[Warning: This article contains major spoilers about Thursday's series finale of Parenthood. Read at your own risk (and with tissues)!]
Tear-filled eyes. Broken heart. And now we've officially lost Parenthood. The Bravermans said goodbye on Thursday with - no spoiler alert needed here - an equally heartbreaking and heartwarming finale.
The show's final hour brought this past season's story lines to a happy resolution (with one glaring exception) and provided an uplifting look into the future. In the episode, Sarah (Lauren Graham) and Hank (Ray Romano) tie the knot in front of all their family and friends (including Haddie!), and Zeek (Craig T. Nelson) is well enough to walk his "favorite" child down the aisle.
At the wedding, Zeek and Camille (Bonnie Bedelia) invite Amber (Mae Whitman) to move in with them. Although she initially protests, they explain they want her and baby Zeek moving in to be their "third act." Amber is also ecstatic because Crosby (Dax Shepard) has decided to keep The Luncheonette open without Adam so now Crosby will be the new Adam, and Amber will be the new Crosby. Adam (Peter Krause), meanwhile, gets offered Kristina's position as headmaster of Chambers Academy when she gets a lucrative offer for a nonprofit set on opening other charter schools just like Chambers. And finally, after their difficult year, Julia (Erika Christensen) and Joel (Sam Jaeger) get word that Victor's mother welcomed a baby girl - Victor's half sister - and they decide to adopt her. The wedding is also good because Max takes a lot of great photos of the whole family so now everyone can officially retire that Season 4 portrait featuring Mark Cyr.
For all the happy news, there is sadness as well. When Camille is seen looking over Max's photographs from the wedding, she turns and finds Zeek dead in his wingback chair. It's a quiet and graceful way to go for the character. The final moments of the finale show the entire Braverman clan standing in a circle as they each pour a tiny portion of Zeek's ashes onto their local baseball field before engaging in a friendly family game. Intercut with footage from the game are flash-forwards to the Bravermans' future: Camille goes to visit Chez Marie, the place Zeek had wanted to take her. Crosby is successfully running The Luncheonette, and Jasmine (Joy Bryant) is pregnant again. Julia and Joel now have four kids: Victor, Sydney, Victor's sister and another baby boy. As the headmaster of Chambers, Adam gets to give Max his high school diploma. In the best flash-forward of all - Sarah and Hank are still happily married, and Amber is now with a man played by Friday Night Lights' Scott Porter, who has a little girl in his lap. She gets up to answer the door and there is Ryan (fellow FNL alum Matt Lauria) who comes in with a slightly more grown Zeek as Amber's new man and old flame shake hands.
How did that reunion come about? And why was that the right way for Zeek to go? We spoke with Parenthood creator Jason Katims about all that and more:
Why was this right way for Zeek to go? What were you trying to say with that scene?
Jason Katims: I think that since that was a story line that we told over the entire season and we had two episodes that were specifically about him having a major event and ending up in a hospital, my instinct was when Zeek died, it should be this sort of very understated, quiet moment because we had already played all the big dramatic moments with ambulances and IVs and doctors. It just felt like it should happen in this unexpected, quiet moment with Camille discovering it. And also, I knew we were leading to Zeek passing away toward the very end of the final episode, but I didn't want that to be the feeling that the audience was left with. I didn't want our final note that we played on the show to be about a death so I wanted that to be understated to sort of give way to what comes after it: These beautiful images of the family coming together on the baseball field. Baseball has been this metaphor since the pilot and all throughout the show for the Braverman family and how deeply connected they are. And then these sort of hopeful and uplifting moments of flash-forward and you see that, despite losing their patriarch, that the family goes on and continues to grow and thrive.
Was there one particular scene that was the most emotional or most difficult for you to write? Katims: I think the most emotionally difficult to write was the scene where Zeek dies. Even though that was the plan from the very first day of the writer's room of the season; when we got together and we knew it was our final season, this was the first thing we all talked about and decided we were going to do. Even though you decide that, it's very hard to actually write it and to kind of picture it. It's obviously the type of story line that many of us have gone through or are going through in different ways, and so that was definitely was a tough one.
One of the biggest surprises was the appearance by Scott Porter. How long did you have that in mind and how did that come about?
Katims: Well, we had the flash-forward in mind for a long time. When we started to think about the flash-forwards and what they all would be, I actually had this idea of seeing the moment where they first met, when the Scott Porter character was a single dad with his kid in a park and Amber with her baby and their eyes meet. We actually shot a version of that but weren't able to use it in the show. The idea of finding somebody down the road who was maybe her soul mate - I liked the idea of getting to that with that character. It was very difficult to cast because it was such an important role but it was also a role where there were literally no lines. I didn't think I could bear to just go to an actor who I had never worked with before and have them come in and just sort of be there. So the idea of trying to reach out to somebody who was more of a star that we would recognize came up and then I thought of Scott because I, obviously, had a relationship with him, and I also knew that he was a fan of Parenthood. It was just wonderful. There was not a second's hesitation from him. He wanted to do it and he came on. He just brought this great energy so even though he was just coming there for a day, it felt like he was part of our family.
Is there one scene you had to cut for time that really stands out that you really wish had stayed in?
Katims: There were a few scenes that were painful to cut. The toughest one was John Corbett, who plays Sarah's ex-husband - we had a really wonderful scene with him where he meets his grandchild and sort of makes a promise to be there for the grandchild and also acknowledges that Sarah is moving on and getting married. It sort of put a nice closure on that relationship. There was also a nice scene with all the adult siblings and Zeek and Camille kind of right before Sarah's wedding. They're congratulating her on the wedding but doing it in a way where they're basically ribbing her and making fun of her for and going over every relationship she's had over the past six years. There were a few scenes that were tough to cut, but I felt like we had to and sometimes those things work out where it's difficult to cut, but the episode actually works better.
Now that people have watched the finale, what do you hope that viewers take away from this last episode?
Katims: We're so aware of the passion and the loyalty of our fans. I really wanted to have this finale be something that they feel is the finale that the show deserves. That's what we really worked hard to do. What I hope that they take away from it is even though there's this very brutally sad aspect of it, of Zeek passing, that what we see after it is ultimately uplifting because it's about the family coming together, which I think the show has always been about. The family coming together despite the curve balls that life throws at you. It's Max having Asperger's and learning to deal with that and Kristina going through breast cancer and Joel and Julia going through their marital issues and so many other things that we have kind of dealt with along the way. But the strength of that family is, I think, what we're really left with - seeing how this family has continued to thrive and grow in unexpected ways. Hopefully they'll feel like, "Well, I wish the show wasn't over, but if it had to end, this is the right way to do it."
What did you think of the Parenthood finale? Will you miss the show?
Dry those tears and watch this supercut of the Bravermans' best dance moves: