Parenthood "What to My Wondering Eyes" Review: The One Where Kristina Almost Dies and Jabbar Gets a Fishing Rod

By Nick Campbell

Dec 12, 2012

Parenthood S04E11: "What to My Wondering Eyes"

It was a perfect storm.

The sentimentality and nostalgia of Christmas. The pathos of a cancer-stricken main character on the brink of death. Relationship drama. Relationship comedy. Relationship mystery (nice to see you for ten seconds, Drew).

"What to My Wondering Eyes" was an episode constructed to make you misty and, unless are incredibly determined or a robot, it probably got you. There was a pre-recorded last testament from a dying mother, for crissakes. Your feelings about Kristina aside (many of your comments about her have not been friendly), how could you not have at least one heartstring pulled when you watch a woman tell her children from beyond the grave how proud she is of them and then look on as her husband begs God for mercy?

If you're one of the few who maintained dry eyes throughout the hour, it might have something to do with the episode format. I feel like the writers tipped their hand a little by sticking to their formula. That's not to say it was bad or poorly done. It wasn't pedestrian. It was just quotidian for the series.

We didn't get solid stakes for Kristina until the second act, when the doctor told Adam about how his wife could heal quickly or she could take a turn for the worse. That information was nestled between storylines where Victor started testifying about Santa, Crosby and Jasmine were talking trees, and Sarah was dressed like an elf (Bad Santa flashbacks, anyone?). Whether you're conscious of it or not, we are all part of a critical audience with an education in how a series deals with serious issues versus weekly issues. That this story didn't weigh far heavier in this show might have made you feel better about Kristina's chances for survival.

Or maybe you just thought they wouldn't scuttle Monica Potter off the show in December.

To be honest, with a short season (Parenthood will return in the new year for just a couple episodes, with its season finale scheduled for January 29), I was a little anxious about whether or not the show would actually pull the plug (pun absolutely intended) on Kristina. She's not a vegetable on the show; she's become a strong character this season thanks to getting a storyline that's about more than Max's behavioral therapy, having a baby that's become a prop, or providing a stage for Amber's sexploits.

And while I think the trials Adam suffered while Kristina's life hung in the balance were honest, I can see how there might not have been enough time dedicated to that story for anyone to believe that this could really be the end. You feel for Adam and Kristina (and, sort of, the family—more on them in a second), but if you don't believe in the stakes, all you can do is empathize (or, and I pray this isn't many of you, sympathize) in the situation and feel like it's all going to be okay.

The starkest contrast to Kristina's thread came from the Santa Trials in the Braverman-Graham households. Victor, who honestly may not have known better than to spoil the Santa surprise for Sydney—though, to his credit, Sydney does look almost old enough to drive now—and Max, eternal wet blanket, created some sort of dysfunctional association of Christmas naysayers against the younger cousins. Zeek told a story about how he saw Santa once and, somehow, that was enough to make everyone give Kris Kringle the benefit of the doubt.

Well, they didn't really show Max after the story. I'm pretty sure he's sticking with logic on this one.

But they go to the hospital later and they saw a Santa and assume he was the guy. He even disappeared after noticing Victor's brand-new kicks, complete with windchime-y sound effect. Yeah, there was kind of a supernatural event on Parenthood. During the episode where Kristina almost died.

And then there were the Holt girls.

It was fitting, if not a little too convenient, that Amber asked for space from Ryan at around the same time Sarah closed up the remaining space between herself and Hank. We're an episode past the Mark Meltdown and already she and Hank are in bed together. While I don't feel that's out of the question for Sarah as a character, it might be a little quick for the audience. Getting over Mark was reduced to a "Toldja!" from Camille and being a grumpy elf for a few hours.

One could argue that Sarah never really loved Mark, so she wouldn't need time before taking on a new lover, but I would contend that even if the character didn't need a break, maybe we did. It just seems like we fast-forwarded through the aftermath of Mark Cyr to get to the Hank stuff. The Hank stuff is cute and I don't miss Mark terribly, but the quickness of this story felt off.

We got to the Hank stuff when Amber was getting to the neo-Seth stuff. Things happened in this episode: fights, car accidents, boozing to forget the pain, but it was essentially just a review for those of us who might not have figured out that Ryan is really messed up. "What to My Wondering Eyes" was a concentrate of Ryan Crazy (though slightly generalized to make the comparison to Seth really easy). He's incredibly codependent, as if Amber is his sponsor for Self-Destructors Anonymous, and I thought Amber asking for space would be the end of everything. Time bomb 'splode.

