Parenthood "One Step Forward, Two Steps Back" Review: Control Group

By Nick Campbell

Jan 16, 2013

Parenthood S04E14: "One Step Forward, Two Steps Back"

Control. This episode had a one-track mind and it had to do with control. Who's in control? How can you control? What do you gain by being in control? I wouldn't be surprised if this script was written while listening to "Control" by Janet Jackson with the song "Control" on repeat.

Every character this week was in a situation they had an opportunity to tilt. Little did we know that Zeek's advice to Ryan in the diner would end up being like a Greek chorus giving us the synopsis of what would follow. Beginning, middle, and end. Pursue a task completed. Examine your problems and your symptoms and ask yourself, "What're you gonna do about it?"

Just a week after Drew had to deal with something beyond his complete control (more than usual, since he's solidly a reactive character), everyone else had something they were up against. Kristina with a new crusade to take her mind off the disease that's wringing the life out of her. Julia with a hopeless home life. Sarah with the world's most impossible man scenario. (Some of them were more ridiculous than others.)

Even Crosby had a control situation to deal with as his struggle to support Renee during a hard time continued in the world of a drawn-out sitcom arc. Again, we saw Crosby play the part of the headstrong man convinced he's right while his wife waffled between being at her husband's side and caving to her mother's wishes. Crosby, however, was completely in the right. Whether or not the decision to confront Renee about micromanaging Jabbar's breakfast was the greatest of plans (I figure the need to talk about this was just something boiling up from his Braverman blood), Jasmine flagging to her mother's position while Crosby tried to maintain a united front was still awful, if understandable. Also, Renee is a baby.

Speaking of babies, Nora and Adam got to play spectator to Kristina's new crusade to grant Max's wish, returning the vending machines to the school. I know the focus has been on Kristina a lot lately but her storyline this week couldn't have filled more than five or six minutes. She saw Max freak out, approached the PTA ladies who dismissed the machines, came up with an action plan, and executed it. Take control of what you can control. She can do Max's dirty work for him. Anything would be a good distraction from having the cancer. Yeesh.

Julia's crisis has been a devolution of losing control of her domestic situation over the past few weeks. Victor has been nothing short of a terror for her, no matter how intensely Joel denies there being a serious problem. It's a little curious that we saw him so calm and collected this episode, not being uppity or rolling his eyes or finding new ways to insert "you're not my real mom" into a sentence. I also wasn't so sure about how cool he was when Julia was like, "We're adopting you so we are your mom and dad so eff you, kid." "Sure," he replied and walked away. Hm.

What made up for the lack of catharsis when it came down to Julia making the decision was how she got there. I'm not sure if I've been clear about my approval of how this storyline has played out with Julia over the past couple weeks. I give SwimFan a hard time but this is a real bind that her family is in. Victor constantly and loudly rejects Julia, has a tendency to bring non-Braverman-Graham behavior and ideas into the house (curse words, for instance), and is wrecking several aspects of what has been a very comfortable home life. On the one hand, adopting him might give him the structure and stability he needs to chill out. On the other, is it worth possibly wrecking the family unit by adding this malignancy?

Crosby to save the day. Maybe his situation with Jabbar isn't exactly like Julia's (since there's no refuting that he is Jabbar's real dad, they attempted their bonding at an early age, and Jabbar didn't suffer a lifetime of damage and neglect), but it's close enough that they were able to have a teary Braverman talk. I feel like it's been a while since we saw Crosby get in on one of these pep talks and it was the only believable thing that would let Julia move forward with the adoption other than Victor painting a picture of her with a caption reading "Mommy." And we've already talked about how he's too cool a customer to fall into that trap.

And, finally, there was the battle over Sarah and the control she has over two unlikely adversaries. In what world would you imagine Jason Ritter calling out Ray Romano over a woman? The most confusing thing is that it's a woman like Sarah. Don't get me wrong, though I often call her the Worst Braverman, I'm fond of Sarah and it doesn't even have anything to do with lingering Gilmore Girls feelings. It's just that I don't feel like she really has a hold on either of these men. I lean toward the Hank/Sarah pairing only because they exhibit that old couple quality of give and take, but otherwise, I think both of these men might be just as well going their separate ways. It must be that Braverman charm that she has control over both of them.

It was a pretty pedestrian penultimate episode of the season. While in reflection, I can tell that the moves made in this episode set the table for larger storylines in the finale, it didn't feel like anything much different than a regular episode. Though, to be fair, regular episodes of Parenthood are so fraught with emotion, catharsis, and warm fuzzies that it's hard to tell which ones are Very Special and which ones are filler. I like that about you, Parenthood.


