We’re a third of the way through Parenthood’s final season and the most apt description of the season so far is solid. Sure, there are a few troubling bits around the edges—both the foibles of Chambers Academy and the expansion of Hank’s family story are still on shaky ground—but the core Braverman stories are solid, tipping over to great at times. It helps that the two most troubling things aren’t present in this episode, leaving plenty of time for the storylines that are working well to continue to develop nicely.

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The best Braverman story of the night has to go to Max and his quest to get Dylan to like him. After Dylan’s rocky introduction last week (I’m not a fan of television teens who act sassy to adults, as a general rule) things took a definite turn for the positive as Max tries to navigate the tricky world of romantic relationships. What’s so great about this story is that on its surface it’s something we’ve seen a million times, but Max’s Aspberger’s makes everything feel like uncharted territory. Max approaches his crush on Dylan as a problem to be solved, something he can figure out by figuring out the rules and then following them, because that’s how he approaches everything in his life. It leads to some funny moments, like when Max tells Dylan “I need to know the best quantitative representation of your feelings for me.” It also leads to some surprisingly touching moments, especially as Kristina and Adam deal with their very individual reactions to Max’s crush.

Max’s story has long been a way for Parenthood to explore how parents intermingle their own hopes, dreams, and expectations with those of their children—and how that intermingling can be both uplifting and heartbreaking—and Kristina and Adam’s reactions to Max’s affection for Dylan is yet another showcase for this exploration. Adam is all-in on Max’s crush, encouraging him at every moment. Kristina, however, is far more reserved in her enthusiasm, stressing the need to keep Max’s expectations realistic. For Adam, he has to believe someone can love Max, so in a way he can believe in Max’s future happiness. For Kristina, she is so worried that Max’s difficulties will make it so difficult that it will never happen, and she doesn’t want his heart to get broken. In a way they’re both far too extreme, which becomes obvious when they come together in the end to encourage Max in a reserved, hopeful way by focusing on his good qualities so he can emphasize those to Dylan. The entire story is sweet and sad and touching all at the same time. Even Dylan is impressed by Max enough to raise his affection level from a two to a two and a half. Progress!

The story that was the most troubling for me last week was Crosby’s strange freak out, but if the story itself isn’t becoming that clear at least the emotions surrounding that story are coming into focus a bit. Crosby is still very obviously flailing, so much so that Jasmine takes to locking up his motorcycle so he can’t recklessly drive it around all night. Crosby’s reasons for flailing are wrapped up in something like an early midlife crisis, one obviously set off by seeing Zeek struggle with his health. Crosby drunkenly articulates that he seems to feel somewhat smothered by his familial obligations, and gets emotional seeing how weak Zeek still is after his surgery, but this isn’t a clear-cut, black and white story. At first that was something my brain naturally rejected, but in real life, things don’t always have a straight line connecting the dots. Crosby being a mess—and more importantly the people around him not really understanding exactly why he’s a mess—is, well, messy, but messy in a way that feels purposeful, at least as it’s presented in this episode.

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One story with an entirely straight, see-through line from point A to point B is Amber’s new struggle to come to terms with all the way her life is going to change now that she’s decided to keep the baby. It’s manifested here in a vaguely boring way, as she meets a seemingly perfect guy and then must decide whether or not to tell him she’s pregnant right away. It’s pretty standard stuff, really, but what’s making Amber’s story shine this season has much more to do with how her pregnancy is enhancing her relationships with the people around her than anything else. Drew was once again the calm voice of reason Amber needed to work her way through this situation, calmly but firmly telling her she needed to be upfront with her new guy and then comforting her when it didn’t turn out well. Drew’s big brother skills are on point this season.

Finally, there’s the continuing saga of Joel and Julia and the precarious situation they are navigating now that Julia revealed she is dating again. Their relationship is in an extremely tricky place, as Julia is dating Chris but is extremely uncertain of how (or if) she should integrate him into her kids’ lives. It happens accidentally, which Joel naturally finds out about, and leads to an extremely uncomfortable confrontation between Joel and Julia. One of the more remarkable things about Joel and Julia’s entire separation story is how many times the show has sort of switched allegiances between the two, painting Julia as the villain at times and Joel as the villain at other times, whenever the story needed one of them to be the villain. We might finally almost be at the point where both of them are the villain, and at the same time neither of them are the villain. They are both simply trying to figure out how to make any of this work. It’s still pretty clear neither of them have figured it out quite yet.

Stray observations:

  • Braverman of the week: Can Drew win again? I don’t know the rules of this thing I inherited. But Drew continues to give Amber the best advice.
  • “So what base are you on with her?” If people want to teach abstinence in schools, just send the Bravermans to do it. They could horrify anyone into abstaining.
  • Jasmine putting a boot on Crosby’s motorcycle was some hard-core passive aggression. I’m almost impressed.
  • Zeek doing his rehabilitation on the treadmill was surprisingly emotional for such a straightforward, almost clinical scene. Not sure how Parenthood regularly pulls things like that off, but so thankful they do.
  • Sydney and Victor were talking up Chris to Joel so much that it almost felt like a coordinated plot to gaslight Joel into somehow getting their family back together. Sydney is an evil mastermind, so obviously it was her idea.

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