Television shows that have the luxury of planning out their final season get the leeway to do things that might not work any other time. Characters can make decisions solely to make themselves happy, free from the burden future storytelling often brings. Whole stories can be built upon nostalgia without tipping over into treacle. And, perhaps most pointedly, narratives can shift far more toward character moments rather than plot momentum, as the show heads toward its final stretch. In the wake of Zeek’s big health scare, this is exactly what is happening on Parenthood, and it results in a sweet, couple-centric hour that is the perfect palate cleanser after last week’s emotional episode.
Most of this episode was about people coming to terms with feelings, whether it be their own or someone close to them. The biggest story here is obviously Joel and Julia’s reconciliation, considering their breakup-then-makeup has been a story at least two seasons in the making. What’s great about the way they come back together in this episode is that it’s never a big debate or negotiation; it’s almost as if they come together because they finally realize they can’t stay away. One thing this final season has been good at doing is having characters recognize mistakes they’ve made in the past and then vocalizing those mistakes. Julia’s confession to Joel that she played a big part in why their marriage fell apart feels like an important thing for the show to acknowledge before allowing them to come back together, as is Joel’s promise that he would never walk out on her again. Most importantly, Joel and Julia were just so darn cute throughout the episode that it was tough to resist their reconciliation. The entire sequence where they talked on the phone and then Joel surprised Julia at the ice skating rink and sweetly kissed her in front of the kids was just nice in a way that ended up being achingly sexy. Married couples are allowed to be a lot of things on TV, but sweet and nice is usually pretty far down the list. This episode shows just how wonderful nice can be, and how smart, and how grown up.
Also making big relationship decisions is Sarah, who has essentially been acting like a terrified young fawn ever since Hank proposed in the hospital parking lot. She spends most of the episode going to the women in her family basically trying to get one of them to tell her what to do, which gives us a rare Sarah/Camille scene, and it’s a wonderful thing. The ghost of Sarah’s fight with Camille, the one the precipitated her leaving the family for years, has always quietly hovered over their relationship. Camille acknowledging the event and implying it only mattered that Sarah came back was the kind of scene only a show in its final season could really pull off: nearly silent, everything in the subtext, with years of history reflected simply in how these two women look at each other in this moment. This moment also allows Camille’s advice about Hank to have the full weight of her life experience behind it, to better settle in Sarah’s mind. (“Does he make you happy?” “Yeah.” “What else is there?” Basic advice, but Sarah complicates things so much in her mind that simple is needed.) When Sarah finds Hank helping Amber put together her crib, her answer is easy: Yes, she’ll marry him. Yes, he makes her happy. Happy is enough.
While Julia and Sarah’s stories were about moving forward, Zeek and Adam’s were more about letting go. The Luncheonette storyline feels like the one remaining outlier in Parenthood’s arsenal, a plot-driven story when most other stories have settled purely into character moments. That is, right up until the writers sneakily make this one a character story, too. Adam and Crosby’s disagreement on the future of the Luncheonette would be a season-spanning story in a normal season, with all the fights, stress, and back-and-forth brother tension you could expect from such a fissure. But there’s no time for that here; Adam decides to tell Crosby he’s moving on to do something new, which is forward and very un-Braverman. Adam’s certainty doesn’t last long, however: Jasmine pays him a visit and begs him to reconsider, and to help Crosby realize his dream. It’s an incredibly big thing for Jasmine to ask, and in other circumstances could have been a serious overstep, but she comes from such an obvious place of love and concern that it works, both on me and on Adam. What’s nice about Adam’s turnaround here is that it’s not just Jasmine’s one pep talk that makes him change his mind, it’s also Adam’s recognition that Crosby is in a tough place now, and it’s time for him to help his brother the way his brother helped him when he lost the shoe job. Although Kristina’s worried face makes me worried this decision isn’t going to stick, it’s nice to see Adam realize that—at least for now—his brother needs his support. It’s a nice full-circle moment.
The biggest letting go this week, however, is Zeek finally letting go of the old house. The moving storyline was such a big one for so long, right until Zeek’s health problems became more of a focus. The writers slyly bring it back around here by having Zeek’s illness unknowingly be a catalyst—you can’t tell me there’s any reason Zeek is so anxious to give Amber’s baby his Reggie Jackson baseball other than he knows he’s not going to be around much longer to give it to him. Searching for the baseball brings them back to the old house, where Zeek realizes he hid it in the rafters somewhere many years ago. When the get to the house, they see it changed; it’s a new color, and a new family is settled in. It’s seeing this new family, though, that causes Zeek to realize he can let go of his old house. Zeek and Camille raised a family there, had wonderful memories there, but they took those memories with them. “Let’s go home,” Zeek says, knowing home is where his family is now, not where they were then. The only thing Zeek leaves behind is that baseball, in the rafters for someone to find and use to make new memories.
- Braverman Of The Week: Adam, for putting his brother’s dreams ahead of his own disillusionment with the Luncheonette. Curious to see how this plays out in the coming two weeks.
- Amber’s apartment has never bothered me in the past (except maybe she should lock her door because of murderers?) but raising a small baby there seems like not the best idea.
- Joel squeezing under the bed, while the oldest gag in the book, absolutely tickled me. He has no “silencing the cell phone” game, however.
- Poor Drew finally gets to actually apologize to Zeek about “ruining” his trip to France. Drew’s continued anxiety over this is a nice little character detail for him but man, although Zeek forgives him he was really kind of a jerk to do such a number on him! Drew didn’t actually ruin the trip!
- Amber is finally freaking out about raising the baby alone. Who else thinks Ryan is going to show up with his act together in the next two episodes?