Will & Grace Season 3, Episode 5
“The Grief Panda”
Posted by Sarah
Kids, when it comes to my show, I am an impatient woman. I’m constantly monitoring for spoilers and synopses, just to get a taste of what I’m going to be in for in the coming weeks. So a couple weeks ago, when I read the synopsis for “The Grief Panda” and got to the part where it said Grace believed she had to fire Karen to set her free, I got so nervous. After all, this is the last season, and they’re pretty much free to do whatever the hell they want; who’s to say after two decades at Grace Adler Designs and a minor league baseball team she’s passionate about, the writers wouldn’t think it’s time for Karen to move on? I was prepared to throw things, I was prepared to spend this whole recap ranting about how wrong this was, I was bracing myself. And then the episode aired. And instead of Karen moving on from Grace Adler Designs, we got her sticking up for herself, arguing with Grace over who loves who more, and becoming the godmother to Grace’s baby in one hell of a Karen Walker Feels Things™ moment that knocked me flat on my ass.
I am very attached to Grace and Karen’s relationship (and if you’ve ever seen my other…ahem…occasionally NSFW writings for this fandom, you know this well). And if we’re going down this route for the final season of the revival, then you better give me content exactly like this, where Karen is so fiercely set on showing up for Grace and her baby, making very loud, inhuman noises come out of my mouth. This is what I thrive on, and I definitely have some things to say about my girls. But before we get to the reason why my roommates probably hate me now, let’s dive in to the namesake of this week’s episode.
Getting over a significant relationship is never easy for anyone, but it always seems to be especially rough for Will; one of the most striking things I’ve ever heard from him was way back in season four’s “Bed, Bath and Beyond,” where he admits to Grace that he hasn’t been able to have a good relationship since his breakup with Michael four years prior. So when Grace realizes that Will still has the TV room set up as McCoy’s office three weeks after they broke up, she knows that she needs to do something to help. Jack’s concerned, too; Will is eating better and going to the gym way too much for his liking, which seem like weird red flags, but okay. They both know that something’s got to give, because it’s not healthy for Will to keep pretending like nothing happened. Luckily, he has an idea to help his friend deal with his heartache, something out of the box yet surprisingly effective.
Enter the Grief Panda.
This plot felt like a classic over-the-top sitcom plot to me, and I was so here for it. I just knew that this concept was going to be gold. And props to Ben Giroux for being in the Grief Panda costume, too; it takes talent to be able to be that funny without being seen or heard, and it could have been so easy to let this whole bit fall flat. But in typical Will & Grace fashion, the comedy of it all balances so well with the weight of the situation. Will is reluctant to fully give in to the process–in which you give the Grief Panda all of your ex’s things so he can bury them in some community garden on Second Avenue, and then wrestle him–but once he does, you can see him really start to deal with his breakup with McCoy. And it hurts, especially when Will gets to the picture that was taken when McCoy had a really bad cold, remembering how he had this overwhelming feeling of wanting to take care of his fiancé forever, thinking that he’ll never meet anyone who means that much again. But once he finally hands off the picture (and goes toe to toe with the panda), he admits that he’s been holding onto things longer than he should, and you can tell that the exercise helped.
To celebrate Will’s newfound freedom from any lingering memories of McCoy, Jack takes him and a pair of binoculars out onto 9C’s terrace so they can check out guys like they used to do when they were both single. Jack thinks the way to go is to make it feel like McCoy never happened. But of course, that’s easier said than done, especially with the impact McCoy had on Will’s life. And Will knows that it would end up doing more harm than good to rewrite history, to pretend like one of the happiest years of his life never happened (which is honestly such a difficult decision, but I’m so proud of him). So he does the only thing he can think of to do: he goes to that community garden on Second Avenue to get the one piece of his relationship with McCoy that matters the most, before the Grief Panda can bury it underneath some stranger’s tomatoes. When Will makes it to the garden, he catches the panda before the picture is buried and asks for it back. He says that he wants one thing that reminds him of McCoy. Because when it comes down to it, McCoy was an important part of his life; aside from the relationship itself, he made the decision to become a father because of his ex, and he might not be at this point if he had never been with McCoy. And once he pleads his case to the Grief Panda, he gets his picture back.
