The Middle Wiki

Signals is the twenty-third episode of season 1.


Frankie points out to Mike that his social ineptness has been passed on to Brick, leading Mike to decide that he and Brick need to be more social, and the Heck family BBQ is the perfect time to try. Meanwhile, Axl volunteers to clean the family pool in an attempt to get girls to stop by and swim, and Sue tries to raise money for a local parish because her new friend, Reverend Tim Tom, might be leaving to keep costs down.


Mike Heck doesn’t talk much at parties. But when he does finally speak up, it’s usually to say something inappropriate. Hey, we find his bluntness charming. Frankie...not so much. Mike says, “You knew what you were getting when you bought me.” That’s true.

The first annual Social Skills-a-Thon is taking place at Brick’s school. Or, as Mike calls it, The Odd Squad Pageant. Brick and his buddies demonstrate the joys of reciprocal conversation. The teacher explains that social interactions can be awkward for people who don’t inherently pick up subtle signals. Feelings can get hurt when you say the wrong thing. While looking at Mike, Frankie asks, “Is there a height limit for this class?”

Spring is in the air. That means the Heck family barbecue is coming up fast. Mike doesn’t feel like cleaning the above-ground pool before the BBQ, which has Axl worried. He says, “It’s the kickoff to the whole Orson bikini season. If our family can turn our back on this tradition, then I don’t know what we stand for anymore.” There’s only one way Axl can be sure his backyard will be filled with bathing beauties. He must clean the pool himself.

Sue is quite taken with the moderator of the local church youth group. His name is Reverend TimTom, and he’s a dreamy, guitar-playing guy who strums little spiritual ditties like “It’s Tough Bein’ a Teen” and “Jesus was a Teenager, too.” Sue is thrilled when the Rev agrees to sing at the family BBQ but bummed to learn it will be part of his farewell tour. Reverend TimTom is leaving town. Sigh.

To set a better example for Brick, Mike says they should try to be social at the barbecue. When the big day arrives, both father and son step up their reciprocal conversation game. Mike listens to boring blather with a smile while Brick offers cake to a kid who keeps punching him in the gut. Brick is in pain, and Mike is in uncharted waters as he listens to the relationship woes of a female guest. She soon mistakes his attentiveness for romantic interest. Mike doesn’t pick up on the signal at first, but once he does, he’s outta there.

The only people swimming in the pool are Axl’s two buddies. That’s because it’s freezing, and none of the girls at the party will dare shed their sweatshirts. Sue, however, is on the verge of shedding tears for the departing Reverend TimTom. He only met her twice, and he remembers her name. The Rev just gets her.

Reverend TimTom tells Sue that she’s gonna be all right. Actually, he sings it to her with inspirational lyrics like “super keen” and “out of sight.” As TimTom strums to Sue’s delight, the clouds in the sky give way, allowing sunlight to spill into the backyard. Young ladies everywhere begin to discard their winter-wear. Orson bikini season will begin as scheduled. The pool is open!

Frankie isn’t surprised to hear about Mike’s close encounter of an adulterous kind. She says, “Mike, you looked into her eyes and told her you understand? You can’t do that to a woman!” She also believes Mike when he tells her nothing happened. It’s one of the perks of being married to a guy who’s so brutally honest. He’ll never lie to her.

Mike and Brick are never going to be social butterflies. That’s just the way it is. But instead of fighting it, they decide to embrace it by working together. When Mike gets roped into yet another endless conversation, he sends a signal to his young son. Brick promptly heads over to his dad, armed with an excuse to drag him away. That’s teamwork. And as far as we know, teamwork has always been socially acceptable.