By Lanford Beard
Updated October 23, 2013 at 05:33 AM EDT
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Greg Gayne/Fox

New Girl

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Trick or treat, Newbies? As it turned out, a little bit of both. I’ll admit a good portion of this week’s episode felt like an apple bobbing around on the surface, but when that last scene came… let’s just say there are ripples in store. Sure, there’s not a lot of physical distance separating Schmidt from the loftmates as we move forward, but it’s clear he’s establishing plenty of emotional distance. How much? Enough for Coach to jump right back in there and create a big ol’ ruckus. All told, tonight wasn’t actually another filler episode — it set up the trajectory that will take us all the way to New Girl‘s midseason finale… and maybe beyond. Color me intrigued.

After the narrative stasis of last week’s “The Box,” we picked back up pretty much where we left off two episodes ago: Schmidt was self-flagellating for his infidelity through food, namely a steady intake of cold cuts and mayonnaise straight from the tube. Jess called an everyone-but-Schmidt meeting in the empty loft across the hall, which Nick claimed was haunted (the lady who’d lived there had died on the toilet). Still, Jess powered on with her agenda, claiming she was worried about Schmidt’s declining health, about how he’d skipped out on work for three days, and how he’d begun muttering about politics and the meaninglessness of life. In fact, she was having a Halloween party that night and just couldn’t “have him lying on the couch, wiping his tears with deli meat.”

Though Nick insisted he could handle Schmidt’s nitrate-fueled existential crisis, by the time Schmidt had punched a hole in a pumpkin Winston was carving (while singing a homespun ditty: “Pumpkin-ee-ing!”), Winston suggested there might be a fallback plan and began, “When Schmidt was 7 years old….” But Nick cut him off. You see, Nick is a teller of stories — you don’t write Z Is for Zombie without knowing how to spin a yarn, amirite? So he began: “When Schmidt was 7 years old….” (At this, Winston threw up his hands.)

Long story short, after Schmidt’s father left, Mama Schmidt saw her son getting sucked into “an endless cycle of crying and chocolate” and started to write her son letters from his hero Michael Keaton, who played Batman (as Nick put it, “not the confusing new one, the good one”). The pen pals worked together to solve all Schmidt’s adolescent problems and, when collegiate life proved harder and more replete with lunch meats than Schmidt’s mother had imagined, she handed the power of the pen over to Nick. At this, Jess gasped, “You’ve been Catfishing Schmidt!” Despite Winston’s insistence, Nick refused to resume the correspondence, saying it would betray not only Schmidt but also Michael Keaton. But as we learned last week (and many times before), Jess just can’t help herself. The minute Winston and Nick left the room, she opened up Nick’s laptop and wrote Schmidt his first letter from Keaton in three years.

NEXT: Things start Keaton up

Certain Schmidt wouldn’t be coming to her party, Jess visited Cece and found her bestie wallowing in a pile of beer cans and her own filth. She pinky-swore Cece they wouldn’t cross paths and returned home, where Schmidt cheerfully name-dropped that his “old friend” Michael Keaton had told him to skip the party. Upon hearing this, Nick flew into a bug-eyed panic. After Schmidt left the room, he told Jess that any misstep could lead to the revelation that “Keaton” wasn’t real and create “a Truman Show situation.” (Cue a running gag that Winston refuses to admit he never actually saw The Truman Show, including but not limited to his insistence that the film was “about the Civil War.”) Nick said Schmidt had almost learned the truth once in college, but Nick had “handled it,” i.e. he had taken a blunt object to Schmidt’s head. Jess cockily dashed off an e-mail telling Schmidt that “Keaton” was going on vacation, but the abrupt change in tone threw Schmidt into a deep depression. The roomies found him lying on his bed, and he told them, “I guess I’ll just always be the fat boy who eats fat-boy cheese….” Seriously, he must have taken out half a block in one bite! And then he whimpered. Repeatedly.

Nick scuttled Jess and Winston to the empty loft across the hall, where he donned a DIY Batman mask and readied himself to rescue Schmidt from dairy despair. While Jess broke it to Winston that his hero Robin was a joke, Nick stole liberally from Nelson Mandela as he/”Keaton” wrote a note to Schmidt: “Courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.” To keep things Keaton-y, Nick added, “Remember what happened with the Penguin and the Riddler!” And he did all this while staring at a picture of a bear because “The great Michael Keaton attacks each new problem with the ferocity of a hungry brown bear. It is his entire acting philosophy — which I totally made up.”

Across the hall, Schmidt was happily condescending to trick-or-treaters and sending replies to Keaton when he heard the sound of his own messages being received. With that, the jig was up.

