Dean Sanderson has a problem: He finally knows who he wants to be, but he can’t quite remember how to go about being it. This new Dean, which is pretty much the old Dean, just slightly more self-aware of the fact that his primary way of interacting with the world comes directly from, is frustrated by the fact that he seems to have lost his mojo — he’s not sure he knows how to Grind.
At the same time, we’re treated to a parallel story, one set in 2005 when Dean is newly engaged to his then-girlfriend Kelly (played by Jenna Fischer! Pam!) and struggling to make it as an actor. In a twist introducing the flashback, the cold open is not a scene from The Grinder but the sitcom Fran of the House, which Dean is frustrated by because none of the elaborate backstory he created for his walk-on role was included in the episode.
The present-day plotline follows the trend set by the last few episodes of immediately following up on last week’s cliffhanger, in which the brothers Sanderson walk into Sanderson and Yao to discover the place completely trashed. It’s not long before we figure out that Todd was the perp, at first because he is hammily appalled at all the damage, and then because he meets with Stewart, who says he did a terribly excessive job. Todd doesn’t really agree.
TODD: I didn’t go big enough.
STEWART: You burned photos of my children, Todd.
Meanwhile, Dean’s Grinding is failing him, and he can’t seem to get to the bottom of who’s suing Sanderson and Yao. Fortunately, Dean failing to Grind is just as funny as his actual Grinding, as we see when Mandler meets with Sanderson and Yao to answer questions about the trashed office and try and see if he’ll cop to working with anyone. Dean tries to pull one of his Grinder moves, but it falls apart. (I’m glossing over what might be the best joke in any other week of The Grinder, but this week it’s just one of many, many great jokes. In fact, this might be the funniest episode of the show so far.)
At dinner that night, Dean talks to his brother’s family about his trouble getting back to the Grind. To Stewart, the problem is obvious: He’s bluffing without having any facts, putting all of his chips on the bluff.
DEAN: You’re saying I should get the facts and then bluff?
STEWART: I’m saying if you had the facts, you wouldn’t need to bluff.
DEAN: No, there’s always a bluff.
Throughout all this, we learn things about Dean’s life in 2005: Turns out he’s only engaged to Kelly because she gave him an ultimatum, and also she’s pretty awful, infantilizing him and not really invested in what he wants. She also thinks two years is enough time for his acting career to take off, and since it hasn’t happened yet, it might be time to pack it in. She wants him to move out of L.A. with her and work for her dad as freezer-door salesman. He reluctantly promises to give up acting. Like I said, she’s the worst.
But there’s a new script going around, one for a legal drama that Dean’s actor buddy Benji can’t help but think Dean is perfect for, mostly because of the way Mitch Grinder is described: “Mitch’s chiseled features are handsome … that’s you bro.”
Dean won’t audition, though, because of his promise to Kelly. He even sticks to his guns later on, when his pal updates him, saying that they’re changing the part of Mitch Grinder to a woman because they can’t find anybody. (“Dammit, what is wrong with this business? Every good part goes to a woman,” Dean laments.)
Deb and Stewart are also concerned with Dean’s decision to leave the acting game as they’re not convinced he’s doing it for the right reasons (This is after a hilarious exchange between Dean and Kelly when she asks what he’s going to tell her father when he interviews him, and Dean sets his jaw and says, “I am going to tell him the truth: Freezer doors are who I am”).
Turns out Stewart’s affirmation was all Dean needed (he totally ignores the fact that Deb also voiced her support) and stands up for his dreams and breaks up with Kelly.
Back in the present, Stewart is desperately trying to come up with a fake conclusion for Dean to reach in the case of the trashed office, but he’s coming up short because Todd is incompetent and Deb has no sympathy. Dean interrogates every staff member but can’t seem to piece together anything.
So he bluffs and pretends he left his phone recording while Stewart and Todd were alone in the conference room, and Stewart buckles under the pressure, telling him that they needed the Grinder back and he was willing to do anything to get it.
And so Dean finally sees the missing piece, why he couldn’t Grind: Stewart’s confidence in him is what allows him to Grind.
Then we flashback to 2005, for the best, final scene of the episode, a beautiful scene that has quite possibly the best intentionally bad joke I’ve ever seen on a show full of intentionally bad jokes, as Dean sneaks his way onto a studio lot in order to storm the Grinder auditions, where a woman is delivering this exquisitely bad line (to Jason Alexander’s Cliff Bemis, who has much more hair):
“I see you like my brassiere. You can have it, because the only support I need … IS THE U.S. CONSTITUTION.”
And then Dean storms into the room, interrupting the actress’s audition to launch into a hilarious speech about how women get all the best parts, and how it’s “my duty to rectify that injustice and give voice to the voiceless … shame on you. Mitchard Grinder is a man, and it is my destiny to be that man.”
Dean gets the job, and the iconic shades, and The Grinder lands a really funny joke lampooning Hollywood’s institutional sexism.