The "Ersatz" <i>Parenthood</i> Finale

The "Ersatz"Finale
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The relentlessly upbeat, upscale and photogenic advent of the Braverman clan minus its progenitor Zeek, propelled forward into a future of happiness was the final scene of Parenthood. For me though, an unabashed acolyte of the series from the first episode of the first season, the finale felt completely alien, evincing the slogan with which a completely disparate series, the new season of Girls, was promoted on the MTA buses: "The only way to grow is up".

I am not a grinch: I have never begrudged the Bravermans and their spouses and myriad offspring their eventual happy endings to all their troubles. And they all had more than their fair share of nitty-gritty reality: Cristina's (Monica Potter's) heart-rending battles with corrupt and therefore successful (...) politicians, depression, and eventually, most potently, cancer, all compounded by her almost preternaturally destined for trouble elder daughter, Haddie (Sarah Ramos); Sarah's (Lauren Graham) difficulty to find stability of a financial as well as existential nature; Max's (Max Burkholder) horribly challenging struggle to overcome the emotional, social and human cost that severe Asberger's can wreak on sufferers and their families; the deleterious consequences of errant fathers on their children's psyches and lives (in the case of Sarah's children, Amber (Mae Whitman) and Drew (Miles Heizer), and Crosby's (Dax Shepard) son, Jabar (Tyree Brown); the trouble Julia's (Erika Christensen) preteen daughter Sydney (Savannah Paige Rae) had in adjusting to new, adopted siblings as well as the derailment of her parents' marriage; even the effect of infidelity on the most primal and intrinsic bond of the series--the marriage of the Braverman patriarch, Zeek (Craig T. Nelson) Zeke, to his wife, Camille (Bonnie Bedelia).

That they all pulled through, reaching that "Paradise Regained" state of grace on "the other side", was fortunate and not unrealistic; there are only two ways any drama can go, so any regular Joe has a 50% to happiness--let alone the Braverman community's charmed circle.

What felt schmaltz-y to me was the ersatz "sorrow intermingled with joy" and utter lack of grief and its distorting, depraved quality, as exhibited in the "watch us play baseball in Zeek's memory" video, by the entire Braverman clan. It was also terrifying to see how rapidly and smoothly the members of a family so closely involved with one another--they don't really have the time or will to do much else--moved on from Zeek's death to an, apparently, infinite and unfettered by any shadow, abundance in terms of money, success and fertility .

So, OK, so we lost Zeek but it's alright folks, we got a replacement brand-new baby Zeek from Amber who also somehow figured a great hubbie in the equation too, two more babies on the Julia-Joel (Sam Jaeger) side, one more on the Crosby-Jasmine (Joy Bryant) side, and god forbid we forget the new adorably cute puppy, perfectly curated to match the effortlessly sleek good looks of the family.

The whole sequence felt like overwrought imagery set to provoke a celebratory "Hallelujah" effect, everyone so moved, and elated, embraced by their lives, all wrapped up and elevated within a generous and warm cocoon of optimism and elation and true emotion and complete dearth of boundaries or endings. And I suppose it was merely a vehement cinematographically too cute assertion of the reality that we all usually (are compelled to) come to terms with more or less traumatically: we just go on and get on with it, whatever "it" is, because we just have to, it's part of the definition of being human and therefore mortal. This process becomes more feasible when we are surrounded by loved ones, and time passes and it is full of new life. All these factors have a palliative if devouring effect on life, erasing the intensity of memory and loss, so we can endure and overcome, and then, prepped by this gradual ebbing, decimation and overcoming of grief which is as much a revolt against mortality as anything else, can we eventually accept and settle in for the loss of our own life.

Yet the temporal unmooring death provokes and the acknowledgement that at best it will in time settle into a memory of loss of existential outreach, is maybe, a measure of how much we have loved and have lost. And that is the greatest thing one can hope for: to have loved and been loved so deeply that it is only by the very greatest effort that our loved ones can continue with their lives. I am not advocating doing things the ancient Egyptian or Hindu way (family members, usually wives, committing suicide or being killed to follow the dead on their way through the underworld), nor is it healthy to obsess about death. But death is no kale and quinoa salad, no self-powering marathon race, no "experience" intrinsically meant to be transmogrified into vibrant joy and life. It's a horrible fact whose "naturalness" (especially when following the "naturally" expected order of things, such as parents dying before their children, older people before young ones...) does not, should not construe itself into acceptance within the human psyche. It is a fact of life whose existence and inevitability we daily struggle to ignore or defy, especially for our most loved ones.

"The rule for the dead is that they should be forgotten" writes Saul Bellow in "Ravelstein", "After burial there is a universal gradual progress toward oblivion. But with Ravelstein this didn't altogether work. He occupied a more conspicuous space in Rosmanund's life as well as mine... You don't easily give up a creature like Ravelstein to death" -- in contrast to the Bravermans who with such terrible perfection fulfilled the exhortation "onwards Christian soldiers" that still, evidently, lies at the heart of the American narrative. Good riddance to them.

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