There was a 15 percent chance Ryan was about to blow up the hospital.

All told, the Christmas offering of Parenthood was everything you'd expect it to be: sentimental, emotional, and, in the end, warm and fuzzy. Despite a storyline of dramatic heft that could have dominated the hour, it was evenly split among the other family members. Which means it's just like the formula you're used to, just with some added seasonal feelings.


– So Crosby and Jasmine didn't have a tree yet on Christmas Eve? I hope they were looking forward to a Charlie Brown-esque number.

– Sometimes, I think Joel is our audience proxy among the Bravermans. You tell Julia, man. It is weird that Sydney still believes in Santa. Julia didn't know until she was 11? Yeah, that's weird, too. Now, slap her on the behind again!

– "Nora doesn't have any pants on." Max is like the id version of Gary Bell from Alphas. Gary has his problems with sounds and people who can't follow a line of logic, but at least he doesn't cry about it. On that note, I would like a spin-off web series where it's just Max and Hank hanging out, About a Boy style.

– Zeek had some nice moments throughout the episode. Adam asking him to stay a while longer. TEARS.

– Would a non-TV hospital let Adam sit next to his immunocompromised wife sans-mask? Shouldn't she be in a completely sterile room with white walls, air showers, and biohazard suits? Did they make sure Kristina doesn't just have sarcoidosis? Where are the dictator-killing moralist doctors? I think House has ruined my sense of what kind of facilities real hospitals have.

– On more than one occasion the episode used an audio transition where a Christmas song helped segue from an unhappy scene where the song didn't belong to one where the song may've been diegetic. Screaming matches over Nat King Cole sound pretty great. I'm going to try some Vince Guaraldi for my next argument.

Parenthood doesn't have many ham-fisted scenes, but Jasmine using Kristina's near-death to break it to Crosby that she wants another kid? Yeah, that's like JD and Dr. Cox's "shaved the baby" story. I'm not buying it.

– "You're not horrible. That's what I came to say." Hank gave Sarah a picture of herself for Christmas. She loved it.

– Everyone in the Braverman guild got a family scarf. You know who didn't? Haha, Mark! You lose! Have fun with your cold neck!

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  • Fallon21 Dec 18, 2012

    I am so crushed over Mark and Sarah breaking up so they whole 'jump into bed with Hank thing' is both too soon and I feel, in bad taste.

  • Diflas Dec 18, 2012

    I hope Ryan sticks around, i like him.

  • bluemystique Dec 14, 2012

    I'm a robot and nobody told me. No fair. I admittedly was touched deep down in that hidden place where my feelings are supposed to just never surfaced. See I feel stuff, I just don't show that I feel stuff, so my eyes were bone dry. So maybe I'm just robotic? I'll have to explore that further.
    - WAIT! YOU GUYS, SANTA ISN"T REAL?!?!!?!?!?!
    - Bwahah Nora's running around w/o a diaper, Crosby looks like he's bout to lose it, Otis is pooping on the floor and Max is stating the obvious. Love that kid. And yes, Max and Hank in a webseries would be hysterical.
    -I never doubted that Kristina wouldn't pull through and, it was Kristina, so I wasn't all worked up into a tizzy over her near death experience like the story line may have required me too.Or, you know, that robot thing. : /
    -Yeah, I wasn't a big fan of how Sara just jumped all up on Hank's tripod like that. I mean it wasn't ooc for her at all, and as much as I like Jason Ritter I had been saying forever now that her and Mark were a disaster waiting to happen, but can we at least pour a 40 for Mark first? Just for those who are fans of him or something. It seemed contrived because they were just trying to wrap that up real quick. Too quick. Plus it was predictable, but whatever. I like Hank. He and Sara make sense to me.
    -Amber and Ryan. That too, was forced to me. Bringing up Seth and all that, I don't know, didn't care for that much either. Their relationship was fast as well, they graduated to sharing each other's gum and "I love you's" fairly quick, but that wasn't out of the norm for Amber either. I feel like they were trying to make this relationship more volatile and disastrous than it should have been or appeared to be. Like there is a fine line between her giving too much of herself to "save" or "fix" this guy and just being supportive when he desperately needed it. It's so unbelievably grey and I didn't feel like their relationship had gotten to the point yet where she needed to break things off with him. I liked them as a couple, thought they would do well with each other. Still think they can despite the obvious issues. I don't know, that one was tough. It seemed unfair to make such a comparison of Ryan and her father...two different beasts. I don't know. that was rough.
    -Jasmine deciding she wanted another kid while Kristina was laid up in a hospital seemed a bit...insensitive. But I was never a big Jasmine fan, though thank God she's more tolerable than she was before. I would like to see that however. Crosby was catapulted into fatherhood while missing out on a lot of the "fun stuff".
    -Zeek and Adam. Sweet scene. I love Zeek and it was great seeing him and Camille again,they've been missing most of the season. Also Victor, that kid. Oy. He's fitting in though, which is good.

