'Grace and Frankie' series finale spoilers! Co-creator Marta Kauffman on '9 to 5' reunion

Erin Jensen
USA TODAY

Spoiler alert: This story contains details from the final episodes of "Grace and Frankie," including that heavenly reunion between "9 to 5" co-stars Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin and Dolly Parton.

And it's Grace and Frankie until the end after all. 

The titular characters at the center of Netflix's longest-running original series (played by Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin) weren't separated by death, as viewers might have worried. In Episode 9 of the seventh season of "Grace and Frankie" (streaming now on Netflix), a scarily accurate psychic predicts Frankie would die in three months. The idea of losing Frankie gives Grace panic attacks. How far the two have come since being dumped by their husbands of decades – Sol (Sam Waterston) and Robert (Martin Sheen) – who revealed their 20-year affair in the series' 2015 debut. 

"See, I thought the one upside to this whole mess was that I'd never have to spend another moment of my life with (Frankie)," Grace told her estranged husband, Robert, requesting she alone get the beach house the couples bought together. Her Type A personality conflicted with Frankie's free spirit.

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For seven seasons, Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda played the opposites attract best friends Frankie Bergstein and Grace Hanson, respectively, on Netflix's comedy "Grace and Frankie."

Series co-creator Marta Kauffman (also a creator of "Friends") says she explores the theme of friendship because "we underestimate the importance of platonic friends. Especially for women – and in the case of Grace in particular, someone who always defined herself by a man, there is something incredibly liberating about having a female friend who may judge you but who will love you and who can help you get through anything."

She hopes viewers embrace the importance of female friendships and the possibility that "you could start your life over at any point. Just because you feel like everything is ripped out from under you doesn't mean you don't have a wonderful future in store." 

The finale, titled "The Beginning," opens with Frankie telling her son Nwabudike, aka Bud (Baron Vaughn), that she can no longer paint because of her arthritis. She also resents the guests at her fake funeral who cannot eulogize her without mentioning Grace. "I've lived a small, insignificant life in the giant shadow of a skinny alcoholic," Frankie tells her son. To get Frankie out of a funk, Bud tells her his brother Coyote (Ethan Embry) and his fiancee, Jessica (Christine Woods), are tying the knot and she will be officiating.

The sons of Sol and Frankie, Bud (Baron Vaughn) and Coyote (Ethan Embry).

But Frankie's speech about commitment to kick off the ceremony frustrates Grace. Frankie missed a meeting with "the most important toilet man in the world" about the ladies' toilet that helps users get off the commode to attend her own end of life services. Grace and Frankie begin a screaming match during which Grace unloads her frustration that Frankie isn't putting up a fight for her life, and Frankie reveals she's scared of what aging would rob her of.

After hearing this revelation, Grace goes to hug her friend, but her martini bumps Frankie's microphone, spilling and electrocuting both. The two fall to the floor and next appear in an all-white lobby with "So You're Dead" pamphlets on the table. Grace is set on getting out of there, and the two find an angel. Agnes, played by Fonda and Tomlin's "9 to 5" co-star Dolly Parton, is dressed in Dolly fashion, wearing a white blazer embellished with colorful sparkling stones. Agnes is very much inspired by the music icon, Kauffman says.

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"Grace and Frankie" co-creator Marta Kauffman at a Netflix event on April 23, 2022 in Hollywood.

"She plays herself really well, and not everybody can do that," Kauffman says. "She's got such an ethereal quality."

Grace alerts Agnes to the mistake of her death, which Agnes quickly corrects it by stamping "Return" on her file. But Frankie's death wasn't an error. Her name is on the list of departed. "No, but you don't understand," Grace pleads. "We're not good on our own. Trust me, she'd be a disaster up here without me."

Frankie also protests. "Look, Agnes, heaven seems great. And I know it'll be rough down there, and I won't be able to do everything I could before, but if I can't be with Grace, I'll be in so much emotional pain all the cheese in heaven won't help."

"But rules are rules," explains Agnes, directing the pair to say their goodbyes. 

Grace and Frankie are forced to say goodbye when it appears they will be separated by Frankie's death.

"I don't know how to say goodbye to you," Frankie says with her arms wrapped around her best friend. "I don't want to say goodbye to you," Grace responds.

Touched by their love for each other, Agnes has a change of heart. "Hey ladies, time's running out. And I certainly can't tell you to take this stamp here on the right side of my desk and mark 'Return' on your paperwork. I would never do a thing like that," she says before turning around, giving them the opportunity to do just that.

Together Grace and Frankie stamp "Return" on Frankie's file. They wake up back at the funeral-turned-wedding to learn they were unconscious for only a matter of seconds.

The "9 to 5" reunion "has been something that we've talked about forever and had tried before," Kauffman says. "But I am grateful it never happened before, because this was, for me, the perfect place for her to be." 

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Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Dolly Parton and Dabney Coleman starred in the workplace comedy "9 to 5," released in 1980.

Kauffman says having Frankie die was never considered, because the show is a comedy. But she did intend for the viewers to experience the emotions through the suspense.

"We wanted everybody to be like, 'Oh my God, what's gonna happen to Frankie? And, what's Grace gonna do if Frankie's no longer there?' We wanted all of those feelings, but we just didn't want to end on them." 

Kauffman believes "killing off one of our main characters would undo the goodwill we've built up over the years. We love those two characters, and you don't want to even have to imagine one of them living without the other in a real way." 

In the last minutes of the finale, Frankie says goodbye to her painting brushes, because her "painting days are over." But Grace isn't having it. She steps in and puts a brush to canvas, with Frankie's hand guiding hers. The result artwork shows Grace and Frankie calf-deep in the ocean, a vision that comes to life in the next scene. 

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In one of their final scenes, Grace helps Frankie continue her passion for art in spite of Frankie's debilitating arthritis.

"Now what?" Grace asks Frankie as they walk arm in arm down the beach. It's the same question Grace asked at the close of the series' first episode, after the pair's lives had been blown up.

As for their exes, Sol worries that Robert's diminishing memory will one day erase him, too. He takes Robert to the New York hotel where they shared their first kiss to jog his memory, which the trip does.  

After Mallory (Brooklyn Decker) is canned at Say Grace for being a "weak leader," her sister Brianna (June Diane Raphael) brings her aboard for her startup, a company that will teach consumers how to apply their makeup and sell them the products needed to create the look. 

The revelation of a 20-year affair between business partners Sol (Sam Waterston) and Robert (Martin Sheen) kicked off "Grace and Frankie" in 2015.

Bud gets the approval of his wife, Allison (Lindsey Kraft), to quit his job as a divorce attorney to pursue a career as a stand-up comic. Jessica and Coyote elope in a ceremony not shown.

Kauffman acknowledges the stress accompanying a series finale and wrapping the storylines of beloved characters. 

"The pressure is enormous. You don't want to disappoint anyone, but most of all ourselves," she says. "It's the last thing people are going to be left with of the show, and hopefully it'll make them want to go back and watch it again." 

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