Photo: Christopher Willard/ABC

We’ve reached the winter finale of America’s favorite sitcom (has anyone met someone whodoesn’tlikeAbbott Elementary?) and inched incrementally closer to something more than stolen glances and hallway conversations between Janine and Gregory. Admittedly, in the time of instant gratification, I’ve been hoping their romance would progress more quickly, trying to will Gregory to grab her by the shoulders and kiss her in between ushering children from the cafeteria to the classroom. However, that would not only be highly inappropriate for the workplace, but it would go against one of the most sacred sitcom tropes: the “will they/won’t they” slow burn.

As much as their chemistry activates my inner hopeless romantic, I need to take a step back and enjoy the journey. How many weeks did I tune intoGossip Girlfor just a few minutes of Chuck and Blair? How many years did I wait for Carrie and Big’s wedding? How many episodes of Pam and Roy did I have to bear before Jim finally bumps the loser out of the picture? We are only on the tenth episode of the second season; I can sit down and enjoy the ride. Do I feel like Quinta’s pre-episodetweetbaited me? Sure. But all is forgiven when Miss Mamas is literally bringing back the wholesomeness of network TV. An important, if not downright essential, component of that is holiday-themed episodes.Abbottblew it out of the water with its inaugural Halloween episode and this Christmas winter holiday installment delivered us a sweet, little (and slightly anticlimactic) gift.

That gift happens to be the purest scene of the episode: after slow dancing in the bar, Janine and Gregory stand outside as the snow falls. Janine stares at the sky, captivated by the snowflakes. Gregory stares at Janine, captivated by her, and says, “Beautiful.” There are subtle head tilts and soft gazes. It’s so precious it borders on saccharine. Then the rug is ripped from under us, and our present is revealed to be coal because fucking Amber texts Gregory right before anything can happen. Let me calm down because, in hindsight, the scene is still a present, even if it doesn’t go how I wanted it to. All good TV storylines have conflict, motivation, and anticipation. Without those things, why are we watching? Having Janine and Gregory make this kind of progress delivers all three — after tonight, their feelings have been pulled so far to the surface that it will inevitably create many episodes worth of content. Brunson and theAbbottwriters are very intentional with this slow burn. ShetoldE! News that Janine and Gregory are “two people who really need to grow. Janine needs to grow up, Gregory needs to grow down, so however long that takes … we really wanna show the modern experience of these mid-20 people and what growth is really like on network television.” We have to let the pot simmer on the stove for a well-crafted final product.

Our hesitant could-be love birds end up in their precarious situation after both seek to start their respective winter breaks with a bang. Erika invites Janine out to a night at the hookah bar and gives her a Kamala-approved silk press, urging her to leave “teacher Janine” at home. They don their best freakum dresses and head out, but before even making it inside, they run into Gregory, who is wearing an especially crisp white shirt and gold chain combo, with his friend, played by the incredibly talentedVince Staples. Astonished by each other’s presence, they spend the beginning of the night babysitting drinks while their eyes awkwardly dart around the bar as DMX’s rendition of Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer plays. To make things even tenser, Ava is also in attendance. Gregory finally invites Janine to the dancefloor, and eventually, they get pretty comfy, effectively turning the temperature of their slow burn up a few degrees. Ava peeps this and delivers the great line: “Not my work husband grinding on my work nemesis!”

While Janine, Gregory, and Ava are at the hookah bar, Melissa and Barbara host their yearly Christmas lounge dinner. They cherish the brief reprieve between school madness and family chaos with food and a little wine. Usually, the dinner is only for the two of them, but this time Mr. Johnson and Jacob invite themselves. Surprisingly, Jacob takes on the role of Abbott’s resident Grinch: voluntarily leaving himself out from caroling with his boyfriend’s family on account of his tone-deafness and spending the evening shit-talking how Christmas is another capitalistic display of consumerism that co-opts pagan rituals and turns them into a “materialistic bacchanal.” Melissa calls him the ghost of NPR’s past when she and Barbara escape outside. Mr. Johnson calls Jacob out on his negative attitude, and Jacob admits that his past memories of Christmas have created a bad taste in his mouth, but he changes his ways, buying scratch-offs and room-temperature Yoo-hoo (his substitute for hot chocolate) to spread holiday cheer, before deciding to join his boyfriend for the holidays.

Enough of that B-plot; let’s get back to the real meat of the episode: Janine and Gregory. Though the moment is ruined by Amber’s text and things take a further detour when Vince Staples shows interest in Janine, these plot points are integral to the will they/won’t they trope. As The Ringer’s Clair McNearwrote:

If will-they/won’t-they relationships are tempting for writers because they provide reliable sources of tension, then the emphasis must always be on won’t-they. Which is to say, the very thing that builds up viewer obsession — the near-misses, almost-confessions, surprise appearances from exes, and let’s-get-together-but-only-for-tonights — dooms the couples to discord.

Sigh, it’s all a part of the process. Plus, they can’t get together too fast because so many of their moments wouldn’t hit the same if they rushed into a relationship. Gregory grabbing the umbrella as Janine storms out of the school or Janine laughing at Gregory’s dry humor isn’t as heartwarming without the underlying sense of longing and mystery. Just like Jim and Pam’s conversations at the reception desk would border on mundane without the latent tension brewing beneath the surface.

The evening ends with Ava showing a bit more of her humanity when she sees Janine waiting alone on the curb after Gregory leaves to be with Amber and Erika is occupied making out with another bar-goer. In her gorgeous white fur, Ava becomes Janine’s fairy godmother and invites her along to go to another spot with her boyfriend. Yes, Ava has a boyfriend, and it’s … Andre Iguodala?! Apparently, he’s been dating her for five years while she has been dating him for two. That woman, and this show, never cease to entertain me.

• I’m sorry I never bothered to learn the name of Vince Staple’s character. Anytime I see him, my brain says, “Omg, that’s Vince Staples.” [Insert Leo DiCaprio pointing at the TV meme]. But I appreciateAbbott’samazing guest stars. When we return from break, I’m sure we’ll see more from Leslie Odom Jr., but I’d also love to see more faculty members introduced, maybe a guidance counselor or a sports coach. Loved seeing Jacob’s boyfriend Zac again too!

• This episode was a great canon edition in terms of Janine and Gregory’s relationship. However, I would’ve liked more holiday antics, specifically a longer gift exchange scene or Barbara getting involved in the carols or something. But it was very on brand of Ava to put her name in the ice skate multiple times. Speaking of Ava, all of her holiday outfits ate.

Finally, here are my favorite lines from the episode:

• Janine, before handing a completely undecorated Christmas cookie to a student who is a Jehovah’s Witness: “Not everyone celebrates Christmas, and I acknowledge that in my classroom.”

• Melissa about Jacob: “He’s a lot like paint fumes. Like, small doses fine — even somewhat enjoyable. But too much just gives you a headache.”

• Gregory: “I don’t dance to songs I don’t like; I don’t want the DJ to get the wrong idea.”

• Ava: “Sorry, I don’t speak line. Ladies, don’t look at him.”

• Mr. Johnson, after Jacob says advertisers created Rudolph: “To sell what? Red noses. Boy, you sound ridiculous.”

Abbott Elementary Recap: Slow Burn