All too often, the penultimate episode of a season outperforms the season finale. Finales carry the burden of wrapping things up, of decrescendoing, even if they do end on a slight uptick to keep you craving the next season. This is certainly true for Grace And Frankie. “The Bachelor Party” was one of the season’s finest installments, and it could have easily been the finale. But the writers clearly felt the need to close up some storylines, so they go about doing so in “The Vows” in ways that, unfortunately, come across as clumsy.

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Grace, for example, finally breaks up with Guy after some nudging from Frankie. But there’s a catch: She unknowingly breaks up with him while he’s on Ambien, so the next morning he remembers nothing. Then the real breakup happens off-screen. The Ambien twist doesn’t yield funny enough results to really warrant it in the first place. And everything about Grace’s fallout with Guy just seems hasty and too clean. The most compelling part of it happens before, when Grace talks with Frankie about why she needs to break up with him but doesn’t want to.

The first couple acts of “The Vows” all feel very neat and tidy. Brianna and Mallory help Robert turn his messy, overly formal vows into something more romantic. Frankie and Sol finally pack up her things from the house with Bud and Coyote. Grace ends her relationship. Between the break up with Guy, the writing of the vows, and the strengthening of the bond between Grace and Frankie, it seemed like “The Vows” was simply poised to follow through on neatly tying up the first season.

And then Frankie sleeps with Sol. This is one of those plot developments where someone could try and argue that it was a cheap move that creates unnecessary conflict and then someone else could argue that it makes sense for these characters and for where they are emotionally when it happens, and I wouldn’t know who to believe. In other words, I’m not quite sure what to make of the development, and maybe that’s because of the characters’ own confusion about what happened and what it means.

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There’s no doubt in my mind that packing up the house and lighting the shabbat candle one last time together placed Frankie and Sol in a very emotionally vulnerable state, and all season, there has been a sense that neither Frankie and Sol are really over each other. But sleeping together for one last time really marks a change of course for the show. That’s not to say that Frankie and Sol are getting back together, obviously. Frankie, in fact, explains to Grace that it didn’t feel right, that it really is over. It gives Frankie the closure she needs. But we’re led to assume Sol is going to tell Robert the truth, and the episode places a lot of weight on that final moment when we see Sol approaching the house as Robert reads over his vows. But we don’t find out Sol’s decision, and unfortunately, it’s hard to care. Even hearing Robert’s vows just reinforces how little their relationship has been developed over the course of the season. They just sound like words on a page. They don’t evoke any specific images or emotions from past episodes.

But the relationship between Grace and Frankie, again, is far more intricate and well written here. If there’s anything good that comes of Frankie and Sol sleeping together, it’s the scenes between Grace and Sol and Grace and Frankie that follow. Grace rightfully puts Sol—who so often plays the role of the “good guy”—in his place, yelling at him for once again cheating on someone he loves and also immediately pointing out the repercussions his actions will have on Frankie, who was only just starting to get over him.

“Go home, Sol. I’ll take care of Frankie,” she says, and my heart grew thrice its size. Grace really loves Frankie and cares about her stability, and this stage of their relationship has been so believably and beautifully built over the course of the season. The writers have earned that moment when Grace and Frankie walk together on the beach, wrapped beneath the same blanket. The characters have come so far from when we first met them, and that path has been so emotionally honest and rich. Grace and Frankie remain disparate in what drives and scares them, but they’re still tied up in one another. At first, it was just because of their shared experience. Now, it’s something more. Grace and Frankie love each other deeply, finally feeling like a real “and” instead of a “versus.”

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Stray observations:

  • And thus concludes TV Club coverage of Grace And Frankie’s first season. I’ll miss quite a few things about this show, but I’ll miss Brianna most of all.
  • “Drunk vlogging…that yields nonsense. But hallucinogens…”
  • This episode features the best dramatic performances from both Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda all season.

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