Friendship. When you get to the heart of Will & Grace, that’s what it’s all about. That strong, unbreakable bond between Will and Grace (they’re not paying attention to the finale, so neither are we). The zany ride-or-dies that Jack and Karen became the instant they met at Grace Adler Designs. The family the four of them created together, seeing each other through thick and thin, marriages and breakups, one-man show after one-man show after one-man show. The default pairings are default for a reason; those are where the deepest connections lie, and those connections make for reliably fantastic storylines (plus, the show’s called Will & Grace, what do you expect?). But in focusing solely on the Will/Grace, Jack/Karen pairings, we neglect one of the shows greatest friendships, a friendship that runs from one end of the spectrum to the other and back again so seamlessly.
I, of course, am speaking of the brilliant brOTP that is Will Truman and Karen Walker.
I know what you’re thinking: their whole shtick is the fact that they “hate” each other, and on the surface, yeah, okay, maybe it looks that way. The insults and snark flow so freely between them that it looks like there’s no way they could ever get along. But looks can be deceiving. Insults and snark can be deceiving. Underneath the tricks and the quips, there’s a pair who swap stories over drinks and read the same books. There’s a pair who can joke together (usually at other people’s expense, but what are you going to do?) and commiserate with each other. Most importantly, there’s a pair who listen to each other, who help each other, who aren’t afraid of tackling the heavy moments of life together. Will and Karen were a dynamic and delightfully unpredictable friendship that only added to the phenomenal connections that made up the foundation of the series. So join me as I revisit the things that cemented Will and Karen as one of the all-time great pairings for me. Because as funny as the insults and snark are, there’s a lot of love there, and all that stuff underneath is just as satisfying.
They have similar interests.
Guys, “Wedding Balls” gets so much of what I’m about as a person, and it’s all because of the Will/Karen storyline. The part of me that loves this brOTP loves how strong their connection is in this episode. The bookworm in me absolutely adores the fact that they bonded over reading the same book, going to the book signing together, chatting about The Marriage of Equals over wine. Each of them are SO damn excited to talk about this book, from Karen’s realization that they both carried a copy with them, to Will passionately talking about one of the book’s major plot points. The bond that they form through The Marriage of Equals is so pure, and it’s the most blatant showing of their brOTP status. Of course, not everyone is so thrilled by this bond; Jack suddenly has to compete for Karen’s attention as she finds herself wanting to discuss the argument between Diane and Mark more than she wants to go shout things at Bea Arthur while she’s on stage. And I get it; Jack’s used to having Karen by his side at all times, but considering how downright wonderful Will and Karen are as bookworms, can’t we just have this one?
And if you want to see something endearing as hell, watch the fake fight they have in the hallway for Jack’s benefit, to get to the looks they give each other in the end. They clearly don’t want to give up the friendship they have — even if some people object to it — and that little exchange of conspiratorial glances before the elevator door closes shows it. Right there, you know that the weird love they have for each other is real, and you know it’s always going to be there…even if they have to keep up appearances when Jack’s around.
Sometimes, you get outvoted by the others in your group of friends when you’re planning your evening. Sometimes, you compromise because you see how much joy they get out of the things you’re not totally thrilled about. And in those instances, it helps if there’s someone else who also has no idea what’s going on. Take Champions on Ice, for example. Will concedes to going, even though it’s his birthday, because he knows how much Grace and Jack love it (and they needed this common ground to help them get along, but that’s neither here nor there). And while Grace and Jack are marveling over Surya Bonaly and Rudy Galindo, Will and Karen are trash talking the proceedings while drinking champagne straight from the bottle. I mean, they have to keep themselves occupied somehow.
Not to mention, Karen got them a reservation at Balthazar for his birthday (which…did they even get to eat anything other than stale popcorn that night?), so one more point in the friendship column.
They teach each other new things.
