The Ending Of Grace And Frankie Finally Explained

This article contains spoilers.

As Netflix's "Grace and Frankie" first episode begins, two older women sneer at one another across a restaurant table as they wait for their law partner husbands of 40-plus years to arrive. They don't know that the husbands have chosen this moment to break the news that they're in love with each other and want to divorce the women so that they can marry each other. Hilarity ensues as pain, demons, and mistakes are confronted. But more than anything else, the two women — complete opposites — are thrown together in a crisis. First and foremost, "Grace and Frankie" is about the unlikely relationship that develops between these two women, Grace Hanson and Frankie Bergstein, played by Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, respectively. 

Of course, it's also about a lot of other things that we've grown to care about, including the ex-husbands, Robert and Sol, and their post-coming-out journey. And then there are the four adult children of the couples, each with their own baggage. That brings us to "The Beginning," which is, ironically, the title of the "Grace and Frankie" series finale.

At the end of the penultimate episode, Frankie stomps away from her "fake funeral," indignant that Grace has been name-checked in every eulogy. Grace herself isn't there — mainly because she can't deal, but also because someone had to take that meeting regarding Rise-Up with that karaoke-loving toilet company CEO. What happens next? We're finally able to tell you, and more importantly, to explain what it all means in the end.

Grace and Frankie walk off into the sunset together

In the final scene of "Grace and Frankie," the titular characters wade in from the Pacific surf, breezily reflecting on Grace's progress in confronting her fear of the ocean — which seems to be a metaphor for a fear of death, given that Grace's fear derives from her father having drowned in the ocean. Indeed, Grace and Frankie have already survived their own deaths, or at least a death dream they shared while unconscious in the wake of a nasty electrical shock caused by a martini-wielding Grace uncharacteristically bear-hugging a microphone-holding Frankie. Although it's been more obvious with each season, we can now rest assured that Grace and Frankie are not only soulmates but also one another's platonic bae — as in, "before anyone else." Both women have now put their relationship with each other before all other relationships in their lives. 

And it's nothing if not deeply satisfying for the viewer. Grace may be an uptight, entrepreneurial powerhouse, and Frankie may be a whimsical bohemian painter who thinks she's psychic. But each has rubbed off on the other as their friendship, born of shock, loss, and a shared San Diego beach house matured into abiding platonic love. Ultimately, "Grace and Frankie" is a love story, albeit one for a modern age in which women are free to embrace a non-sexual same-gender friendship as their #couplesgoals, and no one has to drive off into the Grand Canyon in a '66 T-Bird to make their point. 

Robert and Sol, in sickness and in health

Where Grace and Frankie land in the finale seems pretty close to where their ex-husbands, Robert and Sol, might have been thinking that they'd end up themselves — back when they first broke their big news to Grace and Frankie 10 years earlier. As life happens, however, things often don't go as planned. And who ever really "plans" for illness? But, sure enough, illness has come for Robert and Sol twice already. The first time was when Sol was diagnosed and treated surgically for prostate cancer. Robert was there for him and handled Sol's resulting sexual performance issues with grace. Now, it's Robert's turn. In recent episodes, he's been exhibiting undeniable symptoms of cognitive decline — or, "memory issues," which is the vague euphemism Robert and Sol have taken to referring to it. 

Ironically, however, in the series finale, it finally dawns on Sol that if Robert is having so-called "memory issues," then not only might he forget the important moments that the two have shared, but he might even, at some point, come to forget who Sol is to him altogether. As the two stare straight ahead from their coastal granny Adirondack chairs, Sol confesses his fear, and it finally dawns on Robert that in order to comfort Sol, he's going to have emerge from denial. And he does just that, agreeing to see a doctor — and leaving the viewer feeling secure that these two will be together to the end, no matter what.

