[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for “New Girl” Season 7, Episode 8, “Engram Pattersky” — the series finale — as well as previous episodes.]
If you would’ve told me the final scene of “New Girl” would be a season-altering twist by Prank Sinatra himself — aka Winston Bishop (Lamorne Morris), aka. Winnie the Bish, aka the father who named his son Dan Bill Bishop while his wife was sleeping — I might not have even watched the finale; that’s how worried I would’ve been about ending this particular broadcast sitcom with a jarring revelation instead of a heartwarming goodbye.
After all, “New Girl” struggled when it pushed itself into overly ambitious territory. The ongoing will-they-won’t-they romance of Nick (Jake Johnson) and Jess (Zooey Deschanel) got so complicated they had to set it aside until fear of cancellation set in. Their big swing in the post-Super Bowl spot was the biggest miss of the series. Heck, most of the Winston-centric storylines were either bizarrely charming or extremely uncomfortable. (Winston getting his period and Winston trying to get two cats to have sex remain two of the most outlandish sitcom C-plots ever put to screen.)
But Winston and “New Girl” saved their greatest prank for last. Not too big, not too small, “Engram Pattersky” (which spells out “My Greatest Prank” — kudos to any eagle-eyed fans who unjumbled that anagram) is a dynamite closer because it tied into one of the show’s favorite pastimes (pranks) and provided closure to a series that started when Jess moved into the loft and ended when she moved out.
Since the Season 7 premiere, eviction notices have been slipped under the door at apartment 4D. With every new letter, the gang either ignored or missed the message, and each delay in acknowledgment seemed like a clear indicator as to how the series would end — and it was, just not the way anyone expected.
After finding the notice at the start of the finale, the episode is dedicated to remembering the loft and what happened there. Memories are forced back into the present, Nick finally learns the rewards of moisturizer, and one last game of True American is played. It’s sentimental, but not overly so, as members of the original group have slowly but steadily left the loft over the past few seasons.
The tone doesn’t just fit the characters, but also where the series stands today. Many thought “New Girl” would be axed without a proper goodbye, as it almost ended with Nick and Jess reuniting in the Season 6 finale. So when the reprieve came and an abbreviated final season was ordered, it felt more like a bonus epilogue than a long-awaited answer to any big question.
Creator Elizabeth Meriwether (who wrote the final episode) still finds a way to flash further forward into the future, as we see a family-friendly version of True American being played by the gang and their kids. (The Trubisky jersey on Nick’s son is a nice, if slightly optimistic, touch.) But that’s not what matters. What matters is what comes next.
As Nick slams the moving truck’s door, a giant picture of Winston greets the gang with “Gotcha!” written above his smiling visage. “Prank Sinatra, baby!” Winston yells.
At first, the group is unmoved. They don’t get it. “Did you pay the rental fee?” Schmidt (Max Greenfield) says. “Winston, that’s just nice.” But then Winston gets into it: Engram Pattersky was all a prank. He asked a few friends (Sadie, Principal Foster, Brian Posehn’s unnamed Biology Teacher) to help him slide eviction notices under their door (so they wouldn’t suspect he was doing it). He bribed Fawn Moscato (Zoe Lister-Jones) to take Jess’ call and confirm the building was being turned into a non-residential space. He spent six months building a website, and “you didn’t even visit the office!”
There was no eviction. Winston made it all up. Jess and Nick didn’t have to move. Though the group is wildly frustrated by this, they also collectively accept it. Nick and Jess don’t move back into the loft, they move out. It’s time, and they know it. Therein lies the beauty of the prank ending: Closing this chapter of the gang’s lives is no longer something forced upon them; they’re not required to leave so much as they choose to move on. There’s a beauty in that, both in the story and outside of it. “New Girl” is the kind of show that could’ve gone on forever, either on Fox (unlikely these days) or by searching for a new home via Netflix or Hulu. Perhaps it will be revived down the line, but for now, it’s time to end it. And that doesn’t have to be sad.
With that in mind, it’s additionally fitting that the prank didn’t detract from the rest of the episode’s simple pleasures (or the half-hour that came before it). Schmidt, always and forever the best thing to come out of “New Girl,” stole the show yet again with two savvy moments: an appalled glance away from a rabbi who just said his days are “normally wall-to-wall death,” and later when he carefully paused to emphasize the unconvincing nature of Nick’s lie: “While I’m delighted you have a box… labeled ‘Gross Stuff’… of your wife’s… undergarments, uh, I also feel like you may be lying to me.” Schmidt, in perpetuity, is the opposite of terrible.
Nick gets to feebly (and hilariously) wrestle with his idol of masculinity, Russell (Dermot Mulroney). Jess goes off the deep end in back-to-back episodes, first high off her ass from weed “so weak they call it Gun Control in America” (what a razor-sharp line) and then in the finale when she’s all doped up on nostalgia. Cece (Hannah Simone) gets to be the wise, put together mama bear to Aly (Nasim Pedrad) when she goes into labor. And looking back, Winston actually won both endings: The rat-a-tat rhythms of the ensemble (well-edited by Keenan Hiett) are highlighted by the preposterous repetition of an even more preposterous name: Dan Bill Bishop. (“You were asleep, and I made an executive decision,” is an all-timer in terms of closing lines.)
If you would’ve polled any of the characters, asking if Winston could ever pull off such a delicate, crucial twist, none of them would’ve bet money in his favor. And even though only Jess thought Engram Pattersky worked out in the end, it’s as clear to the rest of them as it is to the fans watching at home that “New Girl” did the improbable: It ended with a twist and was better for it.
Bravo, Prank Sinatra. Bravo.
“New Girl” Season 7 is available to stream on Hulu. Previous seasons are streaming on Netflix.