Parenthood "Small Victories" Review: Sure, But Also Some Pretty Big Losses

By Nick Campbell

Jan 09, 2013

Parenthood S04E13: "Small Victories"

For an episode called "Small Victories," there sure were a lot of losses.

In fact, the only clear-cut victory to come out of this episode is that Max taking more showers. Everything about his story was an outright win. From Kristina shouting "Skittles!" in order to keep him from showing off his brand-new pubic hair to Zeek showing pride in ejaculations to the kid strutting his sweet-smelling self down the hallway, in slow motion, to "Feeling Good."

I missed this Max, the one who's not a prima donna jackass, the one who's just a non-prosodic boy trying to make it in a prosodic world. There was so much comedy with him in this go-round, even an emotional beat during the sex talk Adam struggled to have, that it almost made me forget all the times I wanted eat all of his Skittles right in front of him just to show him who's boss. The episodes where his Asperger syndrome is treated like a part of who Max is instead of the monster eating his family are the ones I appreciate.

So we got some chuckles from the boy and even a little bit of character development for him. "Small victories," Kristina said with a high five. A win in a household in need of a win. But everything else in the world of the Bravermans was either in a gray area or qualified as outright defeat.

This even applies to Crosby, who's been given so many sitcom storylines lately that I was almost expecting his scenes to be prefaced by Rhea Perlman telling us the episode was filmed before a live studio audience. The mother-in-law moves in and she won't leave! Crosby has to pee and Renee is in there doing her hair! And then Jabbar slips in when he's not looking so he has to pee outside! Hilarity ensues!

Each of his scenes were single-camera versions of multi-cam fare from the '80s and '90s: Jasmine's brother coming over so his mother could do his laundry, Renee changing the house to her whims, even Jasmine trying to convey her pity with meaningful looks and under-her-breath apologies. There was one distinct difference: After reaching his breaking point and registering his complaints with Renee (at least passive-aggressively), she turned it around (sort of) and switched on the guilt trip. And then walked away. That, of course, was classic sitcom. The difference is that there was no new act during which Crosby would apologize so they could come to a mutual understanding. It was left there to hang. Small victory here: Crosby gets this thing off his chest, but now no one in the house is happy about anything.

Then there's Drew. Poor, stupid Drew. The kid has put in enough appearances so we don't print his photo on the side of a milk carton, but he hasn't had a real story since Mark got cable. I guess the writers were saving his camera time for when he knocked a girl up. It's a lot of focus for a kid who, as of last week, was nothing more than a pawn in the sad chess game for Sarah's heart (as he reintroduced Mark by showing off his Facebook). And he went from 0 to 60 with the question of abortion.

When the disclaimer came on at the start of the episode to tell us that something within it required parental discretion—with Parenthood being a show that, beyond a short string of bawdy installments before Amber met Ryan, is relatively family-friendly for 10pm—we the audience knew immediately that this would be the question set before us. How will Drew make one of the universe's most awkward situations even more awkward? First, we'll have him make all his big decisions in the front seat of his car. Then, we'll make sure he's backed into a corner for the entire hour...

Actually, Drew was drawn up to be a very stand-up guy in this situation. I would picture him to be more of the type to curl up into a ball and rock until someone sent him to a psych ward, but he said the Drew version of all the right things and tried to be as supportive as humanly possible. He was rewarded with an abortion (I think?) and Amy breaking up with him. Again. In the front seat of his car. Small victory here: His life can continue on its previously scheduled trajectory except without the girl he loves. And he has a "waiting at the abortion clinic" story under his belt.

Somehow, to me, Julia and Joel's story was even more devastating than the (possible?) abortion storyline. It's the hopelessness of the situation that nags at me. Last week, we talked about how the build-up to Victor's emotional break may not have been obvious, but it's very clear now. And nothing about it is positive for the Grahams.

How do you corral a child who doesn't believe in your parental authority? How do you make a child obey you if you attempt to not only displace the person to whom he's sworn allegiance, but also to make him forget she ever existed, maintaining that his current situation is the only one he should recognize? How long do you continue to force a resistant individual who's constantly bucking the saddle of your life?

