will they or won't they?

Abbott Elementary Knows Exactly What It’s Doing

Will they? Won’t they? It’s fine not to know yet! (But rest assured, they will.) Photo: Gilles Mingasson/ABC

There are spoilers about the Abbott Elementary season-two finale in this piece. You have been warned!

Considering how many times Abbott Elementary’s second season leaned toward Janine and Gregory becoming a couple, then turned away from the idea and walked in the opposite direction, the developments of the finale — or lack thereof — shouldn’t come as a surprise. During a school sleepover at the Franklin Institute, the two finally admit they have romantic feelings for each other but decide not to pursue a relationship, causing at least a few viewers to lose their damn minds. But this is not a moment to despair. In fact, it’s a moment to celebrate, a clear indication that the Abbott writers know exactly what they’re doing.

Putting Janine and Gregory on pause is a practical, thoughtful decision for two characters who are practical and thoughtful. It reveals how deeply the show’s writers understand these endearingly dorky people and the faith they have — and that we should share — that they will be together eventually. Because let’s be real: Janine and Gregory are going to start dating. Abbott Elementary is not a show that would deprive its audience of that kind of payoff. It’s just withholding it for now because that makes the most sense: This is a commercially and critically successful comedy that’s already been renewed for a third season, and will likely last even longer than that, assuming creator and star Quinta Brunson wants to keep it going. There’s time to let the dynamics between Janine and Gregory play out a little longer, and if doing so allows the show to avoid the Moonlighting Curse, why wouldn’t it do that?

It’s not surprising that Abbott Elementary has gone in this direction. “Will they or won’t they?” is one of the most time-tested tropes in television history, and many shows allow that question to hang over their couples for a good long while. Luke and Lorelai didn’t happen until the fourth season of Gilmore Girls. Mulder and Scully didn’t smash until season seven of The X-Files. Perhaps most pertinent given that their love affair was also born in a workplace mockumentary, Jim and Pam didn’t start dating in earnest until season four of The Office, and some of the same obstacles that got in the way of that pair — kisses they weren’t sure what to do with, relationships with other people — also popped up for Janine and Gregory this season. Waiting is not always a bad thing; in fact, the anticipation embedded in a “Will they or won’t they?” situation, before it turns into “They did,” is often the most satisfying part of the whole thing.

This is also consistent with what we know about Janine and Gregory, neither of whom is impulsive in any way. Just look at how things evolved between them this season: During the holidays, they danced together and almost kissed, then needed time to process and be in denial about that. A couple months later, they actually did kiss at the teacher conference, but that didn’t springboard into a relationship either. They also dated other people who were completely wrong for them even though they both knew that in their hearts. (Hey, Amber! Hey, Maurice!) And let’s not forget, Janine only recently ended things with Tariq, whom she had been dating since middle school. Again: mid-dle school. It’s wise of her to realize she shouldn’t jump back into something long-term so soon, and to be aware that any relationship with Gregory would inevitably become serious and intense. No matter how hard we are shipping her and Gregory, we should be proud of her for making such a mature decision.

Janine and Gregory are exactly the type of people who would slow-crawl their way toward a relationship rather than rush into each other’s arms. They are lovely, but also often awkward, tentative people. As we learned in last week’s episode, Gregory doesn’t even know how to make small talk unless it involves dropping the names of several players on the Baltimore Orioles. It wouldn’t make sense for their path toward coupledom to be anything other than fraught and uncertain. When they confess their feelings for each other at the Franklin Institute, both immediately realize that becoming involved would be something momentous and life-changing. It’s not just a hookup at a hookah bar; it’s going to be something. The fact that they both agree on that and amicably decide to stay friends, speaks to how right they are for each other. Which, admittedly, is a bit heartbreaking. But it’s also incredibly romantic.

The first step toward a healthy relationship is finding a partner you have strong feelings for who feels the same way about you. The second step is finding that person at the right time. Janine has learned enough about herself to know that the time is not yet right for her and Gregory. That sets up a dynamic for season three where both will be very aware of their feelings, but still trying to suppress them in order to be professional around each other. It’s going to be agonizing watching them tiptoe around each other when Abbott Elementary comes back. I can’t wait.

Abbott Elementary Knows Exactly What It’s Doing