When we last saw Parenthood, prior to its seven-week hiatus, Zeek Braverman appeared to be in the middle of a serious heart attack, and our own Margaret Lyons was also basically having a heart attack regarding many of the choices made during the uneven sixth and final season of this beloved series. I think everyone — Bravermans, members of Team Braverman, those ready to be traded from Team Braverman to some other team (maybe the Gilmores, now that they’re on Netflix?) — needed a little break.
Well, now we’re back from that break, and while Zeek is looking weaker than ever — he most definitely had a serious heart attack, followed by valve-replacement surgery — Parenthood looks much stronger. I haven’t checked in with Margaret to gauge her current coronary status, but I am hoping she agrees that this week’s Parenthood, the 100th episode of the series, was more consistently moving, and grounded in something more closely resembling reality than any of the previous hours this season. With “How Did We Get Here?,” Parenthood once again proved how good it can be in a crisis. Not a manufactured-for-dramatic-purposes crisis, like Zeek’s previous, far-more-routine heart surgery, or even the kind that leads to Mae Whitman having sex in a hospital bed. But an actual crisis, one in which Zeek’s health was so fragile that all the family members had no choice but to rally around him.
I’ll just be upfront and honest and admit right here, in a widely read media outlet, that I didn’t just cry a couple of times during this episode. I wept through THE ENTIRE THING, from the minute Camille and a stretchered Zeek burst through the emergency-room doors to that impromptu Amber baby-shower at the end. I watched this ahead of time, over the holidays, via a press screener on NBC’s website. So it is technically possible that my jagged-sob response was caused by pent-up, post-Christmas stress, or the fact that I had just watched part of the Kennedy Center Honors that same night and gotten a little teary during the Lily Tomlin tribute. Yes. That is possible. Maybe. All I know for sure is that I cried so damn hard that, at times, I could barely see through the tear-murk, and I gave myself a sinus headache, and — because I inexplicably pulled a Parenthood rookie move and failed to put the Kleenex box directly beside me while watching — I had to walk across the room multiple times to grab additional piles of facial tissue I could saturate with my sad-for-Zeek eye-gushers. It was ugly. Also: glorious. This is the reason I watch Parenthood: to be emotionally destroyed, and uplifted by that destruction. This episode succeeded in that regard.
So, you know, feel free to point out how ridiculous Hank’s sudden marriage proposal was, or how predictable Drew’s profound guilt over his grandfather was, or that this entire waiting-room-focused episode raised important, unanswered questions about who was watching all the Braverman kids at home apart from Syd and Victor, because Joel, being Superman, actually remembered to explained his childcare arrangements. Those are all valid points that didn’t bother me very much because I appreciated so many other elements of this episode.
I appreciated that all the major cast members — with the exception of the younger children and, as per the uzh, Haddie — were finally all together in the same Parenthood chapter, without anyone having to blurt out weird excuses (“She’s on a photo shoot in Napa”) to explain glaring absences.
I appreciated that Joel and Julia were finally back together, even though we all knew that would eventually happen, and it was handled in a somewhat rushed manner that didn’t allow us to see even a glimpse of their make-up sex, only its aftermath. At least we did get to see Joel walk into that waiting room with cups of coffee for all and, basically, a halo of happy bluebirds flying above his head while chirping to the tune of Enrique Iglesias’s “Hero.” That triumphant walk of Starbucks-run triumph, the opposite of Julia’s walk-of-shame ensemble, was confirmation enough that he had pretty much sealed the reconciliation deal with Julia.
