It’s a hard act to follow the emotional peak of the season we all just surmounted in “Claudia and the Sad Goodbye,” but there is one last thread that needs tying up, and using it to fill the season finale is a smart, satisfying choice. There will be no Thomas-Brewer baby after all. The show doesn’t get into the nitty-gritty of why Liz and Watson have stopped trying, but that feels right — Liz was always adamant about not putting the full weight of what she’s going through on her 13-year-old daughter, and yet still, Kristy’s smart and would 100 percent pick up on how upset Liz is about what happened and how Watson is doing whatever he can to lift her spirits. While The Baby-Sitters Club is a wholesome, joyful, warm hug of a TV show and problems are more or less solved by each episode’s conclusion, it doesn’t pretend that bad things don’t happen. Those things happen all the time in Stoneybrook — there’s Mimi’s death, of course, and Mary Anne losing her mother at such a young age, but also things like Stacey’s parents’ imminent divorce. But what the show hammers home time and time again is that while bad things may happen, you’ll always have the support of the people who love you to get you through it. See, I told you this show is a hug. Am I tearing up just thinking about how so many people show up for Kristy at the end of this episode? Yeah, maybe; it’s been a tough year for all of us, okay???
It’s certainly not been the easiest time at the Thomas-Brewer estate. While Liz’s dreams of uniting the two families have been dashed, Watson is over there trying to find some way to lift her spirits. One small way to do so actually ends up right in Liz’s lap. Er, her inbox. Stoneybrook is bringing back its annual Baby Parade to celebrate its 80th anniversary. The Baby Parade is a long-held Stoneybrook tradition that started during World War II where people dress babies up in costumes and parade them around town and a winner for cutest baby or something is selected. It seems like a lot. To celebrate the big anniversary, they’re asking all surviving winners (where’s Sam Richardson to lead a truly harrowing In Memoriam when you need him?) to ride in a float together. Those baby winners include Kristy — and Watson! The year Kristy won, Liz dressed her up as Mrs. Claus. The year Watson won, his grandmother dressed him as baby Nixon, “unironically.” “The costume didn’t age well,” but man, is Watson pumped to be doing this with his stepdaughter. Kristy so badly wants to say no, but she sees how excited her mom is and says yes.
The BSC is all in, too. Not only will making a BSC float be great advertising, but for Claudia, being in this parade is personal. She tells the story of how Mimi and Mary Anne’s mom Alma decided to enter the girls together when they were babies and Mimi made some adorable costumes — they were very kawaii, she explains — but at the last minute, Liz Thomas entered and Kristy won the whole thing. And no, it wasn’t just another example of “white mediocrity superseding the excellence of two women of color,” as Dawn suspects, but there was also some conflict of interest with one of the judges, who happened to be Kristy’s great-aunt. The system was rigged, and now Claudia wants justice! It might be kind of difficult, since the float idea they land on — apologies to Claudia’s avant-garde crop-circles idea — is Mallory’s “the old lady who lived in the shoe.” If you’re wondering how in the hell Mallory’s idea won, it’s mostly because Kristy is very, very distracted.
Liz Thomas receives a second interesting email, this time from Kristy’s dad. He’s coming through town on the day of the Baby Parade and thought it might be nice for the Thomas kids to visit with him, his wife, and their new baby. You can see how much it pains Liz that her terrible ex has a baby, the thing she’s wanted so badly, and you can see how in shock all the kids are that they even have to consider seeing their father again. The Baby-Sitters Club taking on a father-abandonment story line this directly feels like a little step toward maturation for both the show and its characters. Everybody’s growing up.
The show lets the Thomas kids run the gamut of emotions one might feel in this situation. While Sam is angry, David Michael clearly is hopeful and yearning for some time with the father he never knew. Kristy is undecided and mostly worried about her mom at this point.
