Spoilers below for the latest episode of Will & Grace.
With an episode called “Grace’s Secret” that was partially centered on a lip-sync battle, Will & Grace‘s Debra Messing might’ve seemed destined to uncover some magnificent musical performance skills. That wasn’t the case, but Messing’s performance still shined the brightest in an emotional installment where Grace revealed to her father that she’d been sexually assaulted as a teenager by one of his friends.
Co-creator Max Mutchnick spoke about why Will & Grace tapped into the #MeToo movement with Grace’s admission, saying:
This episode was an outgrowth of what was going on with the Bill Cosby case. The conversation started when we began hearing some of the testimony from the women that had been assaulted by Cosby. We were very taken by the raw coverage of these stories and what made them so potent was the fact that we were hearing the specifics about what had happened to these women. . . . They weren’t being told in dark corners. They were being told publicly and they were loud and proud and because of that, I think they helped a lot of women. We came into the room and started talking about, how can we write to some of this in the show?
Debra Messing herself is an activist for Time’s Up, and the actress’ care and compassion were easily witnessed on screen during “Grace’s Secret,” with guest star Robert Klein reprising the role of Martin Adler. When one thinks back to how Will & Grace‘s revival spawned from the politically motivated short that reunited the cast, an episode like this may have felt naturally imminent.
Impressively, the episode is about as far away from after-school special fodder as possible. For one, Grace’s confession took place inside a restaurant and not in a more private setting, which not only made her appear slightly more vulnerable, but it also allowed for moments of levity involving that waitress and a lack of shrimp salad. Still, there was nothing light about Grace getting selflessly frank with her dad about what his friend Harry did to her.
Grace said that when she was 15 and working for Harry, she was called to his office, where he pushed her against a wall, started kissing her, and then took her pants off. Her description didn’t exactly hold back on the details, which also raised it above the glut of “very special episodes” from the long history of sitcoms. That choice was deemed very necessary in order to avoid generalizations. Here’s what Max Mutchnick told THR about it.
There was a lot of discussion in the room about how far we would go. But we were always on board with getting specific. We knew that we were not going to tell the story in broad strokes. There was never going to be a line where Grace said on this sitcom, ‘He touched me down there.’ It was always going to be something specific and graphic and we just had to figure out how far we wanted to take it and what felt right for the show.
For all that Grace’s big moment defined the episode, the co-creators were aware of not trying to “take over in this space,” acknowledging that they and the show are not the movement’s voices. But they definitely did listen to Debra Messing’s voice during table reads for the ep, which was written by Suzanne Martin, to get her input on how Grace would bring these secrets out to her father.
According to co-creator David Kohan:
There were moments after the run-through where she said, ‘This feels too fast for me’ or ‘this turn doesn’t feel authentic.’ Whatever it was. She had her instincts about how this would come out and how it would play, and it was little moments here and there where she said, ‘I don’t think she would say this in this moment.
It’s impossible to have watched that Will & Grace episode without making a connection to #MeToo-related news that has consistently been reported on since Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinstein’s scandals rocked the entertainment industry. Arguably the biggest recent controversy involved current Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who gave testimony in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee in September, along with his central accuser Dr. Christine Blasey Ford.
Though the script for this Will & Grace episode was already penned before the aforementioned testimonies were voiced, David Kohen says that one exchange from Grace and Martin’s conversation was written in later. In particular, it’s the beat where Martin suggests that Grace was misremembering, to which his victimized daughter responds by saying she remembered everything that happened that day. For me, it was a stirring moment that justified the late inclusion.
Another lovely and subtly telling moment came later in the episode, when it was revealed that Debbie Reynolds’ Bobbi was the only person that Grace had ever confided in about what Harry did to her. Grace visited Bobbi’s grave during the episode as well, which was a touching reminder to the late actress’ importance to the cast and crew. (We still miss you, Debbie!)
In the end, Grace didn’t allow her secret to get buried with Bobbi, and also understood that it wasn’t just Harry that she had unresolved issues with over her assault. She realized that Martin also needed to finally be aware of what happened, and that he needed to accept his friend’s guilt.
At this point, it’s unclear if Grace’s big reveal will lead to anything further beyond the closure of her attacker already being dead (both in the show’s world and to Martin Adler in particular). Or if that renewed pain will factor into any romantic relationships. But even if none of that happens, it was still a powerful episode, and one that will reaffirm Debra Messing’s place among other Emmy-nominated actresses next year.
Will & Grace airs every Thursday night on NBC at 8:00 p.m. ET. While waiting for the next emotionally heft episode, don’t forget about all the great new and returning shows that have yet to premiere this fall.