Saving mementos from significant relationships is such a tricky thing (but I’ve done it, and I’m sure a lot of us have done it). It’s hard to want to do anything other than trash it all when you’re in that space of trying not to think about the breakup too much and move on; it can be even harder when you accidentally come across the things you forgot you saved (I’ve done it, and I’m sure a lot of us have done it). But I love that Will doesn’t want to erase McCoy from his history. I love that he recognizes how much that relationship shaped him, how it led him to impending fatherhood and going for something he’s wanted his whole life. I love how he doesn’t villainize McCoy to make it easy to move on. And while I’m still sad that Will and McCoy are done, this episode definitely made me feel like Will is going to be okay moving forward. He’s processing the breakup, and he’s got the love and support of his friends whenever he needs to lean on them. It’s amazing what beating up on a dude in a bear suit can do for you.
That, kids, is the power of the Grief Panda.
Over at Grace Adler Designs, Karen’s set up her Blattsville Millstones command center, complete with an extra desk for her new assistant, Amy…oh wait, sorry, make that Friday (I should have known that Karen would have the power to just casually change someone’s name like that). She’s completely invested in all the work she has to do for the team, much to the dismay of Grace, who can’t even get through sharing all of the things she and Will are doing to prepare for the baby without being interrupted by Karen asking Friday to put something on their to-do list for the Millstones. Grace is clearly annoyed that she can’t get a word in with Karen, but it isn’t until Karen tells her she doesn’t have time to remind her to talk to Will about buying a crib that she finally expresses her frustration to Friday when they get a moment alone. It’s here that Grace thinks she realizes what’s going on: Karen’s finally passionate about something, and she wants to leave the office to focus on the team, but she’s too afraid to say it. And Grace decides that she’s going to let Karen go, patting herself on the back in the process for doing this for her assistant.
If you heard a very adamant “NO” somewhere off in the distance Thursday night, it probably came from me.
Listen, Karen has never really done any of the usual assistant tasks for Grace in the two decades they’ve worked together, so maybe saying she’s unable to remind Grace of something shouldn’t have been the last straw here. But once Grace gets an idea in her head, she tends to go for it, ESPECIALLY if she thinks it’ll make her look good. And she’s absolutely convinced that this is the right thing to do. Once Karen returns to the office and finds the flowers Grace left on her desk, Grace asks her to sit down and fires her in what was honestly a condescending manner (the way she calls Karen “Little bird” made me cringe a little?). And Karen is so not having it; her face during this entire speech is everything, and also exactly what my face looked like. When Grace says her piece, Karen gets up and leaves without saying another word. But I know my girl; I knew she wasn’t about to just leave after spending twenty years of her life by Grace’s side. I knew she was going to fight back; I just wasn’t prepared for how hard she was going to fight.
Let me just get this out of the way right now, because it definitely had an effect on this whole scene: the way Megan Mullally stayed in the lower register of her Karen voice throughout this exchange was such a genius choice, brilliantly conveying the weight of the situation without once making it feel out of character. Karen comes out of the gate strong with her “How dare you fire me?” (Because, let’s face it, that’s what Grace was doing, and the fact that she thought it was going to sit well with Karen was maddening). But then she cuts right to the chase, accusing Grace of pushing her away ever since she got pregnant. And really, it’s not hard to see why Karen would come to that conclusion. Every single sentence Grace] uttered about her pregnancy leading up to this point had “Will and I” in there somewhere, like they were the only two that were going to be in this kid’s life. And it makes Karen think that Grace doesn’t want her anywhere near her child. It’s interesting to see the show take this route now, when they didn’t really explore it during the original run’s final season. You expect Will to have an active part in Grace’s child’s life, because of course. And you don’t really expect Jack to be offended by the thought of being left out of things like crib shopping or clothes shopping, because he doesn’t really have that kind of relationship with Grace. But Karen? Karen arguably spends just as much time with Grace as Will does. Karen’s always there. So it makes total sense to me that she would want to be a part of this, and it makes total sense that she would be hurt by Grace pushing her away, whether or not Grace was actively trying to do it.
