‘Parenthood’ Cry of the Week: The Final Cry

If we have watched the Bravermans assemble in a backyard for the last time, the Season 5 finale of Parenthood gave us a lot to cry about, in a good way. With each season, fewer and fewer things happen, and Season 5 posted a new low for number of momentous events. As the action dwindled, so did the tears. Thursday’s finale nearly made up for it, though, with a cry-worthy scene in every act. In no special order, I cried when:

• Kristina reminded Haddie (Haddie’s back!) that, boyfriend or girlfriend, she’d never be upset if Haddie was following her heart.

• Sarah kissed Hank.

• Ryan told Amber he was a problem she couldn’t fix, thus setting her free.

• Victor read his contest-winning essay about learning to fix cars with his grandfather by working on the Pontiac.

• Sydney threw a tantrum because she didn’t want Joel to leave after spending the day celebrating Victor’s big win.

• Joel told Sydney the story of her birth for what, we can assume, was the umpteenth time, with Julia lying beside her until she fell asleep.

• Joel and Julia held hands at the end of the telling of the story.

After an entire season of the tension between Joel and Julia, their subsequent separation, and the interminable wait for them to reconcile, relegating their reunion to a few bullet points on a list may not track. After all, Erika Christensen carried the season impressively, even though her story line became a slog as Joel’s motivation was never fully explained. The quick wrap-up began building last week. Maybe the message is that this fight will ultimately be a minor chapter in the Braverman story, but that’s probably giving the writers too much credit. Joel and Julia are probably talked out, just as I am exhausted from their arguing. I was relieved that their implied makeup came well before the end of the episode, because the finale Cry of the Week came at the very end, untainted by any less-than-weepy individual drama.

If there’s one thing the writers have mastered in five seasons, it’s the episode-closing montage. With a cast this large and with this many concurrent story lines, the montage is something of a necessity. How else can so many narratives find resolution — sometimes temporary, sometimes final — in such an efficient way? This montage, bringing the family together in signature formation, felt earned. Season 5 seemed like it had more disparate story lines than the seasons before, partially because the Joel-Julia separation was so dominant. That strand did not present many opportunities to work in other Bravermans, with a few exceptions, like when Zeek confronted Joel, or when Crosby asked for Joel’s help with flooring. For the most part, we watched each sibling work through individual challenges.

The final montage was particularly affecting because it felt so final. Just because the backyard we’ve come to know is gone, it doesn’t mean the Braverman saga ends. The outdoor string lights move to Adam’s house, and the outdoor dinners continue on in perpetuity. This is how we will remember the Bravermans, even if the show does get renewed again. The lights never go out.

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When we were last faced with the uncertainty of whether we’d be seeing our favorite fictional family, Grantland’s David Jacoby and I imagined what the future might look like for them. In a few cases, our imagined plot lines came to pass (looking at you, Haddie). But as we set off into Braverman limbo, let’s look at what we suggested, at what actually happened in Season 5, and at the prognosis, should there be a sixth season.

Adam Braverman

What we suggested: Adam needs to cut loose. In Seasons 1 through 4, he was uptight, constantly in a frenzy, and overwhelmed by the hurdles of parenting. Even if this is an apt depiction of being a dad, Adam needed to at least try to control his attempts to overmanage everyone. We thought pot would be the best remedy.
What actually happened: Adam did change. With Haddie off at college and Kristina in remission, he directed most of his concern toward Max. Adam encouraged Max to find hobbies, which translated to surfing and photography. It was a season of action for Adam. The final episode featured this decidedly lighthearted guy goofing around with Crosby one last time in their old house, and seemingly taking Haddie’s announcement that she has a girlfriend in stride. (More on that girlfriend later.)
Outlook: Sunny. Adam has been an easy character to root for, because he is the consummate family man. Parenthood pulled off the impressive feat of making a character more relaxed, and somehow more likable.

Kristina Braverman

What we suggested: Introduce Kristina’s family. Last season, her mother never showed up, even though Kristina was on the brink of death.
What actually happened: The only new information we learned about Kristina’s background is that she’s from Cleveland. We guessed Minnesota based on the accent. Close enough.
Outlook: Captivating. Mostly, Kristina’s trajectory this season closely mimics the show overall: Nothing happened. She ran for mayor, but she didn’t win. Presumably, her days are filled with the work required to open a new school, but there are few scenes that confirm this. All her appearances are filmed with an amount of warmth and pathos that make up for any void of realism or activity.

Haddie Braverman

What we suggested: Haddie comes home from Cornell with a girlfriend.
What actually happened: Haddie came home from Cornell with a girlfriend.
Outlook: Blonde. She didn’t return for Christmas last season when her mother was in the hospital, nor did she return to cast a vote for Kristina on Election Day, but Haddie finally came back for summer vacation. She was accompanied by “her extra special friend,” Lauren (played by Tavi Gevinson), and new blonder hair. Considering her long absence and the big revelation, Haddie got little screen time. She was immediately thrust back into the household essentially run by her brother. He walked in on her kissing Lauren, which meant that Haddie wouldn’t have to broach the subject on her own. We saw Haddie’s conversation about Lauren with Adam only as part of the final tear-soaked montage. I’m choosing to believe that calmer Adam just embraced his daughter.

Max Braverman

What we suggested: Max develops his first crush.
What actually happened: Max developed film in Hank’s darkroom.
Outlook: Exposed. While we thought puberty would mean Max found an interest in girls, it actually meant his peers would recognize his differences and ostracize him for them. The most poignant moment of the season came when Max told his parents about how he was bullied on the overnight field trip. It’s hard to know what’s next for Max, but if Hank is any indication, he’ll be just fine.

