If you’re just joining this recap, you may have very recently finished watching the final episode of Parenthood — the very, very last one ever. You probably need a minute to recover. Take that minute. Wipe away the ludicrously large tears still streaming down those cheeks. Breathe.
Okay. Now let’s talk. Oh, wait, we’re still crying. It really is hard to stop, isn’t it?
Most fans probably came to this episode pretty, shall we say, lubed up in advance. Most of us were well prepared to spend an hour wailing over the loss of our Bravermans while tossing Kleenexes haphazardly around the room just like Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally. We probably would have bawled like wee babes if the entire episode had turned out to be an hour-long installment of Behind the Music: The Ashes of Rome Story. Fortunately for humanity, that is not what happened. This Parenthood finale — titled “May God Bless and Keep You Always,” just like the first line of the show’s theme song, “Forever Young” — unfolds in a way that justifies every tear (and there were a lot of ‘em) shed while watching.
The last five minutes of the finale, in particular, throws every bit of available Parenthood cry-fire power at the audience: a death; a Zeek Braverman memorial baseball game that unfolds to the tune of an emo-folksy cover of “Forever Young”; several flash-forwards that reveal all the babies the Bravermans will have in the future that we’ll never get to meet; a Friday Night Lights reference that made my heart burst and that will be discussed in greater detail momentarily; an effing puppy climbing out of a gift box on Christmas morning! Babies and puppies AND Jason Street? Were Jason Katims and the rest of the Parenthood team trying to sob-murder us?? Maybe. Maybe they were. Right now, though, I love them for it.
I also love that this ending brings the show full-circle, not only in terms of its own Braverman-focused narrative but also in terms of Parenthood’s status as a bookend of sorts to Friday Night Lights.
Back in 2011, Friday Night Lights — an NBC drama also executive-produced by Katims that cannot be mentioned without clutching one’s heart out of deep reverence for Eric and Tami Taylor — ended its run with a finale that also features a montage, a number of flash-forwards that hint at the futures of the characters in its ensemble cast, and a closing moment in which the core people on the series, Coach and Mrs. Coach, walk off a football field together. When Friday Night Lights, a cry-cappable show if ever there was one, ended, its fans felt bereft. But some of us were able to find comfort in Parenthood, a show that, while not quite as much of a touchstone as FNL, hit a lot of the same, sliced-from-life, heartfelt, emotional beats. When our hearts ached because of the absence of Matt Saracen in our lives, the Bravermans became our balm.
So for Parenthood to end the way it does, with a montage and the flash-forwards and the core people on the series — which, in this case, are the members of an entire, sprawling family — walking off a baseball field … maybe it feels a little predictable and derivative of Friday Night Lights. But it also could not be more perfect, satisfying, and right.
Some major, major tear-inducing things happen in this episode, including the loss of Zeek (he dies in the most peaceful way anyone could ever hope to go), the wedding of Sarah and Hank, and, in keeping with the Parenthood season-six tradition, a Chambers Academy–related development that makes little to no sense whatsoever. Let’s address those issues (and others) via the things we learn from the closing moments of the show. Well, the things we learn in addition to the fact that the Bravermans are really terrible at baseball. (Maybe not Victor. He manages to get a decent hit. Also, in fairness: Nora is a halfway-decent pinch runner.)
Camille travels to Chez Marie after all, without Zeek.
As previously noted, Zeek does die in this episode. I was wrong when I said in last week’s cry-cap that we wouldn’t see that happen, because we do, but — and this is the part I was right about — it happens in the most gentle way, and the show doesn’t mire in it for more than a minute or so. Zeek dies, in his sleep, in a comfortable chair, in the home he shares with his beloved wife. What crushes in that moment isn’t that he’s gone so much as Camille’s response to his passing. The way Bonnie Bedelia believes for a minute that her husband is merely napping and then knows, knows before she can even cross the room to see if he’s breathing, that he’s gone … well, that’s shattering. On the official Parenthood Cry-Cap Cry Factor Scale™, that’s a five-tears-out-of-five moment.
After we see Zeek’s ashes buried, per his request, at Marine Park (which may or may not be legal?), it’s heartening to know that, at some time in the presumably not-so-distant future, Camille decides to take that trip to France she and Zeek had wanted to take for their anniversary. She still has a vital third act left to live; it’s just one she’ll experience without Zeek.