It also served as a fitting bookend to the moment earlier this season, when Julia received a care package from Not Joel the last time Zeek was in the hospital. Not Joel was being thoughtful but showy, in that way that people are early in a relationship. But when Joel came through with the java, he was thinking not just of Julia but of everyone there, because he knows them and loves them and has for years. That wasn’t just coffee they were all drinking, it was the caffeinated nectar of husbandly commitment. And it went down smooth. Well, maybe not so smooth for Hank, who could only focus on how inadequate he felt while standing so close to the radiance of Joel’s spousal awesomeness, which, you know, technically suggests that he's probably not mentally ready to marry again. But, again: focusing on the things that made sense here! (I also got a kick out of Sarah’s meta-comment about the uncertainly of Joel and Julia’s relationship status: “When are we going to know? I need to get off this roller coaster.” We’re all off of it now. Rejoice, Sarah — and rejoice, America.)
But what I appreciated most was the way the writers, as well as director Lawrence Trilling, showed us that Camille and Zeek had given their children an important gift: the capacity to value marriage as a partnership.
During the whole debacle involving the burglary at the Luncheonette and the divide between Adam and Crosby over whether to take the insurance money and run away from the business, we saw each brother talk things over with his respective wife and make a decision based on her input. Of course, the whole issue is obviously going to lead to a huge blow-up between Adam and Crosby regardless, probably at a really inopportune moment right before Zeek’s funeral. But the way they discussed the matter with their supportive partners — and even the way Joel and Julia became a unit, and Hank grappled with wanting to be more of a unit with Sarah — circled back to the example that Zeek and Camille have set. Their marriage has been a bumpy one, way bumpier than most of the narrative developments in season six. Camille has been bulldozed over by Zeek on many occasions. But after Leland — certified by the American Medical Association for TV Doctors as the best and most reassuring doctor on Earth — told Zeek that, despite his successful stent replacement, he would have to choose between getting a risky valve replacement or the risk of doing nothing, it was clear the course of action would be decided upon by the two people without whom there would be no Bravermans: Zeek and Camille. “We’ll make the decision,” an exhausted Zeek told his equally exhausted, teary wife. “You and me.” Throughout the series, Zeek has not always been this rational and enlightened with his wife, I’ll grant you. But it’s nice to see it happening now.
At this point in the usual cry-cap, I typically touch upon the episode’s specific cry moments. Given the amount of blubbering I succumbed to this week, I am tempted to just write: “Cry Moment 1: THE WHOLE THING,” then dump a jar of preserved tears all over my MacBook. But upon further reflection, there were a few moments that definitely caused the tear flowage to go from consistently moderate to heavy and unstoppable. (Sorry. That sounded a little grosser than I meant it to.)
Cry Moment 1: The Phone-Call Montage
This episode began with a montage of all the Braverman kids getting “the call,” the one that told them their father had been hospitalized unexpectedly. All of the reaction shots were shown, slowly, one at a time, while the song “Reminders, Defeats” by Jesse Marchant played on the soundtrack. Which is a classic Parenthood move. Seriously, ten years from now, when you remember how much you liked Parenthood, the first thing you’re going to think of is a montage of Peter Krause or Lauren Graham doing something that looks mundane but is emotionally heightened because it’s set to the tune of a song in regular rotation on SiriusXM’s the Spectrum. But you know what? It’s effective. It works. Parenthood went to that well again later in the hour, and I was like, I’ll go there with you again. That’s fine. But just hang on one sec, because I need more Kleenex.
Cry factor, on a scale of one tear to five: Already at freaking three.
Cry Moment 2: Camille in the Chapel
When Adam found Camille sitting in the hospital chapel, weeping her eyes out and at first trying to bat away his concern — “I didn’t want you kids to see me like this” — but then admitting she was worried — “It was bad. I don’t think he’s going to make it” — I mean, how could you not tear up at least a little? Parents have a habit of trying to be strong for their children’s sake. The fact that Camille was so distraught that she couldn’t manage it, and that her “chapel confession” stood in such sharp contrast to her previous assertion of Zeek’s resilience (“Of course he’s okay. He’s your father”), was heartbreaking.
Cry factor, on a scale of one tear to five: Already at four.
