Although “The Box” explores a completely unnecessary question about its main characters, it does so in an interesting way, using Nick’s titular box as a metaphor for the parts of ourselves we try to hide or ignore. Our faults, our mistakes, our fears of not being a “good” person… we all have our private little box we tried to hide from people, and it’s only a matter of time before it exposes itself in an ugly light (Schmidt), or becomes a tool to help one grow in the future. And quietly, the episode makes an important distinction about dealing with one’s “box”: it’s much easier to do with the help of someone who cares about you then trying to go at it alone.
This thread runs throughout “The Box”, and finds interesting corners with the three main characters of the show (sorry, Winston – I wish it wasn’t so) to explore throughout the half hour. And when it’s not trying to answer the question of “what makes a good person”, it finds some genuine moments for Schmidt, Nick and Jess. Surprisingly, some of the most subtle of them come with Schmidt: when he equates good and bad with winning and losing, it gives a glimpse into the wounded mentality of the fat kid who always finished in last place still residing in Schmidt’s mind. On the top of Schmidt’s personal ‘box’ are his insecurities, insecurities he’s shielded with fancy suits and douchey catchphrases – and like Nick, avoiding those lingering problems in his past will forever keep him from moving and becoming the better person he so badly wants to be.
In many ways, Nick and Schmidt’s situations parallel each other: both are trying to let go younger, more simplistic and immature versions of themselves. Just like Nick can’t throw all his bills in a box and pretend they don’t exist anymore, Schmidt can’t throw what he did to Elizabeth and Cece away. Like it or not, it’s part of who he is now – but as Jess spends the episode trying to point out to Nick, it doesn’t have to define who they’re going to be. Everybody fucks up: no single action defines us as a person in our lives, whether it’s saving a man’s life, breaking a woman’s heart, or even making a serious commitment in a relationship – it’s but a speck on our timeline of human existence, it really can’t define who we are.
That is, unless we let it – bitterness can be a son of a bitch, as Nick’s adult life has shown us. “The Box” doesn’t really give us any new angles to Nick – he’s broke, stubborn, and drinks his problems away – but it does make a very important point about relationships, and the willingness two people need to have to grow for it to ever have a chance. Nobody wants to date someone who is living their life running around the same circle: the predictability alone would become stifling over time. With no ambitions, no self-control, and bad spending habits, Nick Miller seems like a pretty shitty person to date: but there’s obviously more to him than that… until he lets go of “The Box” (or in the case of his bills, pays the shit) he won’t be able to grow as a person.
And that’s where I think “The Box” misses the mark a bit: both Schmidt and Nick are able to achieve their resolutions through the help of other people, but only one of them truly does it to better himself. When Nick goes to the bank to open an account, he does it because he’ll “do anything for her” – a lovely, romantic gesture, but one that misses the point about dealing with “The Box”. Everyone needs help in their lives dealing with things, but at the the end of the day, we can’t change unless we’re doing it for ourselves, not for other people. Although Schmidt is seeking the approval of other people, he’s really searching for a way to forgive himself for what he did – and finally realizes that there’s no way to push this off on someone else. He has to prove to himself that he’s a “good” person (whatever that may mean in his twisted little mind) to reconcile with himself, just as Nick does.
Having Nick admit he’s doing something for Jess, not himself (we’re not talking about making dinner, of course: strictly existentially-speaking) is the first insincere moment I’ve seen so far for Nick and Jess, which again is a story line the writers continue to do very well with. Jess and Nick’s argument isn’t just played up for laughs (which has to happen to a degree, or a sitcom quickly becomes depressing): it addresses a real, lasting problem with not one, but two of the male protagonists on its show (for Winston, he just can’t let go of the possibly-magic candelabra in his ‘box’, I guess), AND deepens the emotional connection between the two of them with its touching resolution (except for that one goddamn line) about the importance of a partner in healing oneself. We’ve all got “boxes”: life is just about finding someone to put it in neat little piles with flower post-it notes to help us get through them all.
– Jon Lovitz guest-stars as a rabbit who Schmidt accuses of getting “handsy” during a slapfight (in a Mitzvah class, no less).
– Nick: “A bank is just a paper bag with fancier walls.”
– another great little subplot: Winston trying to ask a friend back for a large sum of money. Such an awkward thing to do in real life.
– Drunk Nick turns ‘tzedakah’ (the Yiddish word for “charity”) into ‘tzatziki’ in a matter of minutes.
– Schmidt: “I performed Heimlich’s Maneuver on him!”
– Nick not paying taxes on years for a corporation he accidentally started is preposterous, but hilarious.
– At least Winston gets his “voice of reason” scene at the end, even if it ends with him professing belief in genies.
– “What are you doing in there?” Jess, with a lighter in hand: “…I’m lubin’ up, Sally!”