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October 23, 2013 at 05:33 AM EDT

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

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