This brOTP is a two-way street when it comes to educational experiences. For example, when Will is curious about Botox, Karen’s there to show Will the (dis?)advantages to it. Okay, so he still can’t pull off a sleeveless Abercrombie and Fitch shirt, but at least he can’t move his face? As Karen always says, “Life’s a party with a face full of poison.” On the other hand, when Karen needs someone to teach her how to drive, who swoops in when all the other options seem less than desirable? That’s right! Will’s in the passenger seat giving her tips for the road and pleading with her to stop speeding up whenever she sees a nun. Sure, she gets a ticket on her first time out, and sure, he never really taught her how to brake (something will stop her), but it’s the thought that counts, right?
And while we’re on the subject of Karen’s driving…
If you befriend Karen Walker, you befriend a very direct wingman.
Look, Joe and Larry had been trying to fix Will up with Vince FOR YEARS to no avail. But Karen speeds ONE TIME while Will teaches her to drive, and Vince just happens to be the cop that pulls them over? Come on, it was meant to be. Without that driving lesson, Vince would have never given them that unsigned ticket, Will never would have taken him to traffic court, and they never would have realized exactly who the other is. Of course, when push comes to shove, Karen’s going to make sure that if they throw their case, they’re throwing it for an absolute. And she’s going to cut right to the point to do so.
Hey, it worked, didn’t it? Karen Walker: bringing people together, one broken law at a time.
They look out for each other.
When the walls seem to be closing in and there’s no way out, each of them are able to put their differences aside and lend a hand. Let’s take season two’s “Tea and a Total Lack of Sympathy.” When Will lands his job at Doucette and Stein, he learns that he has to land a major client in a week, or he’s fired. As he schemes to get Karen to drop her lawyer and hire his firm over martinis, Karen realizes what he’s up to, and in their classic dynamic, starts having a little fun of her own with him until he can’t take anymore and walks away, knowing that it could very well cost him his job. Eventually, though, she comes through in the eleventh hour, knowing what it means for Will and his future, to sign the papers and save the day. Karen will tell you that the only reason she did it was because she knows how important Will is to Grace, and she likes Grace, so what’s the harm? As we move forward through the series, though, it’s obvious that she cares about Will despite her assertions to the contrary, and I like to believe that her own fondness for him — however buried it may be — played a part in her decision here.
And when Karen and Stan start divorce proceedings in “May Divorce Be With You,” Will may not be the one representing Karen, but he’s certainly going to make sure the one who will is adequate enough to put up a fight. When Karen’s new lawyer J.T. (actually, can I call him Soupy? I’m going to call him Soupy) gives off the impression of a twelve-year-old with a briefcase, Will helps him build his case by showing Soupy how to prove that Stan violated the fidelity clause (“fidelity clams”) of their prenup. Of course, the twelve-year-old with a briefcase thing is all an act to get Will to spill information, and Soupy fully intends on destroying his career, which is where Karen comes in. Once Soupy fills her in on his plan, she tries to put a stop to it, ready to fire him if it means keeping Will out of hot water. And I think it’s amazing that, when you put “May Divorce Be With You” alongside “Tea and a Total Lack of Sympathy,” Karen has always been ready to go to bat for Will when the circumstances call for it, and vice versa.
Episodes like these didn’t pop up too often, but when they did, they were poignant. They gave Will and Karen’s relationship a little more depth with each storyline, and they showed that these frenemies are definitely more friend than enemy to each other.
They confide in each other.
I know, I know, Jack and Karen are besties, but when life seems to get a little too real to handle alone, it’s Will who’s there to lend her an ear and a shoulder, and it’s been that way since the start of their friendship. In the first season of the series (“William, Tell” to be more specific), when Karen was contemplating a divorce from Stan, Will was there to talk her through it even though he didn’t specialize in divorce law. The thing is, that conversation went so much deeper than “Here’s what you do when you file for divorce.” Will gets her to let down her guard and talk frankly about what she’s feeling:
Will: Karen, if you’re set on divorce, I can help you with that, but it’s going to take an emotional toll.
Karen: Oh, I don’t know, Will. I mean, in a lot of ways, I have a very good life. A home in the city, a home in the country, a boat, jewelry, art, cars, a chef, a trainer, an ass-kicking wardrobe…
Will: Yeah, I get it. How is the woman underneath the ass-kicking wardrobe?
