“Tough Love” S3 / E16
- B+ Community Grade
Let’s say you’re out and about, just doing your thing, and you happen to meet a Braverman. They look over at you and smile. They say, “Hey, we’re just out, having some photogenic family fun. Care to join us?” And you’re so tempted, because your kids are whiny, and you’ve got ice cream all over your fingers, and it’s ever so hot, and they’re running attractively through a sprinkler. But you should not. You should not join them. Because if you do, they will surround you, and they will make you one of them, and you will never escape. The only solution the Bravermans see to an uncertain, terrifying world is to make more Bravermans. Make no mistake about it: You may see yourself as an independent, thinking and feeling human being, but the Bravermans just see you as more potential raw material. They’ll get their hooks in you, Bonnie Bedelia will raise a single eyebrow, and soon, you’ll be having heartfelt phone conversations as guitars pluck away on the soundtrack. You’ll never look back.
Tonight’s episode was full of moments in which one Braverman or another would attempt to turn some other person into a Braverman or confront a fellow family member about how they had strayed from the righteous path. Hell, Mark Cyr is already pretty much an honorary Braverman, since he’s just the best guy to ever have lived, and this was an episode in which he was taken to task for not being a Braverman. (I’m, of course, mildly joking about this, since that scene was very heartfelt and expressed some pretty common emotions in an awkward situation. But he isn’t a Braverman, and that was at least part of the scene’s subtext. Interloper!) Julia tried to turn Zoe into a miniature version of herself. Kristina drove all the way to Sacramento to stop Amber from having red, hot political sex. Max made a friend who turned out to come with two parents Adam and Kristina can turn into new versions of themselves. And Crosby found out his dad’s been keeping secrets.
Let’s start with Julia and Zoe. I actually quite liked this storyline this week, as I have the last couple of weeks. I love the way that Julia, so driven, is realizing that the mother of her son is essentially the exact opposite of her, in that she’s pretty much not driven at all. Julia goes out of her way to get this girl—who doesn’t have her GED or high school diploma, apparently—a job as a paralegal that pays $48,000 per year, which is a tremendous starting salary pretty much anywhere, even in California. But Zoe doesn’t want it. She couldn’t see wearing nylons to work every day. She mostly just wants to hang out and not have to bother with stuff. This is completely bonkers to Julia, who probably spends her free time on Saturdays re-alphabetizing her DVD collection. The relationship between these two women has grown very real over the course of the season, but I like how the series is gently insisting to Julia that, now, it has to return to where it started: an adoptive mother and a birth mother. Pushing things further is an invitation for everybody to get hurt. But Julia’s never met a fixer-upper she couldn’t fix up, so she’s there at the end, running flash cards with the bio-mom.
The continuing adventures of Amber Holt, future blog post on Wonkette (if she has her druthers) also provided a certain amount of frivolity. Now, I think this whole thing is pretty silly, since Bob is so clearly running for a House of Representatives seat (though which district could possibly include both Sacramento and Berkeley?), not a City Council seat, but the show needs to say it’s the latter so it can get away without assigning him a party. The idea that some random city-council candidate would be bussed out to Sacramento to talk to a small businessmen’s association is just bizarre, but I kind of like the idea that he’s using it as a chance to hook up with Amber. What I like is that I can’t quite parse his motivations just yet. He could be a total creep—eminently possible—or he could genuinely be smitten with Amber. The show is sort of playing it both ways, and while I found Kristina’s whole decision to drive all the way to Sacramento to stop the two from hooking up kind of hilarious in just how much of an overreaction it was, she’s certainly got reason to be concerned that if the two are caught, the campaign will be cooked. It’s not like it’s never happened before. I wanted a little more resolution to this, or I wanted Amber to stand up for herself like an adult or something. I guess we’ll have to wait until next week.
The heart of the episode had to do with Sarah and Mark’s plans to have a kid. Drew, who’s got a line because it’s an episode number divisible by four, actually gets a pretty cool storyline here, wherein he becomes upset about the idea that his mom would just… move on, would try to have a life without her first husband. It’s obvious that he knows that Sarah’s not going to stop loving him and Amber, but emotionally, he’s a scared kid, and he just wants things to go back to the way they were. Drew’s always been the one holding out the most hope for his dad, so it’s cool to see a return to that plot. The scenes where he talked with Mark and his mom were both very good, and they were likely the acting high points for Miles Heizer on the show, at least so far. I like that the show doesn’t shy away from complicated emotional moments like this one, even if it sometimes seems like this family is way too up in everybody’s business. That the episode ended with Sarah calling Seth was something that was very satisfying to me. I like the way this show builds its relationships slowly and carefully over time, and having Sarah talk to her ex-husband, who’s rattled by her revelation, was a moment the show’s been working toward for a while.
The other two storylines—Max makes a new friend at school because he refuses to play basketball with the other kids, and Crosby is accidentally given his dad’s pills and figures out something’s up with the old man’s health—were more slight, though probably intentionally so. I figure we’re heading to some sort of moment where Zeek is forced to confess to his family that he’s got these health issues, and you just know Crosby won’t be able to keep it quiet for long. On the other hand, the show has done enough of these, “Max is difficult, but we love him” stories now that I’m curious to see if the show will figure out a way to evolve those arcs even slightly. One of the things I’ve found most interesting this season is seeing how, say, Hattie has been affected by having a younger brother who’s always going to take precedence, and it’s a little jarring to go back to just your normal “Max is a pain, but he has a heart of gold” story. I didn’t hate it or anything, but I’m hoping the show comes up with some other stuff for the character, or at least for the reactions of people around him to what he does.
- Here are some spoilers for the next-week-on package, so skip to the next bullet if you don’t want to know: Good God, is the show really going to have Jasmine declare her love for Crosby?! On the other hand, if Zoe leaves Julia and Joel in the lurch by taking her baby (even though I know this won’t happen), I will be sort of impressed with the show’s willingness to take that story to a dark place. And I’m adopted and would love to have at least one functional adoption depicted on television.
- Seriously, it’s just so goofy how into the whole Berkeley city council campaign everyone in the show’s universe is. Bob must have hundreds, if not thousands, of wealthy donors. What do you suppose his platform is? I hope it’s something to do with guaranteed sex with 19-year-olds.
- When Kristina stormed into that hotel room, it was pretty much the greatest thing ever. I mean, it was completely unrealistic and weird and horrifying, but man, it was so awesome, all the same.