“Grace and Frankie” (Season 7, Episode 16: “The Beginning,” Netflix)
When a seasoned show comes to an end after seven years, the finale can be a perfect ending to the story or a complete failure to give viewers resolve. In the case of “Grace and Frankie,” the show’s finale is a touching conclusion to the often tumultuous relationship between the two main characters, and weaves in light-hearted absurdity and a surprise guest that only this show could make work.
“Grace and Frankie” has chronicled the adventures of the show’s namesakes (Jane Fonda, “Barbarella” and Lily Tomlin, “9 to 5”) moving on after their husbands fall in love with each other, leaving the two women to start their new lives together. The show has done an incredible job at rewriting the narrative of life for women of a certain age, and consistently delivers great comedy, wacky plotlines, and memorable one-liners. While previous episode topics range from arthritis-friendly vibrators to dating in your 80’s, the finale closes in on perhaps the most daunting topic of all: death. Since the majority of this episode is dedicated to wrapping up the various storylines, the one-liners take a back seat–but there is still no shortage of comedic outrageousness.
Fonda and Tomlin are obviously no strangers to the game, and their portrayals of Grace and Frankie are so well done that it’s at times challenging to separate the characters from their actors. They both can’t seem to get enough of each other–as this show is one of many on-screen collaborations they share. The convincingness of their performances is likely due to their actual friendship off-screen that has lasted decades since they first starred in “9 to 5” together over forty years ago. This sense of comfortability around each other shines in each of their scenes together, ultimately making the show–and specifically this finale–a match made in heaven.
When the friends have a close encounter with death, they arrive in a light-soaked room in front of God’s secretary, none other than country legend Dolly Parton. Can you get any more wonderfully absurd than this? The inclusion of Parton is a stroke of genius writing that fits her into the story in an over-the-top and fantastical way–and really, there’s no better way for her to make a cameo.
The most stirring moment comes as Grace and Frankie fret over if they’ll be able to return to real life. For even the coldest of hearts, the dialogue is bound to set something afire within. “We haven’t had enough time together, I wish I knew you as a little girl,” Frankie confesses. Seeing the progression of the two’s bond over the course of seven seasons makes this moment all the more bittersweet and sentimental. In a sudden twist, they both return to their bodies and awake in real life reunited with another chance to keep on with their adventures.
In classic television fashion, the episode concludes with a glass-half-full outlook as the pair walk arm in arm along the beach, asking each other, “What now?” Though many may wish for seven more seasons of Grace and Frankie together, the open-endedness of the conclusion offers up the chance to theorize about all the wild times to come for the pair, even if we as watchers don’t get to experience it with them.
What really makes this finale triumphant is the message of female friendship. Because of their near-death (or actual death, really) encounter, both come to value each other even more than they thought possible. Getting older means having to let go of some of the hobbies you can no longer physically do. For Frankie, her painting days are interrupted by arthritis. In a beautiful demonstration of compassion, Grace aides her friend to complete a painting of the pair walking on the beach. The strengthened bond that the friends have is a powerful testament to how (literally) life-saving female friendship can be. If the finale accomplishes nothing else, it acts as an example of the power two friends can hold when they lean on each other.