Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Middle

The Middle
Episode 20: Dollar Days
By: Carlos Uribe

The Middle is a show about the Heck family, an average family in Indiana.

Spoilers Ahoy!

I am currently looking for an internship this summer. The search is frustrating because there's always a lot of people applying for the same job. I can totally relate to Frankie having problems actually getting a dental assistant job. This freaks me out a bit since that can only mean I'm getting older but at least I don't have a family I need to support. Frankie quickly figures out that it's going to be more difficult to secure a position than she thought. It all comes down to the question she's in the job interview. They ask her who she is. She doesn't actually know how to answer that question. The question forces her to try and define herself in a way that will sell herself as a brand. Who is she? The only answer she's able to really come up with is that she's a mother. She has three kids that make her tired and cranky but she does her best to raise them. She might not be a very good parent but she wants to be. The only person who tells her aspects that she wants to hear is her mom but she realizes that repeating those traits will only make her sound crazy. She does get a job in the end when she breaks down and admits that she doesn't know who she is. She's a mother who can get things out of her purse and keep the banks at bay. This impresses the dentist interviewing her. He wants Frankie because he's not good at dealing with kids and the government wants him to pay back his student loans. I could clearly relate to this plot due to my own internship search. It had a nice ending where she's able to get a job and I'm looking forward to seeing Jack McBrayer again. It might be a bit too soon since his 30 Rock role as I all could see him as is Dr. Kenneth but hopefully future episodes might be able to dispel that notion and make his new character stand out.

While Frankie looked for a job, Brick decided to join the boy scouts because a book about them appealed to him. His parents are a bit shocked at this news but he sticks with it through the whole episode. He earns his first badge while “helping” to make the bed and follows that with a camping trip. Only Mike has to get involved because the scout leader of their socially awkward class is too intense for kids. It's a pity that the episode didn't have this scout leader stick throughout the episode because he felt wasted being in just that one scene. He really acted as a plot device to ensure Mike stuck around but he could have contributed to the comedy throughout the episode. So Mike basically becomes the new scout leader but he soon learns while the socially awkward class got it's own troop. They are very demanding in their own unique ways. There's a kid who refuses to wear socks that have touched the ground, an obnoxiously loud one, and the kid who thinks he's a cat. It's a great gag in the episode when Mike has to keep waking up to take each kid home. In the end, the only two who made it through the whole night in the camping trip was Brick and himself. Brick is happy to earn his badge and it looks like the $40 wasn't a complete waste. It's doubtful that Brick's scout membership will last in future episodes but at least he didn't quit in the one where it mattered. It was a funny one. I couldn't relate to it as much because I was never in the scouts but it was nice to see some Brick-Mike bonding time. As a quick side note is how Brick's parents didn't want to pay the $40. It makes sense they wouldn't want to pay only to have him quit but it's also a realistic sign of their financial situation that $40 would be enough to actually matter. It might not be a lot of money to some families but to the Hecks it can be a significant investment.

The big story in Dollar Days really has to do with Sue and Axl. It's here where the episode breaks my heart. Darrin and Sue are getting closer to their relationship as they're officially dating. They make a pretty cute couple as evidenced by the scene where Darrin has to carry Sue around all day after losing a bet. The two might be great together but sadly they are not meant to survive. This is because of the primary obstacle in their relationship, Axl. Axl hasn't accepted that they're together. He might have realized he couldn't do anything about it but he can barely control his anger. An anger that is unleashed at the first paying gig for their band. The band has always been called Axl and the Axmen because he founded it. He liked the name as it helped to feed his ego. Axl is a character who likes to only think about himself. He's the kind of person who believes that the world revolves around him. The band name only backs up that assertion. Only Sue gets involved in the band because of Darrin. She not only wants to join it but she offers a new name suggestion: DeSeanAx. It's a combination of all of their names. Sean and Darrin like it but Axl doesn't want to accept it. He kind of has a point in that it sucks but he's a total jerk in rejecting it. He vetoes the name change but Sue goes ahead and orders the sticker behind his back. Axl flips out as he's angry at Sue for intruding on his life. She goes to his school, she's dating out of his friends, and now she's trying to take over his band. He's being completely immature but it's easy to understand his point-of-view. I might not agree with him but this is just how Axl views the world.

This outburst only leads to a fight between Darrin and Axl. A fight that ends when Sue accidentally gets punched in the face. The punch leads to disastrous results as it makes multiple people realize that their actions have consequences. Sue and Darrin realize that while they might be happy together but it's had a negative effect on Axl. Since Sue doesn't want to ruin Darrin and Axl's friendship, she breaks up with him. It's all very sad and there is no doubt that if it wasn't for Axl then they would still be together. The writers realize that Axl is a huge giant jerk this episode whose going to be completely unsympathetic and where viewers will turn against him so they have him also come to terms that he teases Sue a little too much. He's not going to stop because that would require a change in the status quo the series will probably never be ready to make but he is going to try and take his sister's feelings into consideration. The two share a nice moment together in the end that shows that while Axl might have just broken up a cute couple he still loves his sister. It's a nice ending that allows Axl to show his human side so we don't completely want to burn his effigy. The only disappointing part about the end is that Axl doesn't realize that he's the reason Sue and Darrin broke up. It makes sense since that piece of information might have led him down a character path the writers might not be ready to go down yet. A good comedy might have character development but it should restrict it for the sake of the comedy. Axl is a jerk but making him a better person would mean giving up a lot of jokes revolving around his singular worldview.

Dollar Day is a pretty great episode of the Middle. The Frankie plot really hit close to home since I'm currently looking for an internship. The Mike plot was funny even as it could have used the official scout leader beyond just one scene. The Sue and Darrin relationship sadly comes to an end because of Axl but the ending does show a human side to the character. Axl might be a monster but the ending allows him to remain rootable. Overall, it's an episode that excels because it understands the characters and even provides a small amount of character development.

Other Notes:

Axl might have shown a bit of humanity in that last scene but Sue clearly hasn't forgiven him yet. 

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