– This all started from a conversation between Zeek and Ryan about taking control of his life. I thought it would be the relationship with Amber that he'd try to fix first, but that's the long game. Didn't she seem to linger at his front door for about forever? Can we also conclude now that Amber is way more grown-up than her mother? When was the last time Sarah made a pie?

– Renee is a baby. Old, proud people are babies.

– I guess this was Peter Krause's week off. He must've done his two scenes and hung out wherever Drew goes when he disappears.

– You know it. I know it. The rest of this country knows it. No one asks for a Diet Pepsi. Diet Coke or go home.

– The Skittles shower outside the vending machine was a little much for several reasons. One, that would mean children paid money for candy purely to throw on Max whenever he decided to go outside. Two, no one would be that excited about the vending machine other than Max. Three, Skittles aren't exactly a healthy option. But the surreal event did match the weirdness of Skittles' marketing campaign, so maybe the scene was paid for with that Wrigley payola.

  • Comments (13)
Add a Comment
In reply to :
  • bleumystique Jan 17, 2013

    -Crosby was easily MVP of the episode. I'm not just saying that because he's one of my favorite characters and has been even before everyone acknowledged that he's matured. He was in the right. Renee gets under my skin and crawls around, although the same can be said about Jasmine. I can't even put into words how infuriating it must be that he's in this constant state of being judged for things that are out of his control. I mean Renee brought up the fact that she was there helping Jasmine raise Jabbar in the beginning, but she and Jasmine both conveniently ignore the fact that Jasmine deprived Crosby of knowing he had a kid for the first five years. It's inexcusable and irresponsible, I don't care how irresponsible she thought he was. Pot.Meet.Kettle. So on top of this you have Renee in the house taking over and Jasmine who has no probably bitching at Crosby for everything under the sun suddenly loses her nerve when it comes to her mother. Poor Crosby..
    -I like that they're even covering the Julia storyline with Victor. But it still irritates the hell out of me. Because I don't care what pretty little words you can use to sum this up (and I have a degree in Psychology so I know all about pretty little words) it all boils down to Julia's pissed and hurt that Victor doesn't call her "mommy". She's expecting this well adjusted kid who will fit in perfectly with her family in less than a year and that just isn't realistic. She expects him to forget about his former life, his previous culture, his real mother....and that just isn't realistic. She wants him to tell her that he loves her, and there are three main things here, 1. He's a boy. 2. He's 9. 3. He's a foster kid. He's been bounced around so many times it isn't even funny. He's still trying to get used to the permanency of this situation. so what good is telling someone you love them when you aren't used to the stability? When people leave? When situations change? Why put yourself out there for that? Plus, is it not enough that Victor was genuinely appreciative of Julia when she set him up on a playdate with someone who spoke Spanish? He smiled at her. Was it not enough that he all but told her that he needed her and wanted her to stay outside his school on that first day? I hate that Julia's dismissing the fact that she has in fact had close moments with this kid. It's also beyond frustrating that she's somehow lost the ability to speak with this kid. Initially they seemed to have a nice solid way of speaking with him, sometimes they were too lenient and what not, but they talked to this kid. Every since that discussion where she all but told him that he can't see his mother anymore and that he's basically hers now it's gone downhill. Why don't they really talk to this kid? Honestly, a great deal of their problems with him would lessen if they knew how to talk to him wo making him feel threatened, boxing him into a corner, and being so evasive that it's left for him to interpret what they really mean, which given his past will obviously mean he perceives it negatively. Who the hell is his caseworker/social worker and why aren't they having family counseling or something? But I suppose I've bludgeoned Julia to death on this. It's still a compelling to watch despite the frustrations. She had better moments towards the end of the episode, where I felt hopeful for them and the future. The beginning with Joel being overly optimistic (but accurate) to compensate for her being ridiculously pessimistic, had me gritting my teeth for a bit. But I did love Crosby's speech to her. Even though he basically told Kristina and Adam the exact same thing before, and imo most of it was lies.
    - Hey Sara...instead of focusing on which of these guys...who are honestly better off without you, you plan on sticking with....could you make sure that poor Drew isn't curled up in the fetal position somewhere? No, it's no secret that Amber is more mature than her mother. It's been that way since the beginning. I always say that Sara is growing up with her kids rather than raising them. She's like their hare-brained older sister. At times it has its charms, and lucky for her both Amber and Drew are good kids and don't require her to be a responsible adult, but still. I vote that Hank and Mark put this behind them and go out and have a few beers together. Screw Sara. I love Lauren Grahama, but I don't see how Sara is worth all this, honestly.
    -It's always good to see that Camille and Zeeks are actually alive and what not. I miss them. They're so underused it should be criminal. Also loved seeing Ryan again.

