I never really pegged The Grinder as the kind of show with an endgame for its first season. It already has a lot of material to work with, and I'd be happy to watch it carry on for another season of Rob Lowe being excessively dramatic and Fred Savage being profusely flustered with the occasional break for Timothy Olyphant to saunter through. But here we are, in the final stretch of season one, and there's a grand conspiracy against Sanderson & Yao that needs a Grinder to solve it. Too bad Dean has hung up his shades for good.
It's a bit strange to come into "From the Ashes" straight from last week's episode, which primarily made Stewart look like a crazy person for believing there was a grand conspiracy behind the malpractice suit against his father's firm. At the start of this episode, everyone now seems to be totally on board with the idea — granted, they said they would believe him, but it comes across as more genuine than pacifying.
Well, everyone except for Dean, who thinks that Papa Sanderson needs to hire outside help for the malpractice suit, since he's going to enroll in law school and cannot work on the case. The elder Sanderson isn't particularly keen on hearing this, and he tells Stewart that he wants both of his boys working on it. He tells Stewart he needs to bring The Grinder back.
Thus begins Stewart's most devious turn yet, as he tries to do everything he can to stymie his brother's recovery and turn him back to his Grinding ways. He tries putting together an evidence board (you know the kind, with string and photos and everything) — which Dean finds almost irresistible. He shamelessly turns to Jillian, asking her what Dean needs to avoid lest he relapse, with the intention of doing exactly those things. Stewart even calls in Cliff Bemis (welcome back, Jason Alexander!) to ask Dean if he can help him with a story problem on The Grinder: New Orleans.
Dean eventually pieces everything together while talking it over with Jillian, who tells him what his brother wanted to know. But when he heads in for a confrontation, Stewart's still got one last play: Singe Dean's ego. He saying that he doesn't need The Grinder anymore, since he can ask the man who invented The Grinder. He'll consult Cliff Bemis instead of him.
This maneuver doesn't sway Dean, though — nothing does, not even his tort law study group, which comprises a group of kids who have zero interest in passing exams and every desire to see The Grinder at work.
But when Stewart asks him to meet at the firm and the two of them find the place trashed, his resolve starts to crack. He breaks up with Jillian, both as a girlfriend and as a therapist ("Yeah, I think I've got to see someone else for that too") and goes to the site of his future home, where he had piled the ashes of his life as The Grinder.
Buried in those ashes, he finds a still-intact pair of sunglasses. Because of course he does. Mitchard Grinder is back.
- I've talked a little bit before about how, in the long run, The Grinder will probably have to calibrate Dean's character a bit in order to remain sustainable, and "From the Ashes" shows a potential path towards a more self-aware Dean Sanderson. The character we're seeing here can't help but let Mitch Grinder out when the opportunity presents itself, but also recognizes there are times he should dial it back — although he probably won't be any good at it.
- Bringing Deb closer to the action has been a good call so far, even if her subplots are a bit basic. This week, she and Stewart realize they have nothing to talk about at home now that they see each other all day. Claire suggests she blindside him with something unexpected that he'd definitely disagree with, so one night, Deb decides to tell Stewart that she wants to get Lizzie birth-control pills. This backfires, to the point that their kids need to intervene. It's a pretty funny conclusion to a one-note subplot, made better by Claire's admission that she's terrible at giving advice.
- Cliff Bemis doesn't come cheap. The strangest gag in tonight's episode is what Stewart promised Bemis to get him to come to Boise: A date with the hottest lawyer in Idaho. Claire overhears and is offended, but no one is talking about Claire — it's Todd. I honestly wonder if they're going to follow up on this.
- Dean's first day at law school is actually two months into the semester, and the professor is so taken by him that she's totally okay with restarting the entire curriculum from day one after Dean politely asks, "What is a tort?"
- I miss Dean as Mitch Grinder, but this whole "shove an addict off the wagon" plot seems dark.