As its title suggests, episode four of Grace And Frankie’s second season sends the ladies on a road trip. Following the trajectory of her journey of self-discovery, Frankie decides that the best way to move forward is to embrace the past. She recovers her old yearbook and introduces Grace to Frances Mangela, the woman she was long before she ever met Sol. Frankie decides the way to become a new Frankie is to return to old Frankie, to Frances, the carefree spirit who ate corndogs on top of parked cars. Of course, Frankie is over-romanticizing the past, and she’s taught that lesson in an unexpected way. Frankie’s new seize-the-day attitude leads her to convince Grace to take a road trip to find Phil Milstein, Grace’s fabled “one that got away.” The trip goes horribly, and it’s a huge slap in the face for both characters. But for all of Frankie’s talk of letting loose and embracing the freedoms of youth, “The Road Trip” is oddly restrictive at times, not really giving all its storylines enough room to breathe.

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The major exception to that is the climax of the road trip, when Grace comes face-to-face with Phil. In Frankie’s mind, a spontaneous road trip will surely spark romance and nostalgia. It’s the kind of thing characters do in movies to shake things up and live in the moment. But Grace And Frankie incisively veers in the other direction, sucking the romance out of a spontaneous road trip. At first, Grace and Frankie have a few moments of rosy nostalgia. Grace recalls the colorful tale of her first orgasm. There are some hilarious moments during the drive, like Lily Tomlin’s perfect delivery of “I broke both my clavicles jumping rope,” and Frankie’s reaction to Grace saying that if she had ended up with Phil she wouldn’t be here now: “Well, that would be sad for me. But then I could get a hedgehog.” It almost goes without saying at this point, but Tomlin’s performance always shines. And then shit gets real. Grace And Frankie delivers a starkly realistic rendering of what happens when you show up at the doorstep of someone you abandoned years ago. Phil (played Sam Elliott) reacts in a bitingly cold way to Grace’s appearance. He doesn’t want to see her. She’s 15 years too late, and he doesn’t know what she expected from this surprise visit. Grace is hit with the crashing wave of reality, and her fantasy of making up for lost time washes away.

Jane Fonda is superb in the scene of their reunion, making a very compelling case for awards consideration. Grace fights back tears and tries to remain poised even as she’s hit by so many confusing feelings and embarrassment. Frankie’s hit hard by the emotions, too. She’s the one who helped concoct the fantasy for Grace, who didn’t want to do this in the first place. Frankie realizes that real life isn’t like a romantic comedy, and it’s a strong writing choice to have her come to this realization by way of what happens to Grace. Their friendship no doubt has a strain to it after this, but it also strengthens their relationship in a way. Frankie’s deeply affected by what happens to Grace, and that means something.

But then there’s all this Robert and Sol drama that just unfolds much too mechanically and according to expectations. Even during parts of Grace and Frankie’s storyline, there’s a bit of a strained feel to “The Road Trip,” which isn’t cracked open until Grace’s eventual interaction with Phil. Back home, Robert has just gotten out of the hospital, and Sol’s smothering him. Sol’s overbearingness is coming from a place of guilt since he still hasn’t told Robert about Frankie. Brianna, Bud, and Coyote are around to help Robert recover and to also help Sol by providing a bit of a buffer between him and Robert so that he doesn’t go crazy with guilt. Brianna brings laughs, and there are some more touching moments between Sol and Robert at the end when they exchange rings, but all of that isn’t quite enough to buoy the subplot, which is both stuffy and fluffy, even as it deals with the very serious conflict of Sol’s infidelity and lies.

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One interesting takeaway from the subplot is how Frankie and Grace’s differences have trickled down to their children. Brianna tells Sol not to tell Robert the truth, asking him what good will come of it. Some lies are worth it. It’s easy to imagine Grace making the same argument. Bud and Coyote are adamant that Sol tell the truth. For them, lying is wrong no matter what, and they very clearly empathize with Robert’s position in all of this. They’re like Frankie, thinking with their hearts but not really stopping to take in the reality of the situation. Maybe Brianna’s slightly corrupt morality has its upsides?

I haven’t fully fleshed out my thoughts on this, but it seems too significant to bury in the stray observations, so bear with me: I’m starting to wonder if the show is ever going to address Grace’s drinking problem on a deeper level other than it just being one of her defining qualities. I don’t want to diagnose the character or anything like that, but it does seem like her drinking has increased this season. It didn’t really bother me until Grace so off-handedly volunteered to drive drunk. The moment is played for laughs, but it’s not particularly funny. I admit, there’s a certain joy to seeing Grace make herself a bloody mary mid-day and then taking it to-go as her “car snack,” but her flippant attitude toward drunk driving crosses a line, especially since she does drive drunk after Frankie’s pulled over and there are no real ramifications for it or even any acknowledgement that what she’s doing is wrong. I know that to a certain extent, it’s a generational thing, but I don’t even really buy that Frankie wouldn’t care more about Grace taking a risk like that. It just seems especially noticeable on a show that’s generally good about giving its characters’ actions real, meaningful consequences. Is Grace’s drinking connected at all to her emotions? Or is it just one of her “quirks,” like government conspiracy theories are for Frankie? That just doesn’t quite sit right with me.

Stray observations

  • Grace asks Frankie was the division of labor was in her marriage, and Frankie responds: “Bud did most of the cleaning.” I don’t know why, but I found this funny.
  • I have a feeling that the mystery friend “Donny” who signed Frankie’s yearbook will come up again.
  • Grace: “No, I am constantly the same person. It’s part of my schtick.”
  • Frankie, on how she always drives: “Once through a garage door, but…nobody was hurt.” Again, Tomlin’s line reading here, as with the other quotes I included in the review, is just so good.
  • Brianna, on needing to go home to take her medication: “It’s a very delicate balance of cannabis, 12-year Scotch, and Zoloft.”

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