On this week’s Parenthood, in a decision that shocked few, Zeek Braverman (Craig T. Nelson) decided not to go under the knife again. With his cardiac condition worsening, his doctor had made the choice clear: receive additional surgery (either on the spot or after weeks of rest), or prepare for the worst when — not if — the next heart attack comes. Throughout its 13-episode final season, the NBC ensemble drama has been working up to this moment, and now that we’re staring it down, I’m starting to wonder if it’ll actually happen. Instead, it seems Parenthood may just leave Zeek’s death implied, as something that will come in the near future. As tear-jerking as the Jason Katims-helmed series has been throughout its six seasons, the death of the Braverman patriarch seems too much to bear. Think of the Kleenex shortage.
From Kristina’s cancer bout to Joel and Julia’s separation to Crosby fucking it up with Jasmine to Sarah’s various man troubles and Adam’s job woes to Camille and Zeek’s marriage, Parenthood hasn’t once given us anything less than a happy ending, even if it takes a while to get there. The motto of this show might as well be, “Everything will be fine in the end — mom and dad say so.” Kill off dad, and you kill off the heart of Parenthood. Besides, do you think any of these characters could actually handle the emotional blow of their father’s death? There’s no way a happy ending would come out of that event, and there’s no way Parenthood won’t end on a warm note.
A family drama like Six Feet Under, which reckoned with death every single week, had every reason to show the various ways in which Fisher family members died. It made sense as a form of closure with these characters. Parenthood has been so heavy-handed in preparing its viewers for Zeek’s demise, it almost seems too obvious an ending now. With Amber giving birth this week to a baby boy she named Zeek, the circle of life is complete. There’s no need to play out the implied symbolism at this point.
“The season is dealing with the potential loss of someone, I wouldn’t say we’re saying goodbye to somebody,” Katims told The Hollywood Reporter back in September. “They’re dealing with mortality. While we’ve touched on it in season four with Kristina, we’re dealing with it in a very different way in a way. This is something that affects the entire family and it informs what everybody will go through the whole season. Even the storylines that don’t seem like they’re going to be connected to that story, they’re still affected by it. It’s something that definitely influences the whole season.”
Considering the show’s battle for ratings — a constant threat to its very existence as it’s remained “on the bubble” every year — it’s understandable why the writers and especially the network would tease out Zeek’s death all season long. Every promo showing Zeek clutching his chest is another reason to tune in; no one wants to have his death spoiled by Twitter. But there may not even be a death to spoil.
Instead, I think Parenthood fans should expect a cathartic but ultimately hopeful tone for next week’s series finale. Sarah and Hank’s wedding ended up materializing out of just one conversation in this week’s episode. There will be tears, but I’m not betting on them being for Zeek.