“Parenthood” returned on Dec. 12 with the emotionally-intense episode, “All That’s Left is the Hugging.”
Now in its fifth season, “Parenthood” continues to be the relatable gift that keeps on giving. There is simply no other show on TV that so boldly and bravely tackles all of the ups and downs, joy and sorrow that a family faces. This week’s installment was chock full of heartwarming and heartbreaking moments that we’ve all faced at some point in our own lives and yes, it was time to get out the Kleenex again.
It Hurts to Let Go
Mae Whitman is such a dynamic, talented actress. She gives such incredible heart to Amber, who is a beautiful, smart, vivacious girl with big ambition. She’s also a hopeless romantic. Neither she nor Ryan (Matt Lauria) was looking to get involved and we’ve watched their troubled and intense relationship evolve over time.
The young couple faces a huge challenge because as a veteran, Ryan suffers from PTSD and as much as he loves Amber, he’s having a terrible time coping with civilian life.
PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) is a very real concern that affects millions of American adults. According to NIH (National Institutes of Health):
- PTSD affects about 7.7 million Americans.
- PTSD is often accompanied by depression, substance abuse, or other anxiety disorders.
- Members of the military exposed to war/combat and other groups at high risk for trauma exposure are at risk for developing PTSD.
- Among veterans returning from the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, PTSD and mild to moderate traumatic brain injury (TBI) are often linked and their symptoms may overlap. Blast waves from explosions can cause TBI, rattling the brain inside the skull.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that PTSD afflicts:
- Almost 31 percent of Vietnam veterans
- As many as 10 percent of Gulf War (Desert Storm) veterans
- 11 percent of veterans of the war in Afghanistan
- 20 percent of Iraqi war veterans
Mae Whitman and Matt Lauria have delivered some heartbreaking scenes as Amber struggles to cope with Ryan’s violent mood swings. He blocks her out, won’t let her in, and refuses to go for treatment. As it stands he’s just been released from custody after beating up a band member in a jealous rage.
This episode finds her finally confronting him, after her uncles ban him from The Luncheonette. She tells him she’s trying to process everything and figure out if she can deal with it moving forward. So, she needs some time and he’s completely taken aback by her honesty.
Amber, who has been shaky about Ryan’s impulsive proposal, is pushed to an emotional edge after the conversation and she doesn’t know what to do. She seeks her mother’s advice. Lauren Graham and Mae Whitman share a very moving scene in which Amber turns to her mother for counsel and comfort as a person she trusts and respects, as opposed to a judgmental parent.
Many of us have been in Sarah’s shoes as a parent, when your adult child who’s essentially a very young and inexperienced adult, faces a bad break up, a huge stumbling block, consequences of a bad choice or some other emotionally taxing situation. As parents it’s hard to remain objective. All we want to do is shield them from pain.
Sarah bravely restrains her emotions and tells her, “I used to worry, in fact, that you would have trouble falling in love. Like, really falling in love because you already had this kind of toughness. And, I would say you’re just so brave and so strong. And I know that no matter what, you can handle it.”
Many of us have also been in Amber’s shoes, afraid to tell our parents something bad or difficult has happened; afraid that we’re going to worry or disappoint them.
The whole scene perfectly embodies a mother/child dynamic and we’re immediately drawn in and pulling for both Amber and Sarah to get through the conversation and come away feeling better.
Sarah tells Amber what she needs to hear. But, when she goes to tell Ryan she knows he’s experienced all kinds of things she can’t even imagine and she’s willing to do whatever it takes to support them, he shocks her by telling her he can’t live “this life” anymore. He reenlisted.
Amber returns broken-hearted to her mother, who pulls her into a tight hug with no words or judgment rendered. Losing your first real love is one of the most difficult losses to bear. As the series so brilliantly displays, a parent’s love is the one thing we can count on in the depths of despair.
Hook Up Hurdle
Miles Heizer has grown up on this show and watching Drew awkwardly navigate his freshman year in college brings back so many memories. Drew has been infamously shy and unlucky in love. He’s never had a strong father figure, so he’s often turned to his sister or one of his uncles for relationship advice.
