This is an example of the kind of Parenthood episode that I love. The kind that seamlessly weaves together multiple storylines, that remembers significant parts of characters’ backstories and uses that to help fix a flailing story, that actually gets the wheels moving forward in the plot rather than having them turn and turn but go nowhere, and that balances the dark cloud that’s been hanging over the Bravermans all season with a little joy. There was still plenty of darkness — that will never go away on Parenthood — but this was more enjoyable than many of the previous episodes, and I’m sure it’s no coincidence that it was written by Jason Katims.
The “fraud alert” from the title quickly sets things in motions for Joel and Julia. This season has had a lot of the two of them dancing around this issue of divorce, separating but never really talking about it, hinting at a reconciliation despite the two never having an actual conversation. Recently, there have been small steps such as Joel showing up at the Baptism, but for the most part: nothing. Here, Joel goes on a business dinner with Pete and spends, holy shit, $468 on dinner. Julia is woken up by the bank calling about a fraud alert (because who spends that much at a dinner? For two? What the hell did they eat?) and she’s immediately suspicious, especially because the bill is dated after midnight.
It’s a delicate situation, that limbo between marriage and divorce when you’re not together but not not together and still have things like a joint account and are clueless as to how to go about discussing it. Joel and Julia are green and the awkward questioning that segues into a tearful discussion that could be the end of the marriage is one of the better scenes. It’s also the first scene where I found myself legitimately invested in these two characters and the first time I found myself worrying that they may not have a happy ending. Parenthood is good with the gut punches but I never thought they’d use one here with Joel and Julia’s marriage. Yet, the two finally have a talk and Joel admits that he’s still, understandably, upset and angry with her. He’s hurt deeper than he’s been letting on and we also get the reveal that Joel’s father was unfaithful to his mother — which hey, Parenthood, would’ve been a nice thing to know earlier on if you wanted this all to make more sense — and how that plays into his current relationship. The gist of the conversation, as Joel puts it: “No, we’re not working on our relationship right now.” It’s a stunning statement, but it’s been something that Joel should have said weeks ago (to save both Julia and the viewers a little pain and teasing). I don’t know if Parenthood is going to go all in with a divorce but based on Julia going on a date with Ed — and I think hooking up with Mr. Knight in next episode? — it’s looking more and more like the case. I’d actually prefer it because it’s something different for Parenthood and I’m sure the writers can crank out some truly great material when it comes to the kids.
Speaking of, Parenthood also suddenly remembered that Amber and Drew have gone through the same thing that Sydney and Victor are currently going through! Victor and Sydney are acting out because of their parents: fighting with each other (Sydney continues to be the worst and calls her brother stupid for getting left back), refusing to listen to babysitter Drew, not wanting to do anything, etc. According to Drew, the babysitting gig is “the most depressing $40 I’ve ever made.” It’s an apartment of anger and sadness, but that’s something that Amber and Drew understand.
The next time Drew babysits, Amber makes a surprise visit and takes them all out rollerskating (I guess that’s something people still do in 2014?). The kids are reluctacnt at first and are at their sassiest but Amber, lovely Amber, is patient with them. She sits them down and explains that she understands how they’re feeling and reminds them that at least they have each other to get through this. It’s not overdone and it’s not even terribly eloquent — if nothing else, I commend Parenthood for often peppering their dialogue with “like” and “um” — but that’s why it works so well. And it’s true: if Joel and Julia are headed for hell, and it looks like they are, then Victor and Sydney are going to have to stop their own petty arguments and stick together if they want to make it out without some serious emotional scars.
I’ve talked so much about Joel and Julia’s plot (and by extension, the kids’ plot) that there’s hardly time for anyone else. But there was good all around in “Fraud Alert.” Two parallel father-son storylines, the first with Crosby and Zeek going on a road trip and a peek into Zeek’s mortality worries that ultimately result in him telling Camille they should accept the offer on the house. Second, there was Adam and Max. Max isn’t going to school, and has no intention of ever going back to that school, and Adam tries to cheer him up by taking him surfing. It’s lovely — and later, Kristina joins — because it’s always nice to see Max finding something that he likes.
Then there is the vaguely dull Sarah stuff. Mark (Jason Ritter!) returns, but it’s only to bid farewell: he’s getting engaged. Kudos to the show for not throwing Mark back into Sarah’s love life as I half expected it to do, but I’m still waiting for anything in this Sarah/Hank storyline to catch my attention. There are three episodes left in this season (though it’s looking more and more like this won’t be the last) and I’m curious to see how they’re going to push these characters even further.