It's been an emotionally trying season of "Parenthood," but the most heart-wrenching storyline is easily the dissolution of Joel and Julia's marriage. As the plausibility of reconciliation dissipates, Huff Post TV sat down to talk about the way the show has handled their trial separation. Is it a tragically realistic picture of the path to divorce ... or is Joel just being an alien? Here's what we found:
Leigh: Okay, so I've decided Joel's acting like an alien.
Lauren: At this point in the narrative, yes, definitely behaving like a lightly-bearded extra terrestrial from planet Illogical Divorce. But I feel like this trial separation scenario at least started off on a very realistic note, no?
Leigh: I don't know. I mean, yeah, Julia was acting a little bit selfish. But she'd acted selfish before, and Joel was great. Remember when she was being all crazy about adopting and Joel was completely patient and kind? It seems like he just snapped at the beginning of this season, and I can't help thinking someone kidnapped him.
Lauren: There was definitely a switch that I think needs a little more explicit context. But initially their tension was so well done, it was almost poetic! I mean the painful slow burn of the two of them becoming increasingly unable to connect with each other? That felt very heartbreakingly real to me. In general Joel is definitely the patient and kind type, but certainly less expressive than the rest of the Braverman clan.
Leigh: Okay, you're starting to persuade me just a little bit. Initially it was kind of believable. He was spending all that time with Pete (who's kind of the worst), and she was getting closer to Ed Brooks. They were growing apart, and I got that, but one day Joel was just like, "I'm moving out," and my jaw dropped. It didn't make sense! So can we talk about current Joel and how crazy he is? How could he look Julia in the eye and tell her that no, he wasn't willing to work on their relationship, when all she really did was kiss someone?
Lauren: Yes, I will concede that, at this point, he is being completely opaque (and the whole thing has stopped feeling expertly done and just become sort of unexplainable). When Julia admitted she kissed Ed back in Episode 5, I couldn't help but think of Season 1, when Joel was a stay-at-home dad and had a very similar (actually more deliberately flirty) relationship with Raquel. This whole thing is so obviously not just about kissing, that I almost don't believe he wouldn't have explained what he is really upset about at this point.
Leigh: SO true. I didn't even think about Raquel. So, assuming he hasn't secretly morphed into an alien -- and let's be real, that isn't Jason Katims' style -- what do you think is going on? Two episodes ago, Julia brought up that Joel's dad had cheated on his mom. But could that really be all it is? Or do you think it's something bigger than that?
Lauren: Definitely something bigger. When he told Julia he didn't want to work things out, he said, "I thought this was a relationship based on mutual respect." That's what shattered it for him, long before Julia even started volunteering at the school. He committed himself to ensuring Julia could pursue her all-consuming and intensely stressful career. But when he switched from stay-at-home dad to primary breadwinner, she showed no appreciation for his work outside the home and was consistently belittling him, in a way he never would have done to her, when she was on a partner track at her firm. Julia comparing the situation to his parents is probably just her searching for explanations. It seems to me like her faux affair with Ed is just the extremely broad-shouldered straw that broke the camels back.
Leigh: I guess that's possible, but I don't entirely agree that Julia wasn't supportive. Sure, she had her moments -- she shouldn't have shown up at his job that one time to complain about the kids -- but she consistently told him she was happy for him. "Old Joel" would have been more understanding of how tough it is on Julia to transition from working mom to stay-at-home mom.
Lauren: His character has become increasingly impossible to deal with, but I've been granting him allowances on that front, because I assumed he was just frustrated. Do you think he just fell out of love with her? Maybe we're being too practical trying to nail down a specific cause.
Leigh: Also possible. At first I thought he had a thing for Pete, but I don't think that's actually true. I think Julia has always been "difficult" -- must be the lawyer in her -- and I think it's entirely possible that his reaction is a combination of him falling out of love with her and it all just being too much.
Lauren: I'm still placing more weight on the lack of respect as a major factor, but holistically that sounds very reasonable to me ... certainly more reasonable than Joel's been in the past few episodes. Maybe he'll stop acting like an alien soon, so we can get some answers.
Leigh: I could get on the "lack of respect" wagon, but I would put more weight on how she's acted throughout the series than how she's acted in this season alone. But last week's preview showed him coming back -- so I have my fingers crossed that we'll finally get some kind of explanation this week. I miss the old Joel!
Lauren: Maybe we'll get him back soon, Leigh. Probably no matter what happens between them will be worthy of a good ol' "Parenthood" cry.