Parenthood, Season 5, Episode 22, “The Pontiac”
4/17/14, 10 PM, NBC
“I know it should make me happy and proud what we accomplished. But the truth is, it makes me kind of sad. Because that car took a really hard year for me and made it pretty decent.”
Even though this is from Victor’s prize winning essay (titled “The Pontiac”, which is where the finale gets its title from) about him working on Zeke’s GTO in relation to Joel and Julia’s marriage falling apart, this quote could be easily talking about season 5 of Parenthood as a whole. It’s an unfortunate trend that happens especially on network TV where a show’s best season is often followed by its worst. And as both a fan of the show and as someone who volunteered to recap the episodes this season, this was a tough one to sit through. Between the boondoggle that was Kristina running for mayor for half the season followed by her starting a charter school (which in comparison was less awful, but no less outlandish), Joel’s unwillingness to fight to keep his and Julia’s marriage together and the back and forth between Sarah and Hank as well as Drew’s love life in college, you could sense that after two seasons of smaller and more contained runs, the 22 episode order (along with Katims working on the About a Boy series) ended up being a burden rather than a blessing for the writing staff. But even amidst this rough year, there were some good moments and great plotlines. If last year was Kristina’s year, then this year was Zeke and Camille’s. But we’ll get to them later.
After two quick shots of Ryan, Amber and Sarah in the hospital, we begin with Haddie flying home for the summer with Lauren (Tavi Gevinson), her “super awesome best friend” in tow. Adam and Kristina welcome her home with open arms (complete with banner) and after settling in to her old room, we find out that Haddie and Lauren are actually dating and Haddie is working up the courage to tell her folks about her new lifestyle choice. Max walks in on them kissing, and in typical Max fashion is not phased in the least since he’s more focused on getting a new suit for graduation. And while Haddie tries to ramp up her coming out to an oblivious Adam, Max just drops the bomb on Kristina as he’s getting his suit tailored. Adam eventually puts two and two together when Lauren says that she loves Haddie and Kristina talks to Haddie who admits that even though she knows her parents are progressive, she was still reticent about coming out to them because she didn’t want to scare them or freak them out. If there’s a more low key version of the coming out scene in another show, I’ve yet to see it.
Moving onto the other big plot of the episode, we return to Amber as she deals with not only Ryan in the hospital (there after a DUI resulted in him flipping his truck and resulting in a medical discharge from the military), but also with Ryan’s mom (played by Annabeth Gish), whose first words to her son upon seeing him in the hospital is “Well you’re a damn mess.” And with that one line, a whole other side of Ryan’s upbringing and home life is explained, as well as why she has no idea who Amber is. For all the Hank haters out there, may I direct your attention towards a character who sees the medical tests as wasting money and Amber being listed as Ryan’s beneficiary as some sort of con, as well as smokes indoors and hits the booze early on in the day. And because he’s been discharged and doesn’t have a pot to piss in (her words, not mine), he’s going back home to Wyoming. After telling her that this isn’t something for her to fix, Amber tearfully says good bye to Ryan, complete with the tell tale dolly of the camera towards the curtains as she and Ryan kiss more intimately. And in the final moments of the finale, Amber goes to the drugstore and buys a pregnancy test. While this reveal might’ve been handled better, I have to say that if the show gets a sixth season (which looks likely this year given that ratings wise it’s held up better than every other show that’s occupied ER‘s former timeslot), I’d be all for Amber being a single mom. To me, the show would truly end when one of the kids actually becomes a parent. Not only for the symmetry that ties into the theme of the show (which is the show’s title, for God’s sake), but also in that over the course of the series, we’d have seen FIVE generations of Braverman. Given that half of the kids are way too young, Drew already had his flirtation with parenting with the abortion plotline, Max is still dealing with Aspbergers and Haddie has her own bourgeoning sexuality to deal with, of course it’s going to be Amber that’ll be the kid with a kid of her own.
