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Parenthood Cry-Cap: You Gotta Keep ’Em Trial Separated

PARENTHOOD -- "You've Got Mold" Episode 514 -- Pictured: (l-r) Sam Jaeger as Joel, Erika Christensen as Julia.

In this week’s Parenthood, the break was made. Joel moved out of the ridiculously spacious contemporary home he shares with Julia. They told the kids they were separating. And Julia told her parents, too, in a scene that was the cryingest cry moment in an episode that elicited exponentially more tears than last week’s. Thank God. It’s so much easier to write a cry-cap when there’s actually some crying involved.

Didn’t I say in last week’s recap that just when this season of Parenthood seems like too much to bear, it will suddenly boomerang and deliver a really good episode? That’s what happened last night. After the previous week’s installment, which lacked both forward momentum and the poignancy we used to take for granted from this show, Parenthood got back down to the business of depicting relatable family drama: battles with school principals, marital compromise, mold remediation, and, of course, trial separations.

In a meeting with a therapist to help them talk to their kids about the split, that’s the term Julia used to characterize her current marital status: a trial separation with hope for reconciliation. Joel, on the other hand, wasn’t sure what to call it. But his uncertainty, as well as the resigned look on his face, suggested there may be some unrealistic audacity in Julia’s hope. It was all so damn sad, beyond sad-in-a-hard-hat sad. It was the-kids-have-stomach-aches, should-I-use-my-key?, collapse-into-the-loving-arms-of-Zeek-and-Camille-Braverman sad.

I know that I’ve been saying all season that Julia and Joel need to divorce to keep things narratively interesting on this show. Considering how much more compelling it was to watch them take action instead of yammering about Ed and weird texts and kisses kept secret, I still think I’m right. Yet for almost the entire hour, I had to restrain myself from jumping off my sofa and attempting to convince Joel not to leave by speaking in direct, persuasive fashion to my television screen. (The Braverman family lives inside of my TV, right? That’s always been my understanding.) 

Certainly plenty of people get divorced and plenty of families rebound from it. But my God, it’s painful to watch and so unfortunate, especially when both parties involved are good people. Question: If Joel and Julia managed to get to that therapist to discuss their breakup’s impact on Sydney and Victor, couldn’t they also go back to the same therapist to talk through their issues? Joel said no to that idea before, but maybe with a little space, he’ll change his mind? Maybe?

Sigh. Without further ado, let’s get to the cries, then follow that up with a few extremely important questions, one of which definitely involves Kristina’s rash decision to open her own school. (P.S. Yeah, most of the cries are about Joel and Julia. I couldn’t find it in me to get weepy about the silly photo shoot argument between Hank and Sarah.)

Cry 1: Julia begging Joel not to leave. Before they broke the news to the kids, Julia made one last-ditch, emotional effort to convince Joel he didn’t have to leave. Suddenly — both for these two characters and those of us watching — divorce seemed very real, real enough to make Julia promise she would do whatever she had to do to make things right. “Don’t give up on me,” she begged through her tears. Finally, Julia took responsibility for everything that was wrong in the marriage and offered to change, a switch from some of the denial she has exhibited in the past. Of course, it’s not all her responsibility or fault. Not at all. But the fact that she was willing to put it all on herself spoke to how desperately she wanted to keep her marriage intact. Cry factor (on a scale of one-to-five tears): 2. 

Cry 2: They tell the kids. This episode braced us well in advance for the big “Mommy and Daddy are separating” conversation. And yes, it was upsetting, but also a little predictable. Savannah Paige Rae, who plays Sydney, did her best to infuse her, “No, you can’t do that. We’re a family” with panicky anguish, but I was actually more moved earlier, when Joel was watching the kids happily play a video game and told Julia, “A year ago, all we could think about was getting them to this point.” That image said more about them being a family than the lines written for that confrontation scene. That said, I still teared up a tad when Sydney started crying because she’s just a little girl and she doesn’t need this drama. Cry factor: 1.

Cry 3: Zeek tells Camille he’ll sell the house. Even though Zeek surely must be sick of watching his wife paint landscapes, stuff prosciutto down her throat, and talk about “creating artistic space,” he hasn’t gotten frustrated with post-Italy Camille. In fact, in her absence, he finally realized that she has made most of the compromises in their marriage and now it’s his turn. “Being in this house without you is not going to work,” he said, agreeing to sell the place if that’s what Camille wants. Maybe it was kind of corny and maybe it’s hard to believe that Zeek would say all this considering what a stubborn crank he is, but nevertheless it was very sweet. Throughout this season, the Joel-Julia marriage and the Zeek-Camille one have been circling each other narratively. Julia could clearly see shades of her problems with Joel in the lack of compromise and communication between her parents, and on more than one occasion, projected her own issues onto theirs’. There was something both touching and a little heartbreaking about watching Zeek and Camille meet in the middle at the precise moment Joel and Julia were heading in opposite directions. Cry factor: 3.

