Lily's sleepover puts stress on Mitch and Jay, Manny breaks some rules, and Phil learns to let his favorite feathered friends go.
It was the dads’ time to shine tonight on Modern Family, as Jay, Mitch, and Phil all learned new lessons in parenting — even if Phil learned lessons when it came to both his biological children and his beloved ducks. Speaking of which…
Claire, Haley, and Luke vs. the Ducks
Just to get it out of the way: No ducks — mighty or otherwise — were harmed in the making of this episode (hopefully), though Claire and her children came close to doing so. When Phil heads out to visit Alex on campus, the trio try to abandon the ducks by taking them to a local park; after all, they’ve had enough of the ducks wandering around the Dunphy home, and the ducks probably want to leave the nest.
But when Claire opens the cage, she begins to reminisce about how cute the ducks were as ducklings and realizes just in time that the three ducks resembled the personalities of her three children — a fact she assumes is the reason why Phil wanted to keep them for as long as possible. When the ducks head for a pond (“Does everyone get rid of their ducks here?” asks duck-brained Luke), they figure out their original ducks by noting their actions. The Luke-resembling duck gets his head stuck in a Fritos bag. The Haley-resembling duck is the one with “big brown eyes that take up half her face.” And the Alex-resembling duck, the smartest, responds when Claire plays fetch with her.
By the time Phil returns home, though, he’s already noticed the ducks are gone — a twist we’ll get to in a bit.
Phil Visits Alex
To prepare for his visit to the Caltech campus, Phil dresses up as a Bill Nye the Science Guy lookalike. Ladies and gents, please meet Phil Nye:
…the Definitely-Not-a-Science Guy. He’s careless in the robotics lab Alex takes him to, when he accidentally turns on all of the robots in the room and embarrasses her in front of the school’s, um, “football” team. Thankfully, the rise of the machines is brief, and Alex gets a chance to tell her dad about wanting to commute from home to class instead of staying on campus. Phil, picking up on her anxiety, wonders if something happened, and Alex decides to spill, telling him she’s been feeling left out and uncomfortable and annoyed among all of her peers. She hasn’t fit in, and as much as Phil tells her it’ll take time to figure out where she belongs, she doesn’t believe it. “I’m smart enough to know what’s working for me,” she says indignantly. “This isn’t working.”
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Later, Phil approaches Alex in her dorm room, where she ignores his joke about uranium but listens as he touchingly tells her that everyone’s college experience is different but that, as her dad, he just wants to make sure that she’s tried her hardest at college life. He hands her a package (she asked for noise-canceling headphones), but after he leaves, she realizes he had given her a gown and a pair of goggles — the objects she needed to participate in a freshman tradition.
Still, after all that, Alex isn’t the only one learning a lesson: When Phil returns home, he chides Claire for attempting to abandon the ducks, but then proceeds to let them go himself because he’s realized, after his day with Alex, that he needs to let others, well, spread their wings on their own. So he, along with the would-be duck-abandoners, heads to the roof and lets each duck go one by one in a mini-version of Fly Away Home…but with ducks:
As for Alex? She goes through that freshman tradition, donning the goggles and leaping off a diving board into a pool far below, to cheers from her classmates.
NEXT: A caper for Cam’s Gloria’s sauce
Manny, the (Little) Man With a Plan
Cam, instead of chaperoning Lily’s sleepover, arrives at the Pritchetts’ to tell Gloria some exciting news. First, the good: The sauce — made from Gloria’s secret family recipe — has been accepted into Granddaddy’s Holiday Gift Baskets. And then, the bad: They have to make way more sauce than they have now, and to make it all, they’ll need more blood peppers.
Manny, trying to prove he’s not always a goody two-shoes, concocts a plan to get Gloria and Cam inside the restricted area of the Botanical Garden, a site he knows oddly well. In the only heist Gloria and Cam can probably ever pull off together, they make their circuitous way to the blood peppers, harvest enough for sauce, and return ready to make more jars for the gift baskets.
Unfortunately, Cam makes the mistake of showing her his mockup for their sauce’s label, which features plenty of Cam but only one small silhouette of Gloria. Gloria protests and asks to end the partnership, a move that Cam considers “breaking up.” And with that, the Cam monologue begins, shifting from frustration to sadness to anger to denial in less than 60 seconds. Gloria, meanwhile, just watches him ramble until finally he stops being a mess and concludes that Gloria was only motivating him to make his own sauce. Even with that reconciliation, though, the pair needs much more help getting the sauce in jars and ready to go, which leads them to…
Jay and Mitch vs. Lily’s Sleepover
Mitch was doomed from the start. Not only was he intent on being a “fun dad” (oof) in front of Lily’s Vietnamese dance troupe, he’s also convinced he can impress the parents of the other girls, who are all Vietnamese. As he tries to connect Lily with her heritage, he ends up offending one parent, Mrs. Tran, with a crude joke about having “a couple of trans” over for dinner — and things just get worse from there, culminating in a final scene in front of Mrs. Tran that, well, definitely doesn’t look good.
Luckily for Mitch, Jay arrives in time with air mattresses in tow to help him quell all the screaming. He advises Mitch to tire out the crowd, which helps them get to sleep faster. At first, Mitch refuses, believing he can handle everything the girls do. But soon enough, things get a little out of hand:
Jay tries to wear the girls out by putting on an old tape of a Jane Fonda workout he used to use to lose weight. The pair stretch and punch and kick, but the girls aren’t getting any more exhausted. Instead, as Lily leads her friends away upstairs to do more energetic sleepover activities, Jay becomes energized enough to accomplish his goal of getting them to bed ASAP, and in walks the perfect solution: Cam and Gloria and the sauce that needs bottling.
Quickly, the family sets up an, oh no, assembly line, where the girls get to work bottling the sauce while donning hair nets and getting instructions doled out to them from Jay. When Mrs. Tran returns, she grows horrified at the spectacle, despite Mitch trying to explain the situation.
The uncomfortable moment does end up wearing out the rest of the girls, though. At the end of the night, they all doze off to sleep as Jay reads from a closet-building instruction manual, and when he heads to check on Mitch, even Mitch has fallen asleep on the couch. Jay kindly places a blanket on him and heads out with the copy of the Jane Fonda workout, pleased with his sleepover success.
Line of the Night: “In many ways, you fetched me.” —Phil, saying goodbye to Feathers the Duck, in the most nonsensical farewell line ever. (Yes, Feathers could fetch, but [in a Claire-ish voice] come on, Phil!)
Family MVP: I have to hand it to Phil this week. He worked hard to help Alex and would have been fine with whatever she chose to do, but perhaps more important, he managed to learn a life lesson for himself. No, no, not the one about leaving the ducks — the one about how important it is to not make robots mad:
Be careful, Phil. Like Alex said, one day, they’ll r e m e m b e r.