The longer Parenthood goes on, the more it feels like nothing changes. The parents have kids, start businesses, get sick, whatever — but it’s sort of frustrating to see them fall into the same patterns, get tangled up in one another the same way, and repeat past mistakes. Every once in a while, true progress is made among characters. It’s constantly tested, however, in a way that’s obvious when you see former love interests waltz back into characters’ lives. Whether they “do the right thing” or fold under the pressure of old habits is pretty much always up in the air on Parenthood. The Bravermans are an absurdly nostalgic bunch, after all.
Even when the characters pass these tests, it makes you wonder why they must constantly be tested to begin with, though any observant viewer of TV dramas can understand why on paper: tension and seemingly big decisions make for great entertainment. Why does Mark (Jason Ritter) have to come back into Sarah’s life for the briefest of moments? Moreover, why do I get the impression she would have run off with him had he not mentioned his forthcoming child? She doesn’t. So then she gets to feel good when she tells Hank, who has been emotionally growing at an impressive pace, that she’s happier now despite their situation being less than simple. I just don’t know if I believe her. Despite Hank and Ruby opening things up a little more for Sarah this season, I can’t help feeling like she’s gonna bail before this whole thing’s said and done. It would be a stupid move to have her basically end up where she started: alone, probably living at her parents’ house again (likely following Zeek’s inevitable passing). Like I said, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
In this week’s episode, “Lean In,” there were those who changed, those who thought they changed, and those who were never trying to. When faced with the accusation from Dylan’s parents that she did little to deter Max from harassing their daughter, Kristina falls into the middle category. She feels shame and offers up a compassionate speech to Dylan, Dylan’s parents, and Max. But instead of disciplining Max like she should, Kristina (and Adam) merely explain the situation to him, ultimately coaxing him into apologizing in a mature way. Perhaps I shouldn’t be so focused on the method with which Kristina got Max to “do the right thing,” but it’s just so typically Kristina; I always feel like she’s going easy on Max.
Julia also fell into the “those who thought they changed” camp this week, as she mounted what should have been her divorce finalization with Joel. While dawdling on signing the papers, she loses her new beau, whose name I can’t even bother to remember because he so does not matter now. With every glint of moisture in his eyeballs paired with a heartfelt declaration of redemptive love, Joel proves yet again why he’s the greatest husband on television. I thought I wanted Julia to change as much as she thought she wanted to change. After a comically cheesy lunch at “their spot” (i.e. an old-school Italian restaurant we’ve never heard mentioned in six seasons), Joel and Julia appear to be finito, as their old friends at the restaurant might say. But then Joel busts out those puppy-dog sad-dad eyes when she comes over demanding he sign the papers, and Julia is donezo. They’re actually devouring each other’s faces. Goddamnit that was beautiful.
An equally beautiful moment this week: Zeek changing while honoring tradition. He sneaks around with Drew in order to plan a vacation with Camille in a small village he visited following his tour in Vietnam, located in the South of France. His goal is to spend time with his wife in a special way she’ll appreciate. When Camille spoils the surprise with the most adorable “bad cop” intimidation tactic on Drew, Zeek must reveal to the truth to Camille. She lights up when she hears the romantic plan, abandoning her worrisome facade in the process. Then, in a moment viewers knew would come (but perhaps not so achingly), Zeek takes a turn for the worse. We don’t know how bad it is exactly, but it’s looking like the end, as Parenthood heads into its final four episodes ever.