Many TV shows attempt episodes of “firsts” – first meeting, first kiss, first date – and many do it well. Episodes where a couple gets together are not particularly difficult, especially if the show has built up enough anticipation for the relationship. In fact, installments like this have become somewhat formulaic due to expectations built up by years and years of television.
What’s more difficult to create is the episode where an important couple breaks up. Too often the split comes as a knee-jerk reaction to one incident, a no-brainer decision caused by an event specifically designed to end the relationship. Shows put in so much effort creating a perfect couple that it requires one large break to end it instead of a million tiny, more realistic fractures. It’s rare then to see a breakup that lasts an entire episode, much less a breakup episode that’s done well. New Girl’s Season 3 episode “Mars Landing” is one of these rarities.
There were many fans and critics alike who watched New Girl’s third season and felt it was the weakest material of the show’s run. This can be attributed to several flaws, but the most common belief was that the show took a dive because they finally officiated the Nick and Jess relationship, thus sacrificing the will-they-or-won’t-they dynamic which had made Season 2 so strong. But whether you loved or hated their relationship, it’s hard to deny that their breakup episode is one of the most powerful depictions of a relationship ending seen on recent TV.
A Breakup Fit For Their Relationship
“Mars Landing” is an episode comprised of bold choices. It was a bold choice to have Nick and Jess break up in a long, isolated fight; having them split so slowly they don’t know it’s happening until it’s already done. It’s almost as if the writers could hear every critique about the early half of Season 3 beforehand, and then decided to lock the two perpetrators in a room to have it all out. By isolating these characters and forcing them to bring up all the problems they’ve been suppressing, the show also faces its own problems head-on.
It’s also important that Nick and Jess are at their worst for most of the episode, incredibly hungover following an intense round of True American. This episode marks the first use of the gang’s unique drinking game since “Cooler,” only one of several parallels to Nick and Jess’ first kiss.
The hangover is symbolic for this episode, bringing into harsh light some of the things brushed over by previous seasons. Never before has the cast’s frequent drinking had any serious implications, but here, Jess and Nick’s inability to function pushes them deeper into conflict. That conflict, however, is also completely underwritten by these character’s love for one another.
Each speak softly to guard themselves against loud noises, but it almost seems in an effort to remain gentle with one another, they are trying too hard not to turn their issues into a fight. The two deliver compliments to one another almost as often as they deliver insults in this episode. Neither of them can blame the other for their hangover, because they are equally responsible for last night’s drinking game. Neither can blame the other for going to a kid’s party, because that was a decision that they already made together.
A Larger Reflection Of The Series
Those two decisions are in direct conflict with one another and are emblematic of the premise of the series: they are a group of adults, who still want to be young adults. Nick and Jess were sober and themselves when they made a commitment to go to Jess’s godchild’s birthday party, but they were just as sober and themselves when they decided to play True American. These are not opposing personality traits, but one decision has a direct, negative impact on their ability to fulfill the other. The show is forcing them to realize they maybe cannot keep juggling responsibility with irresponsibility.
As a sitcom, New Girl has continually defied expectations and risen above the typical stereotypes of the buddy-roommate comedy. It’s at its best when it abandons the more gimmicky aspects of the genre and instead leaves the characters to create their own new twists and stories. “Mars Landing” could easily have fallen into stereotypes by making Jess the mature one in the relationship and Nick the childish adult refusing to grow up, but the episode has equal respect for both characters. When discussing their fantasy futures, it does seem that they fit into the respective adult/child roles, with Nick dreaming of living on Mars and Jess dreaming about the ideal child. Upon further discussion, however, Nick reveals that he knows his plan sounds insane, but he simply sees no point in coming up a with a realistic one when “crazy things happen” anyway. For that short scene, Nick seems to be the one living in reality, while Jess cannot see room for adjustment in her future.
The Naturalness Of A Breakup
One criticism of this episode is that the problems between Nick and Jess seem to appear out of nowhere, thus making the fight seem unnatural, no matter how well-acted. However, the scene between Nick and Jess seem entirely natural, as long as you take notice of what they’re really fighting about. The fight does not stem from a sudden inability to put up with Nick’s laziness, or with Jess's need for control – the fight stems from a sudden realization that as their relationship grows more and more serious, they know they will have to compromise on each of their own personalities.
They say it very clearly – they each want the other to be themselves. They don’t want to see each other change, but they don’t want to change either. At the beginning of the fight, neither one of them could picture something this slight ending their relationship, but the second Nick says, “So what, then? Do we just break up?” he puts it on the table, and that option stays with them for the rest of the episode until it becomes the only option they can see.
“Mars Landing” ends with the boldest choice of all: a hug that is almost a reenactment of their first kiss, which feels like a punch in the stomach to any audience member. It is choreographed like a symbol of the fight itself, as Nick and Jess are willing to walk away from the official “relationship" but are still desperately reaching for each other for comfort, stability and love. “Ness” ends without hate or spite for one another, and this is again where other shows should be taking notes from New Girl.
So many TV breakups feel like pointless, contrived roadblocks on the path to coupledom we all know is eventually coming. Nick and Jess break up and stay that way for three full seasons, staying friends and roommates and essentially living up to the conversation they have in this episode — they love each other, but when they love romantically they find themselves missing out on a friendship.
This is why I trust the New Girl team completely now that they’ve decided to reunite Nick and Jess as a couple for Season 7. They’ve allowed the characters to mature, separately and together, but never wavered when it comes to their love for one another. It’s unique and reassuring to see a couple so strong and attentive to one another, even in the midst of their breakup episode. During “Mars Landing” they finish each other’s sentences, perfectly suited even as they pull apart.
If you're feeling sentimental but don’t want to go back and rewatch some earlier episodes of New Girl, I’d recommend this tribute video from a few years ago made by forbesantiago:
What did you think of their breakup? Do you think it's right for Nick and Jess to get back together? Let me know in the comments down below.