If Parenthood has a significant flaw as a whole, it has to do with the show’s finales, which tend to pile on the melodrama and the happenstance, overloading the series with bloat it can’t quite dig out from under. The epitome of this was the largely awful season-two finale, but both the season-one and season-three finales have had their fair share of weird issues, as if Jason Katims got to the end of the season, then realized he didn’t have four episodes left like he thought he did, then just decided to throw everything he had left into the finale. “Because You’re My Sister” is quite a bit better than that season-two finale, but it also might be the weakest episode of the season, an episode that veers hyperdramatically between scenes where everything works out for no apparent reason and scenes where things are sad, similarly for no apparent reason. Is there good stuff in there? Oh, there’s tons of it. But the construction as a whole feels overburdened, much like last week’s penultimate hour.
It’s tough to explain why this episode didn’t quite work for me, mostly because all of the individual elements did work. (The exception here may have been Sarah’s confusion between Hank and Mark, which felt like the show just giving up on trying to give her a plot that had anything to do with something other than a guy. Remember the halcyon days when it seemed like her getting a job might mean that her romantic life was stable enough to focus on other stuff? Remember?) If I’m forced to answer that question, I suppose I would say that the episode struggled to blend all of the elements together. Parenthood is pretty much second to none when it comes to current TV shows at blending a bunch of storylines of disparate tones into a satisfying whole, but this episode was essentially just a bunch of cheesy, happy stories that pushed the show’s sap level to its very limit. There’s nothing wrong with being a little cheesy—it’s one of the things that makes this show work—but this much cheese is rarely advisable.
Look: We all knew that Kristina was going to come up cancer-free (though I did find it a bit curious how the show seemed to back away from depicting some of the more harrowing moments of her illness in the last few episodes), so I had no problem with that whole story coming to a more or less happy conclusion. Adam’s relief at having his wife back—from the cancer, he said, which I found a nice turn of phrase—led him to purchase a trip to Hawaii that she then forced him to cancel because she had yet to hear she was cancer-free. She was, of course, and of course the episode ended with the two of them going to Hawaii after all, complete with some really weird green-screen work that then gave way to an overhead shot that apparently was meant to mask two people dressed like the characters but not actually the characters. Odd.
If that had been the only bit of cheese, though, it would have been understandable. The characters have come a long way, and they’ve fought so much, and their happiness is still not guaranteed. Giving them a moment to just breathe a sigh of relief was the right way to wrap all of this up. No, what rankled me was that everybody else got to have a Big Happy Moment, too, all of it culminating in what might be the worst scene of the season, when everybody stands in the judge’s chambers and talks about why it’s so great that Victor’s becoming a Braver… er… Graham. While I’ve generally liked the Victor storyline this season, I’d say these last couple of episodes have betrayed how the show’s 15-episode order—which has generally been a very good thing—ultimately let this storyline down. The jump from Victor pitching a bat in Sydney’s general direction after she egged him on to the two of them forming a grudging sibling relationship was just a little too swift. I get that the work isn’t really over, but the desire to give everybody a happy moment by episode’s end put too firm of a button on this. I’m sure in season five, we’ll get lots more of the kids fighting, but Sydney and Victor’s stalemate was a storyline that didn’t work as well as I wanted it to.
But maybe that’s just because I really wanted it to. The early stuff with Victor in this episode—when he’s worried that Julia won’t want to adopt him because he broke some pottery, say—was well-handled, and I’ve loved the way the show has played out the kid’s confusion over the end of his old life and the transition to this new one, particularly in the last few weeks. Now that he came so very close to losing all of this, he’s understandably more compliant, and there’s a great vulnerability the character hasn’t had all season. He knows what he has to do, sure, but he’s also finally willing to do it. Parenthood is usually so good at navigating this kind of emotional terrain that it’s disappointing to see it struggle to thread the needle as well as it might in the last half of the episode, when every Braverman who has ever lived—and then some!—offers words of encouragement for the boy, and the judge, who kept reminding me of Truxton Spangler (and should have been, dammit).
It’s that overkill that also dooms another storyline that had a nice thing going before it pushes one step too far in Crosby and Jasmine dealing with the fallout of his fight with her mother in last week’s episode. Crosby, stubborn as ever, refuses to apologize, so Renee says, hey, she’s totally fine going to move in with her son, in his 700-square-foot apartment. (Speaking of this, I really want to see a spinoff about that living situation.) Crosby is finally pushed to a point where he realizes he’s in the wrong and needs to apologize, and this is the sort of small-scale story this show does so well. But we also get to find out that Jasmine is pregnant! Another baby is on the way! Everything’s coming up Braverman!
