Forwards Backwards, is the 5th episode of season 4 and the 68th episdoe overall on Malcolm in the Middle. It was directed by Levie Issacks and witten by Maggie Bandur. The episode premiered on Fox in December 1, 2002.
Days before Malcolm's birthday, he and Reese pull increasingly severe pranks against each other. Flashbacks throughout the episode gradually reveal how their feud began and reached the breaking point when Malcolm ate a blueberry Reese was saving. Meanwhile, Francis encounters a "devil cow" at the ranch and discovers it's just an ordinary cow long overdue for milking. Dewey worries about his role as Abraham Lincoln in the school play. Hal enlists Craig to help him find Malcolm a birthday present, but is driven nuts by his constant demands.
With Malcolm's birthday approaching, he has been socking away money to buy Stevie's old laptop computer. However, he and Reese are currently locked in an escalating war of pranks and abuses, each edging towards the inevitable dual grounding. Despite Lois' admonition for them to behave themselves, Malcolm is determined to out-duel Reese. Among the various shenanigans: a black eye; a superglue stunt affixing forearm to forehead; posting embarrassing "potty training" pictures on school lockers; public humiliation for hanging out with "friends" who don't even know your name"; monetary theft; and a culminating into an eventual confrontation with vehicular game of "chicken" with go-karts at a Boomers amusement park which ends in a crash with fire and smoke in the backdrop. This includes flashback pranks to show who's the instigator and the victim, going back and forth.
Despite Malcolm's request for money instead of presents, Hal wishes to buy him an actual birthday gift anyway. Knowing his son's affinity for comic books, Hal asks for assistance in a comic shop, but the owner of the comic book store, Dean, is rude and refuses to help him because he's not a comic book fan. With no other choice and against Lois' wishes, Hal enlists Craig's help for negotiation at the comic book store since he and Dean are enemies. He agrees to help out, but it comes with a price. Hal's patience briefly snaps after a day of driving him around and demands that they go to the comic book store. Craig is offended and demands that he pull over at once. Hal pulls over and tries to apologize for his actions. Craig rejects the apology stating that he was rude and impatient with him while he was trying to gather strength to be able to negotiate with Dean. Since Hal is impatient and would rather do things his own way, Craig tells him off that he would have to learn to negotiate with Dean on his own. He calls off the deal and leaves the car with his things.
At the Grotto Ranch, a series of ghoulish discoveries (slaughtered chickens and a flattened antelope, for starters) prompt Otto to recount the local legend of the mythical "devil cow," a marauding bovine who occasionally comes down from her mountain lair to cause mayhem. Francis isn't buying into the supernatural aspects of the tale, however, taking up a shotgun to fend off the beast. On one stormy night, Otto is afraid, but Francis soon discovers that there is no devil cow. It was Betsy, an ordinary cow that was behind the whole thing because her udders have been full with milk and it was causing her pain. Francis sits down on a stool and helpfully milks her. This not only saves the day for the Grotto Ranch, but also brings an end the legend.
At the comic book store, Hal again attempts to try his luck and finally persuades Dean to help him. However before he can sell him a mark up of a bad comic book of Deadman's Shoes, Craig shows up to save the day, much to Hal's shock. Dean is displeased and tells him to go away because the deal doesn't concern him at all. Ricky and Bob immediately recognize Craig right away due to them playing Dungeon Master all the time. He refuses Dean's request to leave and states the deal does concern him. Craig immediately confronts him for his actions for attempting to sell Hal a bad comic book. He points out to Dean by revealing that he has one like it framed in his bathroom, but he never reads it(except when it was made) and has checked the Overstreet with 50,000 returns from the comic book store. Craig accuses him of turning the comic book store he owns into a novelty shop. Dean attempts to sell Hal a 'rare' Spider Man comic book about his first fight with the Green Goblin, hoping he could take advantage of his naiveite. However, Craig isn't buying it and spills soda on the comic book. When Ricky asks him what he's doing, Craig reveals it was a 1993 reprint of Spider Man's first fight with the Green Goblin. He mentions that he knew it was a fake the moment that Dean took it out of the plastic cover which is something a real collector would never do and has seen the advertisement on the Marvel cards from that year. Craig also points out that if it had been an original, Hal would've protected the comic book from getting wet and had bought it with his money. With that, Dean's lack of knowledge in comic book values is exposed to Ricky and Bob. The two men are betrayed by him for lying to them all this time. Craig is able to force Dean into negotiations for a better and rare comic book.