Karen: Nine percent body fat and a little bit lost.
Ultimately, Will helps her realize how much she truly loves Stan, but it’s the first time in the series that Karen gets serious like this. And while she’s also had heart-to-hearts with Grace on occasion (can we talk about their last scene in “Field of Queens?” Because my heart and soul ache every time), Will tends to be the one she dives into the deeper, darker waters with. Let’s fast-forward to “I Second That Emotion” from the final season. Karen’s dealing with the fact that Stan faked his death and left her in the dark about it, and Will’s worried that the wall she built up is hindering her from truly taking it in. As he assures her it’s okay to start letting her guard down with him, she starts to cry (literally all night, and when does she ever willingly do that in front of people?) and let her true feelings be known:
Karen: Honey, I missed Stanley so much. And now I find out that he’s alive and that he lied to me. It hurts, Will. I feel empty and confused and even more alone than I did when I thought he was dead.
It goes both ways, too. At this point in the show, he broke up with Vince, and he quit his job at Doucette and Stein, and he was going through his own period of denial. Brick by brick, they each tear down their walls until they’re emotionally raw (and, in Will’s case, kind of drunk); it’s then, when they’re on the same level, that they begin to build each other back up, realizing that it’s okay to not have the big things wrapped up in a nice little ribbon, that it’s okay to feel lost before working through it, that it’s okay to acknowledge the forks in the road.
Not all of it is so heavy, though. Sometimes, they’re just swapping slightly embarrassing stories over a couple of martinis, like how Will got the scar on his head by freaking out during his talent show performance of “I Honestly Love You” and crashed into Stephanie Lieberman’s headgear. But when they go deeper, they are always there to help each other through it. And it’s heartening to know that despite their differences, they feel that comfortable with each other, and will be there to catch each other when they stumble.
They may some cruel things to each other, but they’ve always got each other’s back.
I’m not going to pretend like Will and Karen’s connection is flawless. They definitely have their share of moments where they don’t mince words, where Karen will pull elaborate schemes to trick Will into doing trivial things like fixing a paper jam in the fax, and Will will legally force her to live in the apartment building she owns that she didn’t know wasn’t up to code. But the best thing about their friendship is that no matter what they say or do to each other, they will always back each other up in the end. Will said some nasty things to her during “Tea and a Total Lack of Sympathy” (“You are sadistic and bitter and empty”), but Karen still came to his aid, pretending like all of those things he said never happened. All of the times Karen cried wolf during “Crouching Father, Hidden Husband” — getting Gardener to imitate the INS to get Will over to the Manse, only to have him open up a jar of olives, and the like — led Will to believe she was just playing another prank when she told him the FBI was investigating Stan.
Then there’s “A Chorus Lie,” which (aside from “Wedding Balls”) brings with it my favorite Will and Karen moment of the entire series. When I ranked this episode in my top 20 at the beginning of the year, I sang the praises of Will and Karen’s storyline, because it really showed the gamut their relationship ran. You’ve got the tricks and the insults when Will finds out that Karen was trying to masquerade him as her hired escort during the Shelter Island Valentine’s dance. You’ve got the moment when Karen lets her guard down in an attempt to get Will to stay, telling him that he’s the only man in her life she can depend on, now that Stan is doing time for tax evasion. And you’ve got the last minute save with Will coming back to dance the spotlight dance with Karen. This episode has just about everything there is to love about their dynamic. More often than not, they’ll call each other names, they’ll argue, and they’ll occasionally say some hurtful things to each other. But in spite of all of that, they truly care about each other. They can depend on each other when the going gets tough. They can talk things out, they can show sides of themselves they don’t show with other people. They help each other. Because sometimes, help comes from the most unexpected places.
I can only hope that we will get a few more moments for this duo the second time around.
How do you feel about Will and Karen’s friendship? Who makes up your favorite out-of-norm pairing on the show? Let’s chat in the comments!