Cry Moment 3: Crosby, Adam, and Sarah See Their Dad
Just to be clear, I was still teary when Leland reported that Zeek may need surgery. But another mini-paroxysm of crying commenced when Crosby, Adam, and Sarah saw Zeek for the first time post-heart-attack. It is a shocking thing to see a recently vibrant loved one, especially a parent, suddenly frail and unconscious in a hospital bed with all the tubes and masks and medical paraphernalia covering his body. The worry on their faces coupled with the reality that Craig T. Nelson was in bad shape, plus whatever emo song was playing on the soundtrack, was enough to send me over the edge.
Cry factor, on a scale of one tear to five: Holding steady at three.
Cry Moment 4: Zeek Crashes in Front of Joel and Julia
Then Julia and Joel — the one she called “my husband” — went in to see Zeek, and Julia could barely get out a “Hey, pop” before her father’s vital signs stopped and the doctors had to jump in to provide medical attention. Throughout this whole episode, you were pretty much bracing for the moment when Zeek didn’t make it, which gave every setback the weight of the end. Which is exactly what it feels like when you’re losing, but haven’t yet lost, a mother or father.
Cry factor, on a scale of one tear to five: Aaand we’re back up to four.
Cry Moment 5: The Camille/Zeek Decision Moment
After Leland’s prognosis regarding Zeek’s valve replacement — which, in non-medical-ese, was basically damned if you do, damned if you don’t — Zeek and Camille agreed, as noted above, that they alone would decide what to do next, without involving the kids. Nelson and Bonnie Bedelia played the scene beautifully, with optimism on the surface but underneath it, the sense that they were already fighting against the dying of their light.
Cry factor, on a scale of one tear to five: Five.
Cry Moment 6: Drew Hugging His Grandpa
So after that moment, in walks Amber, and I thought, Oh, boy. Here we go. Queen of the Convincing Emotional Breakdown is going to send me right over a cry-cliff in that way that only Mae Whitman can. But this time, it was Drew and Miles Heizer who got to do the cry-cap-worthy honors, hugging his grandfather and telling him he loved him. There were a lot of reasons to hope Zeek would recuperate. One big one was so that Drew would have the chance to resolve his unnecessary feelings of Zeek-travel-plan betrayal. Mission: accomplished.
Cry factor, on a scale of one tear to five: Holding steady at five.
Cry Moment 7: When Lauren Graham Lost It During Amber’s Baby Shower
When Amber walked into that baby shower in the hospital cafeteria — which is, may I say, the dream location for any baby shower — it looked like she was about to get inducted into the cult of Braverman motherhood, which, presumably, would involve the drinking of Braverman blood mixed with girls’-night red wine and purified water straight from the Chambers Academy tap. But instead, all the Braverman ladies got out the album of mom advice they had put together, and — I need to just stop right here and say that if you’ve ever been to a bridal or baby shower, you know that when people share advice or give super-personal gifts, it’s just a straight-up Acela express train to Weeptown, where the only thing you hear on the quiet car is gentle sobbing.
So I was already at the high end of the Official, Highly Scientific, Cry-Cap Cry-Factor Scale™ when Lauren Graham as Sarah started to speak to Mae Whitman as Amber and started to cry in a way that clearly was happening on two levels: one because it was part of the scene, and two because Lauren Graham probably really does think of Mae Whitman as a daughter, or at least a super-fun younger sister for whom she feels slightly maternal feelings. Anyway, point is: I lost it.
And I thought that after Camille advised Amber that life is short and she should cherish her baby, and then the camera backed away from the party just in time to catch a hospital staffer dashing out the door to keep another life from being shorter than it should: Well, that was just lovely. It was suggesting the same thing that the wonderful scene earlier in this episode — when Zeek was laughing over Crosby’s sneaking-home-drunk story — also conveyed: that the joy of being with those we love and the ache of potentially losing them always coexist in the same space. But you just don’t notice until one of those ones you love comes damn close to saying good-bye.
Cry factor, on a scale of one tear to five: Seven. Or, as I wrote in my notes: “Crying so hard I can’t even see who’s talking.”