Brianna emerges from her mother's shadow and embraces ... Brianna

When "Grace and Frankie" begins, Brianna is already ensconced as the new CEO of Grace's hugely successful Say Grace beauty products company. Brianna is a powerful force of nature from the first time we see her until the last. Accordingly, one of the most difficult things to accept at first is that Brianna has the job she has solely  because of who her mother is. When Grace tells Brianna that she wants her to come back to the company, Brianna's hard pass is not at all surprising. In that moment, it becomes clear that "Grace and Frankie" cannot end without Brianna striking out on her own and killing it like the boss we know she is. 

By the end of the finale, it's clear that's what she and her sister Mallory are going to do, now that they have both been screwed over by corporate hellion, Taneth. It's also clear that Brianna is better off as a singleton. As much as she loves sex, as devoted as she and Barry were to one another, and as patient and kind as Barry always was toward her, Brianna simply functions better when she doesn't have to take a romantic partner into account. She doesn't want children. She doesn't even want a relationship with Barry's new daughter. And when she finally embraces that about herself, it's as enormous a relief for us as viewers as it is to Brianna herself. 

Mallory Hanson carves a place for herself outside the home

Although she's an adult when "Grace and Frankie" begins, Mallory Hanson's overall arc is, essentially, a coming-of-age story. At the start of the series, Mallory is a married Mary-Sue-esque mother of one, who quickly becomes pregnant with her second child, and not too long after is pregnant yet again with twins. Despite being played by supermodel Brooklyn Decker, Mallory couldn't be less glamorous. And notwithstanding the rapid-fire pregnancies, Mallory's husband, a handsome surgeon, barely registers. In fact, we never learn his last name. It's only when the two finally divorce that Mallory begins to emerge as a character in her own right.

Still unaware of her potential, she nevertheless does convince her sister, Brianna, to hire her as an intern at Say Grace. From that moment on, we see Mallory transform from a mouse to a maverick, ultimately becoming CEO of Say Grace. In her new role as boss, Mallory glams up considerably, rocking power suits and red lipstick. But that's just appearances. Mallory isn't particularly good at the job that Brianna once held and which Grace once created. In fact, in the finale, Mallory gets fired. While she's cleaning out her office, Brianna stops by, not to gloat but to offer moral support, and more importantly, to invite Mallory to partner with her in starting a new business of their own. This is the recognition from her sister that Mallory has been waiting for — for years.

Brianna and Mallory embrace their sisterhood

Despite having been raised by the same parents, Grace and Robert, Brianna and Mallory could not be more different. Brianna begins as a powerful lone-wolf type who is so brazenly comfortable with her sexuality that when the man she's about to hook up with turns out to be an escort, she gleefully forks over his fee and then shares the story with her sister. Mallory begins as a frumpily-dressed, beautiful but not-at-all-sexy stay-at-home mom who manages to keep getting pregnant throughout the first few seasons — despite the fact that her husband is never around, and when he is, the two have a borderline embarrassing lack of chemistry. Whereas Mallory is warm and maternal, Brianna doesn't feel comfortable with displays of affection, especially when she's on the receiving end.

By the end of the finale, Brianna has loved and lost Barry — a development you may have been rooting for because, clearly, those two hold each other back. She still doesn't do hugs, but accepts comfort from her sister when her composure collapses under the weight of the realization that Robert is losing his faculties. Mallory realizes that unlike her sister and mother, she's not CEO material; nevertheless, she has what it takes to be a competent and effective business partner. So when Brianna proposes they start their own business, she's there for it. Like Grace and Frankie, the two sisters realize that, together, they may actually be more than the sum of their parts.

Rest assured, Coyote will be okay

Throughout the series, Coyote Bergstein's relationship to sobriety has seemed nail-bitingly precarious. Yet Coyote never relapsed — not even when his dad came out and married Robert. Not even when Coyote had to accept the irreparable damage his drinking had done vis a vis his already-complicated relationship with Mallory, her husband, and their children. Not when he met a woman with whom he could have seen a future, but who ended up leaving him. Not even when he realized that he was in love with Jessica — the girl who broke his brother's heart back in college.

