This is a little tardy since the most recent episode of Parenthood (“There’s Something I Need to Tell You …”) aired over a week ago, but I—perhaps like many of you—typically watch shows online several days later. Nevertheless, this is a follow up to a recent post regarding new developments in the Braverman clan. I am really enjoying season 4 for all its insight into human nature (and relationships, and suffering, and grace…), and this time I want to highlight what is happening with the Julia Braverman-Graham, the hard charging lawyer in the family played by Erika Christensen.
Spoiler alert: Don’t read on if you’re not caught up with the show.
I mentioned in my previous post that Kristina has been endearing herself to me lately despite being one of my least favorite characters in previous seasons, and I must say the same thing regarding her sister-in-law, Julia, as well. She and her husband Joel recently adopted a young boy named Victor who looks to be about 10-years-old. To make a long story short, this addition to their family has not been easy, and Julia is struggling at work as a result. The portrayal of Julia in this episode is a profound illustration of human suffering and the absolute need to die to anything like self-justification.
There were four poignant scenes from this episode that highlight Julia’s current struggles and her eventual release. First, we see her stressed out and at work late at night when her husband calls to remind her of their daughter’s dance recital, which Julia decides she must miss much to her daughter’s dismay. The next scene explains that Julia’s stress is due to a big-time rookie mistake she made in a legal case.
The next scene portrays her having a nervous breakdown in her kitchen as her children are being utterly demanding and she burns the toast and eggs she is cooking for breakfast. The highlight of this scene is a cinematic focus on her futile attempt to scrape off the burned toast while she is surrounded by the cacophony of yelling and the beeping of a smoke alarm. She then falls to the floor sobbing while Joel asks her if she is OK (see the previous post regarding being “OK”), to which she responds:
No, I’m not alright … I can’t do it. It’s just too much.
The episode ends later that day with Julia sitting before the partners of her law firm at an intimidating boardroom table, and the following dialogue takes place between her and the firm’s partners
Leon: Where have you been?
Julia: I was at my son’s baseball game. I’m sorry. My phone was in my purse.
Leon: Not this morning. The last six month’s … Julia, what the hell happened to you? Where have you been? Your hours have been dismal, and now you miss a discovery deadline?
Julia: I’m sorry. I will make this up.
Unnamed Partner: Do you have any idea what this is costing this firm? Clients threatening to walk. This is a multi-million-dollar screw-up. Two years ago this wouldn’t have happened. A year ago this wouldn’t have happened. This is rookie crap.
Julia: You’re right. I-I-I apologize.
Leon: What we’re trying to say, Julia, is you were on a partner track.
Julia: I was?
Leon: You need to tell us right now that this will never happen again, and you need to tell us that you want this job, that your focus is 100% on your clients.
[Long dramatic pause. Then this—the best part:]
Julia: I don’t think that it is. I-I don’t think that I am 100% committed.
Leon: Julia. [Looking around the room very surprised.]
Julia: I thought that I could do it all, but I can’t. Not now, anyway. Thank you for these last nine years, Leon. I quit.
I want to clarify two points: First, if you watch the episode, you will see that this is by no means a take-this-job-and-shove-it kind of emotional adolescence. Rather, Julia seems to realize in the midst of the meeting that she cannot bear all the expectations of being a fully capable mother and a 100%-committed partner-track lawyer at the same time. Second, I am not condoning “quitting” in a simplistic sort of way. Rather, we see the power of Julia giving up on the crushing notion that she can live up to all these gigantic expectations (compare to the Law). In other words, she cannot earn her Justification, so she may as well die to the idea, letting go of her attempts to do so. I have no idea what is in store for Julia in upcoming episodes. Hopefully we will see something like a rising from the ash-heaps of life—a liberation from the weight of the world that might just finally allow her to bear the good fruits that the unrealistic expectations of her past demanded but were unable to produce.
Much of what happened to Julia and what has been happening to Kristina more recently bodes well with Mockingbird’s most recent conference in Charlottesville, so if you haven’t already, do yourself a favor and listen to the recordings. For the sake of what I am highlighting here, I recommend R-J Heijmen and Paul Zahl’s talks most especially, which speak so profoundly about suffering, hopelessness, and the 100% need for the grace of God amidst it all. Thus, I would be remiss to end this post without mentioning that the void in the lives of the Bravermans among us can only finally be filled by the unconditional love of God found in Jesus Christ—a Message, of course, that is unlikely to be shared (at least explicitly) on a network TV program like Parenthood. But such a show highlights the absolute human need for this Love, especially in an age and culture that demands of us picture-perfect performances at every turn.
The next episode (“I’ll Be Right Here …”), which should deliver more tear-jerking moments, is due to air next Tuesday; here is a preview: