Amid their personal dramas, the family gathers to celebrate Zeek's birthday, which forces him to make a big decision about his life.
Credit: Colleen Hayes/NBC
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Braverman family get-togethers are always full of chaos, aren’t they? This week, Zeek’s 72nd birthday brings the typical culprits out in full force: Sydney’s sassiness (could somebody puh-leeze put that child in time-out for the next two or 20 years?), Adam and Crosby’s bickering, Sarah’s (hilarious) cluelessness, Julia’s (failed) attempts to please everyone, too much talking over one another, dancing (always dancing), and buckets full of tears (theirs and mine). Causing the tears this time? Adam. And Zeek. And Amber. And Amber and Zeek. But let’s back up, because long before the tears fell at the end of this episode, there was some news to respond—or not respond—to.

“Happy Birthday, Zeek” picks up immediately after episode 1’s abrupt ending when Amber dropped the bomb to Sarah that she was pregnant, which was met with nothing but an expressionless, “Oh.” (Spoiler alert: Sarah does not regain expression for the rest of the episode.) After Sarah asks “who?” (really?), “how?” (valid question), and “are you keeping it?” (ouch), it’s clear Amber is surprised and upset at her mother’s reaction of ambivalence. There’s no comforting hug. No words of support. No yelling or crying. And perhaps most shocking of all? No talking over each other. There’s nothing from Sarah except calmly removing the glass of wine from Amber’s hands and walking away. Sarah’s reaction—or her non-reaction—is out of character. Sure, she’s shocked; that’s understandable. But through all the ups and downs we’ve seen these two go through over the past five seasons, Sarah has always been a supportive mother, and now when Amber needs her more than she’s ever needed her before, she’s checked out.

Over at Adam and Kristina’s, it’s the usual before-school bedlam as Adam makes Max breakfast that he refuses to eat while at the same time admonishing his parents for something he currently finds offensive (this time it’s the fact that the new school doesn’t offer photography as an art elective) and Kristina fields phone calls from the mother of a kid at their new charter school (because of course she gave out their home number). Seems that the boy needs gluten and casein free lunches, and Kristina wants Adam to call the food vendor and make arrangements for that to happen. She’s an adorable ball of altruism, no question, but man can she be demanding. Max is still mumbling about the injustice of the art elective options and how Adam and Kristina are running a fascist institution. Think what you will about his attitude, the kid’s got some pretty great zingers.

Meanwhile, Zeek is back at his doctor’s office, and the news isn’t great. It looks like it’s time to consider open-heart surgery (which his doctor strongly advises) because the next time he collapses, he might not be so lucky. Zeek—in true Zeek form—isn’t taking his doctor’s diagnosis seriously and immediately refutes his advice. Millie—in true Millie form—admonishes him in a monotone voice only snails can hear. Later, after getting a call from his mother urging him to talk some sense into his father, Adam spills the beans about the surgery standoff to Crosby, who is irate to (once again) be left out of any serious family counseling and insists on going to talk to Zeek with Adam.

NEXT: Joel gets lawyered

Joel and Julia have been summoned to a meeting with Sydney’s teacher, who tells them that their little darling is bullying a fellow classmate. Julia is shocked. The rest of the Parenthood viewing population is not. The teacher asks if there’s something going on at home (do you have a few hours?) and Joel hastily mentions the fact that they’re separated (which leaves out about 90 percent of the other reasons for Sydney’s behavior, like the fact THAT SHE’S NEVER BEEN REPRIMANDED). With a quick “thank you for bringing this to our attention,” Julia makes a clean getaway only to be stopped by Joel, who suddenly wants to talk. “This is not like her,” he says (uh, I totally disagree) and Julia spits back, “Moving out and giving up on me was not like you… AT ALL.” But she’s not through. “I begged you for a year to talk to me and you refused to do that and it broke me… you can’t pretend like you didn’t destroy me, because you did. You destroyed us. All of us.” BAM. Lawyered.

Okay, before we stand up and cheer and send our “Team Julia” shirts to the printer, or point fingers and shout, “Oh, no you didn’t!” at her, let’s talk this through. On the one hand, she’s got a pretty great point. Joel did completely shut her out last year when she was going through some rough adjustments with her identity after quitting work. He was totally uncommunicative. Did his behavior push her into the arms of Ed, who was not only going through marriage problems of his own but who provided the support Julia desperately needed that Joel was refusing to give? Absolutely. Did she need to get as cozy with Ed as she did (after all, an emotional affair is still an affair—or is it?) and then keep it a secret from Joel? No she did not. So in that sense it might not be fair to say that Joel was the only one who destroyed them, but then again, he refused all of her attempts to get help and save the marriage and very abruptly pulled up stakes and moved out. What do you think? Send the shirts to the printer? Continue the finger pointing?

