Here’s the good news: This week Parenthood was back in fine form, probably the finest form so far of season six, delivering an episode that shimmered with lovely, heartfelt, and, yes (finally!), truly tear-summoning interactions between its principal characters.
Now here’s the bad news: After being the best it’s been in a while, Parenthood is going on hiatus and won’t return until January 8, when the first of the final four episodes of the series will air. Oh, yeah, and also: Zeek’s probably dead.
We’ve all known for a while that a Braverman would be lost this season, and that the lost Braverman would probably be Zeek, given his recent heart troubles and penchant for eating burgers in spite of them. But the final moments of this week’s episode — in which Zeek seemed to be in the midst of a severe heart attack while Camille frantically dialed 911 — confirmed that Patriarch Braverman may not be with us much longer, and almost certainly won’t be jetting off to Chez Marie with his beloved wife.
That’s sad, and is a situation that will only get sadder in that last stretch of Parenthood. Knowing that the narrative ahead will have to focus largely on saying good-bye to Zeek, then, the writers devoted this week’s episode to tying up some key loose ends from part one of the season.
The biggest dangler, of course, was the “will they or won’t they?” nature of Joel and Julia’s divorce. So: Would they sign the divorce papers? In this episode alone, the answer was: “Probably,” then “Maybe not,” then “I dunno, it’s too close to call,” then “Definitely yes” and then, finally: “No, no, they won’t because they’re totally verklempt-making-out.” So the final answer is that Joel and Julia will stay together, which is nice because I really wanted them to work it out, and because that means Joel can finally move out of his sad-dad apartment, and because it also means we’ll never have to listen to Syd whine and wail about her father not being able to sleep under the same roof as the rest of the family. I mean, she’ll whine and wail about something else; let’s not kid ourselves. But at least it won’t be that. Oh, and it also means that that’s the last we’ll see of Not-Joel and his Jeremy Piven–esque ass. (Well, maybe not the last. Since he’s Julia’s boss, presumably there will be some awkwardness there to contend with later.)
Would it have been more honest and dramatic if Julia had stuck to the guns she whipped out of her holster in that last scene, when she insisted that they both needed to sign the papers and move on? It would have. It would have been the braver narrative choice. But despite the fact that Parenthood is a show about Bravermans, it’s a show that tends to shy away from the brave and veer toward more emotionally uplifting outcomes. That’s not a criticism, that’s just how the show has always operated. Parenthood has taken on challenging subjects — breast cancer, autism, teen pregnancy, divorce, adultery — and virtually without fail, resolved those issues in a tidy way that allows its audience to feel grateful and happy, as opposed to uncertain and upset. In this Washington Post piece, I once referred to that approach as “reali-scapism.” No show on TV does reali-scapsim better than Parenthood. Therefore, it would have been out of character for Parenthood to settle the Joel and Julia marital snag any other way.
Speaking of couples settling down, Sarah and Hank cemeted the healthy status of their relationship after Sarah had a run-in with Mark Cyr. Let me just say that I was all prepared to rail on the show for bringing Mark back into the fold yet again as a source of potential mental and emotional confusion for Sarah, who has already dealt with enough love-triangle-based mental and emotional confusion to fill seven Twilight novels. (Except, you know, minus the vampires, wolves, and imprinting on babies.) But then Jason Ritter was so damn adorable, and I just absolutely loved seeing him and Lauren Graham together again so much that I really couldn’t criticize anything about Mark’s return. I’ll say more about this during the cry-specific portion of this cry-cap, but it felt like a perfectly appropriate way to say good-bye, for good, to that character, and to demonstrate the continued love and respect that exists between him and Sarah.
Winning less respect in this episode, at least initially: Adam and Kristina Braverman, hosts of the worst school open-house in educational history! When Dylan’s parents went off on Kristina for failing to inform them about the issues between Dylan and Max or to punish Max for his behavior, all I could think was: A-freaking-men. “You only see through the lens of your son,” said Dylan’s mother during the highly charged back-and-forth that, presumably, led to the cancellation of whatever that presentation involving kids in togas was supposed to be. Good God, someone really, really needed to say that to Kristina since, clearly, for some reason, she has not been listening to the sage advice offered in these cry-caps. By the way, I assumed that Adam was away on business or possibly trapped under something heavy this week, but nope! There he was, all ready to yell at people who pay to attend his wife’s school! He helped absolutely nothing by jumping in and calling Dylan’s mom and dad absentee parents. That’s not the first time Adam has lost his cool when his wife is involved; decorum flew out the window for him during her campaign as well. It’s weird because he’s supposed to be the rational, “do the right thing” Braverman. When he blows a gasket and a half the way he did, I can only assume that’s the Zeek-influenced side of his personality coming though. In any case: If I were a parent paying to send my kids to that school, I would have grave reservations about the competence of the administration after watching the way that exchange went down.
