…an episode reminding us all the importance of “eradicating cholera in Mumbai.”
Look, I don’t want to cause you any undo panic or create a crisis or whatever, but right now, you and I (all of us, really) are surrounded by a swirling miasma of #CancerBeams. Leave it to Zeek Braverman to make technophobia positively charming! Also, what other character on television could make a curmudgeonly acceptance of Italian roast coffee seem like a life-changing breakthrough?
But seriously, imminent death and coffee beans aside, this was a very solid episode of Parenthood. Each branch of the Braverman family tree found itself weighted with a quality narrative, but even more important, I sensed a shift in the handling of the season’s most problematically inconsistent character: Joel.
But let’s just dispense with the pleasantries and dive right in, shall we?
Sarah and Hank
Hey, quick question: remember Sarah’s dalliance with playwriting a few seasons ago? For most of us, that plotline has likely faded into something closely resembling a dream,** but doesn’t that speak to this character’s revolving door of haphazard arcs over the years? Sure, Lauren Graham has always been phenomenal, but wow is it refreshing to see her photography career carry over from last season. Sarah Braverman needs more than a male counterpart as the lynchpin of her character’s continuity, and her recent employment by Surf Sports is a great place to start. Plus, more Hank!
**Perhaps because, like the best dreams, Richard Dreyfuss had an extended appearance. But that could totally just be on my end of things.
I just love Hank’s initial disdain over the fact that Sarah beat him out for the gig. He’s been in the industry for twenty years, but he thinks her feminine wiles and not genuine talent gave her the edge. His spontaneous decision to quit (after setting up the big starfish and everything) works great for a few reasons: it allows Sarah to contemplate the possibility that she does have a knack for photo and, perhaps more important, Hank can have a candid chat with Max in the darkroom about the finer points of perseverating. If the entire episode had been these two having a candid chat on the finer points of perseverating, that would have been wonderful.
Of course, Sarah’s decision to shoot the surfing ad on the beach (go figure) rubs the aggressively practical Hank the wrong way initially, but thanks to a firm boot to the rump by #BuddhaMax, he acquiesces and rescinds his resignation. In a wonderful montage, we see how successful the photo shoot is because Sarah might, as it turns out, know a thing or two about a thing or two. Also Hank in sunglasses and a wonderful beach hat. To celebrate (after a reticent concession that Sarah’s idea worked out), the two bop over to the local dive bar for a cocktail.
As refreshing as Sarah’s continued interest in photography is that Hank is not a viable love interest at this point in time. How wonderful to see two grown adults of the opposite sex share a completely healthy friendship. It’s clear there’s more than just a professional relationship underlying their interactions (and that’s fine), but kudos to Parenthood for not just forcing these two back into each other’s romantic lives right off the bat. That kind of writing takes more nuance and deftness, and I for one appreciate it.
What an absolutely fantastic way to rejuvenate Sarah’s character. With her ex-husband’s interest in being a father on the proverbial table as well, things are looking up for Sarah Braverman, narratively speaking! Let’s just hope she doesn’t decide to write a play about it.
Joel and Julia
If I were to boil down the single most successful aspect of this episode, then it would be the clear attempt to reestablish Joel as the guy we all knew so well for four seasons. Was it just me or did I snatch a few glimpses of the old Joel?***
***If your heart didn’t positively tear asunder during Julia’s tear-laden plea for Joel not to give up on her, then you are made of tougher stuff than I am. And then Joel, like, apologizes and wishes they weren’t at this point? You mean he’s empathizing with his wife even if they’re on separate wavelengths? And acting like a real human being? Well golly! There’s a thought!
I mean, yeah, he ended up moving out and peering back at his house through tear-blurred eyes, but the road to that decision felt so much more real and organic. How interesting was the irony of Joel and Julia sort of re-bonding over the planning of how to tell Sydney and Victor about the separation? He even mentioned how excited they were just a year ago for Victor’s adoption! Watching Victor and Sydney playing videogames as siblings, Joel remembers that was all they wanted and asks to push back the news. OMG, that is totes something he would do! Joel, you are in there somewhere! Follow the sound of my voice! We’ll find you yet!
Also worth mentioning, for me, is Victor’s look of stoic denial as the words leave Joel’s mouth–absolutely on the nose and gut-wrenching. That affected me far more deeply than Sydney’s wail of sadness, which I’m sorry to say, sort of annoyed me? I know, I know. I’m terrible. But so are you because you sort of agree with me?
That this plotline then dovetails with Zeek and Camille makes it all the better. There is a veritable convergence at the house that Cancer Beams built, what with Crosby and Jasmine crashing there due to rampant #MoldHysteria. Finally, we get to see Julia break the news to her parents! And perhaps Camille realizes her presence is forever integral to the Braverman clan!
We killed several birds with one very flexible stone here, and it felt so right having it all go down exactly where it did, particularly in light of Zeek’s recent compromise to downsize!
Kristina & Adam
We all knew Kristina would somehow find a way to put her passion for education too good use, but how cool will it be to watch her build a school from the ground up? I don’t want to turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy, but this plotline is going to make me cry SO MUCH. I can see it now.
Her decision comes on the heels of a few revelations. First off, Max’s history teacher keeps sending him to the library when his passionate interest in history interrupts history class. I’m no expert, but isn’t that sort of every teacher’s dream? Oh well, what do I know? Point is, home girl is none too pleased by this and finds herself up against the realities of the American public education system. In addition, Kristina serves as an educational advocate for the mother of a special needs high school student named Ciara.****
****By the way, the mother is played by Tina Holmes, who previously worked opposite Peter Krause in the brilliant-beyond-superlative-usage HBO series Six Feet Under as Maggie Sibley, and in that series, she totally stole Peter Krause away from his wife. So, girl, you best keep your man in check! Mm-hmm!
This is a great next step for Kristina and so true to her character. Can’t wait for more!
Call me a sucker for a handful of #CancerBeams and a dash of #MoldHysteria if you must, but holy cow did this episode go a long way in righting some wrongs plaguing the series in its immediate incarnation (Joel) or as a long-running inconsistency (Sarah). Keep up the awesome work, Parenthood. We’ll see you after the Olympics!
Conversation Around the Dinner Table
– Zeek: “You’re drinking wine and eating ham. What a class.”
Camille: “Have some prosciutto. It’s delicious.”
– Kristina: “I’m going to advocate his ass!”
– Hank: “The boss buys. It’s like California code.”