Parenthood, Season 4, Episode 11, “What To My Wondering Eyes”
Original airdate December 11, 2012
Moving from one show executive produced by Ron Howard and Brian Grazer to another, today’s episode is the most personally effecting episode of television I’ve ever seen. And I say this without any hyperbole whatsoever. “What To My Wondering Eyes”, written by Jason Katims during the series high that was season 4 of Parenthood, is the only hour of television that actually made me cry. As to why, I’ll get to that later.
We begin the episode peeking in on the various Braverman’s as they settle in for the holidays. Joel & Julia (Remember when they were together?) are kissing under fake mistletoe and Victor & Sydney for once are actually acting like siblings and are trying to find the hidden presents. After being busted by Joel & Julia, Victor says that Santa isn’t real, which is news to the then 8 year old Sydney. Amber & Ryan are still together, with Ryan saying that he’s not going home to Wyoming and would rather stay with Amber for Christmas. Crosby, Jasmine and Jabbar are having their first Christmas together as a family with Jabbar clueless as to who Paul Bunyan is. Sarah and Drew have moved back in to Zeke and Camille’s home following her break-up with Mark Cyr (with a nice call back to the 4th season premiere family picture). And Haddie is snowed out on the east coast as Kristina goes overboard with the presents while coughing. But soon her cough turns into a fever and Adam has to rush Kristina to the hospital while getting Crosby to watch the kids. And thus we have the very rare Christmas episode that spends a good chunk of time in the intensive care unit. As Kristina goes into septic shock, Amber finds out about Ryan’s work accident and him quitting the construction job she got Joel to give him which leads to Ryan getting drunk on Christmas Eve and doing damage to her car, Sarah working with Hank at the mall helping him with the moms at Santa’s Workshop over the picture packages which leads to them sleeping together for the first time and Crosby taking care of Max and Nora on top of his own family as he tries (and fails) to keep the news of Kristina in the hospital under wraps. Eventually everyone finds out about this and as Zeke tells the grandkids the story of him seeing Santa and that Christmas brings miracles, Jasmine tells Crosby that she wants another baby, Sarah and Hank kiss and Amber breaks with Ryan (for the 1st time), Adam watches a video on Kristina’s laptop made for their kids.
Four years ago, my mother had breast cancer. And during that time, I was in Toronto at school for something that I wasn’t really that into to begin with. Thus I was thousands of kilometers away as my mother was going through the toughest ordeal she has ever had to face. For a brief moment in time, I actually was Haddie. And even though breast cancer has a low fatality rate and my folks kept telling me to not worry, it was still tough coming home one Christmas to see my mom shave her head due to chemotherapy and be an emotional wreck who had to be sequestered from us, less one of us had a cold that could kill her due to her weakened immune system. It was tough to see this woman who had always been this indestructible Amazonian in spirit be on the couch with barely any energy left in her to even venture into the next room. So when I saw the scene of Adam watching Kristina’s video to her children. Of her pouring her heart and soul out into a message that will very likely be from beyond the grave and Adam breaking down and praying to God, that hit me so hard that it is the one and only time a TV show has ever made me cry. And even during the rewatch for this article, it was enough for me to get welled up. So for that reason alone, it’s enough to make it the most personally affecting episode of television ever produced.
As to how the episode pertains to the holidays, for me it illustrates the fact that Christmas is not a festive and joyous time for everyone. For some people (like Amber and Sarah), they’re going through a break-up. For some (like Hank), they’re alone and have no one to share the holidays with. And for the really unfortunate (Kristina), they’re in the ICU of a hospital on death’s door and fighting for their lives. And while Kristina does pull through and the family comes to bring Christmas to her (along with Victor who may or may not have seen the real Santa as he’s leaving the hospital in an admittedly cheesy moment, but I’m willing to overlook it) and Haddie does make it home, it’s great that the show acknowledges this truth but doesn’t go overboard with it. I understand the reason behind making an intentionally dark, sad and depressing Christmas episode to balance out the cheesy sentimentality that persists amongst them, but sometimes I feel show runners go too far in making them excessively depressing. As a great episode of Parenthood, this one is in the pantheon in my opinion. But just as a Christmas episode that accepts an unspoken truth about the holidays that doesn’t wallow excessively in it, this is another stellar Christmas episode.