All of the plot beats in “The Musical” play out pretty predictably—even more predictably than usual for this show. But part of Grace And Frankie’s charm is its ability to stir and surprise even when you can totally see what’s coming. The show surprises with its specifics, with its understated and underrated knack for exploring topics rarely explored on television. Especially when it comes to aging. This episode, for example, deftly captures the fear and anxiety stroke victims suffer in anticipation of another, worse stroke.
Even the most predictable turn in the episode, Allison’s pregnancy, avoids seeming mechanical. The conversation between Bud and Allison in the car is one of the most natural scenes the two have had together, and even when the dialogue verges on cliche, both characters are convincing in their anxiety. At first introduced purely for comedic effect, Allison has become a more developed character in the back half of the season. Even though she’s plagued with health issues, she’s strong and forceful, too much woman for Bud to really handle. I’m becoming strangely endeared to their relationship, finding myself agreeing with Bud that the other kids are too mean and judgy about her. The character development for both Bud and Allison over the past few episodes has made that possible.
In “The Musical,” Robert’s family has to rush out of the theater in the middle of opening night, which is pretty much a given on any comedy featuring a local theater storyline. Even though Sol has a good reason for leaving, called by Grace after Frankie’s incident in the car, Robert is furious at the end of the episode. He admits that while Sol’s leaving upset him, he’s more mad about the homophobic heckler. While last episode’s setup for the protester storyline never really found its footing, “The Musical” gets things back on track by focusing on how it’s affecting Robert and Sol. Of all the times they haven’t quite seen eye-to-eye about life, this is the most significant. Robert bellows that Sol needs to let it go, but Sol sticks to his convictions. He won’t tolerate the group’s hatred, and he won’t tolerate how their actions have hurt Robert. “Those people fucked with the wrong bored old man,” he says, and Sam Waterston manages to be fierce while still hanging onto some of that sweetness that makes Sol so charming. Waterston brings a lot to the character, and he fills that scene with all the earnest rage and fight that was missing from last episode. And this time, his pushback against the homophobia doesn’t get played for laughs either.
Frankie’s medial incident also brings the core differences between her and Grace back to the surface. Grace pushes her to get proper medical attention, but Frankie relies on her own methods: marijuana and a holistic healer named Mark. Ed Begley Jr. gives a delightful performance as Mark, but the humor here gets repetitive and flat, poking fun at Frankie’s white hippie lifestyle without really getting anywhere. But the story picks up again when she finally relents and goes to the hospital, where a doctor informs Frankie that she suffered a mini stroke and suffered a larger one 10 years prior without knowing it. Lily Tomlin puts the fear in Frankie’s eyes and body as she sits in that bed, listening to the news. Grace and Jacob try to keep things light, but you can tell Frankie is freaking out, especially given how much she has been talking about the future lately.
Back at home, Grace flits around Frankie, trying to get her to read the information the doctor gave her and think about her health. Frankie seeks Jacob’s warmth, keeping Grace at arm’s length. They’ve had their ups and downs this season, and even though they’ve effectively worked through a lot of their shit, the underlying issue has not really been solved. Frankie feels that Grace mothers her, telling her how to behave in all their business meetings and generally suppressing some of her Frankie-ness. Grace loves Frankie, but she’s undeniably guilty of this.
And that underlying issue boils over when she reveals that she contacted Frankie’s doctor to ask if it’s safe for Frankie to travel. The very simple plot development brings forth huge emotional implications for both characters, their reactions reflecting who they are but also who they are to each other. Frankie sees it as another one of Grace’s attempts to mother her. Grace is doing everything she can to watch out for Frankie’s health because when Frankie couldn’t talk in the car for those few minutes, she felt like she was watching her best friend die. The fact that she specifically called the doctor to ask if it’s okay for her to travel to Santa Fe reveals her underlying fear of losing Frankie to the desert. Both women are afraid at the end of the episode, Frankie saying she would have been better off not knowing about any of it and Grace openly expressing her feelings of not wanting to lose her. Tomlin and Jane Fonda again turn in raw performances that elevate the script and showcase the breadth and depth of their abilities.
Grace and Frankie end the episode alone, separated by a physical wall but, as Frankie would say, an emotional one, too. Seeing them wracked with fear and crying alone is jarring. We’re used to Grace And Frankie, but this looks and feels more like the two of them existing without the and. And that’s unsettling. “The Musical” sharply evokes the sense of fear experienced by both characters in this last scene, a troubling but urgent way to head into the season’s finale.
- I can’t believe the next episode is the finale…there are so many storylines to be tackled. I’m not looking for tidy conclusions to all of them, but it wouldn’t really be like this show to sweep any of the ongoing stories under the rug.
- When they can’t find Frankie at the hospital, Sol tries some of her aliases, like Eleanor Roosevelt, which she usually uses to make dinner reservations.
- The sequence where they’re all trying to figure out when Frankie could have possibly had the stroke 10 years ago is very funny, especially when Frankie says she was hiding from Grace at the vineyard.
- Frankie almost looks deflated at the end. Again, Tomlin is just so good.
- Grace being forced to listen to Frankie’s tapes after arguing with her is a nice touch.