'Parenthood's "Jump Ball" Sees Amber Confront Seth & A Joel and Julia Decision

Oohhh, Bravermans, the trouble you find yourselves in. This week on Parenthood, it was drunken relationship grief and parental confrontation, the stewing anger and insecurity of a marriage at its very possible end, and multiple tales of emotional projection.

Let's start with two of the least compelling (or at least the least compelling for now; both these first two show promise for later on) storylines, and work our way to the last three, which are tied in my book:

Zeek/Camille

Camille's back from Italy, and she's got a rad new hairstyle (bangs!) and a conviction that she's not ready to let her dreams lie anymore. This means Zeek's left feeling stranded and alone even as his wife's twirling around him, and there's no sign of that changing until Zeek decides to buck up and join his wife for the ride or resigns himself to getting left behind for however long the rest of his life may be. After all, Camille didn't even seem all that sad by what she missed when she was gone.

This is especially true given that Camille's now also got another looming departure: She's going to France in three months, whether Zeek likes it or not. I personally am rooting for Zeek to join her or at least support her with more than a forced smile, if only because I like Camille a lot more when she's exploring her true artistic world-wandering '60s self and not forcing herself into the Housewife & Grandmother box she's been in for all these decades. 

Drew/Amy/College

What seemed like a completely benign story of sweet high school sweetheart rekindling this week turned into a rather fascinating look at a slice of the psychology of college life. For instance: Drew's doing fine, adjusting healthily. Amy is not. Amy is, on her side of the table, experiencing what a whole lotta people in the real world have experienced before her: She went to college and she hated it. It could be because it was far away or because the girls were snobby or because it was cold or just because she wasn't ready; it doesn't really matter because the end result was the same, and that is that Amy found herself alone and depressed, and so she ran away from it all and saved herself through Drew. 

Amy may not be into drugs or have PTSD, and she is by all accounts a completely normal girl and not a person who is likely to start a bar brawl. But she is, as she admitted this episode, finding all of her solace, all of her happiness right now, through a human being who is not herself. This is no good for Drew — he missed an awesome field trip and he's saddling himself to one thing in a year a lot of people use for experimentation and expression of freedom — but it's just as not good for Amy. 

Hank/Adam/Kristina

Something very strange happened this week, but perhaps it's something that we should have seen coming: Hank became Adam and Kristina's son. At the very least, he became a borderline unhealthy projection of their actual son, Max, once they were clued in to the fact that Hank might have Asperger's. Suddenly they see all the possibilities for Max's future reflected in Hank: Marriage (though Hank's divorced), kids (though he and his daughter don't tend to see eye-to-eye), romantic relationships (though none have lasted). And, almost instantaneously, Adam's parental projections result in some of that patented Adam-and-Kristina defensive protectionism. 

When Ray Romano's casting as a new love interest for Sarah was first announced, there were two things of which I was sure: 1) That I was extremely conflicted and a little peeved, considering how well I thought Mark and Sarah were working and how much I wanted the show to focus less on another Sarah romantic triangle and more on other ways for Sarah to grow as a human, and 2) That Ray Romano's Hank was not going to last long. That first one is a relic of emotions past, but this can be said of the second: I was dead wrong. Not only did he outlast Jason Ritter's Mark Cyr, he actually got his own storyline, a rarity for even those who officially marry into the Braverman family. (Sorry Jasmine, sorry Joel.) 

Hank has been a pleasant (if curmudgeonly) surprise for this series, and his current storyline is especially bright. Has television ever seen a coming-of-age story so unique and yet so quietly important as that of a grown man's path to self-discovery through the realization that he might have Asperger's? 

Amber/Seth

The last time we saw Amber on a downward spiral, she ended up in a cliffhanger car wreck, with her family weeping in the emergency room. In other words, there was reason to be worried, especially with that trailer last week and piled-on allusions to the fact that she's the daughter of an alcoholic.

Worry not, however, for despite a few shady — and beautifully acted by Mae Whitman — scenes, I don't think this show's headed down an Alcoholic Amber story line anytime soon. 

Still, her grief over Ryan had to come to a head, and where better for it to lead her than to the workplace of her father, the man Ryan's been compared to since their first break-up last season, and consistently throughout Sarah's questioning of the engagement.  

And so Amber makes her way up to where Seth absconded to upon sobriety, where she then got mad drunk (and I mean that literally, not just as slang) and got belligerent with a fellow bar patron. She also got belligerent with Seth, especially when he made the very smart choice to prevent her from driving whilst wasted. And like I said, where better to go when you feel abandoned by the man you love than to the guy who gave you abandonment issues in the first place?

And then she dropped the bomb on him. Though it's not exactly groundbreaking news for anyone who's watched a deadbeat and/or alcoholic dad story on any television show ever, it sure had to hit these two hard. Amber, in her drunken rage, screamed that she's worried she'll wind up like her father.

Seth, for his part, takes this as his chance to step up and actively. He takes Amber home, calls Sarah, and he makes sure she's fed and pep-talked in the morning. "You could never be me," he said. "You've got your mother in you." 

Amber is a sweet, smart, caring, incredibly empathetic woman. She's also got a lot of anger inside of her. The way things ended with Ryan brought that up to the surface. Luckily for us, and for her, she's never not risen to a challenge to evolve. 

Joel/Julia

I have said it countless times this season: Ugh, these two. Things haven't changed much since last week's confrontation: Joel's still filled with all that anger he's been holing up in all season, and he's far less willing to let go of it than Amber is. And so he sleeps at work and doesn't come home and doesn't talk to Julia in any real way, and Julia is left stranded, marooned and blamed in some crappy sea of Marital Troubles that absolutely 100 percent will not get better until the day (if it happens) that Joel decides he's willing to listen to her again. 

I've expounded on this storyline all season long, so I will, for the most part, resist here, but here's a big thing that happened: Joel's moving out. He said it, he meant it, there's a 95 percent chance it's actually going to happen.

That's, of course, a momentous decision for a show like this to make. And there are two possible outcomes: Joel and Julia get a divorce (which would be fascinating, especially given it's not that often that we follow a TV couple from happily married to divorced), or Joel and Julia start the separation process and reconcile along the way. Both storylines have their merits, but I personally am rooting for the latter, both because I'm a giant sap (and rather enjoy watching Joel be romantic and in love) and because I'm honestly kind of mad at Joel right now for his emotional stubbornness, even when I look at it their problems from his side. Perhaps that's because I keep comparing him to the Joel That Was — the kindhearted one who didn't have a cruel bone in his body. But maybe that guy's gone. 

Either way, it's all keeping me watching next week — not that there was ever a question of that. 

Bonus question: Is anyone on this show ever going to mention Haddie, ever again?

Image: NBC 

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