TIME Television

RECAP: Parenthood Season Finale: The Tomato in the Room

Parenthood - Season 5
Sam Jaeger as Joel Graham, Savannah Paige Rae as Sydney Graham, Erika Christensen as Julia Braverman-Graham Ben Cohen—NBCU Photo Bank/NBC

Hot tomato, that is. The season 5 finale — which may be it for the series — saw steamy twists, but not a lot of resolution

The NBC family drama wrapped its fifth season — and possibly its last, as the show is currently on the bubble — with plenty of romantic revelations, mostly predictable but with one big surprise (at least for those who didn’t have it spoiled during last week’s preview).

Prodigal daughter Haddie is back with a whole new look — and a big surprise. She comes home from college for summer break with her “best friend” in tow: blonde cutie “Lauren,” played by Tavi Gevinson of Rookie Magazine fame. She keeps the sexual nature of their relationship secret at first, then hints at their intimacy to her dad, but he doesn’t put two and two together until Lauren drops a heavier hint. Kristina finds out after Max, who has walked in on the two smooching, bluntly asks his mom, “If two girls are kissing, does that mean that they’re lesbians?” Though stunned, Kristina accepts and embraces the news in the family’s signature Berkeley way.

It’s an odd choice on the writers’ part to so heavily feature a character who’s been absent all season in the finale. And Haddie’s not the only long-forgotten character to crop back up: Ryan, who was hospitalized last week but had been gone for months, has a large role in the episode when his mother arrives to take him home to Wyoming. After his medical discharge from the army, it seems he has no other choice — though a romp in the hospital bed with Amber confuses the matter and leads her to pick up a pregnancy test later in the episode. Though she’s smiling, it’s hard to root for a positive result knowing that he’s laid up from drunk driving.

As for the plot lines we’ve been focused on for the last stretch of the season, not much comes into focus. Adam and Kristina’s school plan gets no air time at all, much less a decision on whether Bob Little will lease them the property. And Joel and Julia all but fall back into each other’s arms after Victor wins an essay contest at school — emphasis on the “all but.” Even a bedtime story with Sydney, who throws a tantrum until Joel agrees to stay for the night, delivers nothing but smiles and meaningful eye contact. All that will-they-or-won’t-they tension, and all the viewer gets to show for it is an awkward Breyer’s commercial between segments in which a husband asks his wife, “Who’s hotter? Me or Joel?” (Joel, dude. Always Joel.)

The other will-they-or-won’t-they plot line, between Sarah and Hank, resolves as expected: with hesitation on her part, then talk of how much work it will be with his Asperger’s (a diagnosis he still hasn’t formally received), then a kiss. It’s nice to see one “tomato in the room” plucked, though not exactly cathartic to revisit a relationship that has failed once before, and was never especially passionate in the first place. Also in the category of relationships it’s hard to care about: Drew and Natalie. They were thrown together in the penultimate episode and are now apparently so in love that Zeek is inspired to loan Drew the freshly-finished Pontiac (which gives the episode its name) to drive up to see his girlfriend.

The real strength in this finale lies in its more quotidian moments — as is always the case for Parenthood. Adam and Crosby’s vigorous victory lap around their childhood home is sweet, and Zeek and Millie’s last dance through the empty living room is even sweeter.

In what may be the show’s final sequence, the Braverman clan gets together for one last feast on the lawn. Their dialogue is muted in favor of the soundtrack, a thoughtful cover of Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin,’” putting special emphasis on one piece of advice — “your sons and your daughters are beyond your command” — that’s never been a great problem for the Bravermans. If there’s one thing they’re good at, it’s supporting for their children, no matter what’s going on in their own lives. This last barbecue, reminiscent of so many others on the show, doesn’t expand on the plot, but it does stay in line with the vibe. As Sydney tells her parents while begging them to get back to normal, “It’s not special, it’s how it’s supposed to be.”

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