Photo: NBC/2014 NBCUniversal Media, LLC
This week’s Parenthood was about various individuals overcoming their fears, breaking their silences, and saying or doing what needed to be said and/or done. It also, in the end, was about Julia hooking up with Mr. Knight, Max’s teacher/headmaster of the newly approved Kristina Braverman Charter School, in a fashion that was highly reminiscent — perhaps too reminiscent — of Crosby’s dalliance with Gaby, Max’s behavioral aide, back in season two.
Why did Julia so easily go to bed with this guy when, in this very same episode, she was too freaked out to deal with a little Ed hand-touching? Why was Julia so eager to jump back into a romantic situation when she supposedly wants, above all other things, to get back together with Joel? Also, after expending much of season five’s energy and tension on the Joel-Julia split, has Parenthood abandoned all tendrils of credibility surrounding that plot line in favor of just tossing more random obstacles in Joel’s and Julia’s way?
An attempt to answer all of those questions will be made. But first, it must be noted that this episode of Parenthood — an only semi-eventful detour before arriving at the last two episodes of the fifth season — was notably and disappointingly cry-free. I didn’t even come semi-close to tearing up, at any point, not even when Zeek took Camille to San Francisco to see what will most likely become the Braverman Compound Part Deux, a beautiful Victorian row house that: (a) must cost in excess of $4 million; (b) really should have had a lock box on the door; and (c) appears to be located just down the street from where the Salingers lived on Party of Five. If Bailey or Claudia Salinger had suddenly strolled into this episode, oh, then I would have cried, cried enough tears to fill the San Francisco Bay that Zeek and Camille can almost — almost — see from the deck on the back of their dream downsizer. But without that, my eyes remained dry. The closest I came to verklemptness was during that weird Breyer’s Ice Cream tie-in commercial, in which a husband and wife mainlined gelato while seemingly drowning their sorrows over the selling of the Braverman home. I wish I had shared their profound emotional response. I also wish they had shared their gelato.
This episode may not have kick-started the waterworks. (Apparently those are being saved for next week, which, based on the preview, will be a nonstop festival of teardom.) It may not have been a complex, high-stakes, runaway-freight-train narrative. But, as previously noted, it did give some key characters permission to unload some major baggage from their overly burdened chests. It also gave Adam a reason to mention his daughter Haddie for the first time in months. Haddie Braverman lives, everyone!
But back to the baggage … Hank finally learned how to say he was sorry for suddenly leaving Sarah mid-relationship to move to Minnesota. After his 98th (number approximate) session with Dr. Pelikan, Hank also figured out how to candidly acknowledge that he tends to avoid intimacy, telling Sarah, “I don’t want to push you away. I like being around you too much.” Since candor is being encouraged here, I have to say that I find the peeling of the layers around Hank’s onion-y core far more compelling when they’re removed via his relationship with Max versus his relationship with Sarah. Increasingly in Sarah’s presence, Hank seems weak and unsure of himself to a degree that seems inconsistent with his character as we knew him last season. That’s all supposed to be the result of his realization that he may (or may not) have Asperger’s syndrome. But his confusion and vulnerability have been pushed to such an extreme that lately, Hank often just comes across as whiny. His Dr. Pelikan therapy sessions are increasingly turning Parenthood into a lost episode of HBO’s In Treatment. If Hank and Sarah are going to get back together, just make it happen, quit dragging it out, and then get back to the real couple we care about: Hank and Max.
Hank wasn’t the only one who fell into confessional mode. Drew also realized that it’s always best to share your feelings with the people closest to you, which is why he chugged several beers, then yelled at Berto for being a bad roommate and sleeping with Natalie. And in that moment, Drew grasped the most important lesson that college can teach a young man: that beer solves all problems.
Oliver Rome — the front man for Ashes of Rome who marinades his commitment to artistic integrity in a nice, fruity appletini — learned that sometimes the best way to score babes, make some cash, and ensure that Crosby Braverman can cover his additional mold remediation fees is to go on tour as the opening act for the boy band 4D, who seemed a lot like One Direction except, like, four times less believable as actual musicians.
