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Parenthood Cry-cap: Stuck in the Middle With You

PARENTHOOD -- "Fraud Alert"

In this week’s Parenthood, several members of the Braverman family were stuck in limbo, Julia and Joel included. In fact, this entire episode — which itself, appropriately, seemed to be walking in place in terms of significant plot development — focused on people stuck in various stages of life purgatory.

Zeek took a road trip with Crosby because he couldn’t decide what to do about that exorbitant offer to buy his and Camille’s house.

After the controversial urine-in-the-canteen incident from last week, Max took a temporary break from school without officially withdrawing from school. (But let’s be honest: Considering how positively he responded to Adam’s surfing lesson, he’ll probably be homeschooled for the rest of the year.)

Hank went to see Dr. Pelikan to announce for the 85th time that he thought he was over Sarah but actually isn’t, and doesn’t know how to cope with his feelings about that. Really, there should be no ambiguity regarding that relationship, since Sarah was pretty clear in last week’s episode that she only wants to be friends. But, for the purpose of building near-end-of-season-five, Sarah Braverman–related romantic suspense that also, temporarily, involved the return of Jason Ritter’s Mark Cyr: Yes, there was limbo.

And, as previously implied, Julia and Joel continued to cope with a marriage that’s still locked in the trial-separation phase. They’re married enough to keep wearing their wedding rings, but heading-toward-divorce enough for Julia to feel uncomfortable asking why Joel charged a $468.13 business dinner bill to their joint credit card at 12:18 in the morning. (Seriously: What did Peet and Joel order? A $50 calamari appetizer, two $100 bottles of wine, and one $100 entree each? No wonder the credit card company was so on top of that — it immediately set off the defying-conceivable-cost-of-a-single-restaurant-charge-for-two radar at Chase Sapphire headquarters.)

Not content to remain in an in-between state, Julia directly confronted Joel about the status of their marriage, leading to the first of four cry/almost-cry moments in this episode.

Cry Moment 1: The Julia/Joel “We’re not getting back together right now” chat:  We’ve seen and heard this conversation between Julia and Joel before, to the point where all the beats seemed pre-ordained: Julia hit the implication that something is going on between Joel and Peet, Joel hit back with assertions that Julie and Ed had an “affair,” and then followed that up with the real crux of the issue: that he feels there’s a lack of mutual respect in the marriage. The redundancy of the conversation, and the way Erika Christensen and Sam Jaeger captured the watery-eyed undercurrent of exhaustion in it, made it believable, as well as a moderately tear-inducing moment. This is what couples do when they’re splitting up; they have the same talk a zillion times until they get so tired of it, they sign divorce papers.

Julia was obviously looking for a clear definition of where things stand. But did she really get that from Joel? “We’re not working on our relationship right now,” he told her. “We’re not trying to get back together right now.” That “right now” suggested that he has not ruled out working on things in the future. But Julia apparently took her husband’s statement (and, in fairness, his chilly tone) as a definitive “this is not happening.” Which is why she decided, hell, I’ll add some charges to the ol' credit card bill myself, by going to the Library Bar with Ed.

Julia has every right to meet Ed for dinner or drinks. Let’s be clear about that. She’s not doing anything wrong, the same way Joel wasn’t by merely having dinner with Peet. But if Julia wants to patch things up, and she knows that Joel is sensitive about what happened with Ed, getting closer to her sustainability-committee partner might not be the smartest move. The ball may seem to be in Joel’s court in terms of whether the marriage moves forward, but Julia’s still a player here, too. Her decisions have an impact, as does the way she face-flinched when Joel talked about how much he hates spending every night in his sad dad apartment, away from his kids. Yeah, that kinda got to me.

Cry factor (on a scale of one tear to five): 1.

(Almost) Cry Moment 2: The Zeek and Crosby waffle conversation: Once again, Zeek engaged in obvious denial by immersing himself in his cars, specifically, this time, by dragging Crosby to Oregon to procure a grill for a 1965 GTO. During their road-trip waffle meal, Zeek finally admitted he’s having a hard time selling the house, and finally said why. “I’m feeling old, Crosby,” he confessed. “It just feels like I’m cashing it in.” I loved the way this conversation was allowed to flow in a relaxed, natural way, complete with really long pauses. I also loved that it touched on a feeling that anyone who’s aged to a semi-significant extent knows well: that nagging sense that you’ve reached a point in life where you’re doing more letting go than looking forward. This scene didn’t make me cry exactly. It’s more accurate to say that it made me shed a near-tear because Craig T. Nelson’s performance was lovely and understated, so much so that I really wanted him to come home and tell Camille how he felt instead of doing what he did: proclaiming he was sure it was time to sell.

Cry factor: 1 near-tear.

(Almost) Cry Moment 3: The Mark Engagement Announcement: Once again, I technically didn’t cry when Mark and Sarah met up and he announced that he’s now engaged, a piece of information he felt compelled to share with Sarah over a romantic-ish dinner (that probably didn’t cost $468.13) so she wouldn’t hear it from anyone else. But I did sort of feel for Sarah, who, like her dad, may have been experiencing a variation of that “Life is passing me by” feeling. I also felt a little pang of intense like for Mark, who is such a nice guy that you can’t decide whether to hug him or slap him across his adorably scruffy face for being so freaking inconceivably nice. A woman can spend her entire life looking for a guy who’s considerate enough, as Mark was, to make sure the right glass of Italian red is on its way to the table before she even sits down. For Sarah to have found that guy, given him up and then learned that he’s ready to start making babies with someone else: Well, that kinda sucks.

Cry factor: One-fourth of a sympathy tear for Sarah.

Cry Moment 4: The episode-closing montage: Admittedly, the emotional momentum in that final montage was halted somewhat by the shock of seeing Julia with Ed at the Library Bar. Still: This was some classic, weepy, emo-music-Parenthood-montage stuff, driven most effectively by the images of Max and Adam riding waves together while a proud Kristina watched with Nora in her arms.

Earlier in the episode, did Kristina, as usual, blow her gasket to a slightly excessive extreme in that contentious meeting at Max’s school regarding the canteen pee? Maybe, although the administrators certainly should have said they would try to talk to the parents of the student who allegedly committed the act of inappropriate pissing. (I loved how Adam was laughing at Kristina right after she said to the principal and the counselor, “You and you: This is useless.” I also could not understand how anyone got through all the urine talk in that meeting while maintaining a straight face.)

Kristina knew that her son felt victimized and uncomfortable and, like any mother, she wanted to do what she could to stop those feelings. So at the end of the episode, when she could see how at ease Max was, how much he was enjoying the ocean, how eager he was to share that joy with his parents ... well, it was obvious why she was moved. As a consequence, we, the audience, were moved right along with her. Max’s school situation may have been in limbo at that point. But as a young man open to new experiences, the kid was clearly making some progress.

Cry factor: 1.5.

Photo: Colleen Hayes/NBC