The Grinder has been on intermittently over the last couple of months, so the “previously on” that opened up last night’s “Divergence” was actually necessary, and not just the show riffing on a TV trope (although they were definitely doing that as well). There is only one more episode left in the season, and, in truth, probably only one more episode left in the history of the show. It doesn’t seem like The Grinder is long for this world, but, after “Divergence,” it’s clear that the series has plans on going out with a bang—and in a decidedly Grinder fashion.
“Divergence” is all about the importance of side stories. In the show within the show, a side story where Mitch’s son comes back leads Mitch to a revelation about his case. The side story gave Mitch the chance to figure things out in the main story, and, naturally, Dean thinks that this can apply to real life. Stewart protests, but Dean, and his Dad, both agree that a side story is the way to go.
Around the office, they have a little trouble finding a side story, despite how desperately Todd wants to do one with Dean. Just like on the show within the show, the Deans look to the kids to help them clear their mind. Dean Sr. is going to help Ethan with his apparent gambling addiction (something his grandfather can relate to), whereas Dean is going to help Lizzie’s on-again, off-again boyfriend Joel Zadak with some trouble at school. Meanwhile, Todd has his own side story to find his side story, which turns out to be just doing Claire’s busy work for her so she can watch Bones.
Dean Sr. does come to a revelation, but it’s to run away from his problems, and he’s more than happy to take Ethan with him. But there’s a falling out between Dean and Zadak, and then a resolution. Of course, when Dean does finally crack the case, and he ditches Zadak just as quickly. It turns out, a side story is never as important as the main story. Stew, fortunately, had decided to not settle with the guy suing them, and now Dean and Stew can save their dad… presumably. We’re left on a bit of a cliffhanger, one that mostly involves a guy slowly packing up his backpack and leaving the room.
What “Divergence” does better than arguably any other Grinder episode is ironic melodrama. There is just something wonderful about watching Dean having a big, emotional confrontation with a teenaged boy in a school cafeteria. The fact that Joel Zadak is such a tertiary character just makes it that much more enjoyable. All the riffing on side stories is, once again, probably only servicing the devout handful of people who have stuck it out with The Grinder, but we are serviced excellently. It’s sort of a placeholder, piece moving episode, but they do it so smartly. It’s meta, and, because it is so fun, you barely even notice that they are sort of spinning their wheels for most of the episode.
Next week, The Grinder is probably ending its run, but, considering how good “Divergence” was, and based on the cliffhanger we were left on, it seems like it will go out with a bang.
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.