He's not even a real person but, with the stunts he pulled this week, I would look the other way if Julia punted him down the stairs. I understand Joel's position that Victor has done better, or at least I see it now that Joel mentioned it. Otherwise, I'd only see the escalating behavior. It was an interesting thing the show did in splitting Victor's accomplishments and failure to assimilate. They never seemed to happen around the same time, so it never felt like, "Yeah, he hit a homerun! But he also doesn't consider Julia to be his real mom." At least, not until that 93 on a test.

But the bad stuff happened last and that's why I think I understand Julia's position more easily. That's probably by design since, if Victor appeared well-adjusted, we'd just look at Julia like a monster for wanting to give him back. But after smashing the window, dropping curse words, and calling 911 for child abuse, we can completely understand Julia's qualms with regard to keeping a child who doesn't seem to want to be there.

What small victory do they have? Is Joel's perception that Victor's grades and his activity in sports are the small victories to be measured against the swollen, unchecked disrespect Victor has for Julia? Is the small victory that the social worker told them they were doing everything right despite the fact that Victor has so much disdain for Julia that he could push away homemade pancakes and actually request Burger King? I mean—Burger King. It's unconscionable.

Small victories. Everyone wins?


NOTES

– I didn't mention Sarah's story with Mark and Hank but there are two things we should address: (1) Sarah looked really disappointed when Mark didn't come by the studio to talk about her. (2) Mark's line about not fighting hard enough for her might almost be the most heartbreaking scene of the episode—except that Amber comforting Drew when he had abortion on his mind is interesting for a couple reasons. This is one of the few times they've really been together in an emotional way for a long time (her driving him to drop off a basket at Amy's doesn't count). It's also one of the few outside-the-box sequences from director Peter Krause. There were a lot of swirling arms and hands, intertwining bodies. The shot composition for much of that scene, particularly the end of it, felt like two bodies as one mass while she comforted him. A very pretty scene. The other directorial choice I noticed was Victor standing at the top of the stairs, shadows and hair covering his face; it felt like a scene from a horror movie, sans horror context. He was like the little girl from The Ring except I wished more horrible things would happen to Victor than that girl. Sarah has been the title-bearer, the wearer of the belt of Worst Braverman, but this week Victor far exceeded that. There's no room for a rogue agent in the Braverman network.

– You may have noticed a few question marks around Amy's abortion in my review. That's only because I'm not entirely sure she had it. I mean, Drew's sobbing at the end of the episode should have clinched it for me, but the episode left a shadow of doubt as to whether it happened by (a) never mentioning that it happened and (b) Amy didn't seem all that much weaker from having part of her body removed through another part of her body. She didn't exhibit signs of having gone through an abortion and, as far as I can tell, that isn't exactly a laser procedure. If I'm wrong, I'm willing to learn—so tell me if Amy's reaction after undergoing such a procedure is normal or indicative to a twist ending for the season finale in two weeks.

– The waiting room of an abortion clinic is the last place I want to find solidarity with the other dudes around me. Keep your head nod to yourself, sir.

– It felt weird to me that Adam was having a hetero-normal sex talk with Max, given that the only animate things Max has ever shown interest in are reptiles and, to a certain extent, that puppy. I guess when it's already complicated by Asperger syndrome, a straight guy intending to talk about different sexualities is too much to handle, especially for someone so buttoned up. But then Max said, "I wish people could shed their skins like lizards." Touching. Then he followed it up with a "Yep." Max, I love you again.

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  • CarlyChristen Jan 15, 2013

    Yeah, I also didn't think Amy looked like she'd been through an abortion. I had to have basically the same procedure because of a miscarriage and I was pretty much out of commission for the rest of the day. Shows aren't necessarily accurate about that stuff though.

