Will & Grace Season 1, Episode 4
Posted by Sarah
Wow. Just…wow. This episode was A LOT. I wasn’t expecting Elliot’s return to reduce me to a puddle of tears, but here we are. This is the thing about Will & Grace: the show can give you the deepest belly laughs you’ve ever had in your life one moment, and then turn around to take you to a very real place and shatter your heart in the next; “Grandpa Jack” happens to be the latest shining example of this. On one hand, we’ve got a storyline from Grace and Karen that is pure comedic gold. On the other hand, Will and Jack are part of a plot that highlights how vital this show is and has always been. This episode was absolutely beautiful, and I think I’ve collected myself well enough to unpack it with you (although, let’s be real, I’m still emotional about it), so let’s get to it.
An unexpected visitor happens upon Will’s door in search of Jack, which is super convenient, because Jack just got done hijacking Grace’s shower. Right off the bat here, I got flashbacks to the original run’s “Sons and Lovers,” Elliot walking into Grace Adler Designs asking for his father…except this time, Karen’s not there to fall out of her chair at the news. And this time, it’s a boy named Skip asking Jack if he has a son named Elliot. Jack confirms, tells Skip that he had a falling out with his son a few years back, and immediately gets a bomb dropped on him: Skip — visiting the city with his parents — found the letters Jack wrote and tracked him down to tell him that Jack’s his grandfather. (I had a feeling this was going to be the storyline when Elliot came back, do I win a prize?)
For someone who only two weeks ago was freaking out that someone called him a daddy at the Cockpit, Jack’s handling the fact that he’s old enough to have a grandson pretty well; it’s the fact that Elliot never bothered to tell him about Skip that sends him into a tailspin, and rightly so. When Will follows Jack to the terrace to comfort him after letting Skip’s parents know where he is, we soon find out why Elliot and Jack had a falling out and therefore why Jack was left in the dark about his grandson: Elliot moved to Texas, married an extremely conservative woman named Emma and didn’t invite Jack to the wedding. Jack’s worried that he won’t be able to connect with Skip because of where he’s growing up: “I can’t fish or hunt or tell a woman what to do with her fetus.” As soon as they head back inside, though, Jack quickly realizes that there’s no barrier; Skip sits in the Pajama Party Position and is absolutely enamored by Karen in the same way Jack was when he first met her, so it looks like the two have much more in common than Jack originally thought.
Jack immediately starts bonding with his grandson, and when he finds out that Skip is in town because he’s on his way to a camp upstate, he automatically assumes it’s a theater camp and races across the hall to grab some props for Skip to take with him (HE’S SUCH A GOOD GRANDFATHER ALREADY, YOU GUYS). It’s then that Elliot—in full-on cowboy mode—and his wife, Emma, show up to get Skip. We basically get all we need to know about present-day Elliot in a one-sentence update — “I drank the Kool Aid and can no longer separate church and state” — before Jack makes his grand re-entrance in full costume, complete with a wig that is equal parts Sia, Cruella de Vil, and indecisive Anna Wintour. Thus, Elliot and Jack are reunited in a way that neither of them likely pictured when they pictured this moment. The tension between father and son is PALPABLE. They don’t even really have a conversation; they just acknowledge each other’s presence and leave it at that. Skip asks to say a proper goodbye to Will and Jack, and when Elliot and his wife head out, Jack asks what camp Skip will be at so he can write him during Skip’s stay (SUCH. A GOOD. GRANDFATHER). Skip tells them that he’ll be at Camp Straighten Arrow, and it’s exactly what you think it is; “It’s a camp my parents found to fix me.” If your heart isn’t immediately shattered by a little kid saying that his parents are trying to fix him, I don’t know what to do.
Jack and Will know that they can’t let Skip endure one minute of Straighten Arrow, and immediately travel upstate to spring him from the camp. After a bit of spying on the welcome session, the plan is simple: Will creates a diversion to sneak Skip outside, where Jack will be able to tell Skip what the camp really is and offer to help get him out of there. Will bites the bullet and makes his way inside, where Roberta and Reggie—the newlywed, we’re-totally-not-gay-anymore-okay-trust-us couple—are singing camp songs about heteronormativity and showing the kids how they used to implement the shock collar method. Considering their role in this story, Jane Lynch and Andrew Rannells were amazing, but Andrew Rannells especially crushed it. His accidental celebratory dance moves, his assertion that he’s definitely in love with Roberta, okay? And his impossible to hide thirst for Will was priceless (“ROBERTA, LET THE BEAUTIFUL MAN SPEAK”). Will, of course, uses this to his advantage, and while Skip makes his escape, he masquerades as a counselor from a rival ex-gay camp, Kick-a-Mo (oh my god). He’s saying how Kick-a-Mo is way more successful than Straighten Arrow, and to prove it, he proposes a kiss-off. And Reggie GOES FOR IT. Seriously, it may or may not have dethroned Taye Diggs in “I Love L. Gay” for hottest Will kiss of the show in my mind? And that’s extremely difficult to do.