Sarah tries to redeem herself for her earlier stoic reaction to the pregnancy news and pays Amber a visit. Things don’t go much better the second go-round: “It’s not that I don’t want you to do this, it’s that I wish you weren’t doing it now.” Ouch and double ouch. Really? I think she needs to just take a lap and try again later.

Over at Chambers Academy, all hell is breaking loose because the food vendor refuses to make individual lunches and walks out (Kristina: “Sorry kids, he must eat too much casein… gluten… whatever.”). Kristina calls Adam—who is in the car with Crosby on the way to talk some sense into Zeek about the heart surgery—and tells him he needs to pick up 40 hot lunches and bring them to the school ASAP. Because of course poor Adam has to save everyone’s day (seriously, it must be so exhausting being him), he agrees to get the lunches and reluctantly sends Crosby to convince Zeek to have the surgery. One guess as to how that turns out. Zeek tells his younger son that it’s an elective surgery that he’s elected not to have and assures Crosby that his condition isn’t terminal. Sweet, gullible Crosby.

Later that night, Kristina is searching the interwebs for a vendor that will make individual lunches for all 40 kids (hold on while I laugh for 30 minutes). She feels like she’s failing, so Super-Adam comes to the rescue with an idea for a culinary (or is it QUElinary?!?) arts program where the kids will help him cook all the lunches. Anyone else feeling like there’s sure to be some future conflict with the new school and The Luncheonette? HE’S ONLY ONE MAN, FOR GOODNESS SAKES. The next day, the Chambers Academy kitchen is a flurry of madcap chaos, with autistic children lighting matches, wielding knives, and peppering Adam with constant questions. It’s borderline ridiculous, and Max—as always—has an opinion: “This is not art. This is slave labor.”

NEXT: Let him eat cake

There’s a party going on at Adam and Kristina’s to celebrate Zeek’s birthday (it’s the new family gathering place, apparently), and the gang is all arriving. There’s the usual chaos: Julia has thoughtfully brought a gluten-free, sugar-free fruit tart in lieu of a birthday cake (which everyone immediately complains about and gags over); the littlest Bravermans are all running about showcasing various degrees of brattiness (Sydney once again winning that contest); Adam and Crosby are arguing over the fact that Crosby didn’t convince Zeek to have the surgery and Sarah walks in late, oblivious to all of the drama (as usual). When Adam confronts Zeek about his refusal to have the surgery, Zeek reminds his son that he could die on that table. Adam points out the 95 percent success rate, yet Zeek isn’t willing to take those odds. He tells Adam that his doctor admitted that if the surgery isn’t a success he’d have a diminished quality of life, and that’s not a life he wants. Adam breaks down: “If you don’t have the surgery you could die, dad. What do I do then?” Seems like Super-Adam might be more human than he appears. “I’m going out on my own terms,” Zeek tells his son. Interesting conundrum. When you are a parent, who do you answer to? Yourself… or your kids? Zeek has every right to write the terms for his life, but at what point does the responsibility to his family come into play in that decision?

Seems like we’re about to find out. When Zeek discovers Amber alone on the front porch, she breaks down and tells her grandpa that she’s pregnant. Zeek immediately hugs her and gives her the kind of reaction she’s been craving. Through smiles and laughter of joy, he tells her it’s “incredible” and “wonderful” and “the most beautiful thing in the world!” After returning to the party, the Braverman grandchildren give Zeek their gift of a recorded song (my ears! my ears!) and the family breaks into the patented Braverman dance party while Zeek looks around, realizing all he has to lose. Later, over a giant piece of gluten-y, sugary chocolate cake, Zeek tells Millie he’s decided to have the surgery. Family for the win.

Apparently Sarah has taken that lap and come to her senses because she shows up at Amber’s with a book of baby pictures. Amber immediately starts to cry (damn pregnancy hormones!) when Sarah tells her that she realizes that she forgot to tell her about all the good stuff. “We’re gonna be okay,” she says, and finally—finally—gives her daughter the hug we’ve been waiting for.

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