After ending on that explosive reveal last episode, “The Boar” is left to deal with the tangled emotional mess of Sol’s confession. The writers shake up the character combinations to great effect—playing with some of the character dynamics that don’t always get a lot of play on the show but doing so in a way that sheds new light on them and moves the story forward. We’re used to seeing Grace and Frankie together, Robert and Sol together, Frankie and Sol together. “The Boar” avoids those relationships though, mixing everyone up in a way that highlights just how nonlinear and multidimensional the ties are between these characters.

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The most effective of these character shakeups comes when Grace goes to check on Robert. Parts of the scene do unfold according to expectation. Grace throws Roberts own infidelities back in his face, and he bitterly acknowledges that he doesn’t have the moral high ground. But the writers dig even deeper. Grace doesn’t only speak from a place of having been cheated on. She speaks from a place of knowing truly, deeply how Robert ticks at an emotional level. She sees the signs: He’s going to close down and shut off his feelings in the same way he did whenever he fought with her when they were married. “You have a chance to handle something differently for once in your life,” she tells him. Grace and Frankie’s dynamic really mirrors Robert and Sol’s. Grace and Robert are bottlers and straight-talkers, and Sol and Frankie have a knack for doing stupid emotional things. Grace is uniquely qualified to get through to Robert because of their shared history together but also because she operates very similarly. Martin Sheen and Jane Fonda hurl themselves into the scene, and their layered performances bring something a little special to even the most predictable parts of the dialogue.

At first when Sol showed up on Frankie and Grace’s patio, I thought “The Boar” was going to return to more of the post-breakup negotiations and compromises the two characters have been grappling with ever since the pilot. Some of the writing around Frankie and Sol’s complicated feelings for one another—exacerbated by Frankie’s need to comfort others—has been really smart and grounded. But “The Board” thankfully goes in a new direction, which keeps the episode from feeling like it’s just going back to the same storytelling well with these two. Frankie, in fact, effectively avoids Sol after a very brief moment of regression when she pulls him into an embrace and offers her emotional support. She snaps out of it though, realizing right away that she can’t go back down that road. So she heads down the road to Jacob’s farm and effectively processes some of her Sol feelings away from Sol, which is really meaningful progress for the character.

There’s a lulling sense of simplicity to Frankie’s day on the farm. She and Jacob go back-and-forth about his decision to hunt down a boar that has been terrorizing his chickens. Frankie, who doesn’t even wear pleather for the fear of glamorizing it, is naturally against hunting in any form. But their disagreement over the matter isn’t really played for conflict or tension. It’s a tricky thing to pull off: a plot that’s literally just about two people talking to one another without really doing much and without any real sense of conflict to keep the stakes high, but here, the writers pull it off. Lily Tomlin has obviously been doing a terrific job all season, but she’s almost upstaged by Ernie Hudson, whose playful, effortless charm really makes these scenes quite delightful. His delivery of “okay, bye” as Frankie drives away suddenly after their car-side kiss got a huge laugh from me.

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It’s also nice to see Jacob and Frankie connecting on a deeper emotional level, which serves to better develop their budding relationship. Frankie seems like the kind of person who needs open communication and an emotional connection in her romantic relationships, and “The Boar” really digs into that side of her, making her new relationship all the more convincing. They’re able to bring some levity and sweetness to the episode while still working toward the overall emotional complexity of the whole situation. When reflecting on it all with Jacob, Frankie reminisces on bonding with Robert in the past. Specifically, they were ragging on Grace together, which definitely sounds like the both of them. It’s a nice reminder that Frankie and Robert had a friendship of sorts before all this, too. Everyone on this show has had to renegotiate the terms of their relationships to one another, and its with these emotional storylines that the writers really shine. Grace And Frankie has a feel-good lightness to it that really sets it apart from the cynical comedies that dominate cable. It’s real without being too dismal.

Frankie, too, realizes she has a specific and useful perspective in the whole Robert and Sol drama. Jacob helps her realize that her empathy for Robert comes from a very real place. She knows what it’s like to love Sol and lose him. Frankie takes that realization to Robert and tries, like Grace, to give her honest perspective. She tells Robert that Sol loves him in a different way than he loves her. The moment signals a crucial turning point for Frankie in her quest to move on from Sol. She finally articulates the painful realization that she’ll never have Sol in the same way Robert does. Tomlin and Sheen turn in great performances. “The Boar” is undoubtedly the least funny episode of season two so far, but the performances keep it engaging, and there’s an emotional earnestness to it all that really is lovely.

The episode also brings Sol and Grace together in an unlikely alliance for another subplot that, like the Jacob and Frankie stuff, is pretty simple and endearing. Dramatizing the anxiety of a friend request is not an easy feat, but it’s such a specific and relatable storyline that it works quite well. I always like when there are moments on Grace And Frankie that transcend age and generations. Grace is flustered and giddy and confused by the friend request from Phil, and that’s a feeling I think most people can relate to. If nothing else, it’s just fun to get to see Sam Waterston and Fonda play off each other for once.

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Stray observations

  • Bud and Coyote get a little subplot centered on Coyote finding out that his birth mother wants to meet him. It’s fine—mostly just build-up. But it brings along one of my favorite lines of the episode: “Starting Monday, I’m working in an office with, I guess, my now soon-to-be-ex-stepfather-boss-uncle.”
  • Sol is Facebook friends with his neighbor’s cat, “Peaches with a Z.”
  • Where’s Brianna? I hate not seeing Brianna for an entire episode.
  • Frankie’s love of high school talent shows is bizarre and perfect.
  • The Robert of season two really does seem so different, and I think it’s one of those cases where the inconsistency in characterization is actually warranted. The writers have softened Robert a bit, made him more than just an uptight and condescending asshole, which was how he often came across in the first season. It makes his character moments stronger, richer.

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