Nora Braverman

What we suggested: Nothing, because who cares about a baby that isn’t even cute enough to get screen time?
What actually happened: Nothing, because apparently there was only storytelling space for the son of Adam.
Outlook: I think Nora Braverman is going to be the most boring family member. Max is a handful, Haddie is exploring her sexuality, Adam is panicky, and Kristina battled cancer. Someone in this subsect of the clan has to be straight-up vanilla.

Sarah Braverman

What we suggested: Sarah self-publishes a memoir about being an underachiever, which catches Ellen Degeneres’s attention.
What actually happened: Sarah dove into photography, catching the attention of a fictional surfing company.
Outlook: Employed. Sarah had been trapped in love-triangle hell for far too long. She didn’t completely escape it in Season 5, but the Sarah-Hank-Carl plot served to highlight how quickly she sacrifices career for boyfriend. This was probably Lauren Graham’s least screen time in five seasons, but her consolation prize was acting opposite Ray Romano.

Amber Holt

What we suggested: Amber (with Sarah) drives Ryan to rehab, because a drinking problem doesn’t just take care of itself.
What actually happened: Ryan remained an alcoholic, but Amber couldn’t quit him on her own.
Outlook: Like mother, like daughter. Amber did, in fact, road trip for Ryan’s sake, but Hank was her copilot. Ryan crashed his car while driving drunk, which led to medical discharge from the Army, and a hospital quickie with his former fiancée. The final montage showed Amber buying a pregnancy test. We may never know if Amber is with child, but her arc this season reinforced just how much she is like her mother. Amber may be a bit of a mess, but she takes care of her family. Maybe Sarah is not as bad of a mother as she may seem, if she’s able to turn out someone like Amber.

Drew Holt

What we suggested: Drew becomes a successful EDM DJ with an assist from Kreayshawn.
What actually happened: Drew discovered cashew butter, a blue bathrobe, and the attendant pain of just keeping things casual.
Outlook: Virile. Max Braverman may be the one facing puberty, but Drew is the one who broke out of his shell this season. His brooding became the comic relief. So many of the problems facing college kids are incredibly mundane, but the pain is real, and Drew is all heart. It’s impossible not to laugh at some of his struggle — especially when it includes chucking full cans of beer at his dopey but well-intentioned roommate. His newly defined cheekbones will serve him well.

Crosby Braverman

What we suggested: Nothing, because how can you improve upon perfection?
What actually happened: Nothing, because just having Crosby around was enough.
Outlook: Domestic. Season 5 did not have enough Crosby. As he settled into family life with Jasmine, Jabbar, and new baby Aida, the Luncheonette stabilized, too. His biggest problem was the mold in his house. He didn’t have a major arc, but he remains a firm no. 1 atop the Braverman Power Rankings. The birth of Crosby’s daughter gave way to the great Braverman pre-baptism dinner of 2014. Let’s all be thankful for that.

Jasmine and Jabbar Trussell

What we suggested: Nothing, because they are part of Crosby.
What actually happened: Jabbar took a ballet class.
Outlook: Boring. It looks like Crosby and Jasmine may be the happiest of the couples, at least for now. Crosby deserves it.

Aida

What we suggested: Nothing, because she was not yet born.
What actually happened: She was born, and given the worst name possible.
Outlook: Stormy. If Jasmine were an opera singer, “Aida” may have made a little sense. But Jasmine is a dancer. Aida needs an origin story to explain why she has such a bad name.

Julia Graham

What we suggested: Bring back Zoe and the baby Julia almost adopted.
What actually happened: She almost got divorced.
Outlook: Unified. We wanted drama, but not the drama we got. Now that Joel and Julia are back together (or so we assume), let’s get Julia back to work. She was invigorated by the work she did for Adam and Kristina’s new school. Let he be happy!

Joel Graham

What we suggested: Introduce Joel’s parents.
What actually happened: Joel isolated himself from all of his family.
Outlook: Rebuilt. I still don’t fully grasp why Joel needed the separation, but at least it’s over now. I hope he stays working, but not with Peet.

Sydney and Victor Graham

What we suggested: Sydney and Victor rally together against their parents to find an organic sibling bond.
What actually happened: Sydney and Victor kept fighting under the stress of their parents’ separation, but there is hope for them yet.
Outlook: Under construction. In one of the season’s best moments, Amber urged her younger cousins to lean on each other to survive their parents’ divorce. This is not the fight we hoped they would join forces for. How are young kids supposed to band together when their existence is upended? While Sydney settled into her role as family brat, Victor’s story line expanded beyond his otherness. The heartbreak of divorce was best articulated through Victor’s phone call to Julia in the middle of the night, and Joel’s reassurances about how much Victor is loved. Even if Victor’s relationship with his parents has improved, Sydney and Victor are not close yet.

Camille Braverman

What we suggested: Get rid of Camille. Sure, it’d be sad, but no one would really miss her.
What actually happened: Though she did not die, Camille was physically and emotionally absent in the first half of the season while she went on a painting walkabout in Italy.
Outlook: Who cares? As far as I can tell, only one person missed her — Zeek. It’s difficult to pinpoint the moment when it happened, but at some point, the story line about Camille’s frustration with her Berkeley life was abandoned. The second half of the season spent far too much time on the sale of the house. Selling that house was reprehensible. Camille is the worst.

Zeek Braverman

What we suggested: Turn him into a wallowing widower.
What actually happened: He turned into a wallowing husband unable to make dinner for himself.
Outlook: Compromising. Now that Camille and Zeek have sold their house, where will Zeek work on his cars? Victor needs his next project! Zeek spent the season trying to become a better husband. The grandparents are about to start a new phase in a new house. Let’s hope Zeek stays the same.

Filed Under: TV, Juliet Litman, Parenthood, NBC, Crying

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Juliet Litman works on the Grantland Quarterly.

Archive @ julietlitman