  • bleumystique Jan 13, 2013

    Basically if Julia would have had a decent talk with him instead of being hurt and pissed that he doesn't call her mom, and insisting that he forget his birth mom, his former life, etc than some of this would have been avoided. It's frustrating to watch, because victor has grown and made progress but it all went to hell in that moment. Julia isn't a bad person. I like what she represents in this show, because there are so many women out there who are better at excelling in their jobs than they are in motherhood...and it should never be viewed as a bad thing. I feel like she never had a handle on motherhood, she never could handle Sydney, and she figured she'd compensate for that with a new kid but had no idea it would be so hard with an adopted kid at that age. Her expectations were unrealistic, she expected him to blend into their family almost instantly, to not have issues, to not need to adjust, to forget who he was before he landed in their home, and to forget his mother, to not want to ever see his birth mom again. That isn't fair to him, those expectations aren't real. I think Joel has a better grasp on it. He's handled all of this quite well. I can't not be on his side on this matter, because even though I have nothing against Julia, it all boils down to her wanting to give Victor away because it wasn't as picture perfect as she planned, her not being able to hack it...and I wonder what it feels like for Joel knowing that he spent most of Sydney's lief taking care of her while Julia worked and when the roles reverse Julia has meltdowns. I also think Victor still doesn't feel the permanency...it will take time, and it doesn't help when in moments like with the bat Julia clearly differentiated who was her real kid and who wasn't. victor is difficult and has his own troubles but nothing unexpected from a kid whose come from where's he come from and been bounced around the system. he probably would have been better off in a household with no kids so he could be solely focused on, but I actually think he'll be fine in their household if they work on it. He's not mentally unstable as some fans have said, and while I agree there is a few times where I probably would have wanted to throttle the kid myself with his attitude and stunts. He's bratty and difficult, but honestly Sydney is no picnic either, so God bless them for dealing with both of them. But I was probably more on Joel's side with this and it was heartbreaking to watch. But it made perfect sense that Julia would feel the way that she did, so they did manage to display it where no one was really looking bad per se. Other than the case worker. Families like this need help. They need the support. They need their case worker to check in on them regularly to make sure things are going smoothly. They don't need her only dropping after a false child abuse report was made. They need her there on more regular basis.
    -Drew. He's the Braverman I feel like I identify with the most. That whole situation he handled remarkably way, and I didn't think it was all that uncharacteristic of him. There was some vagueness with how they handled the whole abortion thing, but it was a nice touch upon it w/o the usual stuff. I'd go into how telling it was that Mark seemed more aware of Drew then his own mother, but I've already spent too much time talking about Julia. But you know, as long as Sara has a love triangle..... Love Drew and Amber's relationship.
    - Adam, Kristina, and Max were awesome.

  • Units420 Jan 10, 2013

    I too hope there is more in regards to the Drew/Amy stuff in the final two episodes of the season. Alot of untapped material

  • txgirl75 Jan 10, 2013

    I think it was the best episode of the season. Max very intersting storyline and I hope we get to see him have a crush on a girl and go from there. Drew and Amy I was hoping that storyline would go somewhere. It ended to fast kind of disappointing. Julia and Joel I guess they treated Victor different because he was adopted. They really should have sat down with him and talk to him tell him the rules of the house. Bring in a kid and he acts out and everyone is misearble and cranky. I don't blame Julia for wanting to give up. Victor hasn't shown much respect. Then again they need to talk to him and sit down with rules. Hank, Sara and Mark I think both guys need to go. In away I like Mark better then Hank. Mark seems to want to be there for Drew. I rather Sara pick Mark over Hank.

  • Units420 Jan 10, 2013

    I'm kinda shocked at the response (all around the 'net) with the Victor story. Granted, I've never adopted a kid and as far as I know, don't know anyone who has (I know folks who have been adopted and folks taken in by loved ones). But I find this to be the most compelling and heartbreaking story on the show right now. I can kinda see where both sides are coming from. I'm also shocked at some of the reaction to Victor. Almost as if he chose this situation. As for Joel and Julia, I don't think they are bad parents. Just parents who make mistakes and may have taken on a situation they were not quite ready for. While this is a set of extenuating circumstances, I sort of feel like that is parenting and becoming a parent in a nutshell.

    As for the Sarah/Mark/Hank situation, I've sort of come to realize that it may just be a product of Mark and Sarah's differences in life experiences. That is not to say that all couples with age differences have issues. But I just feel ultimately, that is why she's drawn to Hank because he is someone who, as kooky as he is, also has some baggage. Whichever way it goes, I like both guys and Sarah.

