This week, on Parenthood: Haddie comes home, Sarah comes to her senses, and Zeek and Camille dance
Parenthood has had an uneven season. After starting the year out promisingly, odd and unexamined character choices started to take over the show, leaving the audience to connect the dots to understand the extreme reactions (or lack of reactions) demonstrated by several characters. Joel, swamped at work (except when he isn’t), reacts poorly to Julia’s indiscretion and leaves. Hank’s back, but he’s not with Sarah, and no one knows why. Kristina runs for mayor, because remission? , and Adam, inspired by her, convinces Crosby to start their own label. Several of these storylines overstayed their welcome, stretched too thinly over the 22-episode season, but fortunately the finale draws more heavily from the narratively energetic start of the season than the slog that was much of its second half.
The clearest tie to the beginning of season five is the titular Pontiac. Victor’s struggles in school made for compelling storytelling, as did his bonding with Zeek over the car, and it’s nice to see both issues returned to here, though how Victor managed to improve his writing so significantly while acting out and dealing with a less stable home life is a bit of a mystery. Joel and Julia are in a familiar place, their relationship repairing, if not to the point where Joel moves back home. This is the biggest surprise of the episode- rather than tidily reset the marriage in the finale, as expected, Jason Katims and co. nudge Joel and Julia towards reconciliation. This restraint is greatly appreciated and feels far more natural than the strained melodrama of their initial separation. Should there be a season six, a patient exploration of the couple’s communication issues and deep-seeded insecurities would be a welcome change- maybe Dr. Pelikan can give them a referral?
Speaking of the good doctor, his time with Hank has paid off and it’s great to see that addressed in this finale. As in last week’s episode, Sarah explores her hesitation towards Hank and while she ultimately makes the decision viewers have been expecting since the premiere, her doing so after having opened up about her fears and concerns puts them in a much more stable position this time around. If there’s a single piece of relationship advice Parenthood preaches time and again, it’s the importance of respectful communication. With both parties’ cards on the table, and Hank having demonstrated that he can at least power through the Braverman hug machine, these two look to be set for the long-term, again, should the series return in the fall.
Another relationship that winds up where viewers expected early on is Drew and Natalie, though this Natalie feels different than the free spirit we met at the start of the season, a more traditional partner for the reliably sweet Drew. The show seems to view this as a positive shift; it feels to this reviewer more like the kind of significant identity disconnect that led Julia and Joel to so much trouble this season. It remains to be seen, however, if their relationship has legs or if Amy will pop back up as Drew’s OTP. For a series that embraces the importance of working through one’s issues, changing to be a more respectful, understanding person, it’s disappointing that Natalie had to be the one to conform to Drew’s image of the ideal partner, and not vice versa.
Given Amber’s status by the end of the episode, however, maybe Drew’s seemingly idyllic young love isn’t so bad. Her conspicuous water drinking in the final scene implies a baby’s on the way, forever tying her to Ryan (yay? Matt Lauria’s great- we’re going yay) and Ryan’s horrible mom (boo!). On another show, viewers would be right to be concerned, but this is Parenthood, and as we’ve seen continuously over the season, Amber is her mother’s daughter. Sarah did a pretty damn good job raising her kids as a single mom; there’s no reason to believe Amber won’t do just a well. Amber the Career Woman may be more interesting than Amber, Scared Young Mom, but anything that gives Mae Whitman more to do, particularly if it lets her character be happy now and again, is a good thing, as we see in this finale. Ryan’s mom may be the Worst, and his decision to go back home with someone he didn’t even want to invite to his wedding may make absolutely no sense, but Annabeth Gish’s scenes with Whitman work very well and provide a nice contrast to the parents we typically see on the show.
The final significant thread this week, aside from Haddie’s long-awaited return and the lovely handling of her relationship (it’s particularly great that the show doesn’t feel the need to define or label her), is Camille and Zeek’s final move out of their home. It’s somewhat of a surprise that Zeek makes it out of the season, though a pleasant one. Seriously, what pathos-drenched family drama gives a character a heart condition, makes him forgetful about taking his pills, has him mention that he’s feeling old, and then doesn’t give him a heart attack just in time for the finale? Of the various season-long arcs, Camille and Zeek’s is by far the most successful, relying on age and well-established stubbornness on both characters’ parts for its conflict, rather than willful and unexamined non-communication. Though the decision to sell the house stalled right along with the other main arcs, this felt more organic, with Crosby and Adam complicating things rather than Camille and Zeek retreading the same argument. With such a large cast, Bonnie Bedelia and Craig T. Nelson are often underserved, but this arc gave Bedelia in particular some of her best material to date and ending the season, and potentially the series, by saying goodbye to the house and passing the backyard dinner down a generation is both endearing and narratively satisfying.
Season five may not be Parenthood’s best, but it started well and ended with two of its best episodes. Hopefully, should the series be picked up, Katims and co. will learn from their experiences this year and go into season six with a better handle on their pacing and more structure to their season-long arcs. There are still plenty of stories to tell with the Bravermans- fingers crossed they get the chance to tell them.