Then, at a BSC meeting, Stacey opens up to the group about what’s going on at home — that her parents are fighting and her dad has been staying in New York City. She’s scared this could mean divorce. Dawn’s been through a divorce, and she talks Stacey through her emotions and tells her that “whatever happens, it’ll be the right thing,” and Stacey should give her parents the benefit of the doubt. “Parents have a way of meeting expectations,” she says. It might be a bit too sunny of an outlook on the whole thing, but it does reassure Stacey for the moment. And it also gets Kristy thinking. She’s not one to typically “expect the best,” but maybe Dawn’s right, and maybe she should give her father a chance. Even when Sam walks out of family dinner because he’s so angry his other siblings would want to see this guy, Kristy stands firm in her decision. Even when she finally tells the club girls and Mary Anne, who has heard this all before, is suspicious about how okay with all of this Kristy is acting, she stands firm. Part of the reason she won’t change her mind is that she knows how badly David Michael wants this. The kid is even making a photo album as a gift for this guy. During this exercise, Kristy spots a photo of her from the Baby Parade and can tell she’s in her dad’s arms. Suddenly, she thinks she has it figured out: He must have gotten the same email her mom did, and when he thought about the Baby Parade, it must have got him thinking about how much his kids mean to him. Now she’s actually excited about seeing her dad again. Oh, buddy, you know Kristy is headed straight for a broken heart by this point.
The morning of the parade, Kristy is even putting mascara on. Kristy Thomas! Mascara! As excited as Kristy is, she’s still worried about her mom. The two chat in a meaningful and moving way, as they are wont to do. Watson overhears their conversation — about Liz’s feelings about Kristy’s dad being different from Kristy’s feelings about him and how, yes, it was hard to hear about his baby but that ultimately, her kids having someone new to love is a positive thing — and the guy just wants to make sure his girls are okay. He comes in wearing the costume the Baby Parade people are making grown-ass adults wear — a giant baby bonnet — because apparently, those people are deranged, as suspected, and he wants to lighten the mood. Kristy will not give in to this madness; her bonnet is staying firmly off her head.
The conversation takes them outside, where the BSC girls get their float ready, and all hell breaks loose. Mallory’s homemade baby costumes are terrible, so Claudia just uses the costume Mimi made on the baby she’s watching — not that it matters, though, because the float collapses on itself. This is a disaster.
And then it gets worse: Liz gets another email from Kristy’s dad (not even a call, dude), in which he informs her that he isn’t coming after all. He doesn’t say this, but it’s pretty obvious: This guy is the biggest piece of shit. Cheery, enthusiastic Watson is over it. He goes off on how selfish this guy is for doing this to his kids, for abandoning his family, and he doesn’t think Liz is protecting them by not calling him out for this stuff. He’s wearing the baby bonnet the entire time. You guys know I’m president of the Watson Brewer Fan Club, but why. WHY. This whole scene gets so emotional, and I guess it’s meant to lighten the mood, but, like, whyyyyy. Let it be emotional! Because, as it turns out, Watson isn’t the only one who’s angry on the Thomas family’s behalf. Mary Anne gets into it. She’s in tears as she tells Kristy that she’s so tired of watching her father let her down. Her mother, she is sure, would have given anything for even five more minutes with her daughter, so to see Kristy’s dad do this over and over is infuriating, and it isn’t right. Dawn, too, steps in. She doesn’t get to see her dad much because he’s in California, but she never has to doubt he’s there for her because he’s a parent, and that’s what parents are supposed to do. Kristy deserves better.
Then it dawns on Watson that he can provide that. He wants to adopt the Thomas kids officially. All along, they’ve been looking for a way to bring the Brewer and Thomas families together, to make them feel complete, and here was the answer, all along. Kristy has said very little throughout this entire thing, mostly in shock or in tears, and then listening to Watson, she thinks about how he and his unbridled enthusiasm came in “turning things upside down,” and she plops her own giant baby bonnet on her head and tells Watson she loves him before giving him the biggest, loveliest hug. She already has the dad she’s been missing all this time.
Several club members are getting what they really need on the day of the Baby Parade: Mallory finally gets a win by figuring out how to rescue the BSC float, and Claudia gets to honor Mimi when her costume comes in first place. And in a season full of lessons learned, Kristy gets one last one: that real family has little to do with biology and everything to do with loving, supporting, and growing with you, and that a whole host of people surrounds her — a club, if you will — who fit that description. Cue Kate Nash’s version of “Say Hello to Your Friends” and feel the joy.