Play me a simple song, so I can sing along
Cherry blossoms in spring, they mean everything
In my soul I’m aching to grow
Longing for a love I’ve never known
This was the gut punch episode I’ve been waiting all season to arrive. Not in any sort of anticipatory way, of course, but in the sense that you could feel it coming around the bend a few episodes in advance and knew it would be both a great piece of television and an awful point in some of the Braverman’s lives. With Ryan’s preexisting problems rearing their ugly head once again as Amber tried in vain to stop him, and Julia and Joel unable to turn things around or even have a civil conversation for most of the episode, there was no way the few happy points of the episode could overshadow all of the grief.
Somehow this episode managed to make use of the mayoral election in a way that didn’t make me want to fast forward through all of it. The whole story line has been so incredibly overwrought and pointless that I was so happy this was the week it ended, for better or worse. Of course if Kristina ended up winning the whole thing, leaving us with two seasons of “Kristina Braverman runs Berkeley into the ground and deals with what it’s like to be in politics” I wouldn’t have been OK with that. But since it was more or less apparent that Bob Little would win about halfway through the episode, the time spent with Kristina and Adam (and even Heather) while they played out the string were able to focus on the characters and how they felt about everything that was going on rather than becoming an hour of NBC election day coverage.
Adam’s talk with Kristina just before they went in to vote was so sweet and honest that I almost forgave everything hackneyed that came before simply because it allowed Adam to be completely open with his wife for the first time in a while. Almost. Yes, Adam tells Kristina how much he loves her and values her and supports her a lot, which is one reason they’re the most stable of all the Bravermans, but it was nice to see him come clean about his feelings for the election briefly and without too much crying. Peter Krause plays “caring husband” so well, as we’ve seen over and over again, and if the election story line was stupid for most of the time then at least we got to see this heartfelt moment near the end after so much of the run was surrounded by frustrated or obligated Adam. Backed silently but effectively with the song “Cherry Blossoms” by Night Beds, it was a quiet moment surrounded by craziness, both on a personal level and with the way the episode was staged.
From what I could tell, the same song was also used for the actual cry moment of the last minute campaigning. Gwen showing up in person in her wheelchair with a nurse in tow to vote for Kristina instead of voting from a hospital bed was a beautiful moment. Seeing her so weak, wrapped in the Cancer Sweater (which almost made me cry on sight), and still so adamant that she would be voting for her friend in person was played well by Rose Abdoo and the look in Kristina’s eyes when she turned and saw at what stage of the sickness Gwen was at was such a complicated mix of emotions. In only a few glances, we saw what Kristina saw. That Gwen wouldn’t win the fight like she was lucky enough to do, that she didn’t have that much time left, and that this might be one of the last things she does (mostly) on her own before the cancer takes that away too. Gwen thinking that voting for Kristina was so important that she needed to support in person was so tragic in that it was clear she was just proud that Kristina was able to live her life beyond the sickness. It was such a specific kind of tragic moment, but one that the show has proved it does so well. Bringing the campaign down to little human moments like that should have been the goal all along so I’m pleased the show took advantage before it was too late to salvage anything.
Speaking of salvaging things, how many more episodes do we have before Ryan and Amber are done for good? There’s no way after an arrest of this kind that she’ll forgive him again. I would be upset if she did. That would be something 19 year old Amber would have done two seasons ago. The pain on her face in the police precinct was worse than her other breakups, worse than any screw up with work or boyfriends before, and Mae Whitman sold it like a pro. Calling Zeke instead of her mom or anyone else made clear that Amber knew they were all right about Ryan and she should have seen it before, but just like Camille said when giving advice to Sarah she had to make her own mistakes. It was almost like Amber knew what was coming while she was at the bar. Yes, we’ve been able to see avalanche coming for a while, but for her it looked as if everything fell apart on her at once. The emotion in her voice when doing the backing track for Ashes of Rome might as well have been a “problems at home” alarm. (Side note: Mae Whitman blew me away there.) The conversation with Ryan on the phone at the bar was accompanied by some great acting on Whitman’s side of the phone, as if she knew that was going to be the last even close to civil phone call she would have with Ryan in a long time. I love Matt Lauria and would hate to see him leave the show but it’s definitely time. I feel bad for the nice band member who was trying to help Amber out (and who will probably be a rebound guy) but I can’t defend what Ryan did to Tyson Ritter because he honestly has a super punchable face.
In the other corner, Julia and Joel continue to spiral into an unfixable mess. If before they were coming apart at the seems, here the entire garment came apart. As I’ve said before there isn’t a way to pick sides here, which I applaud the writing staff for week in and week out. Every time you think Julia is in the wrong Joel does something awful and the dynamic switches. It’s such a realistic representation of a relationship in flux and is great material for Joel especially who hasn’t been given this type of material throughout the entire series. I can’t imagine the show breaking up more than one couple in such a big way so close to each other, so there’s a pretty good chance these two work out their problems to a point, but the fact that I can’t imagine how the show will do that effectively is a testament to how great this part of the show has been. The ending conversation in the hotel hallway went a long way towards making them seem just like any other married couple instead of the golden pairing that they’ve been up until now. I could imagine stepping out of an elevator and seeing this argument and imagining how messed up these people must be instead of being part of the normally stable family they are.
All around great hour from Parenthood this week, and a fitting way to send off the mayor’s race.
Snippets From Next Week’s (Next Week in this Case being December 12th) Episode Synopsis Cry Potential Rundown
Maybe Something, Probably Nothing – “Drew asks Crosby for advice on girls”
A Few Sniffles – “Adam shows support for Kristina”
A Tear or Ten – nothing in the description, but if the show continues to operate in real time Camille should be close to coming home next episode. Hmmm….
BRB SOBBING – “Amber confronts Ryan about an issue”