The penultimate episode of New Girl Season 4 has a lot of work to do in preparation for next week’s season finale. The two biggest things on the table right now are Schmidt and Cece’s non-relationship (the writers have been dancing around their reconciliation for a while now) and Coach’s certain, and second, departure from the loft (because of Damon Wayans Jr’s confirmed departure from the series). It also, I guess, has to do something with Jess, Nick, and Winston but that’s less pressing.
“Panty Gate” picks up after the last time we saw the New Girl gang, when Fawn accidentally flashed a slew of photographers on a golf course. Rather than let that amusing plot come to an abrupt stop or drift away, New Girl followed up on it by having Fawn deal with the aftermath in “Panty Gate.” In order to make herself look good, though, she swiftly throws Schmidt under the bus in a press conference. Reading a speech that she wrote for him (and allowing Max Greenfield to showcase his knack for brilliant line readings), Schmidt tells the world that he’s a sick man who hates when Fawn wears underwear so therefore everything was his fault. The charade continues when they end up at an underwear store, where he’s supposed to pretend to be angry and disgusted (this is pretty funny) but when Fawn continues to push the issue — Schmidt should throw a fit, go to rehab, and then the two should reunite and get married — Schmidt soon realizes that this isn’t what he wants. He wants real love (crazy in love, drunk in love) over riches and power. They break up.
It was definitely coming, although I was really starting to enjoy the Fawn/Schmidt weird dynamic, because it seems everything that happens to Schmidt or Cece is just a means to an end: getting them back together. Which can certainly be frustrating — especially in Cece’s case — so I’m just hoping that they’ll figure this out soon. But no, Cece has decided she is going to climb Mount Shasta as a sign of independence (and also because she doesn’t think Schmidt and Fawn are breaking up anytime soon), which puts another wrench in the couple.
But the biggest — the funniest and most emotional — aspects of tonight’s episode are actually Coach-centric. During his shortish (but long in sitcom terms, maybe) relationship with May, he has really fallen for her. So much so that sometimes she spends the night and they don’t even have sex — something that baffles Nick. But there is the requisite obstacle in their relationship: May got a job in New York City and has to move, forcing the two into a break-up that neither of them wants. But neither of them are confident enough to admit this to each other, to let the other know that they want to still be together despite all odds.
Enter Jess, who has now nicknamed herself “The Love Doctor.” Not because she’s any good at love but quite the opposite: She has screwed up so many times and made so many mistakes that she has to have some sort of knowledge to help others, right? It’s sort of true; May comes to her and admits her strong feelings for Coach, so they head to the bar to meet up with him. But in that familiar sitcom move, Coach is already kissing another woman — a tiny woman reminiscent of Dora the Explorer — because he’s drunk, and mourning his relationship, and his jam (“Black Velvet,” a perfect choice) is playing. But the two crazy kids work things out anyway through a classic man-confesses-his-love-through-a-speech movie. It’s a speech that actually works and it’s highly effective (and just funny enough to not get too sappy) that it makes Coach moving to New York City (ahem, ugh, Jersey City) to be with May, despite not knowing her for too long, entirely plausible in the New Girl universe — making Coach’s departure a lot more affecting and believable this time around, especially since there’s still the season finale where he’ll get a proper sendoff.
“Panty Gate” deals heavily in relationships: the end of Schmidt and Fawn, the cementing of Coach and May. It nudges Schmidt and Cece just a bit closer before giving them another obstacle. And, most importantly, it doesn’t then switch over to give us lots of unnecessary Nick and Jess time. Mostly they just celebrate Coach and think about where they’ll be in the future — not with each other, but with an aging Winston eating handfuls of birdseed which, honestly, is an appealing future for everyone.