Last year’s season finale of “The Middle” set such a benchmark, with Sue’s high school graduation managing an emotional catharsis that set a series high point. It would have seemed completely inadvisable to ever even attempt another episode like that one. But there are some more graduations left for the Hecks, and it turns out this show still has plenty left in the tank when it comes to celebrating its own characters. Brick’s middle school completion prompts a retrospective similar to that for Sue last year, with a few appropriate twists. This moment does not have quite the same oomph (middle school is not as heavy as high school, after all), so it serves more as a coming out than a culmination. Is this the beginning of four more years of “The Middle”? The confidence and clarity of characterization suggest that would not be a bad decision.
All of the best of Brick is wrapped up in the week leading up to his graduation: the disconnect with his parents, the most guilelessly nerdy version of a desire to have his moment in the sun, and wild swings in his plans while maintaining a perfectly even-keeled temperament. While the lack of communication is there, as usual, Brick does not drop the ball as much as he usually does. He actually has told his parents the date of the ceremony – they are the ones who forget why there is a star on the calendar. And after Cindy edges him out for valedictorian, he takes the necessary steps to have the chance to still be a featured part of graduation. Much like what Sue experienced last year, forces beyond his control conspire against him, though. The fates are not quite as cruel to the youngest Heck. But even if they were that awful, it is hard to say that he would be particularly upset.
Brick’s song is cut from the ceremony because too many students have requested to show off a talent this year. A random drawing is the official explanation for how those who do get to perform were selected. There is some suspicion (mainly on Frankie’s part) that the entrants were actually judged on their potential merit. Then when the decisions are switched so that no student is allowed to perform and then every student is allowed to perform, there is a bit of a fuss made about how kids today are too coddled when everyone participates equally. However, the calm demeanor of the administration throughout this rancor suggests a careful deliberation. Considering that this situation is mostly told through Frankie and Brick’s perspectives, it is hard to believe anything with certainty.
Good thing that the facts are not the most important part of this plot. Most essential are the lengths to which Frankie goes on Brick’s behalf. She stretches the truth a bit regarding how little she has previously been active in his affairs. She certainly is no helicopter parent, but she has not been absent, just haphazard. This is the most concentrated her efforts have ever been for him, both for her own sake so that all she does this time is not for nothing and for Brick’s sake, as she suspects that this is more important to him than he lets on.
Brick’s graduation moment is not guaranteed to be as heartwarming as Sue realizing the effect she had on all her classmates. He has several skills that are known but underappreciated, but music is not one of them. But it turns out that Brick has a lovely tenor, and it is believable because 14-year-olds, especially the quiet ones, have a high capacity for surprising people. Instead of a revelation of what had been there all along, this is a debut, which bodes well for Brick as he moves ahead to high school. Now he just needs to learn to say what he wants and not what he thinks the people asking him questions want to hear.