It also seems somewhat unlikely that Dylan’s parents would have been so open to accepting the apologies offered by Adam, Kristina, and Max, especially considering that the Braverman trio showed up at their front door unannounced. But hey: That’s reali-scapism for ya. I actually did like the conversation that Adam and Kristina had with Max about trying to understand boundaries, and when affection is fluid and when it isn’t. They were firm and honest and, I thought, good parents in that moment. It didn’t redeem their behavior during Open House Night: The Reckoning. But it was a scene that rang truer than any of the interactions between the three of them this season.
One more thing, pre-cries: I’m worried about Drew. The fact that he and Zeek had been bonding so much, and that Zeek said he was disappointed in him for not keeping Zeek’s anniverary trip a secret suggests that Zeek’s death, when it happens, will hit Drew particularly hard. I predict that come January, there will be at least one gut-wrencher of a scene in which Drew confesses to Amber, through heavy tears and possibly a little nose mucus, that he feels enormous guilt for not accommodating his grandpa’s wishes during his final healthy days. But enough about future sobbing. Let’s weep-cap together now, and not necessarily in chronological order based on what happened in this episode.
Cry Moment 1: Joel’s Speech at the Restaurant.
This has been said before in these cry-caps, but is worth saying again: Sam Jaeger has been especially great this season. His big woo-back-Julia speech at their favorite Italian restaurant was peppered with tears and deep breaths and vocals getting caught in his throat. When he spoke about “bailing” on the family and said, “I feel such shame,” that was all it took for me to lose it. Jaeger said that in a way that reminded you of every time you’ve been inconsiderate to a family member or loved one and wished you could take it back. He was so genuine and remorseful that it was pretty stunning that Julia up and walked away from the table.
Cry factor, on a scale of one tear to five: Three.
Cry Moment 2: Zeek Tells Camille About His Desire to Take Her on a Trip.
In this moment, as well as another one with Drew, it was clear that Zeek was already facing his mortality. Was he expecting to have a heart attack in the middle of the night sometime very soon? No. But it was obvious when he spoke about taking her to France that he wanted to do something nice for the two of them while he still had time, because there probably wouldn’t be that much time left to do it. Sad.
Cry factor, on a scale of one tear to five: Two.
Cry Moment 3: Julia and Joel Reconcile.
Even if you think it was a cop-out for Joel and Julia to ditch their divorce plans, you still probably tear-grudgingly blubbered at least a little bit when they fell into each other’s arms. Come on. You know you did.
Cry factor, on a scale of one tear to five: Three.
Cry Moment 4: The Sarah and Mark Good-bye.
I saved this one for last because it was a moment. Hey, did I mention how enjoyable this scene was? Oh, that’s right: I did, just a few paragraphs ago. What I liked about Sarah and Mark’s little chat was how natural it felt. The talk about Sarah becoming a grandmother and Mark becoming a dad flowed almost as if it were improvised. But the way it highlighted the fact that they are still at totally different places in their lives made it clear that at least that part of the scene was carefully scripted. “This is going to sound weird,” Sarah said, with the waterworks setting on her eyes locked in at brimming-but-not-quite-overflowing, “but I’m glad I knew you.” Was it Sarah saying this to Mark? Or was it Lauren Graham saying this to Jason Ritter, with whom she had shared many similarly lovely scenes throughout Parenthood’s run? Both?
I thought both, which is what made my eyes kind of drippy. It made the fact that Parenthood is going to end feel like a real thing for the first time.
What Sarah said to Mark right then and what she said later to Hank, summarized how I felt about this episode of Parenthood and the whole series, despite its missteps in recent weeks.
“I’m glad I knew you.” And also: “There’s nowhere else I’d rather be.”