Episode 18: The Wow Factor
By: Carlos Uribe
Modern Family is a show about three branches of a family.
Manipulation plays a key role in this episode. Take the Claire and Cam plot for instance. The two are working together to prepare home so they can flip it. The two want to get their way so they try their best into manipulating the other to get it. Cam will reveal an expensive option so that he can sneak in the more reasonable one while Claire will try to confuse him with numbers. The numbers don't even make sense. When they call each other out for manipulating the other when they disagree about water fountains, Cam brings in a third party. He claims that this party is there to be neutral but he reveals that not only is she a lesbian but her kid goes to the same school as Lily. I kept waiting for the writers to use the whole kid thing to tie it with the Mitchell plot but they never went there. Cam's plan seems like it would have worked except this third party expresses interest in Claire. When Claire realizes this, she tries her best to use her body to gain an upper hand. The two have a tug-of-war to try and get the third party to rule their way. This party does go with Claire. Cam is upset at first but he decides to prove his point by having water fountains installed regardless. The problem is that he took it a bit far by including actual goldfish into the fountains. It seemed like a good idea except the fountains turned out to be a death trap for them. Opps. This plot was funny because the conflict between the characters was solid.
That's not the only plot that deals with manipulation. Jay doesn't want to go to a four-hour book reading of Moby Dick. He convinces Gloria to spend the day with Manny before she finds out about the event. It's shady but Jay is using his desire to bond with his baby as cover. Only Jay isn't really that sincere in his desire to spend a day with his son. He skips the baby class in favor of going to see Skyfall. When the baby starts to cry, one of Claire's old friends offers to take care of the baby so he can finish watching the movie. This seems smart except Gloria didn't want to go the reading. She lies to Manny that the reading is sold out so she takes him to the mall instead. One event leads to another and she's mad at Jay for having lied to her. Only this argument leads to the revelation that she has been lying as well but this surprisingly doesn't lead to them realizing the errors of their way. Gloria remains mad at Jay. She lies for the sake of the whole family while Jay lies for his own benefit. It's an assessment that's not entirely accurate but Jay knows better than to push it. She's only able to forgive him when she catches Jay spending time with his family. It's a good plot that helps to subvert expectations before going into the feel-good ending that the writers can't help but go to. It wasn't as funny as the Claire and Cam plot but it had it's moments.
The final two plots have to do with the remaining characters. Phil realizes that his daughters don't know the first thing about maintaining a home. He decides to try and teach them. The problem is two-fold. The first is that they don't want to learn. This may not seem like a big deal but you can only teach someone effectively if they have a desire to know. The second is that the day doesn't go his way when he's not able to fix a problem. He actually manipulates his daughters by sending them to buy a wrench he's always wanted but doesn't need. What he's really doing is sending them away from the house so he could call his dad. If he had called his dad while they were still here then it would have undermined the lesson he was trying to teach them. His dad is able to help him out but then Phil learns something. His dad actually likes the calls because it makes him feel like he's still needed. Phil decides to stop teaching his daughters because he knows they'll learn when they have to and when they need help they'll call him. Notice how even though this plot didn't seem like it, it still had an element of manipulation in it. It was pretty funny and it was just the right amount of time.
The final plot has to do with Mitchell. He has to drop Lily off at school but then he learns that there's a small kid who dominates the handball game. This kid is a total bully and this brings up Mitchell's hatred of bullies. When he faces the kid in a game, he instantly loses. He believes that in doing so, his daughter lost respect for him. So he turns to Luke to become a better player. He does and he's able to beat the kid. Only he takes the game too seriously and forgets that the kid is still just a child. The school sends him a letter because Mitchell became the one thing he hated the most: a bully. It was a decent plot but it really didn't work for me until the very end when the closing credits showed a montage of Luke training Mitchell. That instantly became the best part of the episode. It's always great to see Luke having to train or teach another character not only because he gets results but because his methods are simply great. The closing tag credits even tie this Mitchell plot into the manipulation theme when Luke manipulates his uncle in order to teach him a lesson: don't let Mitchell's opponent get into his head.
Overall, The Wow Factor is an episode that doesn't really wow. I'm not saying it's not a bad episode or even close to that. It's a good, solid episode but that's where it sticks. It has some great laughs and the ending is easily the best part. The narratives were strong and the common manipulation theme really works to create a concrete plot. At the same time, the magic that is necessary to really make a Modern Family episode stand out really isn't there. The Wow Factor is a rather enjoyable episode of the show but don't expect to be impressed.