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Modern Family - Good Grief - Review: "To Dede"

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Halloween episodes have long been both a staple of Modern Family but also consistently one of the best episodes each season. Even during the down years, we could always count on the Halloween episode to bring the quality.

The 2018 edition starts harmlessly enough and not unlike many Modern Family Halloween episodes. Claire and Phil are busy preparing their yearly haunted house for Halloween trick-or-treaters. They are sporting an adorable spider & fly couple's costume as Claire is putting up a spider web. Phil literally becomes the spider trapped in Claire's web in a fun visual gag that seems to be setting us up for a delightful Halloween romp.

But boy does the mood change fast as Claire gets a phone call. The same phone call that Jay and Mitch are also receiving - their mom, Dede has died.

The entire family converges on the Dunphy household and we get to witness how each character deal with grief.

Obviously the two hit hardest by this are Claire and Mitch. While upset about his loss, Mitch is able to take comfort in the fact that his last phone conversation with Dede had been a positive one and he had been able to say he loved her. Mitch spends most of the episode in dialogue with Claire, revising a lot of positive moments with his mother such as the time she took him for the first time to West Hollywood for ice cream. Claire, on the other hand, is much more frustrated by her mother's passing. She can only reflect on the negatives, such as how Dede would always say that Claire "eats ice cream like a prostitute." What was suppose to be a conversation about fun memories quickly turned into an argument with Mitch being upset about Claire's view of their mother as a terrible person while Claire points out that just because someone is dead doesn't make them a saint. All the while, scaring away all the trick-or-treaters. (So...mission accomplished on the haunted house..?)

Claire eventually admits the real issue is that she was upset that the last conversation she had with her mother was a stupid argument over a social media post. But Mitch brings back up the last conversation he had where Dede told Mitch about the conversation and how bad she felt about the fight. Turns out, Dede had called and left Claire a voicemail (which Claire was saving to listen to when she needed to yell at someone at work.) In a heart wrenching moment, Claire and Mitch get to listen to the final message from their deceased mother where she does in fact apologize to Claire and tells her she loves her (though in true Dede fashion, she goes on a little too far with her message as she brings up another social media post Claire made).

The other halves of the siblings, Phil and Cam, are more focused on trying to comfort their loved ones in any way possible. At first it's offering them drinks, soup, tissues, meditation exercises - but when that fails, they willingly give the brother/sister space at their request. When all these things fails, the duo comes up with the plan to drive out to West Hollywood to get some of that ice cream that Mitch loved so much as it would be a perfect tribute. But turns out, going to West Hollywood on Halloween was a bad idea as they get stuck in the car during the Halloween festivities. But this allows Cam and Phil to have a nice bonding moment over their own memories of Dede, something neither had been able to do being so focused on their spouses.

The kids are also each dealing with grief very differently. Haley is busy binge eating her feelings (which is amazingly making her smarter, as Alex points out it's the first time she's not starving her brain) and Luke is turning to making jokes to try and cope with the loss. While Alex thinks she's the only one dealing with death "normally" - when Bill, her firefighter boyfriend arrives, she finds out that it's sex that she uses to cope. Something that Luke and Haley unfortunately find out first hand when they accidentally walk in on them.

Gloria finds herself being haunted by the ghost of Dede via the little Dede figurines (previous Christmas presents for the family from their Nana). Especially since at her
and Jay's wedding, Dede had actually told Gloria that when she dies she would come back and haunt her. The lifelike toys are somehow following Gloria though the house and even after throwing them away - they keep showing back up, much to Gloria's dismay. But if anything, what is really haunting Gloria is the unresolved feelings between the two. Gloria finally breaks down and admits to the doll that she admired Dede for raising two amazing children and making Jay the man she fell in love with.

And then there's Jay. Jay seems a little disturbingly unphased by the death of his ex-wife as he is more interested in his sandwich he spent a long time waiting for that everyone had been waiting for but on the surface is more distraught about the fact that someone ends up ratting said sandwich before he could. But as usual with Jay, there's more to the story than just a sandwich that he's upset about. To him, the sandwich actually is very representative of Dede. As everyone seems to be upset with Jay about only caring about it, he tells them a story about how Dede made the best sandwiches and she would go miles out of her way to get the best bread from a french bakery that was hard on the outside but very soft on the inside - just like Jay. He recently drove by the bakery and found it was closed...and it depressed him, and in a true metaphor for the current loss, he never realized how much it meant to him until it was gone.

Oh, and of course it was Lily that was both placing the Dede figurines to prank Gloria (because that's what Nana would want today)...but she also ate Jay's sandwich. You guys, Lily must be stopped.

Random Thoughts:
-Wow, that was really quite the episode. No episode of Modern Family in recent memory tugged at the heart strings like this one. There was something really special about stripping away the situational humor and just letting the family be together and spend most of the episode just in dialogue with one another. The result was some of the most real emotions and interactions we've seen in some time. Easily the best episode this season and anything they did last year at the very least. I really enjoyed watching how each character dealt with their grief.

-The tag for this episode finally reveals how Dede died as Phil reads off the email - we get some very comical (though dark) fake outs including Dede confronting a pack of hungry wolves (which she managed to communicate with and instruct them to find food elsewhere), falling through thin ice (rescued by one of those wolves), offending a tribue of Inuits, and was briefly swallowed by a well - but it was her passing peacefully in the night with a smile on her face and her hand clutching 10 pages of suggestions to the hotel staff.

-Am I the only one concerned about some of Lily's actions so far this season? The family clearly has no idea yet but the girl is on her way to becoming an all out sociopath in her future at this rate.

-Nice that almost everyone had some significance in this episode, only Manny missing.

-While Alex talks a lot about her firefighter boyfriend a lot, we've rarely seen him. I believe this is only the 2nd episode we've seen Bill. This episode has convinced me we really need to see more of Bill.

-Funniest moment of the episode for me involved Phil's Halloween themed doorbell that had some very unfortunate timing.
"I would like to imagine Dede surrounded by love ones hearing..." - Cam
"Welcome to Hell, hahahaha" - Doorbell

-"I don't know why, but there's something about the way Claire eat's ice cream that I just enjoy." - Phil

-"I'm used to death, I see a lot of it. No one ever feeds the station goldfish." - Bill

About the Author - JW Phillips
JW Phillips is a Media Studies graduate from North Carolina. Not just an avid TV fan but also a sports, fantasy sports and all-around useless trivia junkie (and useless trivia). His favorite shows, among many others include: The Good Place, Superstore, Stranger Things, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and anything Arrowverse. You can follow him on Twitter at @JWPhillips7.
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