The rest of the episode is surprisingly low key for a season (and potentially series) finale. We see Adam and Crosby helping Zeke with the move, since true to Zeke Braverman form he didn’t hire movers. Crosby acts guilty over a birdhouse Camille thinks he made (which in fact he stole from a girl who had the same initials) and Adam and Crosby regress to their ten year old selves by mattress bobsledding down the stairs in a moment that is the closest thing to the show depicting the Braverman’s 30 years ago. Drew pitches in as well, having come home from college after Natalie tells him she loves him as she leaves for Portland. And in the one moment of the finale that I didn’t like, for helping him with the move, Zeke gives the titular Pontiac GTO that’s all done being refurbished to Drew. I sincerely hope that it’s only just to drive up to Portland and not to own. Drew’s a nice kid and all, but he did jack shit when it came to the car. If any grandkid deserved it, it’s Victor. I know he’s still too young to drive, but he has just as much right to ownership as Zeke does. Speaking of Victor, after winning the essay context, him, Sydney, Julia and Joel have a good day together. And after a year of painfully separating, we’re treated to the bittersweet sight of Julia and Joel in a good mood together as they gush proudly for Victor’s accomplishment. Upon returning home, Sydney tearfully begs Joel not to leave and to ruin their perfect day. So he and Julia tuck her in and tell her the story of the day she was born. It’s another sweet scene since it showed us that while the question of Julia and Joel getting back together is still up in the air, they are at least at a point of peace with each other. That they can still parent together without actually being together. As Hank and Sarah drive home from San Diego, Sarah opens up to Hank, telling him that she’s been thinking about what he’s said and that while they’ve been great working together, the Aspberger’s is a big concern of hers and that getting back together is a huge thing for her.
But in the final montage, with another Bob Dylan cover being deployed since it’s the show’s musical secret weapon (this time being Richie Haven’s cover of “The Times They Are A-Changin’”,) we see Sarah kiss Hank and Hank stating that he’s looking at her, Adam and Crosby moving the last table, Haddie, Lauren and Kristina setting up for a backyard dinner, a beautiful dolly of the empty house with Zeke and Camille dancing in the setting sunlight as they have their final walk through, Zeke’s truck driving away from the now empty house, Drew behind the wheel of the Pontiac, everyone except for Joel in Adam and Kristina’s backyard with Adam silently giving his approval to Haddie, Drew surprising Natalie and the rest of the family at the dinner table with Adam at the head of said table. It’s casual, it’s simple, it goes right back to the pilot (which if it ends up becoming the series finale is a nice bit of symmetry). And it helps to end an uneven and sometimes dissatisfying season on an actual high note.
- Best Line of the Night: “Don’t prick me.” Max to the tailor twice as Kristina is processing the bombshell that is her daughter’s sexual orientation. I love how unphased Max is with this new information. And this might be my love for Game of Thrones talking, but I got a bit of a King Joffrey vibe from Max during that scene. Even with Max’s Aspbergers, he’d still be a better boy king than Joffrey.
- Stray Observations:
- Tavi Gevinson was the girl that Julia Louise-Dreyfus befriended in Enough Said, in case if you were wondering if she looked familiar. Although you could’ve also said that she was Michelle Williams’ stand-in or stunt double and I would’ve believed that as well.
- I sure hope Carol Barber got something out of Crosby pawning off her birdhouse as his own.
- This is going to sound so awful, but as sweet as the scene was of Joel telling Sydney about the day she was born, I couldn’t help but think of Scary Movie 3. I am ashamed.
- I thought they handled Haddie coming out incredibly well. It’s very tricky to make a character that had been previously straight suddenly be gay work(For all the good Buffy did with Willow and Tara, Willow suddenly being gay after two years with Oz always felt like it came out of nowhere IMHO), but I thought Katims and Co. did a great job. The dissatisfied look on Haddie’s face post-prom/sex was a great bit of foreshadowing in that regard.
- And again, if season 5 is any character’s year, it’s Camille and Zeke’s. Seeing Camille finally stand up and assert herself in demanding for more out of their lives is the best work Bonnie Bedelia’s done on the series. And seeing Zeke finally being challenged in his ways and to actually grow and change from that was also the best work Craig T. Nelson’s done on the show so far. So whatever you may feel about all the other plotlines this season, you can’t deny that Nelson and Bedelia had the best stuff this year.