Parenthood Cry-cap: Round and Round in a Circle Game

Photo: NBC
Episode Title
We Made It Through the Night
Editor’s Rating

Zeek Braverman is going to die before the conclusion of next week’s Parenthood series finale. That much seems clear after this week’s episode, in which the Braverman family patriarch announces that he plans to avoid additional surgery and simply live his life until his heart will no longer allow it. And yet, after watching this penultimate Parenthood, I'm pretty sure that his death is something the show will not delve into very deeply. It’s possible we won’t even see a single minute of his funeral.

There’s only an hour of Braverman drama to go, and we already know that hour will include the wedding of Sarah Braverman and Hank Rizzoli, setting us up for a finale that (fingers crossed) will be just as rich, lovely, and emotional as the season-three ender that centered around the Crosby–Jasmine nuptials. So it seems unlikely that Jason Katims and the writers will wage a full-fledged funeral, on top of a wedding, within a single episode. That would be too much plot to cover. Plus, while I am very eager to turn a microscope on the Bravermans for at least 72 hours as they cope with such a difficult loss, to do so really wouldn’t be in keeping with the spirit of Parenthood. This series has always been an 87-hankie affair, yes, but it’s not a tragedy. It will go out with smiles through tears, not by getting mired too much in somberness and death. (I also feel fairly certain — POSSIBLE SPOILER ALERT — that it will end with everyone playing baseball on the field where Zeek’s ashes are buried, mainly because Lauren Graham said earlier this week on Late Night With Seth Meyers that the whole cast shot one of the final scenes on a baseball field.) 

But back to the here, now, and this week’s episode. “We Made It Through the Night,” the almost-end of season six, alternates between totally earned sobfests (oh my God, Lauren Graham, over and over, all episode long, you guys), some forgivably cliché moments (Amber grunting through labor, both the fake-gassy one and the real one,  like every other woman who’s ever had a baby in TV or movies), and a lot of shouty cross-talk, mostly concerning the still-festering conflict between Crosby and Adam, re: the Luncheonette. “Oh God, Sarah,” says Zeek while taking a break from what is supposed to be a momentous dinner with the original six: Camille, Zeek, and their four children. “There’s so much yelling.” I had that same thought more than once while watching this episode, but particularly during the waiting-room argument that erupts between Kristina and Jasmine and, subsequently, Crosby and Adam — regarding Jasmine’s “interference” in the decision the two brothers previously made to shut down the Luncheonette. So, so much yelling.

A few words about that: While it was very uncool for Kristina to rat out Jasmine for talking to Adam behind Crosby’s back, and while she also adopts an unnecessarily snotty tone with Jasmine, I have to say that I understood where she was coming from on this. Adam almost walked away from the Luncheonette three seasons ago, when he and Crosby received a very lucrative offer from Richard Gilchrist (Kadeem Hardison) to purchase it. But he resisted. This is the second time he’s been given a way out that could benefit him and Crosby financially. Adam never cared about being in the music business the way Crosby does, and his wife knows it. Perhaps Kristina should be more sensitive to Crosby’s dream since she followed an even nuttier dream by opening a whole damn school that makes no sense. But Kristina is looking out for her husband. She knows the Luncheonette is not his calling, and she wants him to find what his calling is without being tied to a job simply out of obligation to his brother. That is not unreasonable. The way Kristina has dealt with the situation might be off-putting, but her motivation makes total sense to me. And as we learned at the end of the episode, when we saw Crosby and Adam dismantle the equipment at the studio, Adam and Kristina apparently got their way. As for Kristina and Jasmine, their shared montage smiles suggest they’re all good with each other now. As for Adam and Crosby … well, I’m pretty sure they still have some things to work out in the finale.

This week’s episode focuses quite a bit on partners working through things together and finding points of compromise even when they don’t entirely agree, particularly when it comes to Julia and Joel. The writers handled their return to cohabitation with a steadfast, admirable refusal to breeze over their issues. In the scene in which they announce to their kids that they’re getting back together permanently, Victor, the more skeptical of the two Graham children given all the upheaval he’s experienced, presses them for answers. “What happens the next time you fight?” he wants to know. Hey, good question, Victor! It doesn’t take long for some fighting to start, given the awkwardness of Julia getting calls from Not-Joel, who’s still her boss, and her accidental revelation that she slept with multiple people during their separation. Joel, so happy to be home, doesn’t want to fight, in front of the kids or in general. “I’m too scared to argue,” he says. “I’m too scared not to argue,” Julia responds. Their solution: argue in the car while parked in the driveway, where the kids can’t hear but they can try to hash through things. They don’t fully resolve anything during this conversation, at least not that we, the audience, see. But the message is that they’re trying, together. It would have been so easy for Parenthood to ladle on the hunky-doryness with these two. I'm so glad the show took a more open-ended, challenging, and ultimately more satisfying road.

