Since I’ve complained on more than one occasion that not enough tears have been jerked from our eyeholes during season five of Parenthood, the extreme weepiness of this, the penultimate episode, was sort of refreshing. I needed salty discharge to cathartically swim down my cheeks while I watched Kristina Braverman choke her way through a good-bye to her cancer-stricken friend Gwen. I really, really did.
At the same time, the more rational side of my brain — the part that hates Love Actually and finds YouTube proposal videos cloying, and once opted to spend a long bus ride staring out the window because that seemed more compelling than reading the God-awful Nicholas Sparks novel that was in my lap — thought the heavy emotion was ladled on a little thick. First there was one Gwen scene (the home-hospice good-bye one, which killed me), then there was another one when Kristina found out Gwen had definitely died (also muchos tears), and then there was another one, with that damn sapling that’s obviously destined to grow into the tree of life. (Are you trying to suck all the liquid out of my body via my tear ducts, Parenthood?) Yeah, rational me was too waterlogged to put up a legitimate fight at that point.
That experience actually matched the experiences of the characters in most of our chief story lines this week. Repeatedly, our Bravermans allowed their emotions to win out over their logical, pragmatic sides. That’s why Drew finally made Natalie his girlfriend (boooo!), Sarah finally seemed into the idea of a romance with Hank, and Joel, bless him, finally started taking an interest in Julia again, even though Peet pretty much confessed that she’s wanted to do him this entire time. (You’d think a $400-plus dinner would have bought her something, wouldn’t you? Oh, well. Sorry, Peet. Joel Graham, it turns out, is not your Constant. Also, Mr. Knight isn’t Julia’s either. So Joel and Julia are even … at least until Joel finds out Julia had sex with someone.)
On a more serious note, emotion was also what allowed Kristina to swallow her pride and ask Bob Little (that guy always comes back, doesn’t he?) to lease her the space she wants for the charter school, and what immediately sent Amber running to a hospital when she heard that Ryan had been in an accident. What kind of accident? What happened to poor Ryan that made his one eye swell up like that? How did Amber learn he was injured so quickly? These are questions that stem from a place of logical curiosity, not emotion, and therefore, they will not be answered here!
So many things were either resolved or inching toward resolution in this episode that it almost felt like a finale. But the season finale actually doesn’t come until next week, when the Braverman clan presumably will bid adieu to the Zeek and Camille homestead (I’m totally going to lose it when they say farewell to the fire pit), and when, apparently, based on the preview, Haddie will reappear just in time to reveal she’s a lesbian.
But let’s not allow our minds to drift to a place that forces us to consider how utterly random that plot development is. Let’s instead focus on the five poignant, occasionally excessive, gloriously cry-worthy moments in this week’s Parenthood, most of which involved people laid up in hospital beds.
Cry Moment No. 1: Kristina Visits Gwen
Let’s be honest: Gwen was never a major character on Parenthood. She became a recurring figure to drive home the sobering point that even though Kristina managed to beat breast cancer, others are no so fortunate. Lives do get lost. It’s to the credit of Rose Abdoo, the actress who played Gwen and who also happens to be a cancer survivor herself, that she managed to come across like a fully realized, vibrant, spunky woman.
So it did feel sad to see Gwen so near death. But what really turned this into a faucet-on-full-blast cry moment was the way Monica Potter played the scene, prattling on about banal things, the way you do when a loved one is dying and you just want to feel the room with sound, and consistently fighting a losing battle against her own sorrow. Kristina Braverman may occasionally be annoyingly self-righteousness, or, as Crosby so brilliantly put it when he spoke of her and Adam, “so obnoxiously good … so in-your-face.” But I can’t take seeing that woman cry.
Cry factor, on a scale of one tear to five: Four. That’s right. The night started out messy.
Cry Moment No. 2: Kristina Coping With Gwen’s Death
After she got the phone call confirming that Gwen was gone, Kristina had another breakdown, the kind that involved her weeping while processing her guilt over how unfair it is that she’s still alive while this wonderful woman was taken away from this Earth. It wasn’t as emotional as the hospice/good-bye moment. But it was still moving.
Cry factor, on a scale of one tear to five: Two.
Cry Moment No. 3: A Shared Moment Between Crosby Braverman and Joel Graham
Parenthood gave its fans permission to re-fall in love with Joel again after he went over to Crosby’s and helped him put his hardwood floors back together in the wake of the Great Mold Crisis of 2014. This was the Joel we’ve known and wished was our husband for the past four-plus seasons of this show: considerate, loyal to his family, handy with tools. When Joel finally eased into asking Crosby some questions about Julia, and Crosby said, “We all miss you a ton, buddy,” I got misty. And then Crosby busted out the Aida cell-phone videos and pretty much put the cry-ball in the basket, with nothing but net.
Cry factor, on a scale of one tear to five: Two again.
Cry Moment No. 4: The Gift From Gwen
When Kristina was looking verklempt on the sofa while holding a card from Gwen, I have to admit I thought: Jesus, how many big, mourning-Gwen scenes are we going to have in one episode? And then Kristina saw the sapling, and she read the ridiculously thoughtful card, and she and Adam looked at the generous check for their charter school, and Kristina started to lose it, and then she decided to name the charter school after Gwen and … well, at that point, I just couldn’t hold on anymore. I gripped on to cynicism with both hands, and I gripped on tight, but random acts of kindness from a woman who succumbed to cancer pried my fingers loose. Look, just because I hate Love Actually, I’m not a monster.
Cry factor, on a scale of one tear to five: Three.
Cry Moment No. 5: Amber and Ryan in the Hospital
I have stated, on the Vulture record, that I began to suffer from severe Ryan-and-Amber fatigue early in this season, right around the time their engagement turned into a nonstop, unwinnable game of “Are You Mad at Me?” Their back-and-forths got pretty tiresome. But perhaps in part because one’s love of Luke Cafferty never fully leaves her, I still have a fondness for Ryan. When he choked up like a frightened, relieved child in Amber’s arms, it got to me. Like I said: I’m not a monster. And clearly I’m not immune to a good old-fashioned night of NBC prime-time-drama sobbing.
Cry factor, on a scale of one tear to five: One and a half.