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More drama and eventfulness befalls the Salinger family in the penultimate season of Party of Five. Despite some melodrama sneaking in and muddying the water, Season 5 still has its moments to shine with honest situations and characters you can feel for. Though it is overall a mixed season after the largely successful fourth one, it’s still immensely watchable. Spoilers will most likely follow.

After the unexpected news of Daphne’s pregnancy at the end of Season 4, both Charlie(Matthew Fox) and Daphne have decided to go through with having the baby. But as its so unexpected, both struggle since their plans and personalities are clashing. Charlie is being overly sensitive about everything, while Daphne is in a complete muddle. Everything is halted however when Daphne must have emergency surgery, resulting in the baby being born premature. After much concern and a couple of unpredictable moments, the baby(a girl given the name of the Salinger’s late mother Diana) is born and Daphne is fine. After a while, it becomes that Daphne seriously can’t cope with a baby, which baffles Charlie . Kirsten(Paula Devicq) is on hand for help, but her own marriage is under strain as her husband is of the thought that she is spending too much time with the Salinger’s. Kirsten and Charlie grow closer again, especially given all their history. Owen(Jacob Smith) feels pushed out of everything with the new baby. It soon comes to light however that Owen may in fact have a learning disability. Bailey(Scott Wolf) and Sarah(Jennifer Love Hewitt) are once again a couple and living in their own apartment. While they have to iron out their respective differences, things go pretty well so far. Yet Bailey has to ultimately deal with his growing desire for some control over his direction in life, something heightened when he sees that Owen is being left out. Julia(Neve Campbell) and Griffin(Jeremy London) are in the process of splitting up and keeping distance she to their differences and problems. Julia heads to college and just wants to concentrate on studying, while Griffin ponders what to do with his life. While studying, she catches the eye of intense and brooding Ned and they begin dating. Things are going well with Ned, until his dark, angry side emerges. This results in him physically assaulting and beating Julia, causing her to be one isolated from those around her. Although a strong person, Julia feels trapped in this horrible situation. Claudia(Lacey Chabert), who is now becoming very mature and sassy, is now off to boarding school. While she asserts her independence and individuality, she still experiences lands of longing to be with her family and whether she should be there for them, as she’s done it for so long. She ultimately finds comfort with Griffin when everyone else is busy and he kindly reassures her that she’s a special girl. The situation between Bailey and Charlie gets dramatically more angry and eventually reaches them fighting for custody.

Once more, Party of Five deals with difficult issues with a mostly realistic and moving assurance . And yes some parts of this season don’t work in what it attempts to show, but the main stories are on point and filled with pathos, humour and heartfelt delivery. The prospect of a baby prompts a touch and go aspect to that story line while it unearths the difficulty and transition of being a parent. At first that is set up well, but falls into the trap of overly familiar and stretching credibility. Much more well-managed is the examination of Owen’s feeling of being left out once Diana is born. It’s something that I’m certain everyone can relate to in some way or another, and it’s explored excellently here. The domestic violence story is handled extremely well and with sensitivity, never shying away from the horror and implications of abuse. If anything, Party of Five in its fifth year starts to get a but sensational. There is a feeling of tiredness in some of the execution of episodes. Some of the organic nature in earlier seasons gets jumbled up here, resulting in Season 5 getting knocked down a few pints in my estimations. Not that it’s a disaster by any means Though the vast majority of this season is more than enough to compensate this slip into melodrama, with the fine writing and acting making Season 5 a good addition to the series. What is crucially there is the very foundation of family. We buy into the Salinger’s as a family; they’re troubled, close and flawed but you can’t help but gravitate towards them. And considering the amount of ups and downs their lives have taken, rough edges are bound to be there. Even when close to utter disaster, you hope things can resolve.

Though a more flawed season of the show, Party of Five still gives us an abundance of fine episodes. There is when Owen goes missing in the mall on Thanksgiving, leaving everyone reeling. Even though you can feel that he will be found, you are genuinely left panicking in the situation. Thankfully, Owen is found but it is just the start of him becoming more frustrated and disconnected from his family. Then there is a Christmas episode that ranks highly. Things that have been hinted at get more prominence and come into fruition more, signalling the dilemmas of everyone and doing it with customary honesty. An episode of everyone facing up to their flaws and desperate situations beautifully gets into great areas. This followed by the verdict on he custody situation of Owen, that goes in a way you wouldn’t expect. So amid the decline in some of the realism and strength of earlier incarnations, Season Five has its moments too and gets better as the season goes on.

Matthew Fox gets to Charlie’s pig-headed and selfish need to always have things his way without support, even though a lot of events have featured the whole family contributing. It’s obvious he isn’t completely selfish, but the return of some of Charlie’s earlier traits is noticeable. Scott Wolf really gives it his all in this season, showing us Bailey in a deep predicament while contemplating life. Bailey’s assertiveness grows but he even begins to feel like his compulsion for control is straddling him to a halt. Combined with likable nature that he often gives off and complimented by his self-doubt, Bailey is probably one of my favourite characters. Neve Campbell excellently hits the required mix of doubt and deep vulnerability as Julie goes through a horrible ordeal. Julia is not a stupid or weak character by any means, usually being helpful, strong and considerate while dealing with a multitude of problems. So to see her go through this is shocking but well-played. Campbell gets that feeling of entrapment just right as Ned tightens his grip and she must summon up her strength to do something. Claudia’s has to grow to up in the past very quickly, but now is doing it on her own terms which sees her more decisive and independent than ever. She still cares for her family and we witness how it takes her time to adjust, but Lacey Chabert gets across the need to spread her wings and become who she wants to be. In essence, the battle between familial support and finally being her own person is Claudia’s struggle, which is naturally observed. Jennifer Love Hewitt is given less to do this season and at times the character of Sarah grates, but she’s still pretty solid in the role. Paula Devicq nicely finds the heart of Kirsten wanting to break from her closeness to the family, but finds that she cares too much to do that. Jeremy London is given the most material he has even been given in the show and uses it well; portraying concern and the hope that Julia will come back once more. And not to be forgotten is young Jacob Smith, who splendidly plays the young Owen whose behaviour begins to worry at first but is finally supported when it comes to light the difficulties he is facing.

The wheels start to come off with Season 5 and it’s noticeable, but there are still moments of greatness to be gleaned in Party of Five. Hopefully, the last season can really step it up to the excellence of past seasons.