One of my all-time favorite lines from Six Feet Under was when someone asked Peter Krause’s Nate Fisher character why people had to die. He replied, “To make life important.” This line came back to me as I watched “I’m Still Here.” It’s the second-to-last episode of the season, so of course the Bravermans go from life to death and back again and back again. How many sickbed visits can you cram into one episode? Let’s find out! You probably enjoyed some laughs last week with Oliver Rome and the gang, right? Well, you’re paying for it now, brother.
There is no Zeek or Camille in this episode; presumably, they’re off decorating their new home, leaving their offspring to fend for themselves. Adam has his hands full with his grieving wife as her chemo friend Gwen is on her deathbed, while Kristina fights for her charter school. Unfortunately, I have been in the same bedside chair that Kristina sits in, and her reaction is spot-on, especially her survivor’s guilt after Gwen’s demise. Then Gwen posthumously sends Kristina an oak tree plant, which I’m pretty sure made all of us tear up, followed by a generous donation for the charter school, proving that some of the good we do while we’re here on this Earth may even outlast us.
This Parenthood episode has made me philosophical. Well, look at Hank, for God’s sake. The episode kicks off with Amber struggling to deal with Max, who’s upset about about a schedule change, and Hank knowingly calms him down in moments by appealing to his need to adhere to rules and certain timeframes. Amber correctly dubs them “two peas in a pod.” Later, she gets news that Ryan’s been in an accident, and like a superhero Hank drives her to San Diego. All of Hank’s many therapy sessions this season come to light, as we’ve seen how much he’s working on himself and how far he’s come. Ray Romano is so amazing as this character, we can actually see his cranial wheels spinning: “Ahhh, I don’t know what to do, I don’t want to drive her to San Diego, but I have to, she’s upset, I have to take care of her, even though I’m not sure how to take care of anyone.” The Hank that will let Amber fall asleep on him in the hospital waiting room and doesn’t even want to disturb her so that he can get a magazine is a far cry from previous early versions of the character. It’s a stunning transformation. The fact that he seems to be doing it all for Sarah, with no certainty at all that he will ever again get a chance with her, makes it all the more impressive.
What is it about the Bravermans that makes their girls’ significant others want to be related to the entire clan? Joel seems to be feeling the Braverman pull this week as well. He’s called out by even the horribly titled Peet as a family man. Well, who else would help save his brother-in law’s sub-floor? After Crosby tried to “fix” it with a saw? It probably occurred to Joel that a ruined sub-floor is a lot easier to renew than a marriage. What exists under the surface has been damaged, but Joel and Crosby are able to fix it with some new flooring and a fresh coat of varnish.
Maybe that’s what brings Joel back to Julia’s doorstep, hoping to fix the dishwasher in the same way. This is yet another great one-on-one scene in an episode absolutely lousy with them, especially compared to the couple’s previous, devastating conversation. Just like with the sub-floor, all the real structure is underneath, and even though neither says anything really of consequence, it’s the most hopeful we’ve seen these two lately.
Because we may think we have all the time in the world to stay mad at someone we love, but we don’t. As Nate Fisher implied, life is fragile and fleeting and we really have no time to waste. Kristina is the Braverman shown despairing over the episode title because she’s still here after Gwen fails to be, but we’re all still here. Even though we could get a phone call that could make us drop to our knees on the sidewalk at any moment. So if Joel is indeed a family man, he needs to get back on board. Even Drew, an adolescent caught in the dregs of dorm romance, finally emerges from underneath his swoopy haircut to declare his love for Natalie. Kristina’s friend Gwen can still help her friend from her deathbed. And Hank—Hank!—can change, can go to therapy, can combat years of engrained behavior to become the type of family man that Sarah could lean on.
There’s no time to waste. What’s beautiful about the best of Parenthood is how these fictional yet realistic Bravermans (just like the Fishers before them) can bring these kind of truths home for us. Next week’s finale will no doubt bring everyone all together again, but this week’s episode shows us how and why they got there.
- The last time I subbed for Todd, I neglected to include a Braverman of the week (it would have been Jasmine, for the record), so I’m not going to make that mistake again: Braverman of the week: Hank, man! Hank calming down Max and driving Amber to the hospital!
- “Just watching you hold the saw like that offends me” is the most that I’ve liked Joel in months.
- Standing water is a type of what? It’s a type of water.
- Amber’s car smells like jock straps and burritos.
- Nice big sister/little sister moment with Julia telling Sarah about Mr. Knight: more of these please.
- But what’s with Julia’s wardrobe with the peter pan collars and bad sweater vests? Did she sign up for some secret Berkeley nunnery?
- Hilariously ominous classical music in Drew’s headphones before his mother arrives in his dorm room with the juice cupcakes. Also Sarah’s head-nod toward Natalie.
- Crosby and Joel’s meta-commentary on Adam and Kristina: “They’re so obnoxiously good, those two.” “It’s disgusting.” “Trying to better the city and now this.”
- Aw, Mae Whitman and I both love A Wrinkle In Time, according to her Kindle commercial.
- Apparently, there has been a Haddie sighting.
- Thanks for letting me visit the Bravermans for this emotional episode; not to worry, Todd will be back next week to get you through to the end of the season.