While this was SUCH a great moment, though, we all knew we were in for a serious, heavy-hitting scene to come and absolutely decimate us. And you know what? Mission accomplished.
Remember a couple weeks ago, when I said that things are definitely better but are in no way perfect? “Grandpa Jack” highlights a contributing factor to the “in no way perfect” part. When Blake was under the assumption that everything’s good now in “Who’s Your Daddy,” he glossed over things like Camp Straighten Arrow. But these things exist. The appalling notion that the LGBTQ+ community needs to be “fixed” still exists. Our current vice-president even believes that conversion therapy works, when it actually does nothing but greatly harm those who are subjected to it (his picture hanging up at Straighten Arrow is no coincidence). Elliot even adds a little bit to this when he finds Jack outside of Straighten Arrow (“We just don’t want him to…” “Turn out like me?”). To tackle a subject like this is not an easy feat for an average sitcom; luckily, Will & Grace is not your average sitcom. Will & Grace is not afraid to go there and illuminate the wrongs of the world to turn the volume up on the conversation, all under the guise of comedy. Yes, there are funny moments throughout this story, but they don’t take away from the weight of it, and the show knows when to cut the comedy to let the message shine through. When Skip meets Jack outside, Jack lets him know, “This place can’t fix you, because you’re not broken.” And when Skip doesn’t fully understand (how goddamn heartbreaking is it that he doesn’t fully understand that he’s not broken?), Jack dives into a heart-to-heart that made me cry all over myself:
This. This is what I’ve always seen in Jack. This is who he is at his core. If you’re a more casual viewer, it can be so easy to keep him in his zany sidekick corner, where he’s always on, always adorable, and always the comic relief. He’ll go from career to career to career like it’s nothing, jump from one relationship to the next without a sense of being emotionally invested. But he is so much more than that. Right out of the gate, Jack cares so much about Skip when he’s only known him for a few hours; that bond is incredibly strong and you can tell he genuinely loves his grandson the second he sees him. And he cares about Elliot too, even after the falling out; when Skip says he found some of the letters Jack wrote to Elliot, it broke my heart knowing that he never gave up on his relationship with his son, even if it seemed like Elliot did. Deep down, he is fiercely loyal to his family — both blood and chosen — and will do what he can for them. This side of him gets to you when you least expect it. And it gets to Elliot, too; back in the city, he visits Will and Jack to let them know that Skip was pulled out of Straighten Arrow once he finally looked around the place and came to his senses. And he also stood up for Jack for what very well may have been the first time in his relationship with Emma:
Elliot: In the car on the way back to the city, Emma and I got into a pretty big fight, and she said, “Do you really want Skip to end up like Jack?” And I said, “You mean someone who’d drop everything to help someone he cares for live their truth? Yeah, I do.”
Elliot tells Jack that Emma agreed to let Skip leave Straighten Arrow before telling him how much Jack really means to him, despite the distance they’ve experienced over the years. By the end of the episode, it honestly feels like that distance is a thing of the past; it feels like Elliot and Jack are finally on the right track again, and it feels like Grandpa is going to be a much bigger part of Skip’s life than he has been.
I have to say, I had a really hard time wrapping my head around Elliot’s trajectory throughout this episode. When, prior to the episode, I read about Jane Lynch and Andrew Rannells’ roles in the show, I was racking my brain trying to figure out how this was going to be introduced. And once it was revealed that it was Elliot and his wife sending their son to this camp, it hurt because I never in a million years would have expected it from him. As we learned in “Dyeing Is Easy, Comedy Is Hard” in the original run, both of his parents are gay (hi, Rosie O’Donnell). Anything is possible, beliefs can change, and we haven’t seen Elliot since he was trying to decide on college, but I just can’t believe the kid we came to know in the original series would grow up to turn his back on both Jack and Bonnie (assuming, of course, that she eventually came out to him) in favor of a more closed-minded way of living. Yes, eventually he sees the error of sending Skip to Straighten Arrow. Eventually, he stands up for Jack when his wife tears him down and gets her to agree to pulling Skip out of camp; that more involved conversation between them is at least started. Eventually, he and Jack make amends, and eventually Elliot apologizes. I’m so happy that’s where Elliot ends up in this episode, but although the storyline really did produce a beautiful moment between Jack and Skip, it was just difficult to see this version of Elliot. By the end of the episode, though, we’re left with hope that he will re-evaluate his newfound beliefs, for the sake of his relationship with his dad, and for the sake of his son.
And topping it off by asking Jack to take Skip to his first Broadway show? My heart was bursting. What a beautiful episode to air on Spirit Day. We should all be so lucky to have a Grandpa Jack.