Cry factor, on a scale of one to five tears at this point in montage: Five.
Crosby continues to run the Luncheonette, with his expanding family by his side.
After all the drama about the Luncheonette closing, and all the blame laid at Adam’s feet for it, suddenly Crosby realizes in this episode (with Zeek’s help) that he can totally run the Luncheonette himself. Why didn’t this idea cross his mind, like, at least three episodes ago? Well, probably because he’s so used to assuming he can’t be responsible and handle business matters — which, to be fair, has proven to be true on many occasions — that he figured he’d always need upstanding big brother Adam to be in charge. Oh, and also because the writers needed to save the Luncheonette resolution for the finale.
In any case, the montage shot of Crosby in his element — in the studio with his pregnant wife, his new business partner Amber (the other always-irresponsible one who has grown into a legitimately mature adult), and his two growing children (Aida’s 'fro is the bomb, by the way) — provides a nice nod to the personal growth his character has experienced over the course of Parenthood.
Cry factor, on a scale of one to five tears at this point in montage: Four. This isn’t a cry moment so much as a smile-through-ongoing-montage-tears moment.
Julia and Joel live happily ever after.
Okay, so this is when shit gets real and puppies start getting involved.
While most of the finale is about tying up loose ends, one semi-meaty plot development is introduced in this episode: the fact that Victor’s birth mother has recently delivered a baby girl, Victor’s half-sister, and wants to give Joel and Julia first dibs on adopting the child. That means the just-reunited couple gets basically two days to decide whether or not they want a third kid.
When Julia and Joel initially decide it’s a bad idea, every logical cell in my practical brain shouted back at them: “Yes, you guys are right! This is a terrible time to add to the family since you’ve barely adjusted to being married and living in the same house again.” But it’s pretty clear that they’re going to say yes, even before they actually say it. In the real world — or even on Parenthood, if there were future seasons ahead of us — this decision would add a new level of joy and tension to the Graham family that would beg confrontation. But since this is a series finale, baby No. 3 is purely a source of happiness, a child that, as the flash-forward shows, fits in seamlessly with Victor and Syd and the cute puppy with the red bow on his neck, and also … oh my God, Julia and Joel have another baby.
This is the first delightful surprise bomb that gets dropped during the montage: that Julia and Joel will expand their family even further, opting to have exactly as many kids as Zeek and Camille did, creating their own “original six.” Is the fourth child adopted, or a baby they finally managed to conceive on their own? Doesn’t matter. They’re all together and happy and sitting under a Christmas tree that nearly rivals the one in Rockefeller Center, and it warms the heart and cranks up the tears a couple more notches. Also, puppies.
Cry factor, on a scale of one to five tears at this point in montage: Back up to five.
The happy Holt family.
Sarah and Hank finally do get married and, via the montage peek into their future, we see that they become a happy, consciously coupled family unit. Drew and Ruby get along, and Amber now has a little girl and, more important, is married (I rewound and verified that there is a ring on her finger) to freakin’ Jason Street!!
Okay, fine. So Amber didn’t really marry Jason Street; she married a guy played by Scott Porter, who also played Jason Street on Friday Night Lights. Nevertheless: I just about died on my sofa of a Dillon Panthers heart attack at this reveal. The Friday Night Parenthood bond is solidified even further when Ryan (a.k.a. Luke Cafferty) shows up to drop off baby Zeek and seems to have a good relationship with Amber and Not Really Jason Street But, Come On, Really, Jason Street. Full hearts, swollen, bursting! (Yet also part of my heart, or possibly my loins, wishes that Tim Riggins could have been shoehorned into all this somehow.)
Cry factor, on a scale of one to five tears at this point in montage: Pretty much riding it out at five, or possibly six or seven, for the rest of life.
Max Braverman graduates.
First of all, watching Max hug little Nora when she runs to home plate during the Zeek Braverman memorial baseball game: Forget it. Dying, dead, hoping Jason Street speaks at my funeral because the reveal of him as eulogy deliverer would kick ass!
But then the flash-forward shows us Max Braverman receiving his diploma from his dad, who, earlier in the episode, agrees to become headmaster at Chambers Academy instead of taking a job at a bottled-water company that is definitely not in any way affiliated with Poland Springs. (Mountain Springs: not even the same name, not at all.)
