Grace And Frankie has always sprinkled in a bit of drama over its tender-hearted comedy. The season 4 finale, “The Home” saw the Hanson-Bergstein family seriously dealing with the harsh realities of having elderly parents. The titular Frankie Bergstein (Lily Tomlin) had a stroke in season 3. Grace Hanson’s (Jane Fonda) ex-husband Robert (Martin Sheen) had heart surgery in season 2.
However, there was something different about the final episodes of Grace And Frankie season 5, which premiered on Netflix Friday — something unwaveringly tense hovering above Grace and Frankie’s formerly happy beachside home. Finale “The Alternative” suggests things are only going to get worse before they get better in an already confirmed season 6 — but, at least, they will get better. Because there’s nothing Grace and Frankie can’t solve when they’re together.
The tenor of season 5 changes for good with “The Highs.” While high, Frankie uses the Vybrant business Twitter account to tweet “Free vibrators and donuts to anyone who retweets this.” She doesn’t realise how financially dangerous that promise is for a small business. The problem only becomes worse when their pop star friend Kareena G (Nicole Richie, continuing her comedy streak) retweets the pledge to her 11.5 million followers. Now, there are 50,000 social media requests for free sex toys and pastries, and the demand is only growing.
In the subsequent episodes, Grace and Frankie argue about how to best deal with the problem. The argument leads to duelling video apologies and, eventually, Grace abandoning Frankie entirely to go on a tropical vacation with her boyfriend Nick (The O.C.’s Peter Gallagher). When Grace returns, Frankie is upset that Grace constantly dismisses her; Grace is upset that she constantly feels the strain of fixing Frankie’s flights of fancy-created messes. Both, swear they are their “own Beaches,” despite Grace not even knowing what that means.
So, Grace makes the one decision that will forever change the dynamic of both Grace And Frankie, the show, and Grace and Frankie, the people: She marries Nick. It’s a step Grace purposefully takes to “move on” from Frankie and their lives together. After all, Nick wants to travel the world with his bride-to-be. It's a plan that will leave Frankie behind in the beach house.
The visuals of Frankie’s story as Grace agrees to get married only further drive home the suggestion a married Grace means a permanent friend breakup. While Nick is proposing in penultimate episode “The Wedding,” Frankie is stuffing the back-up wedding cake Grace brought to Bud’s (Aaron Vaughn) nuptials in the trash. That aggressively elegant cake is the most potent symbol Frankie has for Grace in the moment. When Grace and Nick walk the beach, on their way to wed, Frankie sits alone on the same beach. The empty chair next to Frankie is meant for her BFF.
This marriage clearly spells doom.
Then, finale “The Alternative” arrives. It reveals what life could have been like if Grace and Frankie never became roommates and best friends. Frankie is a purple-haired 70-something with frizzy dreadlocks who continues to be dangerously dependent on her remarried ex-husband Sol (Sam Waterston). This means Sol and Robert are unable to enjoy their new lives together or celebrate the new house they secretly bought for themselves — Sol is too busy trying to tuck Frankie in.
Grace has it equally bad. She fled town right after the divorce and drove straight to Palm Desert. That’s where she quickly met Jack Patterson (George Hamilton), the pushing-80-years-old “prince” of patios, and $45,500-worth of facial plastic surgery. Grace may have embraced her grey hair (now in trendy Instagram-ready waves), but her face is brand-new. Jack is even worse than Robert, who at least loved Grace in some way. Patio-obsessed Jack ignores Grace 24/7 and views her as handy arm candy.
Grace and Frankie’s lives are both disastrously worse off for not having the other one in it.
That's why, when the what-if fantasy ends, reality Grace and Frankie run to each other like it's a rom-com. Both women apologise and admit they’re “so much better,” as Grace says, because of their friend. “Not only because we went through hell together,” Frankie begins, as Grace finishes, “Because we made it back together.” That is essentially the sweet mantra of Grace And Frankie.
The reconciliation couldn’t be more touching as the leads throw around “I loves yous” and words like “partner.” Frankie says, “Let’s go back home,” but then we’re reminded Grace altered what “home” means for them. “There’s just one thing. I married Nick,” she finally admits. It’s a reveal so bad, Frankie folds onto the ground and stares into the sea.
Figuring out how Grace and Frankie can be Grace and Frankie when one of them is married to a slightly eccentric multimillionaire with his own very strong opinions is going to make season 6 a tough one. Our heroines’ end-of-season mile-long stares confirm as much. But, as “The Alternative” proves, there’s no obstacle Grace And Frankie can’t overcome together.