Never a series to shy away from difficult themes, Parenthood on Tuesday embarked on what could be its toughest, most heart-wrenching storyline to date with the revelation that Kristina has breast cancer.
The episode as a whole was filled with typical Braverman hijinks: Adam and Kristina adopted a puppy for Max; Julia made a breakthrough with her new son Victor; and Crosby and Jasmine bickered like the newlyweds that they are.
But in the hour’s final minutes, Kristina underwent a mammogram, received the diagnosis and then, in a haunting closing sequence that featured nary a line of dialogue, delivered the devastating news to husband Adam.
Here, Monica Potter talks to TVLine about the surprising origin of the storyline, how she’s approaching the heavy material and what’s next for the now-ailing Kristina.
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TVLINE | How did you feel when you heard that this would be Kristina’s arc this season?
I actually was really supportive of it. I had talked to [exec producer/showrunner] Jason [Katims] about what we were going to do with Kristina this season and had sent him an email asking if we could introduce this storyline, and he said, “I just got chills because we just broke that story for Kristina.” I knew we hadn’t explored [cancer] yet [on Parenthood], and breast cancer is such a huge issue. I also know that Jason has been touched by it personally with his wife, and I thought that maybe we could explore that… And he was way ahead of me! So, it [felt] like we were supposed to do this.
TVLINE | Why did you want to do a cancer story?
I had just gone for my first mammogram and I was nervous, but thought that it would be okay. Then [the doctors] saw something — I don’t have breast cancer, but I do have to go back so they can keep an eye on a little [growth] — and it’s scary. When that happened, I wanted to bring more awareness to it… It was very timely and it was meant to happen.
TVLINE | Talk a little about that final scene in this week’s episode. Was there anything written in the script for you and Peter [Krause] to say? Or was it always meant to be a silent moment?
We always knew it would be a silent moment, because that’s how it was written. I dunno, we just sort of talked and made it a real moment. I haven’t seen the episode yet, but in doing that, hopefully, the point we were trying to make came across.
TVLINE | It absolutely did. And what made it even more potent were the doctor references that were just casually sprinkled throughout the episode, not drawing any attention to what would come from her appointment.
The way that Jason wrote it, he wanted it to be subtle and he wanted it to be real. It’s just like you said, it’s sprinkled in throughout, but not smacking you in the face. Maybe some people [picked up on it], but if I had just read the episode, there’s no way I would have known.
TVLINE | How much focus will be on the medical aspect of Kristina’s battle? And how much will be on the emotional fallout at home?
It’s cut right down the middle; it’s both. I’m learning so much about breast cancer and chemotherapy — we’re just starting [to shoot scenes with] chemo this week.
TVLINE | Is one aspect of the story more challenging to play than the other?
Just hearing the diagnosis and all of the things that people and women go through — it’s hard to hear that even when it’s just acting. But I would say that the stuff at home, how the kids are reacting, that tears at you emotionally. It’s not really about yourself, it’s about how your kids are taking it and dealing with it.
TVLINE | What kind of reactions are we going to see from the family, particularly Max, who already has difficulty expressing emotion?
Max being Max, he has his own way of digesting everything. It’s only in certain scenes that you’ll see his curiosity and concern come out, like when we’re watching a baseball game and he just blurts out, “Well, you have to get chemo.” He knows all about it because he’s Max and he’s studied many things. He knows what she’s going to go through and shows his concern in his way. Haddie, on the other hand, is the complete opposite. She takes it really, really, really hard, which you’ll see in an upcoming episode.
TVLINE | How quickly will everyone learn Kristina’s diagnosis?
We actually wait a little bit and talk about when we should tell people, because we don’t want to disrupt their lives — especially Haddie’s life in college. That’s a big deal. We want to deal with it quietly, but as you know with the Bravermans, nothing is dealt with quietly. [Laughs] After the cat’s out of the bag — which is where we are now [in production], Episode 7 — everyone’s concerned, and how it’s incorporated into everyone’s lives and storylines is very interesting.
TVLINE | Does her battle with breast cancer bring about any surprising new dynamics within the family?
I would say Camille and Kristina have an interesting exchange. We’re shooting that today, actually. You don’t know too much about Kristina’s background, but in this episode you find out a little bit more. Kristina can be very standoffish and, I wouldn’t say cold, but sometimes not as welcoming to Camille, and it’s because she’s so vulnerable. There’s so much in her backstory that you don’t know yet, and when you see her with Camille you start to understand why she keeps her at an arm’s length.
TVLINE | Should we expect this to be a season-long journey?
It might last most of the season, but I don’t know. It’s not going to be tied up in a pretty bow. I don’t know what’s going to happen to Kristina, honestly. They haven’t told me yet, so I don’t know if I should be looking for another job or what. [Laughs] I’m kidding. I think she’ll be okay though… There are going to be lots of ups and downs, and it’s going to be a really fast-moving roller coaster ride. The [writers] told me to be ready and to make sure I get my sleep. [Laughs] I’m going to be as real with this [storyline] as possible. I [want to] do the writing justice.
How do you, the Parenthood fan fam, feel about the rough road ahead for Kristina?