Usually when “The Middle” features Frankie making a big, bold declaration about how a holiday celebration is going to be different this year, it tends to go haywire. But “Not Mother’s Day” actually kind of accomplishes what it sets out to do. Frankie genuinely does not want to be bound by the stress of a family gathering and announces that everyone is free to do as they please. (We’ve heard that before…) Amazingly, everyone does end up doing their own thing, resulting in an episode that has four, or maybe even five, subplots. There is some connective tissue, as Frankie decides that everyone should be paired up in a pay-it-forward scheme, but this is still a loose affair.
The pay-it-forward pairings are electric. Brick gets Frankie, Frankie gets Pat, Pat gets Mike, Mike gets Sue, Sue gets Brick, and of course Axl gets himself. Good vibes imbue each combination, perhaps thanks to the inspiration from the older gentleman who pays for Frankie’s groceries, inspiring the whole affair in the first place. Everyone actually puts some thought and personal connection into their gestures. Even Brick, who initially just amends his ultra-lo-fi Mother’s Day card, is inspired by the thoughtfulness he receives to discuss putting aside a space for his mom to tend to a hobby.
The most hangout-y part of this hangout episode is Axl paying it forward to himself. All that happens is: he buys a pair of snakeskin cowboy boots, he never takes them off, and he gets a rash. This is no disaster, despite how discolored his legs become. He is taking care of himself, and even though he is not doing that very well, his mom and in turn everyone else are just letting everyone be, so he gets to deal with his mistakes on his own terms. This may result in discomfort, but he can maintain perspective when he is given room to act as he wishes.
Frankie takes the most literal approach. Her entire implementation of paying it forward is probably not what her checkout savior has in mind. Most likely, he just means for her to be a little nicer or offer her assistance if she just so happens to find someone in need. But of course she barrels straight ahead and makes her opportunity happen, as she is generally not one for subtlety or patience. In choosing the gift for her mom, she even goes so far as to picking out the same chicken she is able to buy thanks to her benefactor. To be fair, that part is probably less about literalness and more about the chicken just being really, really good.
When Pat insists on leaving before she can receive the poultry, Frankie’s literal approach is transferred such that she now pays for the groceries of the person next to her in line. This works out disastrously, which she does not anticipate because she fails to consider the same action can be rendered differently in a separate context. Ultimately the lesson here is that human currency is more important than monetary currency. The young couple still have a favorable deal even when Frankie shaves a bit off the side, but it is hard to say that this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.