Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Parenthood: “Happy Birthday, Zeek”

Monica Potter
Monica Potter

Parenthood isn’t a show that likes to leave things unsaid. Virtually every emotion any character has is expressed, loudly and usually while someone else is also talking, turning the whole endeavor into a sort of atonal symphony of feelings. It can be overwhelming and off-putting, but it’s also the sneakiest weapon in the show’s emotional arsenal, because it makes the quiet moments stand out in such strong relief. “Happy Birthday, Zeek” was full of moments like these, and the setup almost makes up for the fact that it was easy to see every story beat coming. This isn’t an episode about where everyone ends up; it’s about how and why they get there.

When Zeek collapsed last week it was the beginning of a much bigger story for the whole Braverman family, and while the final destination in this episode was an obvious one, the little moments along the way are what made it great. Stubborn Zeek was always going to refuse the surgery and his family was always going to somehow make him change his mind. The story became a sort of microcosm of the family dynamics between Camille, Zeek, Adam, and Crosby, as Camille asked Adam to intervene, Crosby usurped Adam’s duty despite protestations he would fail, and then Crosby inevitably failed. The idea that Adam and Camille are similar and Crosby and Zeek are similar is so obvious in retrospect that I almost felt stupid for never realizing it before.

But while Zeek was so adamant nothing was wrong with him—and so certain the risk of surgery was greater than the potential rewards—Parenthood had a secret weapon up its sleeve: Amber. The beginning of Zeek’s story was all about the symphony of feelings, with Zeek and Crosby and Adam all loudly expressing their viewpoints. At Zeek’s party, though, this symphony starts to dampen. First by Adam’s quiet, desperate attempt to get Zeek to listen, but ultimately by Amber. Amber and Zeek are each other’s secret weapons, really, and all Zeek has to hear is that Amber is pregnant in order to begin changing his mind.

Zeek doesn’t make Amber change her mind about her pregnancy (there is really no mind to be changed: Amber never outwardly wavers in her intent to keep the baby) but he does make her feel better about herself for it happening, which deepens Amber’s story in a different way. If Zeek’s story was about people loudly expressing every emotion they have, Amber’s story with Sarah was a much calmer affair. What’s compelling about the way this story plays out is although it’s not angry or tense like Zeek’s story was at times, it’s still all about expressing every emotion possible throughout the arc of the story. Just look at how Sarah first reacts to Amber’s news, trying hard to say the “right” thing but just coming off cold. Just look at how Sarah immediately feels regret for her unsympathetic action and vows to fix it. And, finally, just look at how Sarah goes to Amber to give a considered, sympathetic, nurturing response and ends up telling her how she really feels: that it’s too soon, that it will be too hard, and that she hoped Amber would have a fuller life as a young adult than she was able to. Sarah doesn’t end up saying the “right” thing, but she says the only thing she can say. And that’s okay. What caps the story, though, is Sarah’s insistence to Hank that it ultimately doesn’t matter what she wants. Amber getting pregnant might seem like a stifling thing for her character, but in the final season I can’t imagine a better storyline for her to get to play with her mother, and that relationship is incredibly important for the show.

That leaves the Joel and Julia story, which is alternately great and frustrating so far this season. Great, because the show finally feels like it is letting Julia stand up for—and fully articulate—her side of the story, but frustrating because it’s still so very unclear what the hell is going on with Joel. Joel rejected Julia’s overtures for over a year, and now that she’s finally decided to move on, he’s suddenly interested again. He’s wearing his wedding ring. Julia rightly tells him he broke their family (obviously, she has culpability in the destruction of their relationship, but she’s not wrong that he broke them by leaving and not coming back) and he just apologizes. What I still desperately want to know is why he broke their family, and why he wants to come back now. Sydney acting out is an obvious catalyst to bring them back together, and their silent phone call was silently heartbreaking, but there’s still so much of this story that feels unexplored. It’s as if we are all surrounded by the nuclear fallout, but completely missed the bomb. I want to see that bomb.

Stray observations:

  • Braverman of the week: I’m going to have to go for Sydney, who finally became what she’s always been hinted to be: a little monster. (She tried the filling! It sucks!)
  • Chambers Academy Update: Everything is still highly unlikely. Adam is a genius, although I don’t know what kind of genius leaves kids in charge of knives and hot stoves with very little supervision. No actual teachers appear to exist.
  • Adam and Kristina denying Max a photography elective and then making him do the culinary arts elective was a big fuck you, huh?
  • No Haddie. No mention of Haddie. Haddie has disappeared into the netherworld again. (I assume Drew and Nataile were busy having lots of sex, like college kids do.)
  • I loved how Amber and Sarah’s first conversation was just fragments of sentences. Such stark contrast to the verbosity of the rest of the show.
  • Nora has lines and, like, blocking and stuff. It’s impressive and also highly unnecessary?
  • Amber hasn’t ever been awkward with babies before this episode, has she? Stop it, show.