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Credit: Greg Gayne/FOX

It’s official: Jess is a goner. Last week, Nick’s sudden embrace of responsibility led to a sudden embrace between Jess and him. This week, the unexpected death of Nick’s father Walt proved Nick is not only responsible but endearingly vulnerable and emotionally deep in way we’ve thus far only suspected. There’s no way Jess will not find him irresistible. I fear this story between the roomfriends can only end in heartbreak, despite the fact their friendship finally overcame the awkward, post-kiss phase and grew in strength. Where and when things will go pear-shaped… the jury’s still out on that, but, if this is the kind of episode they can write when they’re not kissing, how wonderful will the relationship payoff be? Can’t. Wait.

The guys were shootin’ the bull in the loft when Jess walked in with a bunch of balloons, as someone like Jess is wont to do, worthy of the old man from Up jealous. Winston read aloud their increasingly improbable slogans as Nick walked in and straight into the cluster. He frantically punched the balloons, yelling, “Don’t booby-trap me! Stop! Shut up!” — as someone like Nick is wont to do. He received a call and walked out of the room, a balloon cluster following him. Nick: “Get offa me!” Winston, having now huffed a bit o’ helium, said in a high voice, “Nick’s just mad because that punk-ass balloon beat his ass.” He, Schmidt, and Jess took turns sounding silly until Nick came back bearing a shocked face, then announced his dad Walt had died of a heart attack. The roomies all gathered around Nick and encircled him in a hug as they issued their condolences — mind you, with helium still in their voices. Nothing takes the sadness away better than Schmidt telling Nick, “Stay strong!” in Chipmunk timbre.

So the gang headed to Chicago with Nick to lend moral support — especially Winston who reminded Nick that Walt “loved me more than he loved you, he told me that.” They arrived at Nick’s childhood home and headed inside to greet his family. There was his brother Jamie (Nick Kroll); to his credit, he was the first to isolate the sexual tension between Nick and Jess, though he was also the hypersexual sort who put carrots on snowmen’s crotches, pulled Nick’s hair during hugs (Nick deemed this too intimate), and regularly accosted his snugly dressed girlfriend with his tongue. Then there was Nick’s cousin Bobby (Bill Burr), whose most defining characteristic was his Pauly Walnuts-style tracksuit. There was also Nick’s shriveled Aunt Ruthie (The Wedding Singer‘s meatball-makin’, old-lady-rappin’ Ellen Albertini Dow), whose first words were, “Don’t trust cops!” Finally there was Nick’s mother Bonnie (Margo Martindale), who was immediately wary of Jess not only because “Winny and Fat Schmidt” were the only ones she already knew but also because she inexplicably mistook Jess for Latina and thus acted (in)appropriately racist.

Long story short, Nick was the responsible one in this family because of Walt’s con man past. (Schmidt warned, “Don’t laugh when they call him responsible. They don’t know why that’s hilarious.”) So it was on Nick to plan an Elvis-themed funeral. “That means 12 white limos and an Elvis impersonator,” explained Bonnie. It also meant Nick had to write Walt’s eulogy. The terror in his eyes was immediate. Eulogies = emotion = vulnerability ≠ Nick.

That night, Jess checked in on Nick as he sorted out the funeral budget. She offered help, and he knee-jerked that she could write the eulogy. Jess rightly noted she was ill-equipped to talk about Walt’s life and legacy since she’d only met him once — while he was selling gangsters fraudulent horse semen, no less — but Nick had completely shut down. Trying to help on a more basic level, Jess suggested, “For Elvis-themed music… what about Elvis?” Nick: “Really, I’m so slammed right now, I can’t hear new stuff.” Well that answered the question of where Nick was emotionally. And now Jess was writing Walt’s eulogy.

NEXT: “You beautiful black butterfly”

Amid all this upheaval, Schmidt was showing signs of fight-or-flight. At one point he even suggested to Winston and Jess, “Maybe none of us should go to the funeral. The early buzz on this thing is that it’s going to be a real drag.” His reticence was only made worse because the airline lost his luggage and he had to wear Walt’s double-breasted suit. “Look at all these buttons,” he fretted to Winston. “I look like a remote control. … I don’t even know how to use these but-tons!” As anyone with a basic understanding of pop psychology could see, Schmidt was grappling with his own mortality. Or as he put it, “Death, Winston[ghostly whisper] death!” Schmidt had envisioned all sorts of scenarios in which Walt would turn zombie in his open casket and/or haunt them, and his freak-out culminated in a frantic attempt to free himself from the suit that ended with Schmidt trapped, Cornholio-style, in Walt’s many-buttoned suit.

