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Parenthood Cry-Cap: Sad in a Hard Hat

PARENTHOOD -- "Stay a Little Longer"

After eleven episodes of disagreements, sustainability-committee-related tension, sheetcake bingeing, and marital disintegration, it finally happened. Joel and Julia reached an impasse in their relationship that makes a divorce, or at least some type of separation, seem inevitable.

After smacking down the gossipy, whispery PTA busybodies at school and announcing, in badass mama fashion, that she has no plans to get divorced, Julia decided to come clean with Joel and tell him that she and Ed kissed — pardon me, that Ed kissed her, because Julia is soooo not responsible for anything that happened between them. It didn’t go well. Joel got angry. Then, at work, he got distracted and depressed. He was sad in a hard hat, which is a terrible look for Joel. By episode’s end, he was completely disinterested in attempting reconciliation and refused to even discuss seeing a marriage counselor.

“The marriage is not the problem,” he told Julia. “The problem is you.” Which was pretty unfair, even if Julia isn’t taking full responsibility for the feelings she had (has?) for Ed. No one’s talking alimony payments yet, but man, it is not looking good. As Joel put it: “You want to fix it, and I don’t think it can be fixed.”

Much of this episode was about relationships that have become unfixable — between Joel and Julia, Amber and Ryan, Max and Micah, Sarah and Hank, even Oliver Rome and the rest of his silly band. It was also about the concessions a person makes, or doesn’t make, to repair what seems irreparable. Exploring that territory turned this into the strongest episode so far of this shaky fifth season, mainly because the interactions between so many of the characters felt grounded in a recognizable reality, even when some story lines threatened to careen into sheer ludicrousness. (See Oliver Rome — a.k.a. Tyson Ritter of All-American Rejects — briefly moving in with Janet and Chrissy … I mean, Crosby and Jasmine … I mean, Crosby and Mrs. Crosby.)

I appreciated so many small, just-right details: Max rushing to explain to his parents how his attempted apology to Micah completely failed, without mentioning that he walked straight through a zone defense while attempting said apology; Hank’s blunt, rude reaction to the fact that Sarah was pursuing the same photography job he also wanted (“You bringing your pictures of dogs?”); the image of Oliver Rome inappropriately watching Jaws with Jabbar while sporting that tremendous emo-man ponytail; Adam Braverman’s use of the term “undouche them.” I laughed several times. And this being Parenthood, I cried — only a little, but still, enough to come up with several key cry moments for this cry-cap.

Cry moment 1: Julia’s kiss confession.
When Julia began to tearily bumble through her explanation of how she and Ed wound up kissing, I could feel a Parenthood cry coming on; yeah, those tear-duct waves were beginning to potentially crest. But then Joel started poking holes in her story, trying to understand why she went to Ed’s house if she was trying to keep her distance. (That was my question, too, Joel!) Then Julia started stammering even more. And then I was just confused and a little sad, but not quite in the cry space anymore. I felt for them, but they also kind of killed the mood for me. It was cry-us interruptus. Yes. That’s exactly what it was.

Cry factor, on a scale of one tear to five: One tear.

Cry moment 2: The derailed Zeek and Amber conversation.
In a nosy fashion that was still well-intentioned, Zeek attempted to convince Amber that she should at least say good-bye to Ryan before he went off to Fort Lewis. She would regret it for the rest of her life if she didn’t, he told her. Then Amber got upset and basically told him to butt out, because it was none of his business. Which was true. But as usual, Mae Whitman’s brand of teary frustration made me a little teary, as did Zeek’s gentle, loving way of talking to his granddaughter. Question: Is Zeek Braverman the Parenthood equivalent of Downton Abbey’s Dowager Countess? He’s a grandparent in a tight-knit, large family. He speaks his mind whether it’s appropriate or not. He meddles. He gives good advice to granddaughters when the man they were supposed to marry is suddenly gone. Look, I’m not definitely saying the answer to that question is yes. But I think it’s worth pondering.

Cry factor, on a scale of one tear to five: Two tears.

Cry moment 3: Adam and Kristina discussing Max’s ruptured friendship.
This was the one that really got to me, partly because the writers teed up this scene by effectively continuing to show the parallelism between Max’s shedding of relationships and Hank’s, but also because of how Adam and Kristina felt about Max no longer hanging out with Micah. (The fact that basketball ultimately came between Max and Micah was extra-poignant considering that they initially bonded over not playing basketball during gym class.)

“Max has lost his only friend at school,” Adam said. He didn’t even have to continue talking at that point, because I was already drowning in a sea of empathetic verklemptness. The concern and the way both Adam and Kristina were so beautifully relatable, the kind of moment that Parenthood handles so well. Every parent wants so much for their kids to have friends, but there is a point when what happens to them socially is beyond a parent’s control. Watching your child feel rejected, whether they have Asperger’s or not, just hurts. As Adam said, it hurts all the more because you feel so powerless to do anything about it.  I’m going to stop typing words about this now because I might start crying again.

Cry factor, on a scale of one tear to five: Three tears.

Cry moment 4: The Amber and Ryan good-bye.
Of course Amber eventually took Zeek’s advice and went to say good-bye to Ryan. It wasn’t a particularly well-written scene, and the soaring, poignant guitar (possibly provided by Ashes of Rome?) was a little much. But Whitman and Matt Lauria seemed so genuinely weepy and in the moment when she made him promise to stay safe, that it wound up being pretty moving anyway. Coming right on the heels of the Adam-Kristina conversation, this was a classic Parenthood double-cry whammy. Also: I have a bad feeling that Ryan won’t be coming back from Afghanistan (or wherever he winds up serving) this time. I hope I’m wrong.

Cry factor, on a scale of one tear to five: Three tears.

Cry moment 5: The Joel-Julia “unfixable” moment of truth.
We all know what happened here. We all knew it was coming. Some of us (cough) even advocated for it from a narrative perspective. But still: Sad. Really sad. Sad-in-a-hard-hat sad.

Cry factor, on a scale of one tear to five: Two tears.

Photo: Colleen Hayes/NBC