I really wish I could spend all our time together talking about Kristina all potted up. From reading the comments over the past few weeks, I get the sense that she might not be the most popular character on the show (reviled might be a better word), but I'm guessing even the most hardened hater cracked a smile as she came clean to Julia about the "incentive system." It's straight-up bribery. I know it. You know it. It's the source of Max's prima donna tantrums. And I'm glad she knows it.
But watching Monica Potter crush her only scene in this episode without having to depend on the pathos of cancer in order to elicit an emotion (it looks like she'll more than make up for that next week—more on that later) wasn't even a top-three most important moment of "Trouble in Candyland," despite the fact that her advice to Julia about not feeling guilty about bribery when in the "trenches" of parenting might be the most parenthood thing to happen on Parenthood in a while.
Coming in at number three on the list of important things that happened in the episode is the seeming end to Pamela Adlon's time on the show. The best thing about Marleise is that she's one of the few characters thus far who haven't eventually melted in the face of the nuclear fusion of "warm" and "fuzzies" exuded by the Braverman siblings (Zoe, Hank, slowly Victor). She has managed to, at every attempt, turn the charm around on the brothers and make them look like jackasses.
The downside to being the strongest person alive is looking like a Grinch when that Braverman charm works on everyone else in the neighborhood. Honestly, I love Adlon's face but she might as well have been watching all the Whos in Whoville circled around their old fir tree, whether that tannenbaum peed in the alley or not.
Marleise spent the last two episodes making a pretty solid case against the Bravermans, maybe not to have them shut down but at the very least for them to be decent human beings. She took it too far, maybe, but making sure no one parks in her parking space shouldn't be too much to ask.
However, her whole argument was undermined. Do you believe these two guys really made an impact in the Haight-Ashbury community? Of course not. But their case really sounded great when it was soundtracked with a folksy song by that guy from Once (Glen Hansard, who you might also know as that dude who looks like the Irish Justin Vernon sitting by the Starbucks register).
Number two on the list of the episode's three most important developments was a brief beat, but it was enough for us to speculate over whether someone has punched the countdown clock for the time bomb. Ryan spent a day on Joel's site screwing up. He was a tad hard on himself, as you would expect. After all, Amber's his emotional sponsor, one with whom he's become codependent, and she wasn't there rubbing comforting circles on his back while he worked. So any screw-ups on the job without his pixie girl telling him it's going to be okay just gave him more of a reason for him to sit in his apartment and bring himself closer to imminent disaster.
Yeah, Ryan's terrible at breaking panels (is that a job?) and he accidentally broke a window in an unfortunate bout of bravado, but he didn't leave a whole lot of room for how bad everyone's first day sucks. Which is why, when Joel showed up at his apartment after Ryan walked off the site, there was a short-lived pit in my stomach when the place looked empty. Ryan sat up and I was like, "Whew, it hasn't gone off yet." Then he downed a bunch of pills.
Now, those might've been the same pills he was prescribed (noted earlier in the season when he took a break from naked snuggling to take his medicine) but one of the many international signs of impending doom for a character on television is swigging pills. He could be taking aspirin with a root beer, but if he does it alone in a quiet and dark apartment, it spells trouble. Can we assume the countdown has begun?
Obviously, number one on the list is what NBC promo'd all week: the Mark and Sarah meltdown. In my mind, NBC has struggled for years to strike a balance between teasing an episode and out-and-out spoiling it. I remember several episodes of Chuck being ruined because the promo they aired before the fifth act showed, looking very much alive, the person who may or may not be dead in the cliffhanger. And this week's promo essentially gave you everything you needed to know about the meltdown. Not that any of it was anything you didn't already know.
I'm not saying we didn't need to see Mark finally get all that he could handle after waiting for her for so long. We needed to see the fight, the apology, and the finality of their relationship (as far as we know), but this has been a foregone conclusion since "Family Portrait," has it not? We've waited out the doom for weeks, inhabiting this weird space where we like Mark and we don't necessarily think Hank is the better option (especially as his cool points have been slowly eroded by Sarah's natural ability to melt emotional walls with her sunny brilliance); we've almost been looking forward to this demise.
Even when they got back together in the gym and Sarah repeated her relief in sweet couple-y platitudes, Mark looked just about as convinced as we were. When Hank told him Sarah knew the work thing was a sham, Mark manipulated the information for the break-up we all saw coming months ago. The fact is, you can look at Sarah's decision to help Hank instead of going to the wedding as helping someone in need. Helping Hank see his daughter one last time before she moves to Minnesota wasn't an unimportant thing, romantic complication or not. Instead, Mark brought up something else, that Sarah is always running away from good things in her life. So he's done. And we got the thing we've been waiting for.
Does that mean Hank and Sarah are going to be together now? Dunno. Conventional wisdom would say yes, eventually if not immediately. But I don't really know. Hank seemed much better for her before he collapsed into a sad sack mess these last few weeks.
And while those three things are not small, it looks like they'll shrink in comparison to what's coming up next week. "Trouble in Candyland" was as entertaining an episode as we've had all season, filled with instances of drama and comedy that could've made for a fall finale if we weren't looking down the barrel of a Planet Cancer climax in less than a week. Stock up on tissues.
– The Julia/Victor storyline was more filler for their relationship troubles. I like that Victor called Julia's bluffs and that Sydney is starting to see seams in the parenting she's been complicit with all these years.
– Sadly, Joel's first independent storyline in years seems like little more than a place for Ryan to melt down. One day, he'll get his own thing. One day.
– Interesting point-of-view between Hank and his ex-wife (played by Breaking Bad's Betsy Brandt, who looks weird not draped in all purple): It's not very often you get a scene on this show where there isn't a Braverman directly involved. Sarah was inside with Ruby but we got whole pieces of their conversation without Sarah being around at all. Slightly jarring for me.
– No child is excited about moving to Minnesota, especially one who grew up in California. I call shenanigans.