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Parenthood, Ep. 5.10, “All That’s Left is the Hugging” a tidy, satisfying midseason finale

Parenthood, Ep. 5.10, “All That’s Left is the Hugging” a tidy, satisfying midseason finale

Parenthood S05E10 promo pic

Parenthood, Season 5, Episode 10, “All That’s Left is the Hugging”
Written by Sarah Watson
Directed by Jessica Yu
Airs Thursdays at 10pm EST on NBC

This week, on Parenthood: Kristina channels her inner rabble-rouser, Ryan makes a choice, and Julia makes a rookie mistake

“Election Night”, the previous episode, felt very much like a midseason finale, with all of the season’s main arcs (so far) coming to a head or reaching resolution in one way or another. It came as a bit of a surprise, then, to find out that it wasn’t in fact the final episode of the calendar year, but rather the penultimate. After seeing this week’s installment, however, Katims’ choice not to end the year with the plot-heavy “Election Night” makes sense; “All That’s Left is the Hugging” is far more introspective and cathartic, seemingly tying up several of the year’s early arcs tidily while setting up the continuing storylines for what’s undoubtedly going to be a tough second half of the season.

Let’s take stock. Ten episodes into season five, Kristina has recovered significantly from her cancer scare last season and run, unsuccessfully, for mayor. Amber has gone from blissful fiancé to distraught ex, with Ryan no longer happily managing his PTSD and working for Joel, instead choosing to reenlist. Jasmine, Crosby, and Jabbar have adjusted to life with baby Aida and Drew seems to be doing well, for the most part, at college, though the reappearance of his not-baby-momma will likely throw a wrench in things. Sarah is now a professional pet photographer and super who for some reason hasn’t gotten back together with Hank, Camille and Zeek went from the picture of long-wedded bliss to functionally separated, with Camille off painting in Italy, and Joel and Julia went from happily married, each fielding promising potential job offers, to teetering on the brink of separation or divorce. It’s been a busy half-season.

Each of these arcs has had its strengths and weaknesses. The notion of Kristina running for mayor is an interesting one, but only outside of the context of the show. Even putting aside her complete inexperience as a candidate and poor psychological fit for the task, the viewers knew Kristina couldn’t really win, as it would too drastically upset the balance of the show, so watching her run wasn’t the most engaging of storylines. However when the writers were able to bring things back around to her mental and emotional state post-remission, as Sarah Watson does this week, the arc worked surprisingly well. Rose Abdoo continues her fantastic work on the series in this episode and, barring a surprise reversal (a get-out-of-death card the writers seem to know they’ve already used up with Kristina’s recovery), it’ll be a shame to see the character go.

Parenthood S05E10 promo picAmber’s engagement to Ryan has been a rollercoaster to say the least, with the couple hearteningly stable for much of the early season while the drama centered on Sarah and Amber’s relationship, but it’s been a satisfying and affecting ride. Mae Whitman has been a standout and watching her lose Ryan this week is just as painful as Katims and co. must have intended. It seems likely we’ve seen the last of Ryan, at least for a while, and Matt Lauria will be missed. He’s done fantastic work first on Friday Night Lights, then as the likeable if under-examined buddy-cop second lead on The Chicago Code, and now on Parenthood. Hopefully he won’t be long from our televisions. Despite the increasing diagnoses of PTSD among veterans, respectful and honest depictions of the disorder are rare on network TV- it’s a shame Parenthood won’t be bucking this trend in a more long-term manner.

Crosby’s transition into the responsible parent of an infant has mostly been played for comedic effect, but that doesn’t make it any less successful or integral a part of the season. With so much marital strife and discord in the Braverman clan at the moment, levity is sorely needed and Dax Shepard has been a reliable source of comedy for most of the season. From car shopping to Crosby, Love Counselor, this may be the most entertaining and engaging the character’s ever been and while it would be nice to see more of Jasmine and Jabbar, in this crowded field, we’ll take what we can get.

Crosby’s protégé Drew has had a limited role this season and admittedly, his romantic exploits have frequently been the least interesting parts of his episodes, but his transition to college and the strange world of dorm life has provided plenty of fodder for great familial moments, such as Amber and Drew’s coffee break and Drew’s education in Joni Mitchell. Amy popping in, and right as Drew gets de-benefited by his friend Natalie, feels a bit convenient and overly soap opera for this usually far more interesting show, but given the show’s track record, the writers deserve some benefit of the doubt.

Somehow, it took ten episodes for Sarah to hook up with her obviously-a-love-interest tenant. Love triangles have never been an indicator of good things to come for the character, but when the writers have focused on Sarah’s relationship with Amber or her career, or had her trade quips with Hank, she’s been great. After several episodes earlier in the season, and a frankly delightful arc as Max’s photography mentor, Hank has all but disappeared. Hopefully Ray Romano will be back soon. He and Lauren Graham have fantastic chemistry, but even more, his role as a skeptical observer of the Bravermans’ family togetherness tempers the show’s more cloying moments significantly.

Parenthood S05E10 promo picUnlike the rest of the main storylines this season, the rift between Camille and Zeek is all but ignored this week. Camille is still notably absent, presumably painting up a storm in Italy, while Zeek resumes his all-but-forgotten season four role as Ryan’s non-judgmental therapist/fellow veteran support system. The conflict between Camille and Zeek has given Bonnie Bedelia some fantastic moments and has been one of the best and most painfully honest elements this season. In a midseason finale that touches on so many of the lingering arcs, it’s a bit odd to not have this storyline mentioned, but it would be even stranger for Camille to come home amidst everything else that’s going on, without the fanfare and tight focus her return will warrant.

The other continuing arc left to marinate until next year is the damaged relationship of Joel and Julia. Having Julia go over to see Ed and wind up kissing him is straight out of the sappily-melodramatic (as opposed to beautifully, affectingly melodramatic) drama struggling-marriage playbook, and that’s disappointing. That being said, Erika Christensen and David Denman play the scene well and the arc, though it started rather wobbly, has given Christensen her best material of the series. Joel makes strides this week, after coming off as oddly aggressive and distant in the past two episodes, but rather than excited for the juicy material to come, this new development has this critic cautious once more. This is such well-trod dramatic ground that it will be difficult for the writers to make any take on what’s to come next feel fresh or compelling. We’ll have to wait until the new year to see if they can pull it off.

Overall, it’s been a fine season thus far for Parenthood, which remains one of the best, most consistent and compelling network dramas. This season may not yet match the intensity of last year’s cancer arc, but it’s done well continuing on from that and exploring what comes next and this reviewer, for one, can’t wait to see what comes next.

What did you think of the episode? How are you liking the season so far? Do you have any predictions for the back half of the season? Post your thoughts below!

Kate Kulzick