Wednesday, November 14, 2018

This Is Us 3.07: “Sometimes”

“I can’t talk about it, Vietnam. The things I did and saw, I don’t want to bring that part of my life into this, with us.”
- Jack

I enjoyed this episode of “This Is Us” more than I have some of the others. While we didn’t get nearly the amount of information or answers we probably wanted about Jack and Nicky, that’s honestly not that surprising. They dole out answers in bits and pieces and I feel like we got some more of Jack’s war story as Kevin and Zoe made their way to Vietnam in the present.

As we see, post-war, Jack and Rebecca are embarking on their roundtrip across the country to LA so she can meet with a record executive. She’s got high hopes for her demo and Jack is kind of there for the ride. He’s got some business he needs to take care of nearby which he won’t tell her about. In fact, while they start to get more into each other—slow dancing at a diner and making out in a myriad of hotel rooms—Jack still can’t let Rebecca in on the pain he’s carrying around from the war. She wakes him one morning from a nightmare bout he claims not to remember his dreams and he says he never cries because he’s learned to swallow the bad stuff. I’m not sure that’s a good tactic, Jack but it is probably accurate for how men coming back from this particular war dealt with it. As they make their way across the US, we see Jack trying to deal with Nick during the war. He’s high and at first he thinks Jack isn’t real and then Nick’s commanding officer kicks Jack to the curb. Jack has to walk back to the village he’s stationed in and he ends up getting a ride from a local. It is interesting that it seems this guy may be Viet Cong (or as he eventually puts it to Jack…sometimes). But, Jack eventually makes it back to his village and then Nick shows up. His commanding officer gives Jack two weeks to straighten is brother out. Nick seems unhappy that Jack stepped in.

Not surprisingly, Rebecca’s meeting with the record guys doesn’t go how she wants. He says she’s good but she’s “Pittsburgh” good. She tries to take it as a compliment. While she’s getting this rather brutal feedback, we find that Jack has gone to see the parents of one of the men who died under his watch during the war. He goes to tell them that he is responsible for their son’s death and he is sorry for what happened. God, it broke my heart to see him placing the blame on himself. They rightly tell him it wasn’t his fault. And when he meets up with Rebecca later, he asks her to sing the song she’d sent as the demo. She’s reluctant at first but as she sings, we see how much it touches him and he starts crying. Kudos to Mandy Moore for writing a sweet song.

In the present, Kevin and Zoe land in Vietnam and Kevin is understandably excited to see what he can find about his dad’s time in country. Zoe doesn’t seem quite as excited and she sort of freaks when he takes a selfie of them and is going to post it to Instagram. She says her dad is in China and he would try to reach out if he saw she was in Vietnam. She doesn’t elaborate beyond that and Kevin accepts it, even though you can see he wants more. They end up eating lunch at a market where Kevin sees a tourist with the necklace his father had given him and he quickly learns that tons of them are sold all the time. He’s disappointed because he thought the necklace was such a key piece. I think it still may be. After all, a man bought it for a woman but he discarded it when he saw her with another man. Another guy picks it up and then when he dies, a woman takes it off his body so it clearly has a story. Still, Kevin is kind of moping about the whole thing when Zoe asks to go back to the hotel. At first Kevin thinks she’s just being a party pooper but when she gets sick, he rushes her back and even buys her coconut water. Kevin may be kind of a dope sometimes but he can be awfully sweet when he tries. He explains that his parents built a relationship on secrets with Jack not letting Rebecca in on his life before they met and it worked for them but Kevin doesn’t want that for him and Zoe because he’s falling in love with her. I appreciated the parallel that the writers drew between these two stories. I also get why Jack didn’t want to talk about the horrors he experienced because he didn’t want what he had with Rebecca to be weighed down by everything he was feeling. After Zoe divulges the deal with her father, I can see why she wanted to keep it quiet and why Beth previously told Kevin that Zoe’s history is complicated. She was sexually abused by her father and every so often he reaches out to try and make amends but she doesn’t want to forgive him. She’s let what he did to her affect her life and relationships for so long, she doesn’t want to give that part of her history power anymore because she’s falling for Kevin, too.

As I mentioned at the start of this post, I liked this episode. It did move storylines forward, if a bit slowly. But, they’ve got the rest of the season to dole out this information and I know that the writers will give us all of Jack’s story eventually. I have faith in their ability to give us all the pieces to the Jack Pearson puzzle. I am excited to see how the story continues to unfold as we hit the Thanksgiving episode for the season.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

This Is Us 3.06: “Kamsahamnida”

“I’m curious about Dad, too, but Vietnam that was a chapter in his life he didn’t want us to know about.”
- Randall

This episode of “This Is Us” saw a bunch of present-day storylines continue to move forward which I think is a good thing. And we got to see a glimpse into a period in the past we haven’t seen quite yet. The Big Three are about 12 years old and Jack comes home with a black eye from boxing at the gym. Rebecca kind of freaks out about the whole thing and he promises to only hit the punching bag from now on. His promise doesn’t last long because Randall tells Jack he’s being bullied at school and he wants to be able to defend himself. Jack agrees to give his son some lessons without telling Rebecca but she finds out anyway and she again gets upset. They both then end up confused when they discover Randall lied about the bully. When Jack confronts him, Randall admits he just wanted a piece of his dad that Kevin got biologically. In typical Jack fashion, he reminds his son that his secret weapon his is mind. I was also kind of surprised that in the end, Jack related a story to Rebecca about him and Nicky boxing as kids. The look on her face says “you’ve never told me about him before” and I think that’s just great. We also find the whole family watching boxing on TV and Jack points out that sometimes when an opponent is hurt really bad, they put on a big smile to fake out the other guy.

