Parenthood returned Thursday from its Sochi Olympics–induced hiatus with an episode that focused on the painful process of redefining home and trying to rebuild it in new, unfamiliar places. It wasn’t a particularly weepy episode, but it was a reasonably solid one that interwove its central theme of letting go and moving forward via multiple story lines.
Julia and Joel continued to settle into the uncomfortable reality of their separation, with Sydney and Victor heading off for their first weekend visit with their father. Joel is currently living in a classic sad-dad apartment: a modest two-bedroom that features walls painted a pleasantly neutral greige and decorated with generic art of geometric patterns. That apartment also boasts all the enticing amenities that children of potential divorce love, including 3-D TVs, Xboxes, access to the apartment-complex swimming pool and a Rainbow Loom. (Sydney: Your declaration that you’re 10 and therefore too old for Rainbow Loom? Yeah, that nonsense is not fooling anyone. Everyone knows that making that delightful plastic jewelry is fun for all ages ... at least until those damn rubber bands make a mess all over the carpet and the S-hooks just refuse to attach to one end of the stupid bracelet we just made and now the whole stinkin’ thing is completely falling apart. Seriously, though: Rainbow Loom is the greatest.)
Meanwhile, Julia had to spend two-and-a-half consecutive days in that huge, contemporary home with the master bath that most people would murder for, all by herself. She initially dealt with her sudden, temporary aloneness by popping some popcorn, opening a bottle of red wine and starting to binge-watch Orange Is the New Black without any husbands or children to interrupt her, a situation otherwise known as living the dream. Of course, it’s less of a dream when you’re in the process of getting divorced. Therefore, by 1 a.m. on night one, Julia was already depressed, suffering from insomnia and crawling into her daughter’s bed so she could curl up in the sheets that smell like the baby girl she and her husband brought into this crazy, cruel world. That was sad — not sad enough to cry about, unfortunately, since this episode could have benefitted from a bit more verklempt-ish moments. But still: sad.
At this point, it doesn’t appear that Joel and Julia are trying to reconcile. Julia still seemed open to it: She obviously wanted to instigate conversation with Joel when he picked up the kids, and seemed eager to talk when she thought he was the one calling in the middle of the night instead of Victor. But Joel’s clearly still not into it. The way Julia advised Victor that he’d get used to the weird elevator sounds in Joel’s apartment suggested that she’s already starting to adjust to a life lived without Joel by her side. I thought the Parenthood writers handled that story line pretty well; it was an especially natural touch that Sydney, who has lived with her parents as a unit since birth, was the one lashing out at her mom and dad, while Victor took their new living situation a bit more in stride. That kid has already dealt with a fair amount of turbulence in his home life; he knows how to ride out the bumps in a way Sydney doesn’t.
Amy and Drew were also struggling with their own living situation, specifically the fact that Amy was still shacking up in Drew’s dorm room without telling her parents she was there. Ultimately, Drew booted her out, gently, for her own good, advising her to tell her parents about both the abortion she had last year and the fact that she wants to leave Tufts. I feel like maybe she should split those revelations into two separate conversations, so she doesn’t send one or both of her parents to the hospital with heart palpitations and shortness of breath. But that’s me.
Amy may have been going back home instead of building a new home for herself. But like Joel, Julia, and their kids, she too was grasping for anchors and sources of comfort while dealing with a rough transition: the inevitably stressful leap from high school to post-graduation adulthood.
And completing the “there’s no place like home” motif, Crosby discovered that Zeek and Camille are planning to sell the Braverman family home, prompting him to confront his father and try to talk him out of it. Zeek explained that he’s doing it for Camille, because she’s ultimately what his life is about, not that lovely, spacious house with the country-cottage kitchen and the sun porch and a number of additional desirable features, including a beautiful fire pit, which, according to Karen the real estate agent, it does convey. By the way, did you notice how happy Zeek was when he, Camille and the grandkids were roasting marshmallows around said fire pit? Yeah, he totally doesn’t want to sell. As soon as they get a bid and this thing starts to get real, he’s totally going to back out. But nevertheless, his message to Crosby was an important one: that home isn’t about where you live, it’s about the people you love.
Which brings us to the two centerpiece scenes of this episode, and the only ones that brought on any tears. Before getting to those, I do want to give a shout-out to Hank, who spent most of this episode committing Photoshop sins and calling unnecessary “emergency sessions” with Dr. Pelikan. But during his apologetic conversation with Sarah, he said something that jumped out. “I haven’t been that good with you,” he told her, “and I’m trying to do better.” That, right there, is the guiding principle of Parenthood and, for that matter, every NBC show Jason Katims has executive-produced. This is not a drama about political maneuvering, or surviving zombie-pocalypses, or navigating societal changes in 1920s-era England. It’s simply a show about normal people, in 2014, trying to do right by each other. Even though Parenthood has been off its game an awful lot this season, I still love it for being that kind of show, and I was very happy to have it back on the air last night.
That brings us to the two key cry scenes.
The gathering of the Bravermans: Allegedly completely independent of each other, all of Julia’s siblings — first Sarah, then Crosby, then Adam — showed up at Julia’s house to offer food, wine, and the pleasure of their company in order to help her through that second night without Joel and the kids. Yes, the scene went to some stereotypically cheesy places, aka the spontaneous Talking Heads dance party. But you know what? The sight of Peter Krause doing his embarrassing-white-man’s dance brings me joy, as does the sound of all the Braverman siblings arguing over which one is the black sheep of the family. (I loved it so, so much when Crosby said, “You go sleep with your nephew’s behavioral aide and then you talk to me about being a black sheep.” Never change, Dax Shepard.) It seemed weird that Crosby didn’t take that opportunity to tell everyone that their parents are planning to sell the house in which they all grew up. Nevertheless, the whole thing warmed this recapper’s heart, and put a couple of tears — well, a tear and a half, let’s say — in her eyes.
Cry factor (on a scale of 1 to 5 tears): 1.5.
Bravermans, nestled all snug in Julia’s beds: Part two of the gathering of the Bravermans involved a really nice reveal: as Julia spoke on the phone to Victor, she walked around the house as the camera panned across all three of her siblings, spending the night in various beds and sofas. It was a nod back to that point Zeek made: that home isn’t about the walls that surround you. It’s about knowing that the people who loved you since childhood still surround you and always will, no matter what.
Cry factor: 2.