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

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.

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