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January 08, 2014 at 05:30 AM EST

It’s a new year, Newbies, and Jess & Co. had to look back in order to move forward on Tuesday night. Given this season’s unfortunate stasis thus far, it was only appropriate that “Clavado En Un Bar” (named after the song that closed out the ep) was predicated upon a scenario that could have been a total game-changer, at least in Jess’s mind, but it ultimately resulted in the gang mostly resisting any sort of forward movement.

Sure, the ep had its moments (“this crazy English muffin we call Winston’s life,” a recurring visual gag involving African-American newborns and basketballs, Nick’s habit of quoting sports movies like… A League of Their Own), but season 3 has yet to recapture last spring’s magic or sense of character development. That said, tonight’s installment opened and closed many doors for the characters, so maybe it will ultimately set up a bit of momentum so that New Girl can close out the season on better footing. Until then… read on to find out about Jess’s potentially life-changing opportunity. 

The set-up: Jess was offered a job at a children’s museum where she’d been volunteering, and she only had 21 minutes to decide whether to take it, which would not only change her entire career path but also untether her sense of identity from her job as a teacher. A substantially higher salary at the museum job was one of its biggest pros, especially in light of a recent “renovation hiccup” at her school that meant she was facing months, maybe years, of sharing a classroom with both the algebra and biology classes (the latter’s teacher was played by the ever-hilariously creepy Brian Posehn). But, again, so much of Jess’s identity was tied up in her career. What was a dork to do?

When $45 of Scotch from the guys’ tasting didn’t provide any clarity, Jess began to listen to the stories of her friends and roommates. Winston got the ball rolling when he flashed back to himself being handed a basketball as an hours-old infant. Winny was trying to emphasize the importance of making decisions, claiming he’d had to make some really tough ones in his day. Only problem? Through the course of telling his story, he realized he’d never made a decision in his damn life — well, except for some truly questionable style choices (a nose ring and Dennis Rodman-style blue-and-cheetah-dyed hair, for starters). Throughout his glory days as “the ninth man off the bench in the eighth-best team in Latvia,” which resulted in a transfer to a hillside team and a consequent career-ending injury, Winston had been a pawn of fate all along. Was he, as he wondered aloud, “just living inside the mind of a giant?” That quandary aside, Winston finally did make a decision — to quit his current job. Ensuring he’d have to make a real go of this new independence, he “burnt a lot of bridges today… stuff got weird, stuff got racial. [He] used a lot of swear words then got sexual.” Considering Winny the Bish couldn’t even decide on a consolation drink (Nick ended up pouring his usual double amaretto with extra cherries), his immediate future is dicey at best.

Like Jess, Schmidt had also been a volunteer once. Specifically, a candy striper. (“Sick people wanted me. Dying people wanted to be me,” he explained. Nick offered a different perspective: “[You were] like a 300-pound wall of peppermint bark.”) He took a right turn away from selflessness, though, when he developed a crush on an NILTH (“Nurse I’d Like to Hug”). After the guy she was dating, who happened to be in advertising, off-handedly advised Schmidt that he’d never get a girlfriend without a more lucrative occupation, Schmidt abandoned altruism for good. Unfortunately, Schmidt knew he was too rotund for a looks-conscious ad man position, so he joined Nick on a Christmas tree lot, helped by how his “wide center of gravity made [him] freakishly strong.” While Schmidt slimmed down and toned up through manual labor, he also worked on his sales pitches. Soon enough, his boss fell ill (to the tune of “Gangsta’s Paradise” because…?) and advised him that money was all that mattered in this world. He left the trees to the birds, dropped the pounds, and moved up in corporate America. And just in case you weren’t completely clear where Schmidt stood on Jess’s job conundrum, his exact words were, “Follow them ducats.” (All of this wasn’t to say Schmidt had totally hardened his heart to his humbler days; at the end of the episode, he stopped by a tree lot on his way home at the end of the ep — which I’m guessing was supposed to air in December? — and took part in a little nostalgic Christmastime capitalism.)

NEXT PAGE: Coach’s real name, Nick and Cece’s stories, and Jess’s decision

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