Grace tries to defend herself, saying that she thought Karen was too busy with the Millstones and that her assistant doesn’t even really like kids. And yeah, the whole “PEZ dispensers for stem cells” line sounds so very Karen, but we all know that Karen definitely has a maternal side to her. We’ve seen it in “The Unsinkable Mommy Adler” during the original run’s first season, when Karen was saddened by her negative pregnancy test. We’ve seen it in season eight’s “Forbidden Fruit” as she takes care of a sick Jack and comes to terms with the nursery she set up before she took that pregnancy test at the beginning of the series. Hell, Grace has even seen it a couple times, even if one of them technically isn’t in play anymore. In season seven’s “Sour Balls,” Karen doesn’t hesitate to come to Grace’s defense even though she was mad at her, as Ellen accuses Grace of being unable to watch her kids; it led Grace to tell Karen, “If that’s not being a mother, I don’t know what is.” And then there’s the moment I still think about on a regular basis in season eight’s “Grace Expectations,” where Karen declares that she could be Grace’s baby daddy as Grace struggles with the idea of telling Leo that she’s pregnant with his baby (like…that was canon, you guys. That wasn’t a line in a fic, even though that is the world I want to live in. Karen actually said it. What is life). So of course Karen was going to knock down that reasoning while absolutely knocking the wind out of me in the process:
Karen: Did you ever think that maybe…oh, I don’t know…I would like your kid?
Grace: Why? Because then you’d be able to make fun of its hair and its clothes?
Karen: Yes! Because I would love it, just like I love its ridiculously dressed, frizzy haired mother, who clearly doesn’t love me nearly as much as I love her.
What is this show trying to do to me, kids? Were they really expecting me to still be standing as they just casually morphed this scene into an argument over who loves who more? Karen is just so sincere with every single thing she adds to this exchange, and Grace isn’t about to back down from this, either. She sets out to prove how much she loves Karen by asking her to be her child’s godmother, and I wish I could convey in words just how hard I gasped at that. I honestly wasn’t expecting it when I probably should have. Maybe it’s because the whole godparent thing wasn’t really touched upon the first time around, but I just didn’t think this was going to be the outcome. This was done so beautifully though, with the way that you think Karen’s just going to keep fighting it but then softens, telling Grace that being the baby’s godmother would mean the world to her. And just in case that wasn’t wreaking enough havoc on my emotions, she follows it up with one last declaration: “Honey, our baby’s gonna want for nothin’.”
On my end, this is where words completely failed me and I turned into a crying, clapping seal; on the show’s end, this is where word choice becomes super important. Because they could have had Karen say “This baby” or something to that effect, and it would have gotten the point across, been a lovely moment for her and Grace, whatever. But it’s the fact that she said “Our baby” that hits so hard. She is so immediately here for this kid, and for Grace, and it’s stunning. But it’s not at all unexpected. Karen absolutely shows up for the ones she loves when they let her, and I love that she gets to do that for Grace now. I am so here for Godmother Karen. Her relationship with Grace has always meant a lot to me, and to see the way they expressed how much they mean to each other like this was overwhelming in the best way. So maybe it’s good that the next episode isn’t airing until the new year. Because maybe, by January 9th, I’ll have finally collected myself after this Karen Walker Feels Things™ moment.
Although, let’s be real…I’m never going to shut up about this.
Honey…What’s This? What’s Happening? What’s Going On?
- After this episode, I may or may not have Googled “Is the grief panda real” for future personal reference.
- The lengths Grace went to in order to hide the fact that she heard about the Grief Panda at Krispy Kreme, though.
- Karen came to slay in this blazer, and I’m going to need her to wear it all the time:
- Yes, hello, where do I purchase all of the Karen Walker “boobleheads,” please?
- “Will you tell the shortstop that I’m tired of looking at his buttcrack?” What is this baseball team?
- “What is it, Mom? Are you guys getting a divorce ‘cause Dad’s a massive queen?” This broke me, I can’t help it.
- Gaybraham Twinkin’, we hardly knew ye.
- “You’re in love with her. I get it. We’re all a little in love with her.” It’s good to know that Friday quickly learned what all of us already knew about Karen.
- “I haven’t seen you this excited since the Grey Goose truck crashed into that olive cart.” “If it had been raining vermouth, I would have believed in god.” Bless you, Karen Walker.
- I know logistically it doesn’t make sense, but part of me really wants the community garden the Grief Panda buried all of McCoy’s stuff in to be the same community garden where Will’s beloved childhood garden gnome Squatsy met its demise in the original run’s “Went to a Garden Potty.”
What did you think of “The Grief Panda?” Let’s chat in the comments. See you in 2020, kids!
Featured Image Source: NBC