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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Grace And Frankie squanders the story potential of “The Goodbyes”

Illustration for article titled Grace And Frankie squanders the story potential of “The Goodbyes”

“The Goodbyes” is a very strange episode of Grace And Frankie. There are some good parts in there, but I found myself wishing that it was all a little better executed, a little tighter. There’s an interesting thematic throughline of religion and spirituality. But nothing much comes of it, and some of the subplots just don’t play out all that believably. Jane Fonda gives a moving, convincing performance in the church. But I’m not all that convinced Grace would step into that church in the first place. It’s definitely meant to show just how torn up and conflicted she is about the situation with Phil, but I don’t think the writers really earned such a grand, literal come-to-Jesus moment with this storyline.

The smaller character moments in Grace’s storyline work much better. The scene in the beginning when she quietly realizes Frankie’s right about the “in sickness and in health” part of wedding vows lands. And that all-too-relatable moment at the end when her “sad, dramatic goodbye” gets ruined by the fact that they’re parked right next to each other lands, too. The biggest issue with the Phil love story right now is the lack of specific characterization when it comes to Phil. So far, all he really is is a moustache who speaks slowly and minimally. I’m not saying I’m not buying their romance. But I’m only buying it because Fonda’s doing all the heavy lifting, giving a fantastic performance every time Grace reminisces on her history with Phil. The writers are doing a solid job of giving specifics to her heartbreak, with the exception of that random church trip. But it would help if we knew a little more about Phil, if he were detailed with the same specific quirks every character on this show seems to have. Hell, I’d settle just for knowing what he likes that isn’t Grace.

There’s a stiffness to the episode—some of it intentional, like the awkwardness of Coyote’s birth mother Krystle meeting the family. But that particular plotline is what stands out in “The Goodbyes” as something that had so much potential but just ultimately falls flat. I’m pretty over characters on the show explaining the premise as a bit, especially when it goes on for as long as it does when Frankie and Sol let Krystle in on the particulars of their unconventional family. Krystle’s assumption that Grace and Frankie are a couple makes for a lazy joke. The only moment saving that lengthy scene in the middle of her visit is when Bud asks everyone if they want pita as a way to diffuse the tension. That’s the hardest Bud has ever made me laugh. But overall, the comedy of errors that ensues once Krystle walks through the door just doesn’t live up to the rich, fun humor this show usually nails. The Tabasco moment is, in a different way than Grace’s trip to church, just too much. Carrie Preston is a delight all the time always, but here, she isn’t given a whole lot to do.

The humor and the emotional writing of the episode is just all over the place, especially in the Krystle story. It feels contrived and underdeveloped. Even the supposed emotional climax of the plot, when Krystle reveals that Coyote can’t meet her family because they don’t know about him doesn’t really stick the landing. It’s predictable and seems like conflict for the sake of conflict. But it also rubbed me the wrong way, because it seemed, to me, like Krystle actually had a pretty valid point. It’s her right to not tell her family about Coyote, especially if doing so would lead to her family finding out a whole bunch of hurtful things from her past. If she doesn’t want that, it’s her choice, just like it was her choice to give Coyote up for adoption in the first place. She doesn’t really owe him anything. But the way the episode’s written frames Frankie as the good person for sticking up for Coyote, makes her the voice of reason. And that just doesn’t sit right with me.

Meanwhile, Robert’s out learning how to be out at a dog park full of gay people. There, he meets John, and the two men bond over having come out late in life. Grace And Frankie has made storylines centered on people just sitting and talking before, but this isn’t one of them. The whole conversation just plays out flatly, full of platitudes and heavy-handed writing. Robert literally sighs at one point and says “we’ve come a long way.” Sure, it’s a true observation. But the scenes between Robert and John just sag with unimaginative and broad dialogue, even when the two men are talking about their personal experiences. There just isn’t any spark there, and Grace And Frankie is usually blazing with sparks. “The Goodbyes,” however, has an overall dimness to it.

Stray observations

  • Maybe I’m biased about Phil because I can’t quite get over how he seems to be guilting Grace about her decision…I get that his wife has Alzheimer’s, but it still just doesn’t seem quite right to me.
  • Shaman Earl told Frankie she would see something powerful, and a week later, she saw The Notebook.
  • One of my favorite parts of the episode is when Sol checks in with his feelings but then snaps back and says “Nope. That was scary.” Sam Waterston’s delivery is perfect there.
  • On that note: The Bergstein family meeting is one of the highlights of the episode