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May 08, 2013 at 04:30 AM EDT

This season’s penultimate episode really felt like a moment to breathe, didn’t it Newbies? With last week’s major gearshift in play and next week’s season finale in the wings, it was nice to have the chance to process. Even better, this moment was accompanied by some unexpected sweetness from Nick and a reminder that Jess is more than just an object to be desired — not to mention some independent romantic developments between Cece/Shivrang and Schmidt/Elizabeth that will make next week’s wedding-stravaganza more complicated and dynamic. It wasn’t the most high-octane episode, but I’d argue that’s for the best. And so…

We rejoined the roomfriends the morning after. Nick woke up with a goofy smile on his face, not even slightly freaked out as he leaned in to gently caress Jess’s back and give her a peck on the shoulder. Then, seeing that she was abnormally still, he started to freak out. Of course she was alive, but that didn’t stop him from reaching over to check her pulse. Ohhhh, Nick. They giggled cutely, only a little awkwardly, before he told her to stay in bed while he took care of something. As he departed, she found a giant soft pretzel under his pillow (random, but ha!). In the kitchen, Nick prepared his version of a romantic breakfast — ridiculously undercooked eggs, a mangled half grapefruit, a slice of pie (“dessert!”), a glass of orange juice, and a Heisler beer. (He considered putting a daisy in the beer bottle, then behind his ear, before abandoning it entirely.) Bless his heart, that Nick. He’s adorable but not exactly skilled at presentation.

Just as Nick began heading back into his bedroom, he ran into Jess’s dad Bob (Rob Reiner), who clearly didn’t remember Nick’s name. Bob mentioned he’d come to town for Cece’s wedding and that “Wilson” had let him in. He asked about the tray of “lady food” Nick was carrying, and Nick lied it was for “Wilson” on his birthday. Winston knew it was a lie but begrudgingly accepted because, well, what else was he getting?

A bit later, since Bob apparently hadn’t noticed that Jess had emerged from Nick’s room in Nick’s shirt (and nothing else). So Jess had gotten dressed and set about convincing Nick to keep his yap shut lest Bob freak out. Flash back to a bunch of Shriners-type guys riding miniature pick-up trucks in biker gang-style circles around a boy Jess had kissed in elementary school. Nick was down that plan, but things hit a hitch when Jess was called in for a last-minute substitute teaching gig that could turn into a full-time position. If she wanted to get back into teaching kids, it was now or never. So Jess headed off to her unexpected substituting gig — which was mostly wrangling Blackboard Jungle-style hooligans and a vaguely sexually harassing, baby goat-obsessed principal played by Curtis Armstrong (a.k.a. Booger from Revenge of the Nerds) — all while juggling Maid of Honor responsibilities for an exhausted Cece (more on that later).

Meanwhile, Nick was alone all day with Bob. Nick cracked basically after the first question about his love life and admitted there was a girl in his life. “She’s not quirky,” he lied. “She’s got no bangs. Tall, fat… really ugly eyes — small, tiny little beady eyes. Her name is, uh… Yolanda Winston.” (Yes!) Bob had many things to tell Nick about the ladies — also, sandwich making. So good was his advice, in fact, that Nick noted, “I don’t know how to get a podcast, but you should look into it.” In any case, when Bob told Nick that “any girl would be lucky to have a guy like you,” Nick took this as a greenlight to reveal that “Yolanda” was actually Jess. Let’s just say s— got real: Bob took chase after Nick, who let out a scream I heretofore believed only five-year-old girls could emit.

Jess knew Bob and Nick’s QT would most likely end badly, so she’d rushed home from work. But she was too late. On the upside, Nick had dropped the polo mallet, tiny baseball bat, and golden seashell ashtray he was using to protect his junk. Nonetheless, Jess arrived in time to hear Bob call Nick “a lazy, drunken cable thief.” Jess insisted Bob didn’t know anything about Nick or their relationship, but Bob said he knew exactly who Nick was because he used to be that guy, and his own aimlessness ultimately led to his divorce. This criticism hit home for Nick, and Jess couldn’t do anything about it, so she headed back to work. Cue the emotional breakdown in which she told the kids things like “I can’t date my dad” and how life “kicks your ass.” One of her students comforted her with a pack of cigarettes and an offer to drive her to the movies in his car. Did I mention he was about 12 years old?

Jess returned home later that night and found Bob blowing up an air mattress directly between her and Nick’s rooms. She insisted he didn’t have to worry about her, but he told her that was his job as her father. After Bob fell asleep, Jess got a text from Nick to meet on the roof. To make up for the day o’ disaster, he’d set the table with the breakfast he’d hoped to serve her before that morning. Though they didn’t get a chance to talk things over just yet, it was clear they’re both committed to figuring out their relationship and not brushing it under the rug. Next week, Newbies!

NEXT: Let Winston eat cake!

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