In “The Loophole,” Frankie looks for a magical loophole that will get her out of her contract with Brianna, after a last-ditch effort to get her to drop the palm oil that doesn’t involve theatrics or blood but does involve a rather large poncho/Christmas tree skirt. In her quest to find a loophole, Frankie pulls Sol and Robert into the drama, making it truly a family affair, with Bud playing earnest mediator between the impassioned parties at play. Grace And Frankie’s plots that manage to tie together several of the main players always have a lot more steam to them than the stories just centered on two characters (with the general exception that anything involving just Grace and Frankie is bound to be fantastic). “The Loophole” does just that and does so with a lot of heart and humor, although some of the emotional beats get rushed a bit.

Robert and Sol’s personal drama has been an inconsistent spot in Grace And Frankie’s season-two fabric. But “The Loophole” manages to pull Robert and Sol into one of the better—and funnier—parts of the season, getting both parties involved in the Great Lube War Of 2016. It’s an organic and grounded way to connect two of the main conflicts of the season, and it works quite well, even if it’s on-the-nose in its approach to blurring the lines between Robert and Sol’s personal and professional clashes. Frankie says it herself: Not long into their arguments over the contract, it becomes very clear that they aren’t arguing about the lube at all, using their legal language to have a loosely coded conversation about the way Sol barges in on Robert and John bonding earlier in the episode.

After screaming at each other for most of the episode, Robert and Sol quietly come to the realization that they shouldn’t throw everything they have away. John is ultimately a plot device at this point—a sounding board for some of Robert’s inner turmoil. He puts too fine a point on his observation of Sol and Robert’s interaction, telling Robert that Sol looks like “a man in love who seems tortured.” The way John quickly seems to be irrelevant, having served his purpose of heightening the tension between Sol and Robert, only further validates my ambivalence about the character in my last review, but I suppose it doesn’t even matter that much now. I doubt we’ll be seeing any more of him, as the end of “The Loophole” effectively brings Robert and Sol back to each other. Their reunion isn’t clunky or unbelievable, but it does seem to happen a little hurriedly. All of the drama that builds to their reconciliation is almost too perfectly laid out, making it transparent. It’s so obvious that the writers are writing around the specific goal of getting them back together in a way that makes sense that it sucks some of the stakes out of it.

Maybe I just felt that way because, as I said in my last review, it always seemed as if the conflict between the two would eventually get worked out. Grace And Frankie has a pretty rosy outlook, especially when it comes to the two of them. I never once doubted they would end up back in each others’ arms by the end of the season. Still, even if it’s predictable, the scenes showing their fight and their eventual fence-mending are really well written and acted, playing up their clashing personalities but also showing how deeply they care about one another. Sol cocking his head and leaning to look in Robert’s averted eyes is a particularly inspired blocking choice. Sam Waterston and Martin Sheen have both worked hard to make this relationship more convincing than it was last season.

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And off to the side of their squabbles, another conflict rooted in both personal and professional interests unravels, as Frankie and Bud plead with Brianna one last time for the palm oil to be taken out of the lube. They boldly threaten legal action, but Brianna is clear about the stakes: If they take her to court, they will effectively destroy any kind of relationship they have with her. The intimate ties between the parties involved in the lube war have been milked for a lot of comedy, with Bud, Frankie, and Brianna all trying to out-embarrass one another with the knowledge they have about each other’s personal lives and pasts. But here, Brianna makes it clear just how meaningful that closeness is. They all supposedly care about each other, but they’re at each other’s throats. And the Bergstein tradition of peaceful mediation and healing circles just isn’t going to cut it in this case.

Frankie ultimately sees the toxicity she has caused. As she puts it, her lube was supposed to create less friction in the world, and all it is has done is create friction between people who are somewhere between friends and family. In some ways, it’s a character moment that guts even deeper than the reunion of Robert and Sol. Frankie gives up on her battle. She only has one request: She doesn’t want her artwork on the box. Now, Lily Tomlin sells the hell out of the emotions of the moment, managing to make the loss of vagina art something that’s truly upsetting. Frankie’s vagina paintings were, again, something just played for laughs that eventually found more meaning. I immediately thought of Parenthood’s fourth season, which made me care so much about a damn vending machine in a middle school, simply because the character Max cared about it so much. In both cases, the writers and actors worked together so well to convincingly to convey their characters’ wants. It makes for an emotionally immersive viewing experience, even when the stakes are deceptively low. We care because they care.

While I knew the show was going to go the feel-good route with Robert and Sol, it seems like Grace And Frankie is going to a dark place with Grace in this Phil storyline that really shakes up the overall tone of the show. In “The Loophole,” things start out quite lovely for Grace and Phil, who finally have the romantic evening at a hotel together that they both wanted years ago but Grace ultimately bailed on. This time, she doesn’t bail, and the two have lots of champagne and lots of sex. Even though I still wish we knew more about who Phil is and what really draws Grace to him, they have undeniable chemistry. It’s also just incredible that Grace And Frankie gives so much attention and sensuality to a sex scene between two people over 70. The show does lots of talking about how people in their later years of life are still sexual beings, and “The Loophole” finally does some showing.

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And the episode does a solid job of conveying an underlying foreboding feeling in these romantic moments. There’s an ominous tension to it all that keeps it from just being some light, romantic schmaltz. Indeed, Phil gets a call that his wife Elaine has run out of the house with the dog and that neither can be found. As if that weren’t bad enough, Grace And Frankie layers on the gloom. When Grace tries to return Phil’s phone to him, she learns from a neighbor that Elaine runs out of the house a lot when he isn’t around because she’s looking for him. Yikes. Grace already had her hesitations about the relationship—and rightfully so. Her glimpse into the reality of Phil’s situation exacerbates her guilt. Then she meets Elaine, who briefly recognizes her as the other woman her husband told her he was in love with all those years ago. In a flash, she’s back to asking Grace her name for the fifth time, but that moment was all it took. Grace sees the reality of the situation, and she can’t handle it. When she gets home, she keeps up her lie to Frankie instead of confiding in her, hiding a bottle of booze to drink alone in her room. It’s devastating. This is one Grace And Frankie storyline that doesn’t seem destined for a happy ending, and that complicates the emotional composition of the show—in a good way. The show has been pretty great at capturing the harsh realities of relationships, and the direction it’s taking with Grace raises a lot of interesting questions about cheating, health, sacrifice, and compromise. And Jane Fonda is certainly up to the task of tackling all these intense and intricate emotions.

Stray observations

  • John’s dog’s full name is Augie Augie Oxen Free, but he just goes by Augie.
  • Adam is thrilled to see Frankie in the office again. I relate a lot to Adam.
  • Sol: “I yelled at a Golden Retriever yesterday, and I’m still a little torn up about it.” Frankie: “Why would you yell at a Golden Retriever? They’re like living hugs!”
  • Frankie, trying to rip the contract with her bare hands: “I would have pre-torn it if I had known things would take such a dark turn.”
  • Sol, at the height of his argument with Robert: “Don’t start misquoting Franklin Delano Roosevelt to me!”
  • A fun cameo from Paul Scheer as the overeager room service employee Kyle injects some much needed glee into the Grace storyline. For those who don’t know, Scheer is married to June Diane Raphael, who plays Brianna.
  • On that note, Raphael’s delivery of “What’s in there? Is that a monkey” is so excellent.

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