At the house, Hal and Lois are furious with Malcolm and Reese after they picked them up at the hospital because they were forced to miss Dewey's play. The Boomers Amusement Park has banned the Wilkerson family from returning there for life after the boys' misbehavior and damage done on two of their go-kart cars. Lois tells both Malcolm and Reese that she wishes the doctors had sewn furs and tails on them because they're perfect examples of animals. Only to her, animals are easier because then she could have their behavior's fixed. Once again, Hal informs Malcolm that he is grounded for his birthday and Reese for being a jerk in presumably starting the fight. As the boys argue amongst themselves and blame each other for getting them grounded, Lois silences them. She asks Malcolm and Reese what they've previously done on their birthdays. When they reveals that they've done nothing to celebrate it, she calls them out for it. Lois points out that neither Malcolm and Reese have been able to enjoy their respective birthdays. She finds it sad that they always ruin their special days because their fighting and pranks always causes them to get grounded in the end. She begs the older boys to let up their rivalry soon as they going to be adults soon and that only thing they're going to remember on their birthdays is how miserable it was to be grounded when they should've been celebrating it. Lois mentions that Malcolm and Reese shouldn't be fighting since they love the to the same way.
The school play subplot, in which Dewey is to portray Abraham Lincoln. Nonetheless, it becomes engaging when he's finally to take the stage, expecting his parents in the front row but seeing two empty seats. Taking Lois' advice for whenever he's gets disappointed and fantasizing an imaginary set of parents, the little guy delivers an impressive operatic musical delivery of the Gettysburg Address which reduces most of the auditorium to tears.
The next day, Dewey is seen playing a game from the Gameboy Advance. He isn't bought off yet because he's still mad at Hal and Lois for not attending. The two are remorseful and apologizes for missing his class event. Lois mentions that they were dealing with Malcolm and Reese for their fighting and their latest got their family banned from another public place, along with the damages done to two of the Boomers Amusement Park's go-karts. Hal offers Dewey a rare comic book that Craig originally got for Malcolm. He tells Hal and Lois that he's slowly getting over it as they offer him the other gifts as well. As he's leaving, Dewey wishes Malcolm a happy birthday. He sadly thanks Dewey as he and Reese are seen cleaning the kitchen floors with toothbrushes. In the end at the last flashback, it is revealed that Malcolm started the prank war by eating a blueberry that Reese was saving for later.
- Jane Kaczmerek as Lois
- Bryan Cranston as Hal
- Christopher Kennedy Masterson as Francis
- Justin Berfield as Reese
- Erik Per Sullivan as Dewey
- Frankie Muniz as Malcolm
- Tim Sharp as Dean
- Trieu Tran as Bob
- Marquis Scott as Ricky
- Oscar Nunez as Ranch Hand
- Angie Hughes as Female Guest
- Kevin Dunigan as Male Guest
- Bonnie Burroughs as Pretend Mom
- Matt Hannigan as Pretend Dad
- Jonny Acker as High School Kid(uncredited)
- There was a Game Boy advance seen with Dewey playing it.
- The complete sequence of events in the escalating feud between Malcolm and Reese is as follows:
- 1) Malcolm started the feud by eating a blueberry off Reese's plate
- 2) Reese gives Malcolm a wet willie
- 3) Malcolm fills Reese's cap with dirt
- 4) Reese puts raw meat in Malcolm's toothpaste
- 5) Malcolm blows an air horn at Reese while showering
- 6) Reese shoots a fire extinguisher into Malcolm's shorts
- 7) Malcolm covers Reese's head with tape
- 8) Reese beats Malcolm up
- 9) Malcolm glues Reese's arm to his forehead
- 10) Reese distributes Malcolm's baby picture all over school
- 11) Malcolm shows Reese up before the popular kids
- 12) Reese steals Malcolm's money
- 13) Malcolm and Reese play chicken in go-karts and wipe each other out
- 14) Results end in the same way with Hal and Lois grounding the boys again.
- This episode reveals that unlike Dewey and Francis, Reese and Malcolm were never able to enjoy a proper birthday due to their prank induced fighting.
- Jonny Acker makes his first recurring appearance on the show as a high school student whom Reese claims to be friends with but isn't. He would later play Ira, Reese's bully and Billy's older brother
- Craig is revealed to be a level 45 Dungeon Master, which Ricky and Bobby know about since they play Dungeons and Dragons with him all the time.