  • vmarslover Jan 17, 2013

    - loved Crosby. he was right all along
    - i love Mark but c'mon Hank all the way. he was so grown up and honest in his conversation with Sarah '' im into this'' Very ''Hank''. on the other hand, the whole face-off with Mark felt so random, out of character for Mark, imo. also lol @ '' he basically challenged me to a duel... or something''

  • NicholasCampb Jan 18, 2013

    Hank would win in the following categories: Funnier, Surlier, More Successful, Age Appropriate, Creepier Smile, Your Own Kid Experience, Flannel Shirt Experience, Cooler Loft, People that can Get Along with Max, Kermit the Frog Impression-Off.

    Mark would win in the following duels: Prettier, More Educated, Creative Facial Hair, Other People's Kids Experience, Dying Last, People that Can Stand Drew's Awkwardness, Tiny Facial Features, Books, and Most Likely to Wear a Scarf.

    Discuss your own list of scenarios.

  • vmarslover Jan 20, 2013

    haha. FYI love those scenarios and Parenthood writers should be taking notes.
    Hank would totally win these: drinking contest. people that can make you feel awkward and amazed at the same time. actual fight Mark/Hank
    Mark has the edge when it comes to : people that can stand the Braverman family as a whole

  • torontogirl98 Jan 17, 2013

    That Crosby Julia scene was brilliant, I love the sibling scenes and this one was just great!

  • NicholasCampb Jan 18, 2013

    Sibling scenes are my favorite, too. Adam dancing to Run DMC is still one of the best things of all things.

  • ElisaDiaz Jan 17, 2013

    mmm I didn´t believe the last scene, it felt surreal, so I thought it was some kind of imaginary exageration in Max' head. But Parenthood never uses that kind of trick.

    I don´t understand the Sarah situation very well. Two perfect men fighting for her? Do you know how difficult it is to find just one? LOL The reviewer is probably right and none of them will stay, because Sarah is the only one left single to keep the flirting going at the Braverman's (well, there's Amber, that counts already). And because the character seems to prefer it that way.

  • 134sc Jan 17, 2013

    It was a solid episode, nothing more nothing less.

    Loved that Crosby got a lot of screen time. And he was very much in the right. He and Jasmine are the parents and it is their right to raise their son as they see fit. The only time somebody else should have an influence is if they are asked to do so by said parents, and Renee certainly was not asked. Crosby is also right, in that, Jasmine has got to stand up to her mom. Don't know how I feel about Renee's choice to leave the dinner table, but Crosby certainly approved.

    Absolutley loved the Crosby pep talk to Julia, it made her decision at the end seem believable. (Tho it was interesting that he would look up to Julia, thought Adam would've been a better choice)

    Sarah is either gunna choose Hank or neither. Mark doesnt stand a chance.

    Thought the Ryan inclusion in the epsidoe came out of nowhere, but watever.

  • NicholasCampb Jan 18, 2013

    @Crosby: It's so rare that Crosby is on the right side of things the entire episode. I like that Parenthood likes to cover new ground.

    @Role Models: Based on where Crosby was when he and Jabbar started getting to know each other, I think he probably looked to all of his siblings for advice. They all have children and he was still having his mom wash his clothing.

    @Sarah's Choice: I'd rather see a Schmidt/Robbie situation, where Hank and Mark hang out together and become friends. The difference: they become buddies and never talk about Sarah again. And that becomes a show. Man of a Certain Age Plus Jason Ritter. It'll be a mediocre hit.

  • Maru Jan 16, 2013

    Although I check this site daily, I usually don't comment here.
    All I want to say is: thank you Nick for your reviews.

  • virgo091085 Jan 16, 2013

    "The Skittles shower outside the vending machine was a little much for several reasons. One, that would mean children paid money for candy purely to throw on Max whenever he decided to go outside. Two, no one would be that excited about the vending machine other than Max. Three, Skittles aren't exactly a healthy option. But the surreal event did match the weirdness of Skittles' marketing campaign, so maybe the scene was paid for with that Wrigley payola."

    --yeah i thought it was weird that Max didn't immediately go into a meltdown when he realized that skittles wasn't an item in this "healthy options" vending machine.

  • NicholasCampb Jan 18, 2013

    It's hard to tell which is more important to Max: reason or Skittles. I like to think that after he was showered by candy and the elation of getting the vending machine wore off, he looked at the machine and said. "Those aren't healthy snacks" and walked away.

    And to play devil's advocate, there's no indication that Max knew that his mother was instrumental in getting the machine back let alone know who the conditions were for its return.

  • MatthewFoy Jan 16, 2013

    Completely agreed about that Skittles scene at the end. It was the only blemish on an otherwise great episode.