Honestly, this isn’t the worst thing in the world. Sometimes, people have ridiculously easy times getting pregnant, and after Julia tried to buy that baby and the writers were only able to save the plotline by the skin of their teeth, Katims is possibly reticent about diving into another “having trouble getting pregnant” storyline. But would it have killed anyone to have just picked up next season with Jasmine already on her way to having a baby, instead of pushing for the oversell in this moment, the Big Happy that makes everything feel just a bit forced? We’ve already got a nice little story about a son-in-law learning to keep his marriage stable by swallowing his pride. Did we really need everything else on top of it?
Probably we did. Probably the show is still worried that it might not come back for another season—don’t worry, show! you will!—and wants to leave everyone in a relatively stable place, while also opening up some fertile storylines for next season. And even as I’m complaining about stuff in this episode, there was still plenty to love, like Drew and Amy talking around her abortion before realizing their college plans were tugging them to opposite coasts, or Sarah having to break the news to Mark that she had opted to stick with Hank. (Here’s another plotline that probably was hurt by the 15-episode order, as Sarah’s commitment to Hank felt a touch forced.) And, hey, any episode that offers up a scene where Amber cries a lot while confessing to Ryan that she still loves him—and floats the possibility of even more Matt Lauria next time around—is okay in my book. There are little moments, here and there, that keep this episode from being bad, even if it feels like an unsatisfactory conclusion to the season as a whole.
But Parenthood is coming off such a terrific season that it’s a little disappointing to see it all futz the landing just a little bit. Katims and his writers are fond of putting big bows on everything, but what makes this series so great is its recognition that life doesn’t come with bows to put on things. Life is messy and incomplete, and you don’t always get the resolution you hoped for. In a final montage that shows the characters at their happiest, the show strains a bit for that feeling of a good moment amid the chaos of life—and even almost gets there with that shot of Mark walking down the school hallway, presumably on his way to the craft services table to fill his briefcase with bagels for his soon-to-be-unemployed actor alter ego—and it comes so very, very close to giving the season the perfect ending it deserves. What’s sad is how pulling back just a bit would have managed the feat.
Finale grade: B
Season grade: A
- Thanks to Carrie and Genevieve for filling in for me these last two weeks. Stepping back into this slot was a tall order after their great reviews.
- Braverman of the week: For various sentimental reasons, I’m going with Victor. Welcome to the family, son. Good luck getting past Amber in the future.
- I’m just going to interpret the many, many characters who seem as if they could become future series regulars in this episode as Katims going mad with power after the series’ ratings more or less held up after The Voice left the schedule. “HADDIE WILL RETURN!” I imagine him shouting in a phone to Robert Greenblatt, “AND SHE WILL BE IN A PLURAL MARRIAGE WITH FIVE OTHERS!” Ryan? Amy? Mark? Hank? New baby? Add ’em all to the cast! Give Nora several pivotal storylines! Hell, bring back Minka Kelly! Make NBC pony up, Katims! Your hour is at hand!
- Drew got into Berkeley, which means he’ll get to stay a series regular, most likely, always lurking in the background until somebody gives him a storyline. I thought this was a nice way to acknowledge that the show was ending its season in January, instead of May, while still pointing the way forward. (That said, it was a touch odd Drew and Amy were so misty about going to separate coasts, since they have, like, eight months to keep hooking up, if they want.)
- Ryan and Amber appear to be looking at rings in the closing montage. Yes, Katims. Add Matt Lauria to the regular cast! You can get away with anything now! (While you’re at it, consider adding the entire cast of Community, who just might be looking for work soon. Let’s see a story where Abed solves mysteries with Camille! Make it happen!)
- Speaking of Camille, let’s get serious and insist that she get something—anything!—to do next season. This was the weakest season for the character yet. Even Zeek gets better storylines.
- Another really nice moment: Hank giving Sarah the camera to give to Max, before asking her to come to Minnesota. It was a subtly appropriate way to draw a link between Hank and Max, who have plenty in common.
- Another serious request: Let’s see some sort of recurring gay character on the show. This series is set in the Bay Area! It seems only natural these people would have some gay friends, and that might be an interesting way to feature some gay couples tackling the questions inherent in the show’s title.
- Final serious request: Let’s deal with some of the class issues the show got into in the past. Remember how Adam and Kristina were going to have to scrimp and save to put Haddie through Cornell? That sorta went out the window, huh? I can accept that the Luncheonette is doing really well, but the sorts of monetary frustrations that drove much of the first three seasons have gone out the window this year, and that’s too bad.
- That’s all for now, folks! With any luck, I’ll be seeing you next fall, on the newly retitled Jason Katims’ Power Hour, with 27 regulars, plus a talking camel only Adam can see or hear!