    I find the Crosby stuff enjoyable, only because my mother in law is like my third mom (after my mom and grandmother) and I could never see myself being so aggravated or resentful of her presence if ever in this situation.

    The Max stuff was golden. I kind of choked up a bit when he told Adam he wasn't ready to talk about sex.

    As for the Drew/Amy story, its always nice to get a story like that from a young man's point of view. Not to trivialize or diminish what a girl goes through. But we too are affected emotionally as well and I welcome any opportunity to show that.

  • 134sc Jan 10, 2013

    I don't know what to think of this episode.

    I enjoyed the Drew storyline, but thought it was resolved rather quickly, especially with the subject matter being so sensitive. Hopefully it is explored further in coming episodes. I did appreciate the last scene with Drew and Mama...sometimes you just need to cry and fall into the arms of your parent.

    The Max storyline was well done. I quite enjoyed the kitchen convo with the grandparents

    Sarah/Mark/Hank...I thought we were done with that, apparently not. Heres hoping they resolve it quickly, getting rather tired of it. (I do like her with Hank more)

    Crosby...I understand your prediciment, but there are bigger problems in the world. Get over it bud (and I say that with love, cuz Crosby is by far my favorite character)

    Julia and Joel...their biggest mistake was not explaining to the kid from the get go what the situation was, they really have nobody to blame but themselves. Seems as tho they didn't explain anything to Sydney either (she is quite the bratt isn't she). I expect this type of bad parenting from Julia, but Joel? Come on man. I think at this point sending the kid back is the easiest option, but it is totally unfair to him. Julia and Joel dug themselves this hole, now they should dig themsleves out.

    As the review mentioned Peter Krause directed the episode and he did a very good job He brought something different to the presentation style; there were less cuts from character to charcater and more moving of the camera from character to character. This allowed for a more shaky, yet realistic representation of what was going on.

    So in the end, a pretty good episode, but some things could have been handled better.

  • virgo091085 Jan 10, 2013

    "Julia and Joel...their biggest mistake was not explaining to the kid from the get go what the situation was, they really have nobody to blame but themselves. Seems as tho they didn't explain anything to Sydney either (she is quite the bratt isn't she). I expect this type of bad parenting from Julia, but Joel? Come on man. I think at this point sending the kid back is the easiest option, but it is totally unfair to him. Julia and Joel dug themselves this hole, now they should dig themsleves out."------Exactly!

  • airsign78 Jan 10, 2013

    I loved the head nod scene at the clinic. It felt so real to me, like men would try and find solidarity at such an inappropriate place and time. I went from feeling just so sad for these 2 kids to hysterical laughter.

  • brittdoc Jan 10, 2013

    Sarah and Hank just dont sit right with me. I dont think they go as well together as her and Mark.

  • txgirl75 Jan 10, 2013

    Totally agree with you. If they brought someone else to play Hank maybe hee would have had a better shot. I just can't get use to Raymon being on the show. Mark is ok but they really don't have the chemistry. Every guy that Lauren Graham was with on Gilmore girls had chemistry. Except the guy that plays Jason. On this show Just haven't seen the chemistlry.

  • KayliaMetcalf Jan 10, 2013

    Not sure if the abortion really happened either... it just seems so fast to have it all tied up.

    I liked the kitchen talk of ejaculation a lot!

    Max can look up somethings on the internet, but not other things? He didn't know was menses was, but what, didn't care enough to click and find out?

    Yeah... his being an Aspy kid will cause him issues in terms of sex and relationships but it isn't all dire... I wish Adam had said something along the lines of "yeah, it will be harder for you but it is hard for everyone." I did like his point about it being emotional vs physical.

    Hey look, an episode where I didn't hate Kristina!

  • gpgurl50 Jan 10, 2013

    I agree that the Max thing was touching. It was good to see he was a kid in some ways. I wonder if Drew will finally open up now that it's all over. I think Drew was willing to have a kid if it came to it but did the supportive thing rather well.

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