NEXT: Nick drops the Mike

Cut to later that night. Jess had dressed up as Joey Ramone-a Quimby, Winston was channeling his inner David Letterman (a costume based solely on a miscommunication at work that even included a completely inaccurate Letterman laugh), and Nick was wearing bunch of trash from his car because, you know… Nick. Instead of confronting his roommates, Schmidt popped up behind them and informed them he’d come to the party as a Public Serpent. (Check out the whole gang’s costumes here!) He told them he’d reread the e-mails from Keaton and determined that his icon would have wanted him to go to the party, then he smirkily complimented a clueless Winston on his “great costume: Maya Angelou.”

Jess sent Winston to stall Cece while she and Nick tried to put the charade back on track. Only, after a few too many slugs of Jack Daniels, she was sending “Keaton” e-mails to Schmidt willy-nilly — everything from “You’re in great danger, leave where you are immediately” to “I’ll meet you at your building in 30 minutes.” Long story short, a tipsy Jess borrowed a Batman costume from a random kid and embarked upon a laughably unconvincing impression of Michael Keaton as Batman circa 1989. Schmidt was wise to all this, but he of course gave his friends a few beats to humiliate themselves.

And yet! After all that, Schmidt spat, “You should be ashamed of yourselves. How dare you hack into the private e-mail account of one of our nation’s finest actors!” Jess was in so deep she was more than willing to preserve this last shred of Schmidt’s illusion, but Nick couldn’t keep up the lie any longer. He admitted, “I’m the owner of the e-mail address KeatonPotatoes@aol.com — it was me the whole time. How do you think I know that you kissed the bus driver at Spring Break? Or that you want to open up a glassware boutique in Connecticut? Or about the wall hole?” Setting what that means aside, Schmidt was particularly chagrined that his mom had originally conceived of the deceit — and advised him through a series of embarrassing public erections. (“I drew pictures!”)

And in case you didn’t think there was any more humiliation in store for Schmidt, that was exactly the moment when Winston arrived with Cece. Schmidt turned to run away and inadvertently knocked down a trick-or-treater. One of the kid’s friends screamed, “A bully!” and the tweens began mercilessly beating Schmidt with their candy-filled pillowcases. All while Cece watched. On the bright side, Nick no longer had the guilt of lying to his best friend for 12 years, and Schmidt was willing to accept his apology — even if the last bit (“You don’t need Keaton, you’ve got me“) sounded like “the end of a high school football movie.” What’s more, the bizarre interaction gave Cece some much-needed closure. A relieved Jess suggested they “fire up the ‘Batmanmobile,’ go to a taco stand, and eat some feelings.”

The next morning, Nick was cleaning up the mess from the party when Schmidt wheeled a suitcase to the door and said he’d made a decision. Nick asked, “You going to one of those weekend spas again, buddy?” (Jess echoed this question a few beats later.) But this wasn’t a weekend retreat — it was a new chapter in Schmidt’s life. He announced that, like Billy Joel, he was “Movin’ Out.” Well, it was Jess who almost had a heart attack-ack-ack-ack-ack at this — and Winston, who asked forlornly, “Who’s gonna do my fades?” — as Schmidt symbolically grabbed the (overflowing) Douchebag Jar, stuffed it into a box, and opened the door to leave (Jess: “Come on! How are you going to fit all your socks in that suitcase?”). Schmidt saluted them, saying, “Who knows when we’ll see each other again… or where?”

In fact, Schmidt’s journey to his new home wasn’t all that far. Just across the hall, as it were. Suffice it to say, the loftmates were suddenly a lot less upset. Or, as Nick put it, “It’d take me longer to walk from the kitchen to the bathroom than to where you are now.” Even after Schmidt closed the door on them, Jess chimed in, “I can see your feet!” Cut to a montage of Schmidt being joyously weird and alone in his new big-boy pad. Big question: How long ’til he gets a trampoline?

NEXT: The effect of an eCard

Notable Dotables…

Winston: You think you tell that story better than me? Look, you leave out way too many details, man. You don’t just say he was chewing a candy bar, you say he was chewing on a nougat-y candy bar.

Nick: That’s not the kind of writer I am. I don’t say words like “nougat-y.” I’m simple. I’m like Hemingway.

Jess: Who wants candy?

Nick: Did you go trick-or-treating?

Jess: No! I was out, I had my errand tote [with Jack-o-lanterns all over it], and a couple of neighbors gave me candy. Is that trick-or-treating?

Nick: Yes, that’s the definition of trick-or-treating, Jess.

Schmidt, on the delicate nature of Internet communication…

“You think it’s too early to e-mail Michael back? Should I send him an eCard? Does that change anything? Or does that change everything?”

Schmidt: So it was you, not Keaton, who told me that women aren’t attracted to men who wear maternity pants?

Nick: Yeah, Schmidt, but that one I feel like I shouldn’t have had to.

Schmidt: They’re unbelievably comfortable.

Episode Recaps

New Girl

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