A review of tonight's “Parenthood” coming up just as soon as I have my second wedding at a volcano…
“Of course I'm with you. I'm always with you.” -Camille
Where previous seasons of “Parenthood” have been sprawling in their narrative – sometimes following stories for a whole year, and other times taking brief detours for a few weeks – this final edition has been laser-focused on the end, and on bringing everyone's story to some kind of definitive close, even if Zeek is the only one likely to actually die before the end. Staying on such a long, narrow path all season has taken some air out of the show, leading to fewer three-hankie moments so far than I think many of us would have expected going in.
But there can be a power in inevitable moments as well as surprising ones, as our penultimate episode “We Made It Through the Night” demonstrated early and often.
We all assumed, for instance, that Amber would name her baby after Zeek; the only real question was whether he would be alive at the time to meet his first great-grandchild. And yet even though I knew it was coming, the moment when she reveals the name to Zeek and Camille – the first family members other than Sarah invited to meet the l'il guy – I couldn't help myself from being choked up. Those four actors in the room were so great, and the stakes so high – even if Zeek Braverman was here for the birth, odds aren't good for him to be around for many more of Zeek Holt's milestones – that the moment worked, even though the show had signaled it from a mile away.
For that matter, the Camille/Zeek moment I quoted above just about broke me, even though it's another one as relatively predictable as Julia and Joel's reunion. (More on that in a bit.) The show has been laying it on too thick for too long that Zeek wouldn't survive the series, and the brief hints that we might be in for a “thirtysomething”-style fake-out with Crosby or someone else went away a while ago. So the idea that he's done with surgery and will simply enjoy his life until the inevitable happens wasn't a shocker, but the way Bonnie Bedelia played Camille's reaction to the news – and the way the scene was shot so that we were mostly looking at her, and not him – was incredibly powerful. Camille and Bedelia have been underused resources on the show for much of its run – other than the younger kids, she's always been the first one to be squeezed out when other characters need to be serviced – but that moment was almost worth years of having her stand in the background and occasionally get to remind us what she could do.
Also marvelous in this episode: Lauren Graham. She has certainly not lacked for things to do for the life of the series, but so much of that material has involved Sarah's love life, which has rarely been the most interesting part of her story, nor the sort of thing that's let her shine the most. But when she's in a position to play mother, or daughter, or sister – or, now, grandmother – she often shines, and she did it early and often in this one. The scene where she steps out from the fracturous “original six”(*) dinner to check on Zeek was just lovely, as was her duet with Amber on Joni Mitchell's “The Circle Game.” (Can Graham and Mae Whitman just sneak into the Luncheonette to record an album of '60s and '70s folk covers?) The look of mixed emotions on her face with the two Zeeks – overjoyed at the arrival of one, fearful about the impending loss of the other – was a reminder of how great she can be when she isn't stuck in yet another love triangle plotline with Mr. Cyr.
(*) Time to rank various numbered groups, folks. Where would you put the Original Six Bravermans on a list with the Oceanic Six, the Final Five Cylons, Big Hero 6, the Sinister Six, the Bionic Six, Fox Force Five, the Inferior Five and the Fantastic Four?
With the baby born and Zeek's fate more or less determined, the rest of the episode at least acknowledged some of the messy realities on the way to what seem likely to be various happy endings. Adam and Crosby's plans to reopen the Luncheonette fall apart after an impressively ugly fight between the two brothers – and, more importantly, between their wives – in the hospital waiting room. And while Sydney is ecstatic to have her parents back together, Victor (who's older and has also been through a lot more hardship) is understandably wary of whether they can stay together – and his fears are justified when Joel and Julia have to retreat to the family car to have an argument over all the issues (like Julia continuing to work with Chris) they should have resolved before kissing in front of the kids.
With the series ending next week, I'm working on a retrospective piece about the show – and also the era of network drama that may be ending right along with it – and am also dabbling with a Great Moments in “Parenthood” Tear-Jerking piece that may or may not just be screencaps of Mae Whitman sobbing. (I'm open to suggestions on your favorite dust-invoking scenes from the series.)
But as for “We Made It Through the Night,” what did everybody else think?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org