This week’s Parenthood tackled four story lines, but only two of them really belonged in the same episode: the Joel/Julia divorce papers one, and the Hank/Sandy/Ruby/Sarah/watching Fast Times at Ridgemont High one. Those two plot threads — one that explored a marriage on the verge of officially, legally, ending, and another that examined former spouses still dealing with their baggage while trying to effectively co-parent their daughter — both pointed to the same truth: that once you start a family, that family bond remains in place.
After Sandy objected to Sarah’s decision to show Ruby the TV-edited version of Fast Times at Ridgemont High — an objection that, by the way, seemed excessive, especially the part about it “glorifying sexual promiscuity” — Hank fled the scene so he could do some Asperger’s-style pacing with Max. (Was it surprising that Sandy said to Sarah, in a condescending tone, “I think we have different parenting styles”? No. But it was surprising that she didn’t say that until seven episodes into this season.)
Later, Hank confronted his ex-wife, told her he thinks he has Aspeger’s, and, more important, owned up to the frustration he most likely caused her during the many years they were together. “I’m starting to get,” Hank said, “that it must have been hard to be married to me.”
Betsy Brandt and Ray Romano played that scene in a way that subtly underlined the sadness in it, and that raised a what-might-have-been question: If Sandy had known what was really going on with Hank, or if Hank had it in him to maybe apologize to her years earlier, would they have gotten divorced? Maybe. But maybe not. That exchange was a reminder that even years after a split, doubts and regrets still bubble very close to the surface.
Now cut to Joel and Julia, who were two signatures away from finalizing their divorce,but clearly still struggling with the decision. Julia, ever the attorney, tried to be practical, offering Joel the opportunity to sell their house and split the profit 50/50.“In a divorce,” she reminded him, “everything is an asset.”
But Joel was not only too emotional about the divorce to think about its financial implications — more on that in the cry section of this cry-cap — he also continued to bear the brunt of the blame for tearing them apart. “I hurt you, and I own that,” he said during one of their multiple confrontations in this episode, the one before Joel showed up at their asset — I mean, house — banged on the door and announced that he planned to fight for her and their marriage. That last scene was the equivalent of a rom-com run through an airport, capped off by the announcement of an “I love you” over the PA system in Terminal B. It was climactic, but not entirely believable. Plus, it still seems odd that the responsibility for “fighting for the marriage” falls entirely on Joel. Those two broke up because of long-standing issues that involved both parties, not just because Joel had Ed-texting issues and decided to move out. I mean, obviously, that didn’t help. But I think Julia’s lack of respect for Joel’s career was an equally significant problem that they never resolved.
In any case, those two story lines, working in tandem, came closer to saying something meaningful about marriage and family than anything else has in the past two or three weeks of Parenthood. So that’s a good thing, good enough to possibly allow a person to ignore the silliness of the whole episode between Drew, Zeek, and Zeek’s desire to blast bullets into cans of creamed corn with his grandson, as well as the predictability of a pregnant Amber totally crashing and burning while attempting to babysit Nora and Max.
(Amber was babysitting because Adam and Kristina were “out of town,”off fund-raising for the Chambers Academy in Sacramento, for some reason. Yeah, I’m pretty sure they were actually enjoying the rest of that spa vacation in Mendocino that they had to cut short last season. Also absent this week: Crosby, Jasmine, Jabbar, Aida, and Camille, who were fund-raising, too, in a sense, by bowing out of this episode and allowing NBC to cut costs on its production.)
In summary, Parenthood was still uneven this week. But when it was working, during the even parts, it did successfully eke out some tears. With that in mind, let’s get to the weepy moments in this episode. I counted five.
Cry Moment 1: Joel and Julia, in the Divorce Elevator. After their final mediation meeting, Joel and Julia got into an elevator that, in an obvious metaphor, was going down just like their marriage had. They both started to cry and instinctively reached for each other’s hands for comfort. And that’s when I started tearing up a mere five minutes into this episode. Cry factor, on a scale of one tear to five: Three tears.
Cry Moment 2: The Second Joel/Julia Divorce Conversation. Sam Jaeger was just hitting it out of the verklempt park in this episode. When Julia noted that the house was an asset, and Joel started talking about how they brought their baby girl home to that house and gave Victor his first comfortable night in that house ... well, let’s just say that Jaeger’s crackly voice and supreme earnestness basically staged a coup on my tear ducts at that point. Cry factor, on a scale of one tear to five: Three tears.
Cry Moment 3: Amber and Sarah’s Whisper Conversation About Parenting. Was it wildly inappropriate that no one stopped Max from binge-drinking soda and letting the dog binge-eat ice cream while binge-watching the entire Child’s Play franchise? Pretty much. But it was still sweet to watch Sarah try to reassure Amber that she can handle parenting — “Eventually, you work your way up to insanity” — even if the jury is still very much out on that subject. It was especially sweet with Nora, who is quickly becoming the most rational, relatable Braverman, sleeping between them. Cry factor, on a scale of one tear to five: One and a half tears.
Cry Moment 4: The Hank/Sandy Conversation. Even if Sandy’s a little high-strung and wildly misinterprets the Phoebe Cates bikini scene in Fast Times, she’s still a human being who may have some legitimate reasons for being frustrated with her former husband. As previously noted, this scene was a poignant, nicely acted reminder of that. Cry factor, on a scale of one tear to five: Two tears.
Cry Moment 5: Joel’s Visit With Zeek. It was a little weird that Joel decided to say good-bye to Zeek before signing his divorce papers, weird enough that this felt like yet another moment orchestrated to give a cast member a meaningful scene with the (probably) soon-to-die Zeek Braverman. But at the same time, I appreciated the idea that Joel would want to formally thank and say farewell to Julia’s family. It was a reminder that a divorce isn’t simply something that happens between two people. It has ripple effects. And when Jaeger — with that dang cracking voice of his! — said, “I’m going to miss you, and I’m going to miss your family,” it was just too heartbreaking for words. Luckily, Zeek talked Joel into pulling a Peter Cetera/"Glory of Love" moment, because Joel is “a man who will fight for Julia’s honor.” Which means that “good-bye” probably isn’t set in anything resembling stone. Cry factor, on a scale of one tear to five: Three tears.