandon the ducks, but then proceeds to let them go himself because he’s realized, after his day with Alex, that he needs to let others, well, spread their wings on their own. So he, along with the would-be duck-abandoners, heads to the roof and lets each duck go one by one in a mini-version of Fly Away Home…but with ducks:

As for Alex? She goes through that freshman tradition, donning the goggles and leaping off a diving board into a pool far below, to cheers from her classmates.

NEXT: A caper for Cam’s Gloria’s sauce