To my twelve readers:
Here’s the short of it: the last two episodes of Parenthood bored me a little (though I am still 100% a supporter of this show). So in this recap, I’m going to ignore the filler (Crosby and Adam signing some ridiculous band to their new label, Adam seeking out a big campaign donation for Kristina from a fake rapper named Mistah R.A.Y, etc etc) and focus on the storylines I found interesting/believable. (The interesting/believable criteria gives me license to ignore the Amber-getting-married-to-clearly-not-a-good-choice-Ryan. I will also willfully ignore the Grandpa Zeek-working-on-his-car-with-grandson-Victor-while-also-simultaneously-teaching-him-to-read storyline, because while I love Coach as much as the next gal, I think this material was worth one scene, tops, and not a lot of space in this blog post.
If you were watching closely, you know there were really just one or two incredible scenes in the last two episodes that felt true to life (at least life as a partnered-up parent), and truth is what I’m always hunting when I watch this show. (That, and an excuse to cry.) So here goes:
1) Julia and Joel fight
Background: Joel is a contractor. He’s married to Julia, the most “together” of the Braverman siblings (this is signaled by all the buttoned-up Oxford shirts she wears and her very tightly-pulled back hair. Also, she wears slacks). Julia was a high-powered lawyer but decided to leave the firm and stay home for a while to spend more time with her kids. Joel, her contractor husband, had been managing most of the home-life stuff for years while Julia made the big bucks, but now he’s back in the breadwinner saddle, and recently acquired a big job with a developer who happens to be female and attractive.
It’s clear to everyone but Joel that his boss is not only taking advantage of him, but also treading dangerously close to inappropriate conduct with a married man/employee. Julia, who, to her credit, has not yet mentioned anything–not even something veiled and passive aggressive–about Peet being female and flirty (this is um, NOT BELIEVABLE) tries to talk to Joel about the situation. There is a scene in their kitchen (I could write a whole post about their kitchen, but I’ll refrain, though people, if you haven’t seen it, it’s a kitchen to behold) where Julia is making school lunches for the kids and Joel is hung over (from his vodka soaked dinner with the home wrecker/his boss). Julia’s trying to tell Joel to push back, to not let Peet walk all over him. He’s putting in more hours than he’s being paid for, Julia’s stressed about income and issues of fairness and YES, she’s nagging him.
But it’s the tension in this scene that brings you to your figurative TV-watching knees. You find yourself waiting for the moment when she pushes too far. You know it’s coming. And just like it is in any loving relationship, Julia can’t help herself. Her inner voice (you imagine) tells her to lay off, but she can’t. Because that inner voice is likely doing battle in her crowded head with another voice that signals her worst fears (you are losing him, you are losing your footing in this marriage, keep talking, there are no rules here). Sure enough, Julia doesn’t stop. And Joel’s anger builds until you, the viewer, are biting your fingernails and Joel aggressively slams his palm on the counter and screams at Julia.
And then everything goes silent.
I swear I’m not over dramatizing here. What we witness in that moment is the beginning of the maybe-end for this couple. If Julia had been floating outside of herself (if Julia were a real person and not a television character, that is) she’d have recognized this. She’d have felt her stomach drop, like when you feel that first moment of turbulence on a small plane. If Julia were a real person, she’d have drifted through the rest of her day with a stone in her chest and woken up the next morning feeling like something terrible happened, but unsure of what. She’d have felt insecure, out of sorts, scared.
2) Kristina lets Max be disappointed
There was one other scene in the last two episodes that struck me as a comment on real-life with kids. It happens between Kristina, my favorite mom on the show, and her teenaged son Max, who has Asperger’s and has recently found photography. The photography thing, we all recognize, is great for Max. It’s an outlet for him; he can hide behind the camera and interact with the world in a way that he’s not comfortable doing otherwise. His energies are directed into something creative.
Subsequently, Max is appointed high school yearbook photographer. Max takes the job seriously and begins snapping his classmates with abandon. But sure enough, Max’s inability to identify social boundaries causes problems. He takes a picture of a girl crying with her friends, and the girl complains, and then suddenly Kristina’s being called into school to talk to the yearbook advisor about Max’s inappropriate behavior. The crying girl’s parents are very angry, and the yearbook advisor tells Kristina he’s going to take Max’s job away and make him do layout or something. Kristina’s nostrils flare and you see her enter Tiger Mom mode. She argues on Max’s behalf and the teacher/advisor tells Kristina something else. He shatters the narrative she’s constructed about her son’s high school experience by saying that the year before, when he served as class president, there were issues. Max is difficult. He hasn’t integrated into school life as well as Kristina might have thought. She’s crest fallen. You, the viewer, are too.
Later, at home, Kristina breaks the crappy news to Max. Max is angry. He waves his arms wildly. He doesn’t look his mother in the eye. He talks a lot about how it’s unjust. At first, Kristina tries to reason with Max. Calmly, she tells him that no, it’s not fair, buddy. And then she does something simple but pretty amazing. She tells him that they’re going to sit there and be mad together. Her face is set and he’s staring at the bedspread and the scene ends with them sitting still that way. No hugs and resolution, no tears, either. They sit there alone, together, with their anger.
I doubt there’s little more painful for a parent than not being able to help a child, sitting by helplessly and allowing them to feel pain–big or small. In some cases, railing against the unjust, when it comes to your kid, is commendable, it’s what we want to do–they are our tiny babies, even when they’re awkward teenagers. We want to champion their causes, keep them smiling. In this case, though, Kristina lets Max experience disappointment. As a parent, I get that this is important, character building. I’ve read the parenting books; I know what the studies cite.
And yet, I dread these moments. Right now, while my daughters are small, my heart breaks a little each time their bottom lips jut out, their tiny faces crumple, over a broken cookie or saying goodbye to a bunny who selfishly hopped away. How will I manage that heartbreak when they’re older, and actual people–people who may or may not intend to hurt my girls, but inevitably will–cause the injustices? When they fail that test, lose that school election, are rejected by that boy or girl, fall flat on their faces as they try to achieve something, how will I support them, when I want to cry, too?
This scene, and the wisdom it imparts, is why this television show continues to be great, despite the filler-scenes and the occasionally boring storylines. Inevitably, there’s always a nugget of perfect truth. Here, that truth is about sitting still. It’s about being quiet, keeping your kid company, and not rescuing him. It’s about learning to just be there when he falls.