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Parenthood, Ep. 5.17, “Limbo” an accurate, unpleasant depiction of familial strife

Parenthood S05E17 promo image

Parenthood, Season 5, Episode 17, “Limbo”
Written by Jessica Goldberg
Directed by Lawrence Trilling
Airs Thursdays at 10pm EST on NBC

This week, on Parenthood: Sarah rents a printer, Joel shows up, and everyone talks

Parenthood often centers on familial strife, the ups and downs that come with having, and caring for and about, a large family. Unlike the lovefest of “Just Like at Home”, this week’s episode centers on the ugliness that can peek out when a group of overly stressed and tired loved ones sit down to dinner. It’s well depicted, but unfortunately, it’s not particularly pleasant.

The entire episode isn’t devoted to the central pre-Baptism dinner, however. We finally get to see Crosby and Camille sit down and discuss the house situation like adults, an overdue if, again, accurate touch to the continuing saga of Casa del Braverman. As Jasmine states, this is a loss for Crosby. It’s a big deal, and now that he’s had time to process the information, and get a sense of where Camille’s coming from, he understands. While this scene is lovely, and is a much needed counterbalance to the ugly dinner to come, it feels rather anticlimactic. It would have been nice to see this storyline affect another part of Crosby’s life. Yes, his resistance to losing his childhood home was perfectly fitting, but given the amount of screentime devoted to it, and the uncertainty it threw upon the already drawn out Zeek and Camille conflict, it would have been nice to see a greater payoff to Crosby’s growing maturity.

Amber and Drew’s codependence is adorable this week, even if their two situations are far from created equal. Drew may be a great kid (who gets significant points this week for not giving any details about Amy), but it’ll get hard to root for him if he keeps mooning over Natalie. She may not be particularly engaging, but her emotional stupidity and self-centeredness is somewhat refreshing for a recurring collegiate love interest on TV. It’s been interesting to watch the series’ shifting depiction of Natalie since her introduction, first showing the audience Drew’s idealized view of her before putting us in Drew’s roommate’s (or Amber’s, or maybe Crosby’s) shoes as the over-it confidante. She may be fun and pretty, but she’s a stupid freshman and Drew’s connection to her is ridiculously one-sided; just as Amber would, one assumes, have gotten tired of hearing about her by now were she not dealing with her own post-break up trauma, we don’t get why Drew’s so stuck on her and we’re really ready for him to move on. After a shaky first impression, on the other hand, Drew’s roommate earns his stripes this week- he may be clueless, but he means well and does actually care about Drew; for a randomly assigned roommate, you can do a lot worse.

The centerpiece of this episode, however, is the big dinner and, unsurprisingly in a family this big and full of ego-centrists, each of the siblings manages to contribute to ruining the evening. Again, the blown out of proportion slights and passive aggressive asides feel authentic and real; that doesn’t mean they’re interesting. That being said, Jessica Goldberg does an admirable job of making everyone culpable in the various conflicts. Adam and Kristina’s defensiveness about Max’s behavior is downright obnoxious (and not in keeping with their handling of him after other outbursts), but Sarah’s needling about their parenting (as accurate as it may or may not be) only makes things worse. Crosby should’ve mentioned Joel early in his conversation with Adam, but Adam took warrantless offense, and while Sarah’s absolutely right that her unattached status shouldn’t preclude her from godparent consideration, someone who nearly jetsetted off to Africa for a week out of the blue doesn’t get to be surprised that her family doesn’t think of her as a paragon of responsibility.

Parenthood S05E17 promo imageWere the scene to culminate in a different way, however, a lot of this would feel unremarkable. Unfortunately, the result of this bickering and uncomfortableness is a painfully patriarchal and frustrating scene between Zeek and Joel. Zeek going over to Joel’s does feel like something he would do; the fact that his inspirational speech works, that Joel is willing to listen to Zeek when he won’t open up to Julia or Crosby, feels absolutely contrived. This reviewer only started watching in season four, so perhaps there’s backstory others are aware of that helps the scene, but from what we’ve seen recently, do these two have a particularly close relationship? Heck, does Joel have any family of his own? Julia says, in an appreciated moment of audience surrogacy, that she doesn’t recognize this Joel, that she doesn’t understand why he won’t fight for them. The show hasn’t told us this, leaving it to the audience’s imagination to find answers. Perhaps then it shouldn’t be surprising that they do the same thing here, asking us to fill in the gaps of why Joel reacts positively to Zeek’s interference, rather than negatively. Joel and Julia’s reconciliation at this point feels like a foregone conclusion- the fact that the tipping point is not Julia doing something to repair their relationship, but rather a Father Knows Best speech, is aggravating.

On the whole, this episode gives a realistic depiction of the less than conciliatory moments each family experiences from time to time. There are a handful of nice touches, particularly Amber and Drew’s poorly timed high and the mature (if pat and financially unfeasible) resolution to the Sarah, Adam, and Kristina spat, but with this second uneventful or contrived episode in a row, the seams are starting to show. Parenthood needs to get to the season-ending resolutions we all are coming sooner, rather than later.

What did you think of this episode? Anyone else feel bad for Hank, stuck between the Bravermens? How great was it to see Crosby and Jasmine being a functional, supportive couple, amongst the rest of the Braverman drama? Who did you side with on each of the squabbles? Post your thoughts below!

Kate Kulzick


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