I had issues with a lot of the behavior in this week’s episode of Parenthood. So before I cover the three big cry moments of the hour – including that Kristina Braverman debate, which was immensely satisfying on multiple levels – please allow me to get these nagging concerns off my chest. Look, the Bravermans can’t go for more than 10 seconds without unloading their feelings about some nitpicky little problem. They’ll totally understand where I’m coming from.
Issue No. 1: Really, Jasmine? You decide the family needs a new car and suddenly Crosby has to trade in his? How does that work? The whole reason you started the mini-van conversation was because little Aida looked way too cramped in that little VW bug. So the answer is simple: trade in the Volkswagen. Who cares if it’s newer? That just means the trade-in value will be better. I know, I know — it all worked out. Jasmine got to be the designated driver for Ashes of Rome, which is a story she’ll be able to tell for years, sort of like the story I still tell about that time I served as chauffeur for the members of Train during a completely insane bar crawl. (Note: I was never a chauffeur, and that bar crawl never happened.) Crosby eventually grew to love his behemoth of a car. And, most importantly, this plot line allowed Dax Shepard to compare multiple vehicles to vaginas during prime-time television. I’m pretty sure that’s the reason we all have televisions. (Also: props to Dodge for going forward with this blatant product placement, even though it required comparing your cars to female private parts.)
Issue No. 2: Said it before, and I’ll say it again: Heather Hall needs to calm down. Yelling at Kristina and commanding her to be more aggressive, which is what Heather did throughout the debate prep, isn’t working for Kristina. Honestly, the only reason Kristina won that debate is because she stopped listening to Heather and just went with her gut. It would cost the Bravermans a lot less coin if Kristina would stop paying Heather and just ask her gut to be her campaign manager. Of course, I have a feeling Heather won’t be around for long. If Kristina’s numbers dip again, she’ll be working for Bob Little in half a heartbeat.
Issue No. 3: Why did Julia freak out and leave when Ed Brooks’s wife came home in the middle of dinner? No one had finished their fish sticks, and Julia wasn’t doing anything wrong — last time I checked, eating food doesn’t qualify as adultery. But her panicked, frazzled need to get the heck out of there made it seem like something inappropriate was happening. Also, I’d just like to say that if Kristina loses the election, it’s Julia’s fault for not canvassing to the extent she promised.
Issue No. 4: Amber is really bothering me. But I’ll get to that shortly in the cry moments, which shall be covered… now.
1. Kristina’s debate connection with the mother of a deaf child: Earlier in the episode when Kristina admirably said that she refused to discuss Max as part of her platform, you just knew something would force Kristina to discuss Max as part of her platform. And so it did when a woman stood up to express her frustration with finding special-needs resources for her deaf daughter in the Berkeley public school system. Seriously, as soon as that woman said, “My question is about my daughter,” I was already tearing up.
I loved a lot of things about this scene. I loved the way Kristina looked for the nod from Adam before she started talking about Max’s Asperger’s. (More tears.) I love the way Kristina connected with that woman, and instinctively stepped away from the podium to hand over her phone number. (Still more tears.) If we were watching something like this unfold as detached observers, we might think Kristina’s actions were purely a political act. But because we know this character so well, we know she was sincere, that her tears were real. It was a West Wing cry moment, transformed into a Parenthood cry moment.
More and more, I appreciate how this whole Kristina-for-mayor storyline is truthfully, subtly explaining why most decent, talented people don’t run for public office. Because if you do, someone will tell you to use your personal family issues for personal gain. Because if you do, some businessman will ask you to sell your soul for a campaign contribution. Because if you do, you won’t be aggressive enough to stop douchebags like Bob Little from cutting you off every five seconds during a debate. (Loved that his campaign bus theme song was “Blurred Lines,” especially given his little episode with Amber back in season three.)
It’s interesting to watch Kristina navigate all that, often on shaky legs, but still continue to press on. Her decision to mention Max clearly resulted in a boost in her profile, but, in my view, she didn’t mention his situation to gain something. She mentioned it because it came naturally, and because she wanted that woman to know she wasn’t alone in her struggles. “You’re a statistical anomaly,” Max announced when he saw that his mother had actually triumphed in the debate. She is, in all the good ways that a political candidate can be.
Cry factor, on a scale of one tear to five: Three tears.
2. Joel’s dinner apology: After blowing off Julia’s campaign door-knocking so he could help Peet with whatever she’s micro-managing him about this week, Joel apologized in a really heartfelt way. “I couldn’t be able to do what I’m doing without you,” he said in that Joel way that makes every husband watching develop an instant inferiority complex. Julia was obviously touched and then obviously felt guilty because she’s still under the impression that eating half a fish filet with another man counts as cheating. Right, right: The real reason she feels guilty is because she’s more at ease with Sustainability Ed right now than she is with her own husband. I guess that makes sense. In any case, her conflicted feelings only made Joel’s gesture that much more poignant.
Cry factor, on a scale of one tear to five: One and a half tears.
3. Amber and Sarah make up… maybe?: The season five conflict that will not go away — Sarah’s concerns about Amber’s plans to marry Ryan — flared up again this week, via another pointless argument between mother and daughter, and Amber’s dumb decision to elope, and Sarah’s realization that she needs to be totally onboard with this wedding thing because it’s better to be included in her daughter’s life than not. All that culminated in a classic Parenthood moment that involved one family member (Sarah) showing up at another family member’s home (Amber’s) unannounced, which led to them having an emotional conversation, and then a hugging-it-out resolution. But when Sarah and Amber hugged, and Amber sobbed, I wondered: Did Amber and Ryan already elope? Because if they did, that’s really going to tick off Sarah and, unfortunately, stoke the flames of this incessant conflict for another three weeks at least.
I might have cried more during this scene if I wasn’t filled with the desire, throughout this episode, to punch Amber in the face. “I don’t have to agree,” Sarah said to Amber about the wedding. “I just have to be there for you.” YES. That’s totally right. Has any parent in the history of time ever completely agreed with every decision his or her child makes? No. Their role is to be supportive and, as Camille noted during her conversation with Sarah, perhaps hold one’s tongue when the moment calls for it. Sarah doesn’t approve of Amber’s decision, for completely understandable reasons. But she’s trying to be there for her daughter, in a way that a lot of — maybe even most? — parents wouldn’t.
So when Amber was complaining to Ryan about the way her mom keeps making this an issue, it seemed pretty clear that Amber was the one with the issue. Amber, news flash: your family members aren’t obligated to fall in lockstep with every single thing you do. I loved Drew for telling her that he wouldn’t act as a witness to the wedding because he knew how upset their mother would be if the marriage was made official without her presence. God, he’s a good son.
Amber, while still a very effective cryer because she’s in the very capable, weep-inducing hands of Mae Whitman, was being such an ass in this episode that I honestly couldn’t find it in me to well up when she and Sarah finally embraced. The good news (maybe): Based on next week’s teaser, we’ll get to spend a lot more time worrying about Zeek and Camille than we will about Amber and Ryan’s controversial, possibly already-taken-care-of nuptials.
Cry factor, on a scale of one tear to five: One tear.