Abbott Elementary featured a huge plot twist in this week’s episode. No, it wasn’t that Jacob’s (Chris Perfetti) hairball-esque carrot cookies were actually delicious—he seems like a stellar cook. Nor was it Ava’s (Janelle James) trip to the spa amid a school disaster, which is par for the course for the lazy principal. No, it’s actually that our trustworthy Barbara (Sheryl Lee Ralph) almost set the whole school on fire. What happened to her responsibility?
As The Daily Beast’s Obsessed teased in a clip earlier this week, Abbott is set on fire in this week’s episode (aptly titled “Fire”), and it’s not a drill. After the trusty Philly firefighters squash the blaze, they reveal the culprit: The owner of a pink cashmere shawl, which just so happens to match Barbara’s identical pink cashmere sweater.
Though janitor Mr. Johnson (William Stanford Davis) calls it arson, no detectives are needed to solve this miniature inferno. Barbara confesses to the crime. She had left her shawl right by a Jesus candle she lit before heading to her classroom, a mistake anyone could’ve made—if anyone else in the school actually lit candles.
Because it’s a school, and because avoiding fire hazards is one of a school’s main tasks, Abbott Elementary has a strict no open flame rule. Barbara broke that rule by lighting a candle, but why? She’s one of the only teachers who seems to have everything figured out; usually, if she’s not teaching, Barbara’s off giving a lesson to another teacher in need of some guidance. It makes no sense that she’d be the one to strike a match and nearly burn down the place.
Everyone tries to check in with Barbara after the fire. A trauma counselor (Search Party’s iconic lawyer Shalita Grant) attempts to touch base with her, to see how she’s feeling. Barbara won’t open up. Gregory (Tyler James Williams) and Janine (Quinta Brunson) fail to connect with their mentor over her struggles. While Barbara pretends everything is fine, everyone in the school questions how she could make such a small mistake.
The only Abbott employee who can get through to Barbara is, of course, BFF Melissa (Lisa Ann Walter). After that cute “I love you” vending machine moment in last week’s Valentine’s Day episode, a sweet heart-to-heart between Melissa and Barb is exactly what the doctor ordered. Barbara has been having trouble on the homefront—there’s a much more in-depth problem that led to her candle dilemma.
Barbara had been having a hard time that week, after her husband had some health issues and was sent in for prostate exams. While she reveals the exams went better than expected, Barbara’s still grappling with aging. She lit the Jesus candle as a beacon of hope and, because of all the stress of the week, didn’t think to monitor the area around the flame. Sometimes, Barbara says, all you can do is light a candle and pray.
“If we were to blab every time life got hard,” Barbara says, “we would be—”
“Janine!” Melissa teases.If there’s one person who can mentor the mentor, it’s Melissa—their tight knit friendship is one of the sweetest parts about Abbott Elementary. Barbara uses her friend’s wisdom to help provide guidance to one of her students (the cutest kid Abbott has ever seen) who was rattled by the fire. Then, she takes a much-deserved mental health day.
Abbott Elementary airs every Wednesday night on ABC at 9 p.m. ET, and is available to stream on Hulu the next day.