As it turns out, Coyote can deal quite effectively with life's bumps. The bigger challenge for Coyote is accepting his good fortune. When he and Jessica decide to spend the rest of their lives together, that's when Coyote veers off course. When it turns out Coyote is already married — to a gambling addict for whom alcoholic Coyote served as a lucky charm — the bad decisions begin, culminating in Coyote's ordering and consuming a rum and coke. The silver lining, however, is that Coyote's backslide is brief, and does not lead to a full-on relapse. Nor does it harm his relationship with Jessica. Even better, Coyote's actions prove to viewers that he will be okay, even if he finds himself with a drink in his hand. In other words, Coyote's sobriety seems safe from even his darkest impulses. 

Coyote and Jessica embrace the compromises love requires

Coyote and Jessica get married in the finale. Although it's just the two of them (no family is present), it feels triumphant, as opposed to sad. In light of the bumpy ride Coyote and Jessica's relationship has endured in recent episodes, it seems important to see them accomplish this milestone alone. First, there was Coyote's proposal, which Jessica was clearly not expecting, in the form of an awkward song in which Coyote addresses Jessica as "Annie" — and only because it's more rhyme-able than Jessica. This arguably hot mess gets interrupted by a drunk, self-pitying Nick, who is so sad about his breakup with Grace and so wound up over his immediate future as a jailbird, that he fails to comprehend what he's interrupting. 

When Nick says something thoughtless, it sets off an argument between Coyote and Jessica about what "love" actually means. It's painful to watch, but its resolution is cathartic. Coyote explains to Jessica that the definition of love is beside the point, and whether or not soulmates even exist, the only thing that really matters is that he wants to, and is committed to, spending the rest of his life with her. When Jessica wonders aloud what happens when he's no longer feeling that, Coyote dismisses it as irrelevant in the context of commitment. It feels genuine and perfectly echoes how Coyote has shown he will approach his addiction. One day at a time — forever.

Bud gets up the courage to quite being a divorce lawyer, and Allison gives him permission

Like Brianna, Nwabudike "Bud" Bergstein spent most of his adult life in a parent's shadow. In Bud's case, we're talking about Sol, a divorce lawyer, who gives his divorce law practice to Bud when he retires early in the first season. Like Brianna, Bud is good at what he does. Unlike Brianna, however, Bud hates every minute of it. Having been adopted by flower-children Frankie and Sol while still a baby, Bud seems to have a solid grasp on the importance of the family unit, in whatever form it takes. Notwithstanding seven years of higher education and more than 10 years on the job as marriage-wrecker, Bud is finding it increasingly difficult to deny how much he loathes being the agent of his clients' divorces and familial dysfunctions. 

As Bud yearns increasingly for a career that does not involve ruining lives, he realizes he's got comedic talent and secretly takes to doing open mic stand-up to test his mettle. And he's got it, or at least he feels he does. While that might be enough for some, Bud seems to need "permission" to quit practicing divorce law. The day of her fake funeral, Frankie bequeaths precisely that to Bud. To Bud's credit as a member of a highly functional couple, he doesn't feel he can actually pursue his dreams until he gets permission from his wife, Allison. To her credit, when she realizes how miserable Bud actually is, she hands it to him.

Grace and Frankie go to Heaven and back

In the penultimate episode, Grace misses Frankie's fake funeral for a meeting about the Rise-Up toilet. All goes well — until the businessman insists Grace perform karaoke. Grey Goose is no match for Grace's stage-fright, but Frankie would be up to the challenge, if only she'd answer her phone — which she doesn't because she's attending her own fake funeral (and is miserable). When it comes down to it, Grace handles the situation in a way that reminds us of the unevolved Grace we met at the beginning of the series — by losing her temper and then drowning her regrets in Grey Goose martinis. 

