Parenthood wrapped up its short fourth season at the end of January in what could have been, but we hope it’s not, a series finale. By that I mean that a good amount of the characters were treated to a happy ending. I’m in an interesting spot with Parenthood where I’m finished with the current season not having watched all of the previous ones. As of this writing, I’m about halfway through season 3. Back in 2010 when Parenthood first came on the scene I gave it a shot for about four weeks before deciding that I was overwhelmed by the size of its cast. My sister knows that I love a good foster care/adoption storyline (see Life Unexpected) as I’m a social worker who used to work with the foster care population, so she alerted me to the fact that Julia and Joel of Parenthood would be involved in a storyline this season about adopting a foster child. That’s all I needed to hear to jump back on the Parenthood bandwagon, and I’m definitely glad I did.
You don’t really see storylines like this presented on TV very often and when they are, they can be very hit or miss as far as how realistically they are portrayed. I try not to get caught up in whether the legal aspect and such make sense because, after all, we are dealing with a 42 minute a week television series that has a lot of ground to cover. It’s sometimes tough to make things like this work when you are dealing with a limited time frame. Not to mention the fact that in Parenthood’s case, we are dealing with a limited amount of episodes because you know it would just be ridiculous to put a little faith in Jason Katims, the guy who created a little show called Friday Night Lights you may have heard of. But I digress. My focus when watching these storylines usually is on whether the show is getting the feelings and emotions of the characters right. Hey, I’m a therapist, what can I say? So basically, my thing is, are these characters acting in ways that make sense? With respect to Parenthood’s adoption storyline, I think they’ve done an excellent job of at least portraying the emotional aspect of this situation in a realistic way.
Since I’ve decided to make my way back into the Parenthood universe, I’ve also decided to go back to the beginning and watch all the episodes I have missed (thank you Netflix!). I’m almost done with season 3, but I already know where the road leads for Julia and Joel. Julia can’t get pregnant again. They want to adopt. The baby they are promised is kept by his biological mother. They are instead paired with fully grown 9 year old boy. And, gosh these two have gone through a lot, haven’t they? Can they get a break anytime soon? I was actually thinking about the episode from season 2 where Joel tells Julia that he will never cheat on her even though he knows they are going to go through a lot as a couple. I kind of wanted to scream at the TV,” dude you have no idea”! With that said, I think as viewers, and even as someone who hasn’t actually watched all of this play out yet, you are kind of waiting for these two to get some sort of a happy ending. So I have to say that as I’ve been watching this season half of me is kind of like, can’t this kid just bond to Julia really quickly so that Julia can finally be happy. On the other hand, being someone who has seen firsthand how different it can be to take in older children versus an infant, I didn’t want the issues that go along with that to be glossed over. Parenthood has not disappointed on that front, and with that Julia continues her tremendous character development. It’s interesting to simultaneously see her so fleshed out this season while also watching season 1 where to me, she is the least developed Braverman sibling. The process for Julia has been one of letting go. Letting go of the control she so desperately needs. Letting go of her safety net. And letting go of the expectations she has for herself and for others.
From the very first episode, the show does not shy away from the tough issues that come with adopting an older child. Julia tells Joel at the end of the first episode, “I feel like I’m waiting to fall in love with our son”. It’s such a real and honest moment and I’m glad the writers allowed Julia to be that vulnerable. Julia doesn’t like to show that she’s struggling with something and it’s a testament to her growth that she admits out loud that things are not going as well or as easily as she hoped. The reality is that, Julia didn’t get the newborn baby that she wanted. You know, the kid with the clean slate. She got a 9 year old boy, with a slate that’s plenty full. So it’s not just about accepting that Victor is now her son, it’s about accepting and yes, eventually loving, everything that goes along with that. And that’s the struggle we see play out for the remainder of the season.
Julia starts off this season with the mindset, if I just show this kid that I love and trust him, it’s going to work. And at first, it does in some ways. The issues begin when Victor gets an ‘A’ on his math test. Julia is so excited; partly because she’s proud of him and partly because it’s some validation that the hard work she’s been putting in for the past few months is finally paying off. Then Victor hits her with the bombshell. He wants to show the test to his “real” mom. What a punch to the stomach that is for Julia. I mean, think about it. She’s quit her job. She’s put Victor ahead of Sydney in some ways. She’s read all the books. All to lose out to the woman who has let her son down time and again. That sucks. Plain and simple. Of course Victor is not doing this maliciously (I’m talking to you, you many Victor haters). His mom is his mom. Julia is at best an acquaintance, at worst a stranger. Of course this leads to a lot of negative interactions that don’t help with the bonding that Julia so desperately craves. When victor is told that he’s not allowed to communicate with his mom, he shuts down, becomes enraged, throws a bat at Sydney, calls the police and claims child abuse, and with all that Julia’s doubts and fears grow. Will Victor ever bond with her? Is she putting Sydney at risk? And most importantly, can she do this?
But the biggest doubt, which comes out so beautifully in a scene with Crosby, is “….if i don’t see something that tells me that someday maybe we can have a loving relationship, then, you know, then I shouldn’t be his mom because he should be able to have that with someone”. In a sense, is she the mother that Victor needs? Is she being fair to Victor? I loved watching this all play out not only because it was juxtaposed against Joel seemingly not having any doubts but also because it shows us that all of the doubts aren’t coming from a selfish place at all. They are coming from a place of love and caring. Before this scene, it sometimes felt like Joel was just willing to accept that Victor might take a while to bond with the family, but that Julia was wanting it to happen right away it suit her own need of feeling loved by Victor right away. Julia is stuck between a rock and a hard place because I think Erika Christensen is right. I don’t think she could forgive herself if she gives up on Victor. But I don’t think she could forgive herself is she really isn’t the right choice for him either. The conversation with Crosby, besides being one of the best interactions of the season, really puts things in perspective for Julia and gives her the push that she needs. And with that Julia let’s go. She lets go of thinking that she can completely control this situation. She lets go of the safety net that is thinking she can give Victor back. She lets go of the expectation that Victor is going to magically be fully adjusted to her home. And most importantly, she lets go of the idea that she has to be the perfect mom to Victor. I love, love, love the scene where she tells Victor that they are going to finalize his adoption and asks if that sounds good to him. It’s so true to her character and the way she has been presenting all season. She not only wants, but needs Victor’s approval. Because if he’s not okay with it, neither is she. He’s not exactly excited, but he says sure and goes about his day, which is enough for her. She’s taking the leap that Joel asked her to but not without some lingering reservations.
Before I close this out and leave my finale thoughts to the next post, can we just take a moment to acknowledge how much Erika Christensen can get across to us just with her facial expressions? I’ve loved her since Traffic. Then she took a weird detour with Swimfan. But I’m happy to see that my instinct about her was right. She’s been nothing short of excellent this season using her ability to say so much without having to say anything at all. And while we’re at it, let’s just take another moment to acknowledge Jason Katims’ uncanny ability to write married couples so wonderfully. The way Julia and Joel have supported each other over the last three seasons is textbook Jason Katims (please see Eric and Tami Taylor).
With that, I’m going to leave this very long post behind. Check back soon for my thoughts on the way this storyline was wrapped up in the finale.