Parenthood, Ep. 5.21, “I’m Still Here” offers long-overdue character exploration

Parenthood S05E21 promo image

Parenthood - Season 5Parenthood, Season 5, Episode 21, “I’m Still Here”
Written by Ian Deichtman and Kristin Rusk Robinson
Directed by Scott Schaeffer
Airs Thursdays at 10pm EST on NBC

This week, on Parenthood: Kristina visits Gwen, Crosby is pitiful, and Sarah opens up

After months of stalling, last week’s “Cold Feet” jumpstarted all of the series’ stagnating season-long arcs, finally giving the show a bit of momentum. Thankfully that continues this week, with each of the threads not only progressed, but examined in a way they haven’t been for much of the season. Yes it’s easy to infer that Kristina’s impulsiveness this year stems from her cancer scare and exposure to the harsh impartiality and unpredictability of death, and we’ve seen a handful of scenes on this topic over the course of the season. But while there’s plenty to be said for letting the audience read between the lines, at a certain point a character deciding to run for mayor and then open up a new school becomes a difficult pill to swallow (for this reviewer, that point was almost immediately). Showing us Kristina’s anger and frustration over Gwen’s fate gives us the emotional background we needed for these choices and, thanks to Monica Potter’s fantastic performance throughout the episode, builds up substantial reservoirs of empathy for a character whose Mama Bear instincts toward the people and projects she cares about can quickly become aggravating.

Also explored for the first time this season is Sarah’s reticence towards restarting her relationship with Hank. Her conversation with Adam is long overdue, as is the admission that she’s not sure why she’s so hesitant- viewers have been wondering this all season and if the writers didn’t have a reason, they could’ve at least had Sarah express confusion on the issue much, much earlier. The camera may linger too long at the end of the scene, far from helped by the painful Heartfelt Guitar scoring, but the rest of it works and sets up the inevitable finale reunion of Sarah and Hank nicely.

Speaking of inevitable reunions, were there more than one episode left, it would seem this week sets up Julia to move on just in time for Joel to realize he wants her back. Thankfully, it feels unlikely this arc will stretch out through a potential season six, so we should hopefully be able to look forward to some resolution next week. Apparently all it took for Joel to get out of his funk was a little nudge from Peet, who serves as the audience surrogate in this scene, much like Adam does in Sarah’s, reminding Joel that he’s a family guy through and through and all his melodramatic posturing this season has been annoyingly out of character (well, maybe just the first part). Which would be fine, if what prompted this shift had been explored even a little. But unlike with Kristina’s storyline, which left a lot, but not all, of the leg work up to the audience, Joel’s motivations have remained entirely internalized. At least Kristina’s occasionally opened up to Adam. The most we’ve seen Joel talk about any of this is a couple clipped sentences to Julia- he’s been talked at by Zeek and this week, talked to by Crosby, but that’s it and for a character progression as dramatic as this, we needed to see more. Julia, for her part, handles the Knight situation well; it’s a relief that all involved decide to keep Adam and Kristina out of the loop. The Joel and Julia storyline has been a difficult one all season, to the extent that the most heartfelt, enlightening finale conversation in the world couldn’t save it, but at least it’s tried for something and given Erika Christensen some of her best material thus far.

Parenthood S05E21 promo imageThe same cannot be said for the Drew and Natalie relationship, which has been tiresome all season. We have not been given anywhere near enough of a reason to like Natalie, who transitioned from noncommittal to jealously possessive to bitchily acting out without a moment spent giving her any endearing qualities. Yes, Lyndon Smith is lovely and Natalie seems like she could be fun, but that deep connection we see between Drew and Amy? It makes whatever sparks Drew and Natalie might have fizzle in comparison. That being said, at least the writers wrap things up this week, and in an entertaining setting- the Primal Scream seems like a great idea for stressed out students everywhere.

As Zeek and Camille take the week off, that leaves us with Amber and the return of Ryan. Matt Lauria works well with Mae Whitman and his character prompts interesting material for Sarah, so theoretically his popping back up bodes well. That being said, this season reached its quota of Mae Whitman cryface, glorious as it may be, back around episode 13. With Amber just starting to get back to normal, the notion of putting her through the wringer once more less than enthuses. Hopefully in the finale, and next season should it come, we’re in for a surprise and not, as Sarah warily observes in the final shot, a bit of history repeating.

Kate Kulzick

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