With a heavy A-story comes a more light-hearted B-story, and my girls did not fail me on this one. Karen’s annoyed that Grace is making them work on a Saturday before she quickly realizes that all of this overtime is the result of Grace throwing herself too much into her work and not enough into her dating life. ESPECIALLY when you compare her to Karen, who — in addition to making love to Stan and watching cartoons on Saturdays — tries to dim the lights of the office for some alone time with Tony before Mom (Grace) shows up, and starts casually grinding on Grace when she does show up. Grace immediately tries to rectify the situation and scolds Karen, but Karen knows that something is up with her boss…namely, “Your snootch died.” Granted, Karen’s behavior in the office isn’t necessarily appropriate and maybe she should reconsider trying to seduce the new employee, but when has she ever been office appropriate? She knows that the reason Grace is so uptight is because she hasn’t given her sex life a second thought since her divorce from Leo, and she is more than happy to let her boss know what’s up.
When Tony returns to the office, he tries to apologize to Grace for his part in Karen’s fun, saying that he was just singing Karen’s favorite song to her, and it snowballed from there. As we know from last week’s episode (and literally every other season of this show), when you drop something like “Your relationship with Will was the cause of our divorce” or “Your snootch is dead” on her, it will dominate her mind. So that had to be part of her motivation for her interactions with Tony here. After she sings her awkward song to him (is it sad that I really missed the tone-deaf chanteuse part of her?), he offers to show her how to sing from her diaphragm, and it’s here that Grace discovers that her snootch is definitely not dead. And it’s here that I profess my undying love for Debra Messing and her comic abilities.
Honey…What’s This? What’s Happening? What’s Going On?
- If you want to see how Will & Grace tackled the ex-gay thing with adults and a bonus Neil Patrick Harris, check out “Girls, Interrupted” from season two of the original run.
- This is the first time in the show’s history (that I can recall) where they announced that it was filmed before a live studio audience. I guess they finally got sick of people assuming it was a laugh track? It was such an old-school sitcom move, it made me want to watch eight episodes of Cheers afterward.
- Jack in his robe gave me “Gypsies, Tramps and Weed” flashbacks in the best way; I was kind of waiting for him to say he used Will’s tub and his Ylang Ylang (y’like y’like?).
- 10/10 would watch Law & Order: LGBTQ.
- Welp, looks like my ship is alive and well.
- Maggie pointed out to me that Grace had a bunch of cats on her skirt during this storyline about her sexuality, and god I hope that was intentional. I see you, costume department. I see you.
- Seeing Jane Lynch singing with a guitar in hand put me in a definite A Mighty Wind kind of mood…except here, there’s a lot more denial and a lot more Jesus.
- I really need a report on the number of homes this show has affected every time someone says “Okay, Google.”
- “I have NEVER been 100% clear what irony is, but I’m pretty sure that’s it.” Jack McFarland, you have my heart.
- *In my best Will imitating Regis Philbin* GIVE SEAN HAYES THE DAMN EMMY ALREADY. (But seriously, it’s about time he got another one of those.)
What did you think of “Grandpa Jack?” Let us know in the comments!
With Elliot, I get the worry for thinking he was changed just to tell a story. But at the same time I grew up with a sister who wasn’t uber religious and conservative (in the all the wrong ways) until she started dating a guy and going to church with his family. As kids we had a pretty good relationship, not great, but definitely better as far as our disagreements went before she started dating this guy. Then it was a complete change as she started becoming more intolerant to anyone who wasn’t her ideal of what of a Christian should be. And I know Christianity isn’t bad because I consider myself a Christian. But she definitely wasn’t the type of Christian who exhibits the true spirit of it in caring about people. She was the type who thinks if you didn’t believe exactly as she believed, then you weren’t worthy of being considered a person. All this while her boyfriend/husband turned into a druggie/convict. And while she’s now divorced from him, she is still close to his family because they have kids. I don’t think she has been to their church in years, and she’s mellowed from the way it used to be where we would get into screaming matches about her beliefs and mine; I know that intolerance is still in her so that our relationship has never been what it used to be. When I saw this episode, I loved the message and the hope in it; but I know it’s never that easy. I like that Will & Grace put it out there, and I know they can’t fully tackle how hard it is to deal with that in a family, and I respect that. I don’t need them to. And I actually prefer to keep it as hopeful as possible. Put it out there as “this is the way it should be” and let people consider if they are actually behaving that way in their own lives. Sadly, personally I know it’s not like that. This is my sister’s behavior even without anyone in the family coming out as gay. I worry what it would be like if someone did. Now to end on a lighter note, I am really loving Will & Grace revival. I watched the original run’s early years before I started tuning out at some point and became a much more casual viewer. I like reading this reviews from someone who loves and understands the characters because that helps me have a much better understanding of them than I had before.
Thank you so much for sharing this! <3
I really appreciate your sharing this. Everything gets wrapped up so neatly in a 30-minute sitcom that it’s important to hear stories like yours as well. I grew up in a very conservative, very religious hometown and I’ve seen how poisonous prejudice can be (one of my friends from grade school even tried to take back his coming out to his family at one point because they were forcing him to talk to their pastor to try to “fix” him). I’m really glad that Will & Grace is putting that kind of hope out there, though. Maybe it’ll get through to someone.
I haven’t even watched this episode but <3 <3 <3