There are some things in this episode, however, that didn’t work quite as well for me. The Amber/Sarah sing-along of Joni Mitchell’s “The Circle Game” was really sweet, and was clearly meant to be a “make ’em cry” moment. But to me, it was trying a little too hard to elicit sobs. I also could have done completely without all the stuff at the Chambers Academy, even though I understood the need to return to Max’s world and the Asperger’s story line that has been so core to the series. Still, with such little time left to tell Braverman family stories, I'm not sure we needed to watch Adam mentoring Edgar. On the flip side, it bugged me that we didn’t get to actually see Zeek tell the kids that he would not be pursuing surgery. That felt like the foundation for such a potentially moving scene that its absence left a noticeable hole in the episode.

But that hole was filled by so many other moving scenes, including the arrival of Amber’s baby boy, Zeek (Zeek!), that I was willing to let it slide. The cry moments, in chronological order, for the next-to-last Parenthood episode ever, are all as rock-solid-sobby as they come.

Cry Moment 1: Camille Responds to Zeeks Decision
In the middle of their hike, Zeek announces to Camille that he doesn’t want to go through with any more operations on his heart. Even though the doctor didn’t exactly tell Zeek he only has two weeks to live if he opts not to get surgery, it’s clear from the look on Camille’s face, and the tears she can’t hold back, that she knows this decision means her time with Zeek is finite and slipping away with every minute. Just as she was during “The Waiting Room,” Bonnie Bedelia is magnificently vulnerable here.

Cry factor, on a scale of one tear to five: Two.

Cry Moment 2: Hank and Sarah Discuss Their Wedding
While in the dark room together, Hank tries his damnedest to reach out to Sarah and to empathize with her situation regarding her dad even though he’s never been in the same position himself. As we know, that’s a hard thing for Hank to do, but he manages quite well. When he tells Sarah what a beautiful person she is, even if you’re still totally Team Mark Cyr as far as Sarah Braverman’s love life is concerned, it is just flat-out impossible not to get choked up.

Cry factor, on a scale of one tear to five: Two.

Cry Moment 3: Sarah and Zeek Discuss Her Wedding
This is the moment in this episode that ruined me. Just as the subtext in the Zeek and Camille conversation about his health was clear — there’s not much time left — so it is again in this moment between Sarah and her dad. Lauren Graham and Craig T. Nelson are both so good here that you can see their characters realizing things before they have a chance to recover and put on a brave face. As soon as Sarah tells her dad she’s getting married, his expression registers joy, followed instantly by, Oh, shit. I won’t live long enough to see it. But he recovers and says, “I can’t wait to walk you down the aisle,” with Sarah responding, “Me, too. I can hardly wait,” in a way that says she’s thinking the same thing: He won’t be there. He won’t be there. Oh, Parenthood: You’re so trying to break our hearts here. Congratulations. It worked.

Cry factor, on a scale of one to five: Five.

Cry Moment 4: Kristina and Adam Reassure Max
The main reason Chambers Academy comes into play in this episode is so that Max can register his skepticism about his and his peers’ chances for success in the real world, and his parents can, as they have done so often during this series’ run, walk into his bedroom and reassure him that he’s a really great kid with enormous potential. We’ve watched this same kind of scene dozens of times. But the thing about this scene and, actually, many of the weepier scenes toward the end of the series, is that you can sense that the actors are tearing up partly because they’re in character and partly because they can feel, on a personal level, that the show is coming to an end. So when Monica Potter as Kristina says, “We’ve watched you grow,” then starts to get choked up, it’s obvious it’s because she’s talking to both the Maxes she’s watched evolve from boy to man: Braverman and Burkholder.

Cry factor, on a scale of one to five: Three.

Cry Moment 5: Sarah Telling Hank She Wants to Get Married ASAP
As noted earlier: Lauren Graham just cry-crushes the shit out of this episode. She destroyed me yet again in the scene with Hank where she insists that they get married in San Francisco next week because — and this is where she, and we, start to break — “I just want to make sure that my dad is there.” I mean, FORGET IT.

Cry factor, on a scale of one to five: Four.

Cry Moment 6: Amber Introduces Zeek 2.0
By the end of the episode, Amber goes into labor for real and delivers a baby with her mother by her side, which is a pretty emotional experience. (By the way, Drew’s absence from this episode is pretty glaring. Surely he would have come to the hospital during one or both of the times Amber was poised to deliver? Once again, budget issues must have kept Miles Heizer off the call sheet.) 

The real wallop-packer, though, comes in the post-birth moment when Amber introduces her grandparents to her son Zeek. I mean, it didn’t require psychic powers to predict that’s what the kid’s name would be. But the jubilation with which Amber delivers the news, and Zeek’s teary-eyed appreciation, and Sarah’s quivery, emotional lips — DAMMIT, Graham, you owe me at least ten tissues for what you did to me during this episode — all work together to make the moment a goose-bump-inducing cry-climax regardless. Zeek Braverman and Parenthood may not be long for this world, but Zeek Holt, or Zeek the Second, is tangible proof that the Bravermans will continue going 'round and 'round and 'round in a circle game, for a long time to come.

Cry factor, on a scale of one to five: Five.