“I’m going out on my own terms.”
Throughout “Happy Birthday, Zeek”, responsibility to a family is placed alongside an individual’s desires, and the question for Zeek becomes not only whether he wants to do the surgery or not, but also whether what his family wants outweighs his insistence on going out on his own terms. There’s an interesting framing device to the episode in the birthday party–considering a birthday is probably the most personal day of each year–and the show utilizes that party to wonderfully execute its stories, bringing the Bravermans together for one of the last family gatherings we’ll be seeing.
First off, after a muted outing in the premiere, Crosby returns and clashes with Adam over Zeek’s surgery, and we see here that Crosby’s and Zeek’s attitudes are very similar. The stubbornness shines through for both of them, and they aren’t afraid to express their opinions even if it puts them at odds with the rest of their family. Eventually, Crosby and Adam engage in a shouting match at Zeek’s party, and we see just how heavily their father’s situation is weighing on them; Zeek sees it as well.
Of course, it’s something that Zeek’s always known. He knows that the collapse is serious. He knows that not doing the surgery and possibly dying as a result would crush his kids’ hearts. He knows that the rational route is the surgery route. However, he also knows that he doesn’t want to place himself in the hands of doctors. It isn’t until he finds out that Amber is pregnant that he decides to change his mind, that he decides to put the needs of his family above his own. After all, Zeek himself is trying to grasp that freshness, that vitality that’s symbolized by birth and life, and Amber’s new child is the perfect way to do so. He wants to be there to support her and to watch yet another person grow up.
That moment on the steps is perfectly acted by Mae Whitman and Craig T. Nelson, and the simplistic beauty of that scene is contrasted with many of the scenes in the first half of the episode. Take Sarah’s initial reaction to Amber’s pregnancy, for example, which ends up coming off cold–understandable, though–and distant. The silence says it all in both of these scenes, but the silence says different things. At the end of it all, though, both Sarah and Zeek wind up hugging Amber, letting her know that they support her and that they’re happy for her.
We have similar contrasts in tone for other storylines, as well. Sydney’s “I HATE YOU!” and Julia standing up to Joel are contrasted with the late night phone call at the end. The hectic nature of the lunch emergency–which takes precedent over a literal life and death conversation, apparently–is contrasted with Kristina telling Adam how appreciative Edgar’s mother is about them going out of their way to help. Finally, the Adam-Crosby argument is contrasted with the moment between Adam and Zeek in the kitchen, one beautifully played by Peter Krause.
This episode is all about reactions, about how we deal with the various situations that develop throughout our lives, about how we cope. Maybe you bully others and yell at your parents. Maybe you decide to make everything gluten and casein free. Maybe you enjoy the last few moments of your birthday, then decide to go ahead with the surgery.
-The final scene of the pilot was a baseball game. Series finales are known to end by bringing it all back around to the pilot’s final scene, and Zeek mentions that should he die, the family should scatter his ashes and play baseball over him. Is this what’s going to happen?
-This week on Haddie: She has disappeared. Why am I not surprised, show?
-The series will end with Sydney burning the world to the ground.
-Maybe when Zeek turns 80, the real band can drown out the kids’ voices?
Parent 1: My kid can only learn in outer space!
Adam: Well, let’s just start a class up there. It’s pretty easy to do.
-Next week for real: Ryan.
Photo credit: NBC, Parenthood