Dean Sanderson lives in a world colored by his experience as an actor who played a lawyer on TV. His inability to separate the world of TV from reality is, in many ways, the driving point of the show. In Dean’s world, instincts are always right, your attractive coworkers want to sleep with you, and everything comes full circle. Dean’s beliefs don’t always turn out to be true, but, in the case of the season finale, “Full Circle,” Dean’s instincts are spot on—at least, in some cases.
The final handful of episodes of this first (and maybe last) season of The Grinder were dedicated to a lengthy storyline involving one of Dean Sr.’s former clients, who is suing him for malpractice. At the end of last week’s episode, we learned that Dean had figured out who was behind it all—and now we know why he said it all was coming full circle. You may recall, in the pilot, Dean helped Stew win a case. The losing lawyer? Leonard Valance, as portrayed by Kumail Nanjiani. As we see at the beginning of this episode, losing the case cost Leonard everything, and he finds himself watching “The Grinder” over and over, gleaning, learning, plotting revenge and growing a beard. Clearly, he was behind this whole thing.
At first, the characters don’t know this, but Dean is actually right (for once), and obviously Todd is with him all the way. Of course, this doesn’t really change anything, as the judge points out. And then it turns out that there is video of Stew breaking into Cory Manier’s apartment, so he’s suspended. That leaves only one person to take over the case. Claire… because she is an actual lawyer. And it’s also cool for the show to present us with a woman of color character, who’s climbing the professional ladder.
Naturally, in the end, it has to be Dean who takes over the case—and it’s a battle for the ages. Leonard is, basically, Frank Grimes, from the iconic Simpsons episode “Homer’s Enemy.” He’s a reasonable man who wants the world to be reasonable. He wants people to realize that Dean telling a storing about Edward Norton and a horse at craft services doesn’t actually have anything to do with the case. He doesn’t want the judge to let Dean guess at what grounds he can object on. He’s a sane man, albeit a vindictive one, in an insane world. But of course, The Grinder is Dean’s world, so it’s pretty obvious how this is going to turn out.
Even though Leonard pulls the envelope move from the pilot, Stew manages to save the day. He’s listening to the audio recording of the interviews Lizzie and Ethan are doing about the case for school (Deb had stolen the recorder because she had done her interview drunk and couldn’t remember what she said. This doesn’t really go anywhere, but is kind of funny.). And once Stew notices something, he goes on his instinct. It turns out that Cory isn’t Cory. He’s Rory, Cory’s identical twin brother. Considering that Rory was played by one of the Lucas brothers, who are known for being identical twin comedians, maybe some people guessed this. The ridiculousness of it all is okay, though, because this is The Grinder.
The episode ends with Dean giving a speech that could clearly double as a speech about the series, and how it has found its footing, established itself, and can now go in all sorts of exciting directions. While this may be true, we don’t know if The Grinder has a future. If it doesn’t, something must surely be written on the death of this bizarre little network experiment, but let us not bury it prematurely. “Full Circle” doesn’t have the insane highs of other Grinder episodes. It’s much more like the pilot, which makes sense, but without the same sort of energy that comes from something new. Nanjiani is a strong guest star, and all the characters are much more developed at this point. Giving Claire and Todd bigger parts on the show, has also been a delight. When Todd mirrors Dean looking out the window, it’s just wonderful. Perhaps the episode doesn’t quite hit as hard as a season finale should. But, The Grinder pulled out all the stops, all the time this season. And for that, they can end on a quiet note. Let’s just hope that it isn’t the final note we hear.
Chris Morgan is not the author of THE book on Mystery Science Theater 3000, but he is the author of A book on Mystery Science Theater 3000. He’s also on Twitter.