Although Grace has destroyed Rise-Up's best chance at becoming viable, something much more important comes of all of this. Grace comes to terms with the realization that she is better with Frankie than without her. Nor did it hurt that the businessman's assistant basically spelled that out for Grace, even before the Frankie-less meeting happened. When Grace returns home, she finds Frankie's fake funeral has morphed into Coyote and Jessica's wedding, which Frankie is officiating. Grace and Frankie have words, but it's obvious they want the same thing: to grow old(er) together, even if it means that one day, one of them will lose the other. Of course, that prospect is better than it sounds, because it promises another reunion with their former "9 to 5" costar, Dolly Parton – er, rather, Agnes, Heaven's beleaguered service rep who hasn't been promoted in 250 years.

Grace and Nick find a way to be together after all

At the beginning of Season 6 of "Grace and Frankie," Grace runs off and elopes with her much younger boyfriend, Nick, a billionaire who is truly perfect in almost every way, including the fact that he adores Grace completely. The issue with Nick is that he's a bit of a sociopath, which seems to come out primarily in his business dealings. Also, he's not Frankie, and as much as Grace enjoys the sex, the attention, and, yes, the love, he does not complete her in the way that she is coming around to understanding that Frankie does.

The marriage is already coming apart at the seams when Nick is sentenced to a stint in a minimum security federal prison, and Grace finds that she's enjoying a marriage in which she doesn't actually have to live with her husband. When Nick is released to house arrest, it's too much for Grace, and the marriage ends. A gutted Nick writes a poignant memoir in which he admits to being so hurt that he wishes the whole thing had never happened. Grace learns of this and sets out to set things right. The two end up in bed one last time, but one can't help but get the feeling that this could happen again. And if it does, it could be exactly what Grace needs: a devoted romantic partner who understands that her true and only soulmate is Frankie. 

Everyone accepts the realities of aging

"Grace and Frankie" is, for the most part, feel-good television programming. However, just as in life, no one can stop time from moving forward. Aging is an unavoidable fact of life, one that is rife with ambivalence, because while it's undeniably a privilege to have lived long enough to dwell in one's golden years, it's also filled with indignities. The realities of aging have never been so apparent, and every year, more of your time is spent at the funerals of your peers. Your kids no longer need you as much as their kids need them. Your career is winding down, and not necessarily by choice. And even if you feel spry, there's always going to be some jerk out there to remind you that, in their eyes, you're not. 

Throughout the series, all of the characters have been challenged to accept the inexorable passage of time, but by the finale, it seems that those in the older generation have come the furthest in making their peace with it — particularly Grace, who has triumphed over her aging-related panic attacks and has even stopped coloring her hair. Instead, it's the now-middle-aged children who are struggling, and none more so than Brianna, who finds herself starting over on all fronts at age 41. When Brianna cries in the finale, it's cathartic for her and for us as viewers. But when Grace and Frankie choose aging over a guaranteed stay in Heaven, it's everything.

Aging does not preclude reinventing oneself

If the primary theme explored in "Grace and Frankie" has always been love in its endless array of permutations, the show's secondary theme would have to be reinvention. The series begins with Robert and Sol expressing excitement over their decision to reinvent their lives by living openly as a same-sex couple, and Grace and Frankie reacting with horror. Neither woman is interested in reinventing herself at this point — not even Frankie, who is far more open-minded than Grace at the outset. And to have it foisted upon them in this manner seems a grievous wrong. And yet they roll with it — because what else is there to do? And in rolling with it, they discover that their lives are not even close to their epilogues, and that there are many more chapters to be written before the end comes. 

There are new friendships, new romances, revisiting of old friendships and romances. There are business ideas to flesh out — and a whole population of Boomers who could probably use an arthritis-friendly sex toy and an edible, yam-flavored lube. There are losses, both the ones they expect and the ones they never saw coming. But Grace and Frankie come to learn that until they take that very last breath, they will always have the power to forge their own paths and to keep making adjustments until it feels just right. It probably never will, but that may be the biggest gift of all.