The first Parenthood of the post-mayoral election era opens with a sequence of supreme terror, as Bob Little’s shock troops comb the streets of Berkeley, searching for the missing Kristina Braverman, that he might bring her to justice. Hank has offered his photography studio up as a place for her to hide until Ryan can procure the truck needed to spirit her outside of the city limits and off to Haddie, who will be able to protect her with the help of Asmodius, the demon she summoned in her sophomore level conjuring class, but it’s all a fool’s hope. Everyone in Berkeley is looking for Kristina, and there is no chance she will escape when all eyes are turned on her.
Okay, actually, this was just another episode of Parenthood, one of the few shows that doesn’t really bother with things like “midseason finales” because that would get in the way of what it does best. (The big “cliffhanger” here involves the return of an extreme tertiary character to the life of an extreme supporting character, because that’s just how Parenthood rolls.) So the first Parenthood of the post-mayoral election era features… quite a bit of stuff about the mayoral election, actually. Kristina’s sad that she lost, which is understandable, but the episode is all about getting her from that place to a place where she can accept what’s happened. I guess that’s fine and all—though I would beg to differ with her assertion that she would have made a great mayor and Bob Little will make a lousy one—but it feels kind of unnecessary. I wasn’t wrapped into the story of the mayoral election, so I certainly wasn’t wrapped in to how it was making Kristina feel on an emotional level. On the one hand, I kind of liked the way that everybody in her life took their time to remind her that she lost (including people she didn’t know); on the other hand, despite some good scenes and moments, this was something I just didn’t care about.
Still, it was nice to have the show back after a couple of weeks off, one for a holiday and one for Carrie Underwood. In fact, I wager that’s making me a little more charitable toward this episode than I probably should be, considering it sort of felt like it was made up of half-formed ideas pulled down off the “story pitches” board in the show’s writers’ room. Sarah sleeps with her sexy middle-aged guy tenant? Been waiting for that shoe to drop for a while. Drew comes to make piece with hooking up with Natalie, only to overthink it and drive her away? Sounds about right. Crosby is mostly just there to give advice and complain about how long it’s been since he had sex? Oh, you’d better believe that’s the show I love.
The best stuff here is Mae Whitman’s cry face, which could give just about any actor on TV a run for their money. (I seriously want to make a show that’s just Alyson Hannigan, Claire Danes, Mae Whitman, and Michael Sheen crying at each other in an attempt to get the audience to break.) Ryan snapping and beating up the Ashes of Rome guy somehow doesn’t result in charges being pressed against him—something like going to prison would be too gauche for a tangential Braverman—but it does result in Amber wondering how the hell she’s going to make this thing work if he can’t handle his emotions worth a damn. She hems and haws about it and goes to various people for advice. Adam and Crosby are worried he might have been violent with her. Sarah finally admits she might want her daughter to be with someone else. But when the time comes down to it, Ryan’s decided, as alluded to in his conversation with Zeek, that he’s no longer made for civilian life. He makes the unilateral decision to re-enlist in the armed forces, and that’s that.
Now, I don’t know why Amber can’t just become an army wife, other than the fact that she would have to move far away and possibly join the cast of a canceled Lifetime show and that she probably doesn’t want to do that and has personal agency and all. It just strikes me as weird that the show treats it as if Ryan is traveling through time or something where she’ll never get to see him again, when, pretty clearly, he’ll just be sitting around a fort in South Carolina or something for the next few years. But the whole thing is handled beautifully, with Ryan, his mind made up without consulting the woman he loves (good move, buddy), sitting stoically as she weeps, the soundtrack cutting out the sound of her crying for good measure. Then, as if we weren’t already on the verge of wanting to disassemble the military-industrial complex just so these two crazy kids can work it out, she goes over to her mother’s house and cries again, because this show knows how to make you reach for the Kleenex.
Also, Julia kisses Ed. It’s another adventure in extra-marital kissing for the Bravermans (who do a fair amount of it), but I am still liking the way this storyline plays out. Julia goes over to his house when she finds out that he and his wife are splitting up, because she wants to make sure they’re not breaking up because of her, as she is one of the protagonists, so that’s something that would happen to her. But the kiss they share is genuine, and, even more importantly, Julia seems into it, so she has something to feel guilty about. We’re entering a new phase of the “potentially self-destructing relationship” cycle, where Joel and Julia are cognizant of what’s happening to them and are actively working to fix it. But all it takes is one of them fucking up, and Julia just did that, albeit on a small enough scale that the marriage can be fixed with some brutal honesty and counseling or whatever. I’m still more into this story than most of the others on the show, but this all felt a wee bit perfunctory, as if the show knew it needed Julia to kiss Ed to get on to all of the fighting. (Though, honestly, I could see Julia taking this secret to her grave, couldn’t you?)
As mentioned, the rest of the episode was a little scattershot and/or about Kristina traveling through a city that wanted only to remind her of her own failure (even her cancer patient friend sort of laughed at her about this). I liked Adam helping Kristina get closure about her loss by throwing eggs at Bob Little’s giant face, even as it seems like the sort of thing that a TV show does to make sure a storyline is dead and buried. The other storylines felt like they were very much playing support to all of the drama in the big three stories, and it bugs me that I can count the number of stories Sarah has had that don’t involve her love life on one hand, and almost all of those involve Amber. But I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t a little psyched to see Amy show up at Drew’s door instead of Natalie. Let’s see what happens when Drew’s got two lovers (and he ain’t ashamed).
- I’m not gonna lie: I might have enjoyed a good Christmas episode this year, particularly if Haddie had come back and everybody had hugged each other.
- And if that had happened, then Camille could have run in at the end, and everyone would have been excited to have her back! Time seems all wonky this season. Like, I know that it’s still November in Braverman world, but doesn’t it sort of seem like Camille won’t be back until St. Patrick’s Day?
- Did anyone mention Haddie, even tangentially?: To my knowledge, no, but there was so much Kristina in this episode I might have missed a mention of her “three kids” or something. However, we got some rock-solid Nora time.
- I did enjoy that mom who really wanted Kristina—as mayor—to fix the slide at the playground and didn’t realize the local election had been just a few days ago. Sure, Kristina lost by less than 1,000 votes, but if those 1,000 votes were going to be made up of people like that mother, did she even want them?
- The adventures of the increasingly diabolical Sydney Graham: That scene where Sydney told her mom about Ed’s divorce very sweetly and innocently, as if fully aware it would drive a wedge between her parents, made me cackle. Ed’s new place has a pool. Soon. Soon, Sydney Graham will have her revenge.
- Did anybody mention Piecat, even tangentially?: No. Write this running joke nobody but me likes into the show, Katims. I triple-dog dare you.
- That’s all for Parenthood in 2013! It was a bit of a disappointing year for the show, especially after 2012 was so great, but I have high hopes for 2014.