Cry 4: Joel stands outside of his house in tears. If I were leaving that house, you’re damn right I’d be crying. Have you seen the master bathroom? Honestly, Crosby, Jasmine, Jabbar, and Aida should have just stayed in there when they got mold-displaced. That bathroom could easily accommodate a family of eight. But seriously: Joel’s cry face at that moment was just awful, and yet another time when I thought maybe he would change his mind. But he didn’t. Cry factor: 2.

Cry 5: Julia goes to her parents’ house and breaks down. Post-Joel-departure, when both Sydney and Victor couldn’t sleep, Julia took them to the Braverman homestead and finally told her parents what had happened. “My marriage might be over,” she said, and then just lost it. I was partly moved by Erika Christensen’s tears and partly by the gentle and natural way that both Craig T. Nelson and Bonnie Bedelia moved in to embrace her. It’s too late for Zeek and Camille Braverman to adopt more kids, right? Because I’d kind of like them to be my mom and dad. Cry factor: 4.

Now it’s time for the important-question portion of our recap:

1. Why the hell was Crosby so resistant to stay in his parents’ guest house after the mold remediation got under way?
The guest house is awesome. I’d happily create a mold problem in my own home then hire a company to resolve it if it meant I got to stay there for a while. Plus, with the parents around, that’s four more hands to help with that still very young baby. And, and: Camille has tons of prosciutto and wine lying around! Yeah, I just don’t see the downside of any of that. Nope. Not one bit.

2. Is Kristina really going to open her own school?
After unsuccessfully helping another mom advocate for a better classroom setting for her special needs daughter, then discovering that Max is still not being assimilated fully into his history class, Kristina grew concerned that no high school in the entire Bay Area will suit Max when it comes time for him to move to the next level. So naturally, she decided to open her own school. She thought it through first, though. And by that I mean she conducted an online search for the phrase “How to start a school,” then briefly read what looked like a primitive Wordpress blog called “How to start a school.” 

Okay. A few things. The writers did such a nice job this week of handling a very real issue that many parents face: trying to do their best for a kid who is a square peg that doesn’t fit into any of the education system’s limiting round holes. (Sidebar: I also appreciated that the mom Kristina tried to help was portrayed by Tina Holmes, the same actress who played Maggie opposite Peter Krause on Six Feet Under.) But opening a school seems a little extreme and unrealistic. Couldn’t Kristina homeschool Max and build a curriculum for him, with assistance from therapists and teachers who have experience with Asperger’s? That would be the perfect excuse to bring back Minka Kelly’s character … although maybe she’ll wind up teaching at the Kristina Braverman School for Kids That Don’t Fit But Should Not Quit.

3. Question for parents: Would you have been as assertive as Kristina was in that meeting with Max’s teacher and the principal?
The fact that Max was being sent to the library every day was not right, because it violated the whole idea of making him part of a traditional classroom setting, and also cemented his reputation as an “other” among his peers. On the other hand, the teacher does need to teach and he can’t do that if Max is prattling on in the middle of a lesson. It was a complicated issue where both sides had a point. And yet Kristina looked both the teacher and the principal in the eye and said, “I think that your best is unacceptable. I really do.” I wasn’t entirely sure she was right — the system isn’t built for Max but it was clear, after admitting their errors, that both men were not merely ignoring the Bravermans’ concerns. In fact, the principal wound up switching Max to another class, which probably won’t resolve anything but at least showed that he was trying to do something.

Yet even though I didn’t totally agree with her approach, I admired the hell out of Kristina in that moment. Every kid needs a mom who’s willing to fight for her kid, who will say what needs to be said no matter what other people may think of her. You want Kristina Braverman on that wall. You need Kristina Braverman on that wall. You still might not need her to open a school, though.

4. Parenthood isn’t on again until February 27??
Yes, the Olympics and the seemingly endless supply of prime-time SNL specials will put all of our Braverman stories on hold for five weeks, which is terrible for Parenthood. That’s another reason things may feel inconsistent this season; every time this show gets in a groove, it gets booted off the air for a few Thursdays.

So in closing: NBC, I know you are doing your best. But in this case, I think your best is unacceptable. I really do.

Photo: Colleen Hayes/NBC