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Abbott Elementary Season-Finale Recap: School’s Out

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Photo: Gilles Mingasson/Disney

We’ve come to the end of our tragically stunted third season of Abbott Elementary with tonight’s finale. And while we all would’ve loved more episodes, I applaud the cast and crew for pulling together another great season under the circumstances of the WGA strike last year. If you ask me, even a mediocre episode of Abbott is still a delightful viewing experience, and that’s saying a lot in the current television landscape — every low rating from me during the recaps this season exists within the context of it being a five-star show. Sure, some storylines felt disjointed or even discarded at the last minute, and the joke-to-earnestness ratio sometimes skewed too far into sentimental territory, but against all odds, the show managed to maintain its reputation as the reigning crown jewel of network television.

The finale exuded levity after surviving the chaos both on-screen and off, with the characters coming together following a year of transformation and reconciliation with what they want out of life, mirroring what I’m sure has been a tumultuous year for all the talented people behind making Abbott Elementary possible. This extraordinary team dealt with an unexpected wrench being thrown into their plans at the height of the show’s success and came out on the other side with a fourth season secured. Within the show’s universe, each character also had to navigate life obstacles during the season: Ava (to the best of her ability) embraced doing the work to become a qualified principal, Barbara learned to march to the beat of her own drum, Melissa stayed true to her convictions against getting married again, Janine found her way back to Abbott after building character and experience through her fellowship, Jacob found the courage to leave a dead-end relationship, and Gregory passionately grew into his position as a full-time educator. So now, it’s time to celebrate.

Janine’s end-of-the-year party is the perfect fictional and real-life send-off for the season; Abbott works best as an ensemble, and for the first time in a while, the main cast is together in the same four walls for the majority of the episode. Before Janine’s selected friends and coworkers file into her 350 square foot apartment, they wrap up the academic year with silly last-day-of-school bits like Jacob having his students watch Remember the Titans and the parents blatantly ignoring Ava’s instructions to save applause until the very end of the kindergartner’s graduation ceremony (I mean, what parent could resist those little faces in their caps and gowns). But we only spend about five minutes within the halls of Abbott before the teachers let their hair down and say fuck them kids.

Though Janine has arguably shown the most character development, some things never change, as we see through her micromanagement of the party. She carefully divides her apartment into different sections for every personality type, from the “anti-socials” to the gamers and dancers and those who are “socially awkward but trying,” a.k.a. Gregory. She even turns her bedroom into a movie room for screening We’re The Millers (or, as Vanderpump Rules fans know it, Laura Leigh’s debut film and escape from SUR). However, instead of her usual persistence-at-all-costs mentality, the new, mature Janine micromanages by anticipating everyone’s behavior as opposed to trying to force something to happen. To her, this is the best way to ensure everyone will have a great time. Knowing Barbara and Melissa will arrive early, she purposefully leaves her apartment disheveled, knowing the two will get to cleaning and enter maternal mode, a state they thrive in. She tells Ava the party starts an hour later, so she actually shows up on time. And when Jacob and Avi appear at her doorstep, she already has two bottles of the raspberry stout the couple is obsessed with.

As the party starts, Janine ushers all her guests into their designated corners, flowing through her apartment as a capable host with everything going as planned. Additional guests include her almost unnervingly attractive cousin Kwame (who is used as prey to keep Ava from leaving early), Mr. Morton, Mr. Johnson, her friend Erika, Jacob’s ex Zac, Simon and Emily from the district, and, of course, to Gregory’s dismay, Manny. In addition to playing matchmaker with Kwame and Ava, Janine also hilariously hooks up Erika with Simon/“ethnic Adam Sandler” from the district and brokers an armistice between Zac and Jacob. Though she takes pride in how well she’s facilitating everyone else’s relationships to keep the party going, she vows to leave any romance with Gregory on ice, not wanting to end up like Mr. Morton, whose coworker romance turned into his ex-wife telling him to “go where you’re wanted.”

