‘Parenthood’ Season 5 Episode 21 Recap: “I’m Still Here”

When Parenthood goes for the jugular, it really goes for the jugular. The reason why viewers often joke that Parenthood can often be a full hour of tears — from both the fictional characters and the audience — is because it’s true. The Bravermans love to cry and they cry often; Parenthood loves to makes its audience feel and it does a fine job. But what Parenthood does even better is show how the Bravermans are always there for each other. Even if you’re not a blood relative, but just an honorary member, they will be there.

First, the lighter stuff. Crosby rightfully distrusts the contractors who are giving him outrageous prices for fixing the mold problem in his apartment. He asks for Joel’s opinion, hinting that he wants to DIY the whole project. When Pete (ugh, Pete) reminds Joel that he’s nothing but a big ol’ family man, Joel gives in and helps Crosby. I like what the show is exploring here: Joel isn’t a Braverman, not by blood, but he has gotten thrust into this crazy/beautiful life with them and now he’s suddenly ousted. Plenty of shows have handled divorce or separation but they haven’t really touched upon the delicate situation of still being friends with your ex’s entire family (especially when that family really likes you and is still rooting for you). Joel also uses this opportunity to ask how Julia’s doing.

Julia’s doing fine, Joel, because she just had sex with Dave from Happy Endings. But Julia is having second thoughts because she’s still in love with her husband and also maybe shouldn’t have slept with the guy she’s working with but it all ends up okay! I’m actually proud of Parenthood for not making this a huge thing where either Julia or Dave falls in unrequited lust with the other. They both deal with it maturely, like actual adults, and both agree not to tell Adam or Kristina. Now there’s just the question of whether or not Julia will ever tell Joel. Joel shows up at her house later in the episode ready to fix her washing machine (not a euphemism, unfortunately) but she already had it fixed. It’s a lovely, if not sad, conversation filled with subtext. They aren’t ready to give up on each other and Joel needs to act quickly because Julia’s already got guys fixing her appliances.

It’s finals week at Drew’s college and he’s trying to pass his exams while angrily/dreamily thinking about Natalie. To her credit, Natalie does make several efforts to make things right with Drew but he quickly rebuffs her every move. I love Drew, and I love that he’s this adorable sensitive guy but at this point? He’s being nothing more than a dick, angry at Natalie for no reason. But he finally comes to his senses and asks Natalie to be his girlfriend during some strange finals countdown party (do colleges really do this? Or is it just a TV University thing, like how every dorm is bigger than my apartment or how every party is automatically a toga party?).

Now it’s time for the rough parts of the episode. Kristina learns that her friend from chemotherapy is in the hospital and surely about to die. Everything that involves Kristina this episode is devastating: her sitting next to Gwen’s deathbed and rambling on because she simply doesn’t know what else to do, her breaking down to her husband Adam after Gwen dies, and her being completely racked with survivor’s guilt. They were both sick but Kristina is the one that made it out. Gwen wasn’t so lucky. A distraught Kristina openly wonders why she’s here but Gwen isn’t as Adam struggles to comfort her, explaining that she can’t think that way. He’s right, of course (maybe Peter Krause learned a lot about death on Six Feet Under) but that isn’t going to make her feel much better. It’s hard to comfort someone who is dealing with a friend’s death, especially when she could so easily picture herself in that position.

Parenthood gives us the comfort of a commercial break and another silly “Sarah can’t decide what to do about a guy” conversation with Adam (it’s especially silly juxtaposed with Adam’s last conversation) before socking us in the heart again. After receiving a phone call, a shaken Amber collapses on the ground outside of Hank’s studio. We learn that Ryan, her ex-fiancee, was in an accident and is at a hospital at San Diego. Hank, who has changed so much from his therapy (just look at that opening scene where he easily handles Max! So wonderful) and realizes that the right thing to do is drive Amber. There’s a small, cynical part of me that hates that Parenthood wrote this storyline so Hank could be Amber’s savior and therefore look good in the eyes of her mother, Sarah (because they are definitely getting together in the finale, right? Right). Still, hey, Ryan’s back! We’re unsure of how he’s doing but at least he’s back.

Parenthood continues with the tears: Kristina gets a posthumous gift from Gwen, a small tree to plant and a very generous donation for the charter school. Then in the finale scene, Amber is finally allowed to see Ryan. (As a side note, I really like the similarities between Amber and Sarah that Parenthood points out — even visually, like their similar expressions and hoodie/jeans combo as they hesitantly walk toward Ryan’s room.) Ryan’s roughed up but he’s alive. And we get the number one Parenthood rule: When Amber cries, I cry.

What a great penultimate episode for the season. It’s going to be hard to top this next week but I have no doubt that they will. Plus, Haddie’s back! And she brought home a girl! College!