Nature abhors a vacuum. People say this a lot, and not always in the correct context. It would be apt to say it about this week’s episode of The Grinder, though. “Delusions of Grinder” turns the typical conceit of the show on its head, making Dean into Stew and Stew into Dean.
As we know, Dean’s Grinder persona is dead. He burned all his Grinder stuff, save for one DVD which he watched in the middle of the night until Jillian had him destroy that too… because Dean is dating his therapist, of course. This annoys Stew, because everything seems to be annoying Stew these days. The show is built on Stew being surrounded by oddballs and weirdos who frustrate him, but even some of his compatriots, like Deb, are getting his goat now, and he can’t even trust his therapist or his children, who see no issue with a therapist dating her client.
We see just how far Dean has committed to his non-dramatic, Grinder-free life. He no longer acts like he is a lawyer. He goes so far as to say so, much to the surprise of everybody. Now, he’s declared himself an intern, and he’s happy to get coffee and water plastic plants. The new Dean is low key and drama-free, save for the inherent drama that comes from a man dating his therapist.
This removes the crazy, dramatic element from Sanderson & Yow, and Stew steps up to fill it. This is not his intent. He still feels like the sane man in an insane world. The malpractice case against Dean Sr. sees the courtroom in this episode, and Stew thinks something is up. This is mostly because the guy who has filed the lawsuit is representing himself, and he’s one of the Lucas brothers. Stew believes he is a front, or he’s being coached. He smells a conspiracy, which is usually Dean’s territory—only now Dean is not the Dean of old, so Stew is on an island.
It becomes clear that Stew is the new Dean when he takes his kids on an hours-long detour, so that he can take a photo of the guy suing his dad getting a flash drive; and it becomes even more clear when he and Todd pull off a scam so Stew can download the contents of the flash drive onto his laptop. Todd! That is the last refuge of the scoundrel. Of course, the flash drive turns out to be encrypted, and still nobody believes Stew. Save for Deb. Maybe this will fix their sex life.
The Grinder is currently engaged in a multi-episode arc. Gone are the days of standalone stories dedicated to poking fun at television tropes. Now they are doing their take on a multi-episode arc, and we’ve got a conspiracy, and forbidden love and Todd. It should feel very fun to watch Dean be the voice of reason and Stew be the raving madman.
Alas, they don’t get the most out of it, at least not yet, but the storyline isn’t over. In the end, Stew will likely end up being right, and Dean will probably resurrect “The Grinder” to help him. It’s a funny episode, and it is enjoyable to watch Fred Savage get to play a man coming unhinged. “Delusions of Grinder” could have been so much more, though. Maybe that’s because it’s just a cog in a bigger storytelling wheel—but that doesn’t make the statement any less true.
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.