Winston realized he had to talk his friend down from the ledge, so they held a nerve-easing mock funeral. Schmidt knelt over Winston-as-corpse and began: “You left us too soon… you beautiful black butterfly.” Winston: “Start over.” Schmidt mentioned the first time he met Winston. He imagined they’d be rivals, not only for Nick’s friendship but also “for who wore Easter colors best.” But the rivalry blossomed into friendship, he said, as he leaned in to kiss Winston’s forehead. (At this, Winston’s eye-roll was priceless.) “We’ve laughed… we’ve swum… you cut my toenails. Are you the brother that I never had? No. You’re the brother that I’ve always had.” Winston was stirred: “That was beautiful, man.” And Schmidt FREAKED OUT. Apparently Schmidt hadn’t fully made his peace with death yet, and Winston’s sudden movement had only worsened the fear.

Back downstairs, Jess talked with Jamie and Bobby about Walt. She mostly confirmed Walt was a shifty sort — that he had “a table at every diner in town, silverware from the finest hotels in the region,” and a thick gold chain that may or may not have belonged to Bobby’s father (this spurred a squabble between the Miller boys). Later, as Nick haggled with the cemetery over Walt’s burial plot (“Two thousand dollars?! What if it wasn’t six feet under? How much for three feet?”), Jess continued to run afoul of Bonnie by implying the Elvis theme wasn’t the most important thing. Bad move. “Elvis is everything,” growled Bonnie. Auntie Ruthie chimed in, not for the first time, “Want some of my weed?” Jess approached Nick to convince him to take on the eulogy, but he was in full panic mode. He told Jess, “Nobody wants to hear what I have to say about my dad,” and refused to hear her notion that it might bring him closure. With that, he fled the house.

NEXT: Schmidt does the dip

The next day, when Nick showed up to the funeral, he was obviously drunk — and so was the man he’d hired for $20 to play Elvis. (“I thought you wanted me to kill Elvis,” slurred the lout.) Nick told Jess he’d had approximately “one dozen beers” before writing the “gigliography.” No wait, the “urology.” Or maybe the “eulogish.” Of course he meant the eulogy, which said — in its entirety — “Walt Miller… amirite?” Brilliant in its simplicity, but yeah… Jess took charge, telling Winston to buy them some time while she sobered up Nick. She also told Schmidt, “Stop asking people if they can smell the body. That is rude! It’s inappropriate, and it’s offensive.”

From his perch at the door farthest away from Walt’s corpse, Schmidt noticed Bobby hovering over the casket to swipe Walt’s gold chain. He instinctively swooped in, all, “Long Island, son!” In the resulting scuffle, his face was pushed into the casket and brushed against Walt’s smooth, dead face. At first he panicked and screamed, “Desecration!” But once he had a moment to process what had just happened, a look of victory spread across his face. Schmidt was no longer afraid. Then, to prove his courage, Schmidt repeatedly dipped into the casket, threatening Bobby in hyper-masculine voice, “I could do this all day. All day, son. All. Day! Wassup?” (Just one of the things Schmidt could do all day, including ankle swirls and donkey raises, as we now know.) In any case, it weirded out Bobby enough to make him leave.

Over in the bathroom, we got a hint of an average day in Jess and Nick’s future relationship. She helped him put on his tie as he made excuses for not writing Walt’s eulogy. Seeing her disapproval, he said meekly (but in a husky voice that was super-sexy), “You’re mad at me. You got the mad face.” To Jess’s credit, she wasn’t mad, not even disappointed — that most dreaded of words used by parents, teachers, and lovers. She sweetly promised to have his back, no matter “how stupid things get — and you and I both know it can get really, really stupid.” She continued, “I’m going to be there. I’m going to hold your hand. And I wanted to tell you that last night, but you ran away.” They stood there. And there was no potential for a kiss for many reasons — his drunken vulnerability, the somber circumstances, and, of course, the wasted-faceded barfly emerging from the toilet stall in a too-tight Elvis jumpsuit. But it wasn’t about any of that. It was about these two people who don’t always need to fill silence with passion. They love each other and have each other’s backs. Maybe they’ll never get to the point where they’re properly in love (though I know you Newbies want that so very, very much!), but that doesn’t change the fact that they’ve developed a trust that has led to this tremendously satisfying and wonderfully authentic moment.

NEXT: Walt gets his Elvis, Nick gets verklempt

Back in the chapel, with no Elvis and no Nick, Bonnie asked Winston to take the mic. “Keep it light,” she begged. “Don’t mention the felony thing… or Paraguay… or the storage space.” Winston dutifully walked to the podium and began to share his philosophy that a funeral should be a celebration and a party. It’s what Walt would have wanted, he said. Then he looked back to gesture at Walt and… oh dear, abort! Abort! The sight of his scam artist father figure shot full of formaldehyde was too much for Winny. He looked back at the crowd in alarm, tried (and failed) to collect himself, then let out a Stanley Kowalski howl before collapsing and screaming, “Walt! I can’t do this no’ mo’, Walt!”

