It’s difficult for ensemble dramas to orchestrate action for all, or even most, of their storylines in a single episode. Last week I mentioned that Parenthood set plot points in initial motion for future episodes, and this week, the payoff was huge. “The Scale of Affection Is Fluid” is easily the best episode of the show’s final season thus far, with compelling drama consuming every characters’ arc, besides Sarah and Hank. Max, Amber, Joel, and Crosby — arguably the show’s underdogs — faced hard emotional truths, at times with little hope.
What was particularly moving was the way these characters’ conflicts drew them near specific family members. Oftentimes Parenthood goes for the high-impact group gathering, which I find to be gratingly inaccurate to how big, busy families interact on a weekly basis. This one-on-one counsel seems more realistic, and shows some restraint in terms of the dialogue’s cheese factor (casual sincerity can be hard to pull off in group scenes). Parenthood pulled it off this week for the most part, though the scene where the guys are explaining “the bases,” sexually speaking, to Max was a bit cliched. Joel’s pizza pity party, also, was inadvertently hilarious, at least to me (could not stop screencapping it). Still, lots of quality movement this week. Let’s get into a few individual plots.
SAD DAD JOEL
Julia’s new-old beau ends up at Adam’s house during one of those famous Braverman picnics (see, already the patriarch is shifting to Adam). Somehow he ends up getting roped into playing basketball with the kids (again, sooooo Braverman). This being a network drama and not real life, Joel shows up at the house for reasons we never find out, besides the obvious (loving Julia, needing Julia, Victor forgetting his hoodie at Joel’s apartment, etc.). You know he recognizes that guy as Julia’s ex, you can just tell by the wounded-as-fuck look in his eye. The era of Sad Dad truly starts.
Victor and Syd apparently love this new guy (so does Julia — their relationship really levels up this episode). He knows about basketball and gets ketchup on his fancy tie — what’s not to love?! But Joel, he’s more of a baseball guy (he would be). He suggests lawyers — besides Julia — have questionable morals and tosses two pepperoni slices on his plate with the kind of ease that accompanies heartbreak. Is it bad that I find Sad Dad amusing? It’s only because I know the writers are gonna make Joel fight for his love.
PREGGERS + PROWLING
Amber has a meet-cute with an adorkable tech nerd at a coffee shop, and since she’s still able to squeeze into short-shorts, she convinces herself that dating while pregnant is no big deal. After two fittingly “awww” dates, she tells her sweater-wearing, start-up dreamboat — and he bolts. I sort of want this guy to show up again and make a big plea to “give this crazy thing a try,” but I know that’s just years of rom-com brainwashing. It’s good for Amber to recognize that big decisions have very real consequences on her life. Drew helps her come to that conclusion, and she rewards him with a skeleton bong (ugh, I want a big sister that cool). Also, Ryan is so coming back.
I’M NOT OKAY (I PROMISE)
Zeek Braverman is still struggling, and Crosby finally recognizes that after Zeek takes a tumble at physical therapy. Sadly, it sends Crosby into an even more dramatic, drunken tailspin (really, you’re taking your sick dad to a sports bar? you selfish ass). Jasmine has taken away Crosby’s motorcycle, and though her character seems like absolutely zero fun this season, I find the portrayal realistic. Crosby is, in fact, trying to hurt himself as a way of numbing what he knows is coming: his father’s death. I can sense Crosby’s storyline is about to get real dramatic next episode.
PLAYING THE ODDS
As was established last week, MAX LIKES A GIRL. Apparently Kristina has convinced herself that her son will die alone, so she’s losing her shit in slow motion over Dylan and Max. But Adam is hopeful, and he takes the time to explain the friend zone to his son in a thoughtful way he can actually understand. I thought it was great, the way Kristina and Adam turned romantic attraction into a numeric scale so that Max could understand the emotional nuance of it. He presented his findings to Dylan, who told him it’s not hopeless (2.5/5 on a feelings scale). Max will find a way to win her over, which sounds creepy when I type it, but on screen, it’s touching.