- It's established that unlike Craig who has complete knowledge on the rare comic books, Dean is shown to have no knowledge of what is a rare comic book from a fake.
- The couple Dewey imagines to be his parents in reality are parents of a child named Daniela and are more dysfunctional and are terrible parents compared to Hal and Lois.
- This is the third time that the Wilkerson family earned a lifetime ban from a public place. This time it's at Boomers Amusement Park when the boys caused extensive damages on two of their go-karts. The first time was in Traffic Jam and the 2nd time was in Dinner Out. Coincidentally, it would be the last time they were banned on screen.
- In Buseys Run Away, the family would be banned again, this time off screen from a movie theater from a prank gone wrong.
- This episode marks the only time that Hal and Lois did regret missing out on Dewey's class function. The other episodes showed they had no remorse for them.
- This is Maggie Bandur's first solo writing credits. She had previously been credited alongside her co-writer, Pang-Ni Landrum.
- Craig:(pushing the doors open in a heroic fashion) Not so fast!
- Dean: This transaction does not concern you, Feldspar.
- Bob: That's Craig Feldspar, he's a level 45 Dungeon Master.
- Craig:(confronting Dean for attempting to sell Hal a $50 mark up of a bad comic book) What cereal box did you shake this out of, Dean?
- Dean: It's the first print, totally collectible.
- Craig: Oh, should we check the Overstreet? Wait, we don't have to! 1997: First and only printing. 50,000 returns all in circulation. I keep this in my bathroom, but not for reading. This isn't a comic book store, it's a novelty shop!
- [Dean attempts to sell Hal a "rare" comic book of Spider-Man fighting the Green Goblin by taking it out of it's plastic covering. Craig isn't buying it and spills soda on it.]
- Ricky: What are you doing?
- Craig: Fear not, it was only a 1993 reprint. If that had been an original, he would've thrown himself at it.
- Ricky:[He and Bob are now betrayed by Dean after hearing Craig out] Dude, you told me that was real.
- Craig: Now, lets talk business!
- [A furious Hal and Lois are forced to miss Dewey's play by having to pick up an injured Reese and Malcolm from the hospital.]
- Lois: I should've told the doctor to sew furs and tails on you boys because you're animals! Only animals are easier because then I can have you FIXED!
- Hal: For all the good it does, you're grounded again.
- Malcolm: Thanks a lot for getting me grounded on my birthday!
- Reese: Oh boo hoo, I was grounded on my birthday!
- [Lois overhears this and is much angrier]
- Malcolm: I was just standing up for myself! There is such a thing as justice, you know?!
- Reese: Well, there is such a thing as "Shut up"-!
- Lois: Stop it! Malcolm, do you remember what you did for your birthday last year?
- Malcolm: Nothing. I was grounded then, too.
- Lois:(to Reese) And what about your birthday?
- Reese: You grounded me after I smashed Malcolm's face into the cake.
- Lois: And your birthday before that?
- Malcolm: Pretty much this.
- Reese: (to Malcolm) Wait. When did you push me off the pony?
- Hal: All right, two scoops, fudge ripple. Now are we going to the comic book store?
- Craig: (imitating Yoda) Patience, Luke. You are reckless.
- Hal: We've gone to he beach, we've gone to the movies. I won you an animal at the church bazaar. We've gone out for coffee, lunch, Slushees, pie.
- Craig: I can't negotiate unless I'm firing on all cylinders.
- Hal: Just how many cylinders do you have?
- [Last flashback, at the dinner table.]
- Reese:[getting up, but leave hs plate with a blueberry on it.] Don't eat that blueberry, I'm saving it.
- Malcolm:[ignores Reese and eats the blueberry off his plate] What's the worst that could happen?
- [Malcolm has just bumped Reese's go-kart, causing him to go out of control and spin to the side of the road. He stops feet in front of Reese]
- Announcer: Car #15, no bumping. Return to the pit area.
- Reese: What the hell are you doing?
- Malcolm: You had no right. You stole from me. That was my money.
- Reese: Fine. Let's see (finds a quarter and tosses it out in the middle of the race track) I've done 63 laps, keep the change.
- Announcer: Car 8, let's be courteous.
- [Malcolm runs out of the room and chases after Reese for stealing his money that he had planned to use to buy Stevie's old laptop.]
- Stevie: They'll try you as an adult!