Ironically, Janine tells the cameras: “Relationships can get messy, but they don’t have to stay that way. You just have to figure out where people can fit in your life again and then build up from there … like Jenga.” After last week’s abrupt pause in the Janine/Gregory love story, one would think this statement reflects her decision to keep things platonic, a sentiment seemingly confirmed by Olivia, Gregory’s once love interest, arriving at the door after getting an invite from Avi. But Janine learns that things don’t always go as planned, no matter how diligently we prepare. It starts with Mr. Johnson tipping the literal and metaphorical first domino when he leaves his designated section playing dominos and takes it upon himself to act as the front door bouncer. He gets Olivia to pay a $20 entrance fee (we know she never got that money back), and after putting out that fire, Janine finds her party in disarray, with everyone disregarding her curation. Emily abandons the Jenga section, taking over Ava’s spot as DJ; Barbara and Melissa get ahold of some brown liquor, thus activating Sea Barbara; and both of Janine’s love interests ditch We’re The Millers to watch Wakanda Forever with each other.

When Janine thinks things can’t get any worse, she blows a fuse, trying to plug in a charger for Olivia’s phone. Gregory helps Janine as she searches for a flashlight in her room and consoles her about the party falling apart, reminding her that they can have fun without rules, too … a statement that we could easily apply to their relationship. Their heart-to-heart continues as they gush over the other’s accomplishments and growth over the years, and right when Gregory leans in for a kiss, the lights abruptly turn back on, ruining the moment but solidifying that maybe this messy relationship fits into Janine’s life in a different way than she planned. They gaze at each other longingly as Janine goes back to her party and Gregory delivers his most heartbreaking deadpan to the cameras yet.

As Mr. Johnson shows Janine how he fixed the fuse, he transforms into her fairy Godmother when she asks for his advice on living life with full autonomy without fear of what could go wrong. He tells her that things will go wrong no matter what, but regrets are harder to live with than consequences (a word!) before asking her if she’s killed someone. Janine asserts that she’s not a murderer but is instead scared she’ll lose her job, something Mr. Johnson, who had a plethora of careers, can’t relate to as jobs come and go. He picks up on the fact that Janine’s eyes have been darting across the room to Gregory throughout their whole conversation and, connecting the dots, reassures her that everything will work itself out. With the party back in full swing — Zac, I see you with the DJ skills; I love that Kaytranada song — Janine and Gregory continue to share flirty gazes across the room, but nothing else happens. The night winds down, the party-goers leave happy, a drunken Sea Barbara takes off with Janine’s cardboard cutout of Allen Iverson (Janine uses its silhouette in the window to ward off intruders) while a few others linger, and Janine hopes Gregory will be among them. But Manny sticks around, and Gregory misinterprets this as a hint that he’s in the friend zone, with Manny still pursuing Janine.

The text Gregory saw from Manny on Janine’s phone during the field trip was in the back of his mind all night, and this was the final confirmation he needed. Gregory starts to walk out with Jacob and Avi, but Jacob stops him, chastising him for not staying, as it is clear that Janine wanted him to. He says fuck the rules and tells him to get the girl. Gregory remains stubborn until Avi points out that Manny is leaving as they speak, and the cameras cut to an amazingly oblivious Manny high-fiving his coworkers as they walk down the street. Erika then confirms that Janine declined Manny’s date invitation and specifically told him that she likes someone else. Gregory immediately turns around, showing up at Janine’s door … but not before fixing the faulty light she was too short to reach. Simultaneously, inside, Janine is building the bravery to fearlessly go after what she wants. Right as she gets to the front door, Gregory starts to knock, and for the first time, they’re on exactly the same page. Gregory glares at the camera before passionately kissing Janine as the door closes. The cameras keep filming through the window, but Gregory shuts the blinds, leaving the rest of their love story for next season.

Teacher’s Notes

• I still would have liked a more in-depth Manny/Janine/Gregory love triangle (she deserved the fling, truly, and not just because I wanted more scenes to stare at Josh Segerra’s smile), but Manny’s cluelessness about all the nuances at the end of the episode was great and on-brand for his character.

• There were so many one-liners and hilarious moments I would go over my word count trying to round them up (I will say the part of Ava’s speech at the kindergarten graduation when she said, “They said you couldn’t do it…” before Barbara vehemently assures the parents no one said that was my favorite). Please drop your faves below!

• Based on the second half of the season, I have a feeling that next season is going to blow us out of the water. The writers are clearly filled with stories, jokes, and ideas, so I cannot wait to see what they’re cooking up.

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Ile-Ife Okantah , 2024-05-23 03:30:04

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