Did you think we were done with Cliff Bemis, Timothy Olyphant and The Grinder: New Orleans after last week’s episode ended? If so, you are history’s greatest fool, because the whole gang was back, and better than ever, this week. If you want to make a big splash on a TV show, you kill off a character. That’s the sort of thing The Grinder—the show within the show—would surely do, and this week, The Grinder does just that… sort of.
We get to see a bit of the series starring that weasel Olyphant as Mitch Grinder’s brother Rake, and, naturally, nobody in the Sanderson family likes it. They all think it is worse than Dean’s original, classic (except for Stewart, who thinks it is equally bad). This irks Dean, and then ol’ Cliff Bemis, the showrunner portrayed by Jason Alexander, shows up in Boise to ask a favor of him.
You see, in the one place that matters—social media—folks are asking for Mitch. Thus, Bemis wants him back, if only to kill off The Grinder. But Dean doesn’t want to lose his alter ego. In his mind, Mitch Grinder is an entirely separate entity; Dean refuses to ever break character, and Mitch and Dean have never met. He also wants Mitch to continue to exist, in case he ever wants to go back to acting.
Of course, any notion of Dean getting back into acting, and out of Boise, excites Stewart, so the legal action we see this week features the entire law firm (even conflicted Todd), going through Dean’s contracts to find a loophole. They discover one, and Dean is going to get what he wants—which is for Mitch to become a judge in the Florida Keys, who also owns a nightclub and has a black girlfriend.
That last part is key, because Dean only mentions it to Stewart, so when it shows up in Dean’s script, he knows Stewart mentioned it to Bemis, because Bemis would never make such a “diverse” casting decision without pressure from the network. Dean realizes Stewart wants him out of his life, and t’s heartbreaking. To make matters worse, he won’t break character, and so Dean no longer exists until shooting is over. The lines of dialogue in the show, while terrible, strike Stewart to his core, and he decides he needs to get through to Dean, and he does so the only way he can think to.
This means bursting onto the set, saying he is Mitch’s lost brother Barry, and that he has poisoned The Grinder. Yes, Mitch shall die. Of course, they can’t use the footage, because Stewart is a bad actor who was ad-libbing on the spot, but Dean decides Bemis can kill his beloved character off. And so he does… by having him killed by an alligator off screen, and then Rake and some lady make love on his corpse in the coroner’s office. Also, Claire maybe bangs Timothy Olyphant? That’s left a little unclear, mostly due to a clumsily edited ending.
That’s a rare sour note in what is, to date, the best episode of The Grinder, though. It is a truly delightful half-hour of television that fires on all cylinders. “Grinder Rests in Peace” is pretty much the perfect synthesis of what this show can be without involving Dean in the courtroom, and it has become pretty clear that the courtroom stuff may not be as prominent as it was early on. On the other hand, it also feels like, to put it delicately, the show kind of blew its load here. They can’t really go back to Dean’s acting life anymore. No more Olyphant, no more Bemis, no more Grinder. Oh, we’ll surely see more footage of the show, since the family will surely keep watching it in every episode, but the series worked through a lot of its TV industry satire and parody here. Fortunately, they milked it for all it is worth, and it resulted in some wonderful, funny and sharp bits.
The Grinder feels somewhat less imaginative and less absurd than it did when it began, but it hasn’t gotten any worse. Mitch Grinder is dead, but his death has only made The Grinder stronger. Plus, Todd doesn’t have to worry about losing Dean now. We can all breathe a sigh of relief for him.
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.