The way that Kristina arranges for Adam to get that job is the clumsiest bit of plot finagling in the episode: She’s planning to take a job with a nonprofit that will build “hundreds of Chambers Academies” (dear GOD, stop them), so Adam can just take over for her as the director of Chambers? Oh, and also: This alleged 501(c)(3) organization has been trying to recruit Kristina for months and she never told Adam? None of this makes a whiff of sense, but it puts all the ducks in a row to allow future montage Max to graduate as his parents share a meaningful look of pride, thereby adding additional liquid to the tear reservoir that pools in my lap.
Cry factor, on a scale of one to five tears at this point in montage: Like I said: riding it out at five, six, or seven … hell, crying might now have become my default setting forever.
While the montage may be the signature chunk of this finale, there are numerous other weep instigators in this episode, and I’d be remiss in my duties as an officially accredited cry-capper if I failed to mention them:
Zeek telling Hank to take care of his daughter.
Craig T. Nelson is just wonderful in this episode, playing all of his emotion right up on top of the surface. When Hank asks for Zeek’s blessing to marry Sarah, Zeek gives it to him, knowing that time won’t allow him to see how that marriage works out.
“I just would ask you to take care of my” — and he starts to say little girl, but he can’t even get it out — “my daughter.” He’s teary and choked-up, and so are we.
Cry factor, on a scale of one to five tears: Four.
The almost-closing of the Luncheonette.
A final episode of Parenthood would be deemed invalid in a court of law if it didn’t feature Mae Whitman crying at least once. So when she tears up after realizing the Luncheonette will shut down, and that moment is followed by images of the stripped-bare music studio the Braverman brothers built … it’s sad, guys.
Cry factor, on a scale of one to five tears: Two. (This happens fairly early in the episode, and any Parenthood-watching vet knows how important it is to pace oneself.)
The Sarah/Zeek “Have I been a good father?” moment.
I mean, first of all, this scene starts with a Nick Drake song playing underneath it. So it’s clearly making a serious effort to wring out the ol' tear ducts from the get-go. But then, again, Nelson and Lauren Graham — one of this show’s serious MVPs of crying — play their emotion so close to the surface when Zeek asks Sarah if he’s been a good father and she says, “The very best,” that, aw, dammit …
Cry factor, on a scale of one to five tears: … Yeah, I’m all the way at a level four again, not even halfway through the episode.
The wedding montage.
Max is taking photos and the whole extended clan is together … well, minus Sarah’s ex Seth, which is kind of weird, and Hank’s ex Sandy, which is also a little weird. Anyway, we know we only have, what, a half-hour left of this show to see this many Bravermans together at once? That knowledge alone keeps the bawl-ball rollin’, plus that song — “You and Me” by Sara Watkins — isn’t exactly an effective tear dam. Man, even the presence of annoying Natalie isn’t enough to make me stop crying, although it does dial back the flow just a little.
Cry factor, on a scale of one to five tears: Three.
Drew’s best-man toast.
Drew’s speech is really nice and delivered in classic Miles Heizer form. Or to put it in the words of Hank Rizzoli: “You don’t say much, and when you do, you talk kinda low. And I like that.” But it’s really Sarah trying to hold it together that makes this a mild tearjerker moment.
Cry factor, on a scale of one to five tears: Three.
Max asks a girl to dance.
So much of this episode focuses on closure and in some moments it works effectively and in others, it doesn’t. In an earlier scene, Haddie apologizes for sometimes being a selfish sister to Max, and you can understand why the writers wanted that moment to be in the episode. But it feels a little forced. The sight of Max asking a girl to dance at the wedding is a little forced, too, perhaps. But Max’s Asperger's and his inability to connect with other people has been such a central, important part of Parenthood that it just feels good to see him taking this step, especially while “Maybe I’m Amazed” is playing and despite the fact that Kristina is helicopter parenting like a mutha effa.
Cry factor, on a scale of one to five tears: Three.
Again: Everything that happens in the last five minutes of this episode.
In life, and especially in TV shows, you don’t always get to say good-bye at all, much less in the best and most fitting way. Parenthood, like Friday Night Lights before it, got to do exactly that. As a result, everyone who loved this series is now left with full hearts, but eyes way, way too teary to be clear.
Cry factor, on a scale of one to five tears: As previously noted: more or less infinite.