Julia may not have kissed her new friend Ed on last week's episode of Parenthood, but in the eyes of the show's loyal fans, what actually happened may have been worse. After learning that, despite her extra efforts, her son Victor would have to be moved back down to fourth grade, Julia tearfully embraced Ed, and not her husband, Joel (Sam Jaeger).
"Julia's relationship with Ed is confusing to her because it feels so good to have a friend who's completely open to anything and everything that she wants to say," Erika Christensen tells TVGuide.com. "I think if she's being very honest with herself — yeah, she has a little crush on him. But if Joel and Julia were not going through what they're going through right now, it would be nothing to bat an eye at."
Although it seems like things couldn't get much worse for the longtime solid couple, Julia will hit a new low in Thursday's episode (10/9c, NBC) when Victor (Xolo Mariduena) actually reenters fourth grade and Joel is nowhere to be found. "He leaves her alone. He completely makes her feel like they are not a team; that she's truly alone in everything that she's struggling with. So that's what makes it such a breaking point for her," Christensen says. "There's the kind of hurt that's like, 'I'm lashing back at you,' and she gets to one of those places in this episode and it does not help resolve their relationship."
Christensen talked with TVGuide.com about what's next after Julia's breaking point, her initial reaction to the story line and why she's still hopeful.
How has it been this season shooting all of these emotional scenes and these arguments between Julia and Joel?
Erika Christensen: It is pretty exhausting. It's hard on Sam and me because we're so emotionally invested in these characters and their life together. It's interesting how personally we're taking it. It's been not quite as fun as the previous years of having Joel and Julia as a united front against other exterior obstacles.
How did you react when you first heard that they were to go through these issues this season?
Christensen: My initial reaction was like, "Oh, maybe this will be something fun and sexy because we'll have these other people coming around." I didn't predict how deep it was going to run, and how much fighting there was going to be. They really have been a block, this couple. They're the kind who would never let the sun set on an argument previously, so it's really interesting to see them acting this way.
What do you think it is that has changed the dynamic of their relationship so much?
Christensen: I think it's just this horrible confluence of factors that has been stacking up and stacking up. Obviously, Julia's really been having an identity crisis since she hasn't been working. And Joel is now the opposite. He has this resurgence of pride in his work, and long, long hours in which to do it. So they're just so disconnected circumstantially, and then the stress of the expansion of the family with Victor that they've really had to adjust to and get used to. And then you throw on top of it his damn fine boss Pete and Julia's new friend, Ed, and it's just kind of the perfect storm.
After this breaking point that Julia reaches on Thursday, where did she and Joel go from there as a couple? Do they try couples counseling or is there talk of trying some time apart?
Christensen: There's both, which I don't really want to admit. There's talk of couples therapy. There's testing out of: do they just need to cool down separately? It's very much a real-life examination of this instead of the TV version which is in fast-forward. It's very, very slow and painful because they're trying so hard. It's not an easy choice. If they were just kids, they would just break up, but they have a family and they have 10 years of a loving relationship. They're definitely going to do everything they can think of to try and make it work. Hopefully — because I don't actually know for sure — something will bite and they'll be able to find what they once had.
How has that been as an actress to play these scenes and not know how it's going to turn out?
Christensen: It makes it easier and harder. It makes it easier as an actor and makes it harder personally because it's just that much more worrisome because, of course we want them to be together.
Have you started to come to grips with the possibility that they won't be together at the end of the season?
Christensen: It has crossed my mind and then what makes me curious is where things would go next year, or where they would pick up next year because the next season [usually] starts in real time. Cut to six months later or eight months later, however long it's been since we've been off the air, so they would have had a lot of time to address things in couples therapy and work things out amongst themselves, but it's just like what does it mean?! You want as much information as you can, but we're also huge fans of the show and we don't want to ruin it for ourselves as audience members.
Why do you think it's been important to tell this story and introduce problems for Joel and Julia?
Christensen: Obviously it's something that a lot of people can relate to. [Showrunner] Jason [Katims] was really excited from the beginning to really dig deep on this exploration and so it's just an honor that we get to do that with him. ... I don't want the moral of the story to be: Well, look at this beautiful, strong, 10-year relationship and so it could happen to anyone. I don't think that's the point. I think the point is, when you're in it, how do you deal with things? How does it feel? And how validating it is so to see it explored truthfully.
How has the fan reaction been so far?
Christensen: They're as upset as we are which is great. It's kind of sadistic, but we have been getting a very good reaction, which is people being so upset. ... I hope for Erika and Sam, for Joel and Julia, and for everyone who is a fan of the show, that they can pull through this.
What gives you this hope despite all the obstacles against them?
Christensen: I guess it's just their history together. They're both such good people and they're quite articulate which is really, really helpful in a relationship to be able to have the fight instead of just squashing it down. The only real obstacle is whether or not they want to save it and that's kind of the next big step of exploration.
Parenthood airs Thursdays at 10/9c on NBC. Are you worried for Joel and Julia? Do you think they might actually split up?