  • monkay Dec 13, 2012

    was no one else annoyed she didnt die? not get me wrong i like kristina and all but i feel the way it ended just felt like somone was gonna run in (probally crosbey) screaming how it was a christmas maricle and how all the problems have magically been solved by santa.

  • ElisaDiaz Dec 13, 2012

    About the poll: Sydney is not 11. The weird one that believed in Santa until she was 11, that was Julia.

  • NicholasCampb Staff Dec 13, 2012

    Since we're in season 4 and Sydney was 5 when the series started, it's not terrible to suggest she's 9 going on 10. Can we say that's "about 11" so we can put Sydney and Julia under the same umbrella?

  • ElisaDiaz Dec 13, 2012

    deal! although she doesn´t look more than 8 to me

  • safibwana Dec 13, 2012

    Okay, I admit to being a robot, and I'm good with that, but usually I can tell what I am supposed to be emotional about. I'm not seeing it. All of this stuff was telegraphed so far in advance and there were really no stakes. Why feel?

  • wingsabre Dec 13, 2012

    BTW, yes House did ruin your perspective of a hospital.

  • wingsabre Dec 13, 2012

    I don't believe Sarah moved on from Mark too soon, because I think she already did a while ago. Her decision to move in with him was her trying to over compensate for her feelings for Hank. Mark was right though, she likes to run away from a sure thing.

  • KiMarie Dec 13, 2012

    "but I would contend that even if the character didn't need a break, maybe we did." COMPLETELY agree, i almost said the same thing exactly. This story line with her getting with Hank so quickly kind of makes Sarah look like a... well a beeotch. Poor Mark. But yeah the rest of the episode was pretty good, did shed a tear but I do that almost every episode, what is it with this show. It did feel a little rushed or something: people screaming and breaking up, characters shacking up, others trying to make children believe in Santa again, all while a relative lays possible dieing in a hospital? I guess that's just how Parenthood rolls though. Still, very goodshow.

  • jinxstarr Dec 13, 2012

    yeah yeah, we all saw it coming but I am p*ssed!! A small amount of decency would have been nice...Sorry Sarah but you come off as a total tramp and at this point....I wouldn't give a hoot if your "happiness" took a flyer. Frankly I liked Mark, he was nice, he seemed honest and open and brother he certainly deserves better then a fliber-de-jibbit who has no idea of what honesty means nor how to act on it. I would think her kids would surely have a problem with the "do as I say, not as I do" concept. No one in the entire family (with the exception of Jasmine) seems to have the slightest idea about boundaries, also I wasn't pleased with Zeek or Camille just brushing the idea of Mark aside....I think one or the other or BOTH should have told Sarah she was a user and a total jerk.... somebody should tell that woman the truth for a change. That being said, I thought it was a good episode and I was grateful Zeek didn't go over the bend after Adam blew him off – that was a nice scene considering Zeek usually has all the tact of a bull elk.

    Oh well....its just TV but I've gotten invested with this family, they seem 'real' to me (guess that's because being from a big family, I've experienced the ebb and flow of many voices at once each expressing a different opinion or idea) anyway I love the show and am just cranky about the whole deal.

  • KiMarie Dec 14, 2012

    I really liked Mark too, I feel like maybe his character was easily expendable on the show just because Sarah is the only single one and they can play around with her love life for the sake of a dramatic storyline. However this one sort of tainted the ethics of the show in my opinion; and I can't see how they expect viewers to just jump on board if they plan on keeping Hank and Sarah together and getting married and living happily ever after... while Mark is all alone, but who cares right... Out of site, out of mind? Maybe they're not completely done with this storyline, shrug*. Mark has come and gone a few times now.

  • algetrig91 Dec 13, 2012

    Still can't deal with the Sarah storyline.

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