Bonnie headed to the prep room. Even with some distance, Winston’s wails were still audible and mixed repulsively as “Elvis” struggled to stifle his vomit. Usual steely, Bonnie crumbled and vowed to send everyone home before walking back toward the chapel. Jess ran after to reach out. In return, she got a venomous look and a terse warning, “Are you tapping me on the shoulder, girly? Let me make this totally clear: I don’t want you here. I don’t know you. I don’t know your people.” She turned again. And Jess reached out instinctively again. Bonnie snarled, “Are you tapping me twice?” She said she’d rather not have the funeral like this and stormed out. At which point “Elvis” upchucked and passed out.

Just as Bonnie stood up before her friends and family to deliver the bad news, a thick twang echoed through the room: “Stop the funeral! Everybody sit down. This is the King.” Bonnie: “What the hell?!” Apparently “making it right” in Jess land means jumping into a rhinestone-bedazzled onesie, plopping on a pompadour, and putting on a show. She said, “I think you mean… ‘What the heaven?’ mama,” then strode into the chapel and launched into a rendition of “In the Ghetto.” Granted, it wasn’t the most obvious choice song selection, but it was the literal one thanks to a lyric about Chicago in the snow.

The impromptu concert was touch-and-go for a minute. About the time Bonnie threatened to take Jess out, Nick returned and beheld his roomfriend with an expression that can only be described as loving admiration. He told Bonnie it was exactly what Walt would have liked — though he probably would have faked a fall and sued the funeral home. With Bonnie pacified, Jess hit pause on her performance so Nick could deliver his eulogy. It was honest about his constant (usual intentional) skirmishes with Walt, and Jake Johnson’s voice gave way just enough when Nick said ruefully, “He was very good at gambling.” He immediately followed with, “He had a great mustache…” (cue a hilariously authentic, over-the-top breakdown from Winston) and noted, “he was so mean to cabbies in such a cool way.” Finally, Walt “never was scared,” said Nick. “How did he do that?” He took a deep breath. “I don’t know if Walt was a good guy or a bad guy in the whole scheme of things, but he was my dad, and I’m sure gonna miss him.” Well done, Jake. Well. Done.

Having let it all out, Nick hung his head silently and finally gave into the sober reality before him. Jess stepped forward, her big eyes wide, and grabbed his hand just as she had promised she would. Cut to Bonnie, who now understood what made this girl special. Jess asked Nick, “You okay, mama?” He said he would be. Jess resumed “In the Ghetto,” which could have been horribly tone-deaf move, but it was actually what everybody needed. Soon enough, they were all singing and clapping. Nick showed off his sweet falsetto, and Bonnie even did an Elvis-style hip swivel. Behind it all, Schmidt told Winston: “I really feel transported to the ghet-to.” Winston looked at his friend in disbelieving silence. As usual.

The next day, as the roomies set off for the airport, Schmidt received a warning from TSA employee Bobby — still sore over the gold chain — never to visit Boston or else he might find a gun in his baggage. Winston had loaded his pockets with Walt paraphernalia. And Bonnie took Jess aside to give her a Ziploc bag full of cheese puffs and a hug while Nick look at his ladies with a knowing smile. He walked over to Bonnie, who apologized for how dependent the family had been on Nick. She added, “I’m glad you have someone who takes care of you [now].” Cut to Jess trying in vain to open the snack bag with her mitten-covered hands. Unbearable cuteness aside, Nick and Jess had turned this ship around. Together. Sure, it wasn’t the sexiest episode in the traditional sense, but it was a major stepping stone for them and a necessary bit of grounding for the show. Thank you, writers. Thank you very much.

NEXT: There are levels of Elvis impersonators?

Notable Dotables…

Jess: Guess what! I got balloons! From a guy in a van! I love this neighborhood. I really love it.

Winston: What does that say? [reading balloons] “Me so horny.” Very good. “No credit, no problem.” And “Happy 100th, Jane!”

Jess: I don’t think she made it, but she lived a good life.

Jess: So this is where Nick Miller grew up!

Nick: Well, except for the fall of ’88 to the spring of ’89 — that was our van year.

Jess: Are you having time to process this?

Nick: I’m just trying to figure out the level of Elvis impersonator we can afford. I think a white one’s out of reach.

Winston [pretending to be dead]: Approach me and don’t be afraid.

Schmidt: Just promise not to move, all right? That’s what I’m afraid of.

Winston: Are you kidding me?

Schmidt: Also, you can’t breathe.

Winston: Schmidt, I need to breathe. Because I’m coaching you and also for regular life reasons. Now just calm down, find a joyful memory, and let it lift you to the sky.

Schmidt [kneels down]: You left us too soon… you beautiful black butterfly.

Winston: Start over.

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Zooey Deschanel plays lovable Jess, who is plodding through life with a good group of friends.

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