After the hospital-waiting-room episode that inflicted a full hour of emotional wreckage on its viewership (or at least me), Parenthood returned this week with its tear-inducing intensity dialed down significantly. “Let’s Go Home,” the 11th of 13 installments in the series’ last season, is not a weeper; it's just another stop on the journey that ends in a couple of weeks with the official, final good-bye.
Which, hello? If you’ve been watching this show for the past six seasons, or even for five minutes, you’ve pretty much figured that out already.
Nevertheless, it is nice to see Joel and Julia officially, officially talk through their issues and get back together, and to see Adam ultimately decide he owes it to Crosby to stick with the Luncheonette, and (I guess?) to see Sarah decide to marry Hank, even though his proposal is a spontaneous blob of awkward heinosity blurted out in a hospital parking lot while injured people are being wheeled past on stretchers. But really, would Hank do it any other way?
Even though all three of those plotlines moved forward and got tied up all neat-and-tidy-like — in the case of Sarah and Hank, perhaps too tidily and too neatly — this episode also felt a bit repetitive, like the writers were revisiting certain conflicts solely to eat up some time before jumping back into the last two truly crucial and (hopefully) moving episodes.
For example: Does Drew really need to apologize to Zeek again about telling Camille about Zeek’s plans to take her to France? When Drew hugged his grandfather in the hospital last week and told him he loved him, then also processed his guilt about the whole France thing with Hank, that felt like more than enough on that subject. And while I understand that Sarah needed to work through her feelings about marrying Hank, and that Adam needed to work through his feelings about the Luncheonette, and that Julia and Joel (well, mostly Julia) needed to work through how to ease back into married life, watching all of that “working through” felt like … well, more work than necessary. Maybe less so in Joel and Julia’s case; if they hadn’t talked through the fact that she would still be working with Chris, and their lingering wounds about Joel leaving, that would have felt like a cop-out. Plus, I appreciated the fact that we get to see a bit more satisfying make-up sex between Joel and Julia. Something had been missing in my life during the past week. I thought it was the remote control to the bedroom TV, or possibly one of my checkbooks, but no: It was the satisfaction of watching Joel Graham and Julia Braverman-Graham embrace while entangled in bed sheets … at least until Sydney knocks on the door and ruins it.
The best parts of this episode, though, ultimately come back to Camille and Zeek, who still haven't decided whether to pursue further heart surgery or just avoid another operation and hope he doesn’t croak. In the meantime, Zeek’s fixation on finding his prized Reggie Jackson baseball leads to the discovery of a box that contains old, undeveloped film, which Max happily takes to Hank’s dark room. The result of Max’s photo processing: a pile of old Braverman pictures that contain many of the same childhood pictures we’ve been seeing in the show's opening titles for the past five years. I’m guessing that the use of those same photos was, in part, a logistical choice: Maybe the actors only had a certain number of photos of their younger selves that would work for the show, so they trotted them out again. But I really like the idea that in that opener, we haven’t been looking at snapshots that Zeek and Camille have been flipped through over and over again in the same photo albums. Each episode, we’ve been repeatedly revisiting a montage of images that — if one assumes Zeek will still die before the season ends — won't be fully assembled until this family starts to lose some of its members while gaining others, in the form of Amber’s soon-to-be-born child.
But the best and most poignant moment — one of the ones that, yes, made me cry a little, but nowhere near as much as I did last week — comes at the very end of the episode. But before we get to that, let’s hit the other three key cry moments first.
Cry Moment 1: Sarah’s Hank Conversation With Camille
So if you’re like me — and for your emotional sanity, I hope you are not — you may find that you sometimes tear up when you see other people tearing up. It’s a reflexive response, and it’s one that kicks into gear even more strongly when I’m watching Parenthood. Which is why, when a slightly drippy-eyed Camille asks Sarah if she loves Hank — “Does he make you happy? What else is there?” — and an also-slightly-drippy-eyed Sarah realizes the answer was yes, my stupid, Pavlovian eyeballs got drippy, too.
Cry factor, on a scale of one tear to five: One.
Cry Moment 2: Sarah Says Yes
So here’s the thing about Sarah and Hank: I like Hank. I like Ray Romano, and I like Lauren Graham’s interplay with Ray Romano. But I also would agree with Margaret Lyons’s assessment that as a couple, these two characters frequently “have about as much chemistry as two piles of hair.” Here’s the thing, though: That ship has sailed. There’s no more time in Parenthood to sort out Sarah’s love life any further than where it already is, and clearly it feels better to give her a happy ending that lets us know she’s in a happy relationship with a man who’s really trying to do right by her and both of her kids. So with all that in mind, yes, goddammit, I got misty when Sarah — again, with the drippy eyes! — says to Hank, “Yes. To your question.” And then Hank asks, “We’re getting married?” and Sarah replies, “I would like to,” and you can see on Hank’s face that he knows he just won the freaking lottery. Graham and Romano play the scene beautifully, and my tear ducts responded accordingly. Also: It's really cute when Amber hugs Hank with such obvious relief when he shows up to help assemble the crib she got from her dad, which, by the way, really was a nice-ass crib! Yeah, it’s true what they say: Everybody does love Raymond.
Cry factor, on a scale of one tear to five: Two.
Cry Moment 3: The Ice-Skating Rink
Was it a little cheesy to stage a climactic, romantic moment between Joel and Julia while they're both on ice skates? I mean, with a few notes from “Through the Eyes of Love” (the love theme from the movie Ice Castles), would that hand-grab-and-kiss have turned this Parenthood episode into the next Nicholas Sparks adaptation? Yes and yes. Nevertheless, it's very heartwarming to watch Syd and Victor — the latter of whom has apparently aged ten years since we last saw him — just glow when they see their parents back together. The fact that Joel and Julia are reunited is great news for them. But it’s really, really great news for their family. And you know who else it’s really, really, REALLY great news for? Melody, that girl Sydney was bullying a few episodes ago. Sydney’s going to be in such a good mood from now on that not only will she stop bullying other kids forever, she’ll be handing out free hugs on a daily basis.
Cry factor, on a scale of one to five: Two.
Cry Moment 4: Zeek and Camille Go Back to the Old House
You had to figure that somehow the Parenthood writers would devise a way to take us back to the original Braverman homestead before the series came to a close. When Zeek suddenly remembers that he'd hidden away his Reggie Jackson ball in some forgotten corner of the barn, that's the thing that forces him and Camille to go back and try to find it.
What they find is a house that's no longer burgundy; instead, it's been painted a lime-ish green. They also find a yard filled with toys and playground equipment, and little boys running amok while a young, pregnant mother attempts to corral them inside. Basically, they find themselves, 40 years earlier, and realize that home, for them, is now somewhere else. This, by far, was my favorite moment in the whole episode.
Now, I still think Zeek would have tried to knock on the door and get his baseball back. That thing is probably super valuable, and if he doesn’t give it to his great-grandkid, he could probably sell it on eBay and use the money to start the kid's college fund. But I was too busy getting verklempt to really care.
Cry factor, on a scale of one to five: Two and a half.