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!