Francis is home for spring break so that he can learn the fine art of counting shampoo. Craig is his boss. Garkech is his nemesis of efficiency. But more on that later, the real story is Hal's.
Hal wishes for at least one family member to be proud of him, and Dewey is the target. It's career day at school and he wants to show the kids the wonders of bean counting. The kids would have enjoyed green eggs and ham over the beans. He's eaten alive, his only glimmer of hope is when he refutes one boy's advocacy of firemen, with the mortality factor. Of course, makes the boy cry about his father's imminent death. Hal isn't much better off when a little girl helps him discover the low mortality rate is his best reason for staying in his job.
Hal takes a leave of absence for his health. He needs to paint the masterpiece he's been dreaming of. Lois acquiesces pretty quickly, her theory is that you get one two week nervous breakdown every twenty years, it's sort of like Jefferson on revolution. Hal's problems throw Malcolm into a crisis of his own.
"Look kid there are a lot of people that would kill to have both professional golfer and neurosurgeon on their results." Malcolm doesn't get much help from the career test, it seems he's qualified to do anything he sets his heart to. Problem is, he doesn't want to rule the world, and everything else is really too specific for a pre-teen to decide upon. Not that that hasn't stopped his friends. All have their careers planned except Stevie who doesn't feel the need, "With my intelligence and tokenism, the sky's the limit."
Things are much better at home where Hal has taken an interest in his sons. It creeps Malcolm out, but keeps glue out of Dewey's hair and the cops out of Reese's. Hal has recreated Jackson Pollock's studio, except he has mounted the canvas vertically instead of on the floor. One can't but wonder where the family lives. They take day trips to Nevada implying a California suburb, but their cultural influences stick em right in the middle of Long Island; not to mention Cynthia's home town. The writers must be bi-coastal.
Meanwhile, Francis is suffering. His co-workers are blind to his drive and Garkech feels no need to have his language, nor his numbering system translated. While Craig has them in a meaningless competition with another store. Yet after his command that they work through the night and recount candy after he has sampled it, he accidentally sends the inventory numbers to his Mom. A more Dilbertesque boss would be hard to imagine.
Hal can't sleep. Hal can't paint. Hal is very close to giving up. He brings the family in to the garage to look at his finished painting, but it's awful and he won't even look at it himself. Lois yells. He paints in a rage. We know it finally works because everyone is awestruck. Even Francis who comes running off at the mouth about his co-workers is immediately dumbfounded. A touch of blue and it's done, it's finally done. Ah, but 500 gallons of paint on a canvas doesn't stick so well. It does help Malcolm, the boy who said, "The best thing about childhood is, at some point it stops." He now has a much more poetic and survivable outlook.
Why plan for my future when it's just going to end up like a giant wall of paint crashing down on me? I'm just going to enjoy being a kid for a while.