“The Alert” digs into some of the intricate challenges that arise with ageing. Beyond just the obvious obstacles like health issues and lowered mobility, ageing affects people on a much deeper level, and Grace And Frankie explores the depths of ageism and internal battles that people encounter as they get older. In the wake of a glowing article about their vibrator, Bud drops by the beach house to bestow Grace and Frankie with a gift from all their children: panic alert buttons. Both women are rightfully offended. Frankie admits she has an outfit it would go well with, but she rejects the notion that it’s something she truly needs; Grace, meanwhile, smashes hers with the heel of her shoe. But even though Grace and Frankie reject the panic devices, they embrace ageing at the end of the episode with the decision to stay true to their mission and vision and not sell out.
It’s an especially crucial moment for Grace. Earlier in the episode, she hesitantly convinces Frankie they should meet with Mimi, an old colleague of hers who now runs Purple Orchid, a company that specializes in adult intimacy products. A partnership with Purple Orchid would mean more resources and infrastructure for Grace and Frankie’s company. And Mimi surprises them by saying she has already put her marketing team to work. But when they roll out their mock-ups for the advertising campaign, Grace and Frankie are stunned to see pictures of themselves…looking a few decades younger. The team touched up their photos and put them in tight, revealing clothing, obscuring the product’s intended audience. As Mimi explains, even old women don’t want to see old women associated with sexy things like vibrators. She sees this as the only way to market their product.
Right away, Frankie is turned off, so to speak. In fact, she’s uncomfortable the second she meets Mimi, but that comes from a playful jealousy over Grace and Mimi’s rapport. I love how unsubtle the show has gotten about the fact that Grace and Frankie seem like a couple (Bud also calls them both “moms” in this episode). But then Frankie really doesn’t like Mimi after the marketing pitch, which is ultimately interrupted by an ambulance when Frankie accidentally hits her panic button. Frankie is humiliated by it, but she also doesn’t want to pretend she’s something she’s not. She points out to Grace that they shouldn’t want to be remembered for being rich but rather for doing something good. It’s a perfectly Frankie viewpoint, and Grace counters that she would rather be remembered for being rich. But as she talks it over, she admits that the decision she would have easily made a few years ago is harder to make now. She doesn’t want to participate in the erasure of the women they first sought to serve with their company. She doesn’t want to sell out. Grace’s changing ways have happened gradually and with convincing foundation. The change is partially Frankie’s influence, but it comes from within, too. Their aversion to the panic alert buttons ultimately stems from the same place as their aversion to the marketing campaign that attempted to erase their age. Grace and Frankie want to be seen. The panic buttons were just a way for their kids to dismiss them again, to give themselves peace of mind. Even if they were coming from a somewhat good place, it shouldn’t have been their reaction to the fantastic article about the vibrator. That kind of dismissive behavior is what pushed Grace and Frankie to start their business in the first place.
Brianna is still regularly seeing Ryan, the prostitute she met a couple episodes back. While I didn’t love how this storyline began (the initial reveal that he was a prostitute felt like a cheap joke), it goes to an interesting place in “The Alert.” Brianna has a romanticized idea of Ryan and his life in her head. She makes jokes about code names and tries to laugh off the fact that she’s $20 short with a joke that Ryan indulges for only a second before reminding her that she still owes him. Grace And Frankie doesn’t make fun of Ryan or sex work. Rather, Brianna comes off looking foolish when she balks at the fact that he has a wife who is fully aware of his job. Brianna thought of Ryan as existing in a vacuum, but he has a life outside of his work.
Touching on similar ideas about ageing and agency as the central Grace and Frankie story in the episode, Sol faces a new challenge at work when Bud announces his plans to fire Joan Margaret, Sol and Robert’s longtime secretary. The quirks Sol and Robert affectionately call “her little Joan Margarets” are less endearing to Bud, who wants the power to hire the people he wants to work with. Sol’s initially appalled, accusing Bud of ageism, but he gradually realizes Bud might be right. And even more than that, he’s not so different from Joan Margaret himself. She reveals to him that Bud has been going back and correcting his corrections. Sol is an obstacle in the way of Bud taking over the firm. And with that realization, Sol finally joins Robert in retirement. While Robert was ready to retire, Sol still isn’t. He bursts into tears when he announces it, and it’s an affecting scene, Sol dropping his briefcase as an emphatic signal that he’s closing a door on an important and meaningful part of his life. As with the Grace and Frankie storyline, Sol’s retirement plays with some of the complicated contradictions of ageing. Sol doesn’t want to let go, but he also knows he has to. It’s not only the right thing for Bud but the right thing for him and Robert. Grace And Frankie manages to acknowledge the hardships of ageing without making it a total, well, death sentence.
- This episode also reminds us of Mallory and Coyote’s past. Though it hasn’t been brought up in a while, they used to date, and Mallory finds herself drawn to the way Coyote handles her legion of children so well. Given how unhappy she is with Mitch, I’m guessing that more will come of this.
- “Keep the drama for your adult Quidditch league.”
- Frankie once tried to invent a “car kite.”