Bonnie Bedelia, Peter Krause

“How Did We Get Here?,” Parenthood’s 100th episode, is essentially the distillation of everything the show does best. The episode picks up right where the last episode ended—with Zeek suffering what appears to be a serious heart attack—and then follows the Braverman family in the hospital as they wait for news on his condition. It’s the perfect setting for what is essentially a Braverman bottle episode, with everyone in the cast (minus the younger grandchildren) in one place and nothing else to do but deal with the fact that they could potentially lose Zeek. It’s a prime setup for some of the show’s patented tear-jerking moments, but what’s most interesting is how relatively restrained it ends up being.

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From the very first frame of the episode, the director is preparing you for what looks like imminent doom; the flashing ambulance lights and the dissonant song on the soundtrack force you into disoriented agitation until they dissolve into a simple, mournful melody and recognizable images. There are no sounds of frantic calls between family members because those calls aren’t necessary to convey the drama—the fraught, slow-motion montage conveys the emotion beautifully, before breaking out into the typical Braverman chaos once everyone arrives at the hospital. The sad, slow montage isn’t the Bravermans, and that’s the point: The Bravermans are the loud, overlapping chaos, the comfort in the cacophony. Camille gets her moment of put-on strength, followed by an honest breakdown, but this episode isn’t about Braverman breakdowns, not really. It’s about family and support and showing up, and what you do when you want to do those things but aren’t quite sure how.

How does the episode do this so well? Through Hank, who has by far the most interesting arc throughout the episode. The episode starts with Sarah sneaking out to the hospital without even telling Hank, which is a fairly ominous moment for their relationship. The thing about Hank is he wants to help in this situation but he has absolutely no idea how to do it. He’s a person who knows how to do things, not emotions, and this situation is all about the latter. So to show his support, he gives Drew a ride to the hospital when his car breaks down. He sits in the waiting room looking for some way to be useful, and mostly just seeming lost and being jealous that the helpful role comes so easy to Joel. It’s by far the most relatable he’s ever been, and Hank isn’t a character that’s hard to relate to on a normal day. The thing about Hank’s story is it illustrates that the important thing is showing up—look at how he helped Drew through his worry that Zeek will hate him forever, just by being in the position to do so because he was there—even if all you feel is awkward while doing it. Hank’s story ends with him realizing he wants to be “all in” with Sarah and proposing, and her saying she needs time to think about it. Horrible timing, but perfectly illustrative of his story in the episode as a whole. So what if you don’t get the little details perfect, because at least you were all in. Whether Sarah agrees, well, that’s yet to be seen.

Beyond Hank’s story, most of the drama that isn’t directly related to Zeek’s illness revolves around the Luncheonette. In a spectacular case of bad timing, right when Zeek gets admitted to the hospital someone breaks into the Luncheonette and steals absolutely everything. While Adam wants to take the insurance check and run, Crosby is still interested in keeping his dream alive. The fallout from this difference in opinion is obviously coming in future episodes, so the richness here comes from the lovely conversations Crosby and Adam have with their wives about the future of the business, which are wonderful, supportive little family moments that break up some of the intense emotions of Zeek’s illness.

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Despite the intensity of Zeek’s situation, and despite Hank’s story, and Crosby and Adam’s story with the Luncheonette, there are surprisingly few heartwrenching moments. In fact, the best, most tear-jerking moment of the episode doesn’t involve any sickness at all. After Zeek is out of the woods (for now) and the whole family has spent time visiting him, the story shifts away from the whole family to focus on the women, as they give Amber an impromptu baby shower in the hospital cafeteria. It’s an elegantly simple scene, with all of the Braverman women sitting around a table and reading advice about being a mother they wrote in a book to Amber, but it is one of the most genuinely touching, beautiful scenes of the entire series. It was just six women sitting around and supporting each other, but it was a long, deliberate scene, celebrating these great women and practically basking in the happiness they were deriving from simply being in each other’s presence.

Scenes like this are so rare on television, and it was a perfect way for Parenthood to end its 100th episode, by showing exactly why it will be missed. NPR’s Linda Holmes wrote an article about Parenthood and how dramas of action have completely superseded dramas of emotion in the so-called “golden age of television,” and it’s hard to argue with that conclusion. There are merits to both types of show, but if losing dramas of emotion means losing scenes like Amber’s baby shower, the television landscape will be all the poorer for it.

Stray observations:

  • Braverman Of The Week: Hank! Hank’s not a Braverman but we’re four episodes from the end and I’m making up my own rules, baby, and Hank was great here.
  • Drew breaking down when he couldn’t start the car was heartbreaking. Drew in general was great in this episode.
  • Could they maybe have even mentioned Haddie here? Or the other grandkids? Who was watching all of these children while everyone was at the hospital? I have questions.

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