Zeek taught Camille how to start embracing the life that’s ahead of them as they move out of their beautiful house and into … yet another beautiful house. Seriously, this was probably the sweetest story line of the night, a demonstration of how, in a long marriage, each partner has to take turns steering each other through life’s more difficult lane changes. There’s something admirable in the way Parenthood is handling this life transition; instead of watching Zeek and Camille get tucked away into a retirement community, we get to see them sliding into central San Francisco, a place of vibrancy, youth, and culture. When they were on that back deck, the camera pointedly shot them from a lower angle, as if to convey that these two have climbed a mountain and are now afforded the luxury of surveying the view. Getting older doesn’t have to signify the end, Parenthood’s telling us. It can also usher in the new beginning you never got when you were younger.
And speaking of new beginnings, there was Julia, who, in light of Joel’s apparent disinterest in actively working to repair their marriage, suddenly decided it was a prime time to start dating again. It is possible to explain, in words, why Julia did what she did in this episode. She was lonely and she feels a connection to Ed, which is why she went to his place for dinner. (Aside: Why is Ed’s Sad Dad Abode so much nicer than Joel’s? That dude’s been unemployed for months.) Once she got there and found herself in a semi-romantic situation, she abruptly left because the reality of being with another man that she actually knows well was too overwhelming for her. That all makes sense on paper.
It also makes sense, on paper, that she got together with Mr. Knight, because not only was he attracted to her, but attracted to her because he saw her in her element: as Lawyer Lady, ultra-organized attorney and threatener of additional paperwork filings. It was a turn-on for Julia that he was turned on by her as a professional, capable woman. And since they didn’t know each other very well, there was no reason for her to get cold feet (episode title alert!) about getting physical, because under the circumstances, their hookup couldn’t possibly mean anything serious.
Again, all of that seemed pretty clear. Yet none of it felt right or made sense, because it didn’t seem like the kind of thing Julia would actually do. Julia has always been a by-the-book, committed, do-the-right-thing type of person. Even if Joel said he wasn’t ready to work on the marriage and didn’t know if he ever would be, it seemed strange for her to immediately try to embrace the idea of being with someone else. Both the dinner date and, to a greater extent, the hookup, were out of character for someone who holds herself and others to such a high standard.
This is what’s disappointing about the way Parenthood has handled this story. The show has turned the Joel-Julia saga into a soap-operatic drama designed to build extra tension at the end of the season. But what it really should have been — and has been, at times — is an honest, revealing portrait of the heartbreak that results from the crumbling of a once seemingly solid marriage. Now, if Joel decides he actually does want to repair things, Julia will have to decide whether to tell him about her one-night (one-Knight?) stand, assuming it was a one-time thing. And that will turn the fate of their marriage into a debate over cheating and affairs instead of what it really ought to be: a grappling with the respect, or lack thereof, that Julia and Joel show for each other as equal partners.
In last week’s episode, when Joel once again noted that Julia didn’t give him the same career freedom he once afforded her, she protested, saying she’s never respected anyone as much as she respects her husband. That’s the core problem of the marriage. Julia loves him and thinks she’s being respectful, when she’s actually not honoring Joel in the way he needs. That lopsidedness is a hard thing to fix in a relationship, especially when the traditional gender roles have been topsy-turveyed, placing Julia in the role of primary breadwinner for so long.
Given the degree to which Julia brightened when she got to work on the charter-school case, one has to wonder whether a lot of Julia and Joel’s issues could be addressed by both of them working full-time and enrolling Sydney and Victor in an aftercare program. Julia clearly doesn’t feel like herself unless she’s working, and neither does Joel. Julia may believe that her former employer has closed off all professional avenues, but that can’t possibly be true. Surely she could find a job doing something in the legal arena.
Naturally, being employed full-time again wouldn’t immediately solve all the underlying problems she and Joel are facing. But it might give them the stability and sense of personal satisfaction they need to start communicating rationally with each other again. But of course, that would be a straightforward, common-sense solution at a point in the season when Parenthood needs to raise the emotional stakes. And when a marriage is in trouble, nothing raises the stakes more than watching a woman sleep with a man who’s connected to the emotional well-being of that woman’s nephew.
Good lord, Julia Braverman. This whole situation is just soooo Crosby.
Cry factor for this episode, on a scale of one tear to five: zero. No cries this week. None at all.