He’s been hiding serious feelings for his would-be friends-with-benefits, Natalie. The thing is, he wears his heart on his sleeve and as much as he wants to remain “casual” about sleeping with her, it’s not who he is.
Dax Shepherd provides just the right amount of dry wit as Crosby tries to advise his nephew that he’s only young once. He should embrace his youth and freedom and date around. But, he also knows Drew and knows he’s not really cut out to play a Casanova.
When Drew tries to establish some “rules” for hooking up with others, Natalie finally realizes Drew feels more than she thought. She elects to pull away, telling him she never meant to hurt him.
Poor Drew! It’s so tough to be young and in love in a situation where you feel more than the other person does. Many of us have also been in his shoes and Miles Heizer just nails the confusion, hurt and vulnerability that Drew feels. Guys are often expected to put on a brave face and Miles has a keen way of expressing Drew’s inner struggle with trying to do just that. This sequence brings a beautiful and gentle reminder that none of us can be someone we're not and more importantly, we should always strive to stay true to ourselves.
Luckily, he doesn’t have to lament over Natalie too long because there’s a knock on his door and surprise! It’s his high school love, Amy! It’s going to be really interesting to see where they go from here, after all they have endured together as a couple …
Julia Crosses a Marital Line
Julia (Erika Christensen) and Joel (Sam Jaeger) have been struggling ever since they decided to turn the domestic tables. Joel is working long hours and Julia is feeling stressed and under-appreciated as a stay-at-home mom.
They’ve been challenged by Victor’s (Xolo Manduena) school problems and Julia has felt alone and unsupported. So, she starts talking to another unemployed parent, Ed. Their relationship has been innocent, just talking and texting, and then Sydney (Savannah Page Rae) tells her mom that Ed and his wife are separating.
Julia goes to see Ed, to tell him he has to stop calling and texting her. It’s unfair to Joel and inappropriate. She asks if she’s the reason his marriage is failing and he assures her she has nothing to do with it. Julia offers him a hug of condolence, which turns into a kiss and she leaves, feeling guilty and stunned.
To Joel’s credit, he never cheated on her when she worked long hours at the law firm and missed all kinds of moments in Sydney’s life. Lots of couples fall into ruts or face mid-life crisis and it takes a huge commitment in a marriage to pull together and love your way through it, instead of drifting apart.
We’re not sure how things are going to proceed from here. Julia has started down a really slippery slope. She’s broken her wedding vows and if Joel finds out, she may have destroyed her marriage.
Here’s Egg on Your Face
It’s so wonderful Monica Potter is recognized this year with a Best Supporting Actress in a Drama Series Golden Globe nomination. It’s so well-deserved. Kristina’s battle with breast cancer was so moving and inspirational and Monica Potter poured so much passion into depicting the experience in an utterly real and honest way.
With a new lease on life, Kristina ran for Mayor with the hope of effecting change. She lost to Bob Little’s slimy smear campaign by a narrow margin. Being the knight in shining armor that he is, Adam (Peter Krause) buys a carton of eggs and suggests she let off some steam by shooting some at Bob Little’s face on his giant billboard.
Adam and Kristina represent that couple we all know, the high school sweethearts who've defied the odds and stayed blissfully in love for at least twenty years. Yes, they've had bumps in the road. But, more than any couple on the show, they are tried and true partners.
Another great thing about “Parenthood” is how real the dialogue flows between the characters. It’s always so similar to what we’d hear around our own dining room table. The conversation flows so naturally between Adam and Kristina, that it often seems unscripted.
Peter Krause and Monica Potter are adept at showing how lasting love is the most beautiful thing two people can share. It’s life and love-affirming and Adam and Kristina’s relationship continues to be the heartbeat of an incredible series.
Overall, this episode is a series standout as it brilliantly showcases the emotional struggles many of us face. We’re totally invested in the Bravermans and relish the look in the mirror “Parenthood,” as a series, continues to give us.
“Parenthood” airs in Flint on WEYI NBC25 on Thursdays at 10 pm ET.