‘Abbott Elementary’ Showrunners Break Down Season 2 Finale’s ‘Polarizing’ Ending

Justin Halpern and Patrick Schumacker spoke with TheWrap about Janine and Gregory’s journey in the ABC comedy’s latest episodes

Courtesy of ABC/Eric Liebowitz

Note: The following includes spoilers from the “Abbott Elementary” Season 2 finale.

The “Abbott Elementary” Season 2 finale put a big pause on the budding relationship between Janine and Gregory, a decision the showrunners know will anger fans.

As tension between Janine (Quinta Brunson) and Gregory (Tyler James Williams) heated up throughout the ABC sitcom’s sophomore installment — including the pair kissing at the annual Pennsylvania teachers’ conference — the Season 2 finale featured Gregory finally confessing his feelings to Janine during an overnight museum field trip. While Janine admitted she also has very strong feelings for Gregory, she ultimately tells him she is not ready for the serious relationship that the couple would start if they took the leap and commited to one another.

“How we always look at the relationship between those two characters, it’s less like, ‘what do we want to have happen between these two? Are they going to get together? Are they not going to get together?’ We don’t do that,” co-showrunner Justin Halpern told TheWrap. “We do like, ‘hey, what’s the arc of this individual character in a vacuum?’ And then we look at the arc of the other character, and we say, ‘would realistically these two people get together?’”

While Halpern knows some fans might be upset Janine and Gregory don’t end up together at the end of the season, he notes that the creative team wants things to be earned on the show, saying “if you’re having a dessert, we want to make sure you ate the meal first.”

“I think it stands a chance of being a polarizing episode,” co-showrunner Patrick Schumacker told TheWrap. “I think even those who aren’t totally head over heels [with] where we land will nonetheless be compelled to watch since Season 3 and see where it goes.”

Read on to hear how long the Janine and Gregory ending has been stewing, what Jacob’s role as a third wheel could look like, and Halpern and Schumacker’s take on what Janine needs to be ready to commit to Gregory.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

TheWrap: How did your vision for the finale come together? Did you always know this would be the next chapter of Janine and Gregory’s relationship?

Justin Halpern: Quinta, at the start of the season, kind of talks to us about the big arcs and where she wants to land things. And she was like, “I kind of want to end in this place, but I want to make sure we earn it.” We went through the season, and then as we got to Episodes 14, 15 [and] 16, it started to really come into focus how we were going to end it and why it had to end in that way, simply by looking at what the characters had gone through in the second season and the choices they had made. It just seemed like Janine is in a place where she realizes she’s not quite ready for what would be a very, very serious relationship.

After Janine sees Maurice and he tells her she’s in her selfish era, we see her get pretty emotionally down. Why did this interaction hit her so hard, and how does it pile onto some recent difficulties Janine is going through, from being told she’s a bad teacher to dealing with her mom?

Justin Halpern: We talk a lot in the room about being a good person — what does that even mean? — and how you view yourself and what you say about yourself and then your actions, and do those two things align.

For Janine, she works in this underfunded public school; she gives absolutely everything she can; she’s a kind person; she’s there for her friends when they need her. I think that hearing from Maurice that she was being selfish — something Janine would never, ever want to be described as — when she’s confronted with the very clear facts that she has been acting selfishly in this one facet of her life, I think that it scares her. It makes her realize, “Wow, I wasn’t even thinking about my behavior in this area of my life,” which is romantically, and then to be confronted by Gregory, who she knows and who’s someone she deeply cares about and has really strong feelings for, I think that she knows if [she’s] able to kind of do the selfish things without even really realizing it, then [she] stands a real chance of f—g up this relationship with Gregory, if [she] were to jump in right now.

[She’s] not yet ready to be in that relationship, and it’s a bummer because it means that he might go and find another relationship, and maybe [she] lost [her] chance. But [she] knows that if [she] jumps into it right now, there’s a good chance [she’d] f—k it up, and then we don’t even have a relationship going forward. I think that Maurice conversation is really sort of the inciting incident — It’s not like he tells her something about herself she doesn’t know, but it’s the inciting incident to her waking up to this idea that maybe she’s not as far along as she thought.

Patrick Schumacker: There is this causality with pitstops in between — the mother episode is another necessary stop in this evolution to reach that decision that she’s gonna put up this boundary.

From Gregory’s side of things, why does he finally choose to be honest about her feelings?

Justin Halpern: For Gregory, if you look at what he’s been through during the season, he’s figured out what he wants to do with his life, which is teach. He’s stood up to his father, something he’s never been able to do his entire life — he not only stood up to his father but gained his father’s respect in doing so — he’s starting to feel comfortable in his own skin.

I think at the core of Janine and Gregory, you have to remember they’re in their mid 20s, so they’re discovering a lot of things about themselves. I think he is realizing, “Hey, I’m actually coming to some conclusions about myself, learning things about myself and accomplishing some things in my life emotionally, that I feel really good about.” In this moment, he’s ready to take that leap that he would not have been able to do earlier, and it’s because of the things he’s accomplished throughout the course of that season — He’s sort of in a different place.

Jacob’s reaction when he finds out Janine and Gregory kissed is stellar. What’s Jacob’s role as Jeanine and Gregory figure out their feelings?

Patrick Schumacker: Jacob wants desperately to be the ideal wingman to Gregory, but also to Janine.

Justin Halpern: It lends itself to, at some point, an inevitable realization that he is the third wheel, which he will have to face. I wonder if that will be harder to take than him realizing that he’s corny.

What will make Janine ready?

Justin Halpern: That’s kind of one of the fun things to explore — her blind spots in her development. Really and truly, I think that she needs to find a little bit of inner confidence, in terms of what she offers to the world; and also when to say no when someone’s asking her for something that isn’t fair. … We see she’s such a selfless character, it’s sort of a thing like, I need to spend a little time on myself, and then that person swings the pendulum all the way over to the other extreme … I think she’s trying to calibrate that right, like what do I want? How do I weigh that versus how being helpful to others and in a relationship with someone else? I think that once she sort of finds that all within herself I think that she’ll be in a better position to have a serious romantic relationship.

“Abbott Elementary” is now streaming on Hulu.