Parenthood’s latest episode, “All that Left is Hugging” is a great insight into relationships- the various ways they break, mend, and stay together. Adam and Kristina have always been the show’s rock solid couple and strong example of how a couple supports and love one another through multiple setbacks in a short period of time. This episode was no different as Adam supports Kristina in dealing with her election loss, and demonstrates, yet again, why he is such a great husband when he gets eggs for Kristina and him to throw at Bob Little’s billboard. He knew exactly what Kristina needed to fully release her frustration and what a brilliant way he chose!
On the other spectrum, we have Julia and Amber fighting to keep their relationships in-tact. Both their relationships have been hampered by communication and identity issues, but each has handled it in a different way. Whereas Julia has reached out to Ed for emotional support when Joel has been irresponsive to her struggles, Amber has kept her emotions to herself despite her challenges in getting Ryan to be more open. I am not surprised that Amber has been more guarded in her thoughts given her past fights with her mom about Ryan, but have wondered throughout this season, how much can she take on her own?
Though the resolution to both relationship dramas was not happy, I enjoyed watching how the conflicts played out. After the previous episode’s explosive fight, Joel and Julia try to patch things up; Joel comes home early to be with the family and he and Julia arrange a date night. In addition, with Joel being around, Julia avoids Ed’s calls, finally realizing how their friendship may be crossing the line. I was glad to see this because I thought it indicated that Julia still needs Joel, and that Julia’s reliance on Ed was more from loneliness rather than wanting to leave Joel outright.
However, after learning Ed is divorcing, Julia visits him to see how he is and also end their friendship. Amidst Ed discussing his woes and Julia trying to comfort him, Ed kisses Julia and she kisses back. Later, Julia is going on a date with Joel, and the guilt is plainly written on her face. I was initially not too thrilled about the kissing plotline when I saw the episode promo, but thought the show handled it in a classy manner (compared, in contrast, to how it dealt with Crosby’s infidelity). I am not condoning Julia’s behavior but thought her kiss stemmed from vulnerability and strong emotions overall – Ed states how it is worse to pretend to be happy than to be miserable and Julia’s facial reactions indicate that is exactly how she feels- rather than attraction. While that is how I view the kissing scenario, I am worried that the fallout from it will be a love-triangle/ soapy storyline and distract from the legitimate issues that drove Joel and Julia apart.
Meanwhile, Ryan and Amber cope with the consequences from Ryan punching the band members. I haven’t been too keen on many of Ryan and Amber’s scenes this season mostly because I have found many to be too mushy. Therefore, I thought their arguing in this episode about Ryan’s problems and their relationship status was a welcome change while still being realistic and true to problems that face many military couples. Mae Whitman and Matt Lauria delivered beautiful performances throughout the episode. My favorite dialogue is when Amber tells Ryan that she had her dream job and how hard she worked for it. This reminded me, oh wait, Amber hasn’t always been mature and has come a long way since the first season and what a bitter twist it is for her dreams to be threatened by the very choices that are supposed to get her life together.
I also enjoyed hearing Ryan’s side through his discussion with Zeek, particularly when he says that despite the physical and emotional wounds from serving in Afghanistan, the work at least gave him structure, unlike what he found in civilian life. I thought that was an interesting and different angle because I am used to thinking and hearing about PTSD as they relate to engaging and seeing violent acts, rather than the disorientation from transitioning from an order, team oriented environment to a more independent lifestyle.
In the end (and after finally speaking with Sarah), Amber tells Ryan that what makes their relationship special is that they each help each other grow from their problems and she wants to continue on their relationship. Ryan has a stoic response and instead declares he has re-enlisted. What I loved most about Matt’s performance in this scene is that we can see his facial muscles clench as he is listening to Amber and then when he finally tells her the news. This facial movement was such a subtle but effective way of showing emotion Amber’s subsequent shocked reaction is one of my top “Mae is such a great actress” moments. In the last two seasons, I have thought Amber’s teariness has sometimes been a little too much, but this moment was not and was perfectly delivered. I also loved the closing scene when Amber goes to talk to Sarah because we actually see the smeared makeup from her crying while most shows try to act as if a woman’s makeup stays perfect despite the tears.
I look forward to seeing what happens next for both couples. Below are other highlights from the episode:
- Crosby trying to convince Drew to evolve from one-woman man to a ladies man- while Crosby is holding his baby daughter. Classic Crosby. I am glad Drew didn’t ultimately take his uncle’s advice because it would be too out of character for him. Plus Drew shouldn’t change himself for a girl who can’t accept him who he is (and is annoying as well!)
- Conversely, I liked that when Adam and Crosby talk to Amber after the Ryan, it is Crosby, not Adam that takes the lead in asking Amber whether Ryan is abusing her. I love seeing protective Crosby come out (we already see that from Adam, not enough from Crosby)
- I hated the whole Carl/Sarah storyline for reasons mentioned in previous reviews – e.g. that Sarah needs to have more plots on her growth and not regression into love triangles- but couldn’t help laugh about Carl’s one liner to Sarah when heat and then lights go off “Now you’re a slumlord”