That advice comes back to help Randall later on. He goes to Philly for church and gets called out by his opponent. It’s all gracious and covered in a fa├žade of friendliness but Randall sees it for what it is. He’s not going to win the black neighborhood. When Kevin drops by to inundate his brother with all of the stuff he’s been digging up about Jack and Vietnam, Randall realizes he needs to take a different approach. He does a little research and finds out the Korean population in the neighborhood barely votes. And also, they apparently love the Manny in South Korea. So, they use Kevin’s fame to set up a voter registration table. Randall gets to give an impassioned speech that touches the residents to show that he does care about them and what they need and want. Randall even manages to get a new campaign manager out of it, too. I am excited to see what happens with this new character. I liked that he really seemed impressed with Randall after Randall got his 75-year-old grandmother who’d never voted in her life to register.

While Randall is off having his campaign drama, we see Beth is still struggling with being unemployed. She’s been trying to hide the fact that she’s not dealing with it from Randall and the girls but when they go out to try and sell girl scout cookies, she ends up snapping at Tess (who admittedly is being kind of a brat). Beth goes to apologize but Deja has quite a few words of wisdom. I’m so glad they kept her character on the show and have made her part of the family. She really has an interesting way of seeing things and her life experience really shines through in this conversation with Beth. She reminds Beth that Randall is head over heels in love with her and he’ll be there to support her and remind her of how awesome she is. He does that when he gets home but she’s just not feeling it. He then decides to offer her a job on his campaign team. Not as a pity job but because he knows they work so well together and he realizes having her with him was the missing piece to the puzzle. Later that day, Randall goes to see his opponent and we see him smile big when Randall exclaims that he’s going to win Koreatown. Randall knows he’s hit his opponent hard and he’s just covering. Even all these years after they lost Jack, his presence is still being felt and I love it.

And lest we forget about Kate, she and Toby are still dealing with the fall out of Toby being off his medication. Even though he’s on the meds now, it is taking a long time to recalibrate and he’s just really struggling. Kate calls Rebecca a whole bunch for advice and I like that their relationship is in a place where she can do that and accept what her mom has to say. Since the wedding, I feel like Kate and Rebecca have started to become closer and have a stronger mother-daughter bond. Kate isn’t sure if she should push Toby or let him do things at his own pace. It seems that letting him do things his own way isn’t really working. And as Kate laments this to her mom on the phone while walking the dog, said puppy gets into a bag of garbage and ends up eating a rock. So now she has to worry about what to do about the dog. Ultimately, the dog is fine. But, we get some really good insight into Toby’s character. While Kate is at the vet, Toby showers and gets dressed but he’s still not feeling better. As he tells Kate, he hoped going through the motions would make him want to do things but it doesn’t. He almost gets out of going for another walk with Kate and the dog when she just tells him he should go on the walk. So not coddling him seems to be the answer. He also worries that Kate is going to eventually leave him given his depression 9and that’s what happened with his first wife). Kate insists she’s not going anywhere because she agreed to be with him in sickness and in health and for better or worse. Her life has been kind of crappy at times but she thinks it’s made her stronger and she’s determined to stand by her man, no matter what.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

This Is Us 3.05: “Toby”

“The joy in you is as much a part of you as this sadness, you hear me?”
- Mrs. Damon

We usually don’t get non-Pearson family centric episodes until around episode 16 or 17 of the season but this year, we got some background on Toby early on. Then again, his story, especially with his depression, tied into active storylines with him and Kate trying to have a baby. Overall, I thought this episode was just okay. I didn’t dislike it but after the previous episode, I wanted more answers about Nicky!

Focusing on Toby and Kate, when last we saw them, they had eight eggs retrieved to be fertilized. As the episode progresses, we see that three of them were viable when fertilized with Toby’s sperm and ultimately one of them is good to implant into Kate’s womb. I did like the cute little graphics they put up on the fridge with each step of the process. It has now been about five weeks since Toby was off his medication for his depression and his withdrawal symptoms are clearly getting worse. He’s agitated and the leg shaking is getting worse. He goes to the pharmacy to ask if they can just refill his medication so he can be ready to go back on them if Kate is indeed pregnant, but the pharmacist tells him that he needs to call his doctor to get on a sfe plan to go back on the medication. In his past, we see that depression isn’t just affecting Toby. It’s clear that his mother is also suffering from depression (whether it’s post-partum or otherwise is unclear). But, even at a young age, Toby exhibited signs of mood swings. We see Toby’s first use of humor to cope with a situation when he’s out shopping for school clothes with his mom. We also get glimpses into when his father left and when, as an adult, Toby’s marriage to Jose fell apart and he spiraled into a deeper depression. In the present, Kate gets the good news that she is indeed pregnant again and this pushes Toby over the edge into a bit of a breakdown. He admits to Kate what he did in going off his medication and we finally catch up to the flash forward scene from the season 2 finale of Kate letting Toby know the doctor wants him to go in to adjust his medication.

Randall and Beth have their own trials going on right now. Apparently, Randall is still bull headed and can’t see that his wife really needs him to be her rock because he’s going forward with running for city council. How he can do that without living there is a little confusing to me, but whatever. He sets up a sort of meet and greet at an old diner in the neighborhood and people come in for the food. None of them are overly impressed with Randall, especially when he tells them that they’ve become complacent with the current councilman’s behavior. It was honestly nice to see Randall fail at something for once. Beth, meanwhile, is struggling to find another job. She has an interview but breaks down when asked why she left her other company after twelve years. That has honestly got to be a hard thing to try and explain, especially when you were fired. I still wonder if there was something race-related in the decision but that’s probably just my day job seeping into everything in my life. She doesn’t tell Randall the truth about how poorly the interview went but she does point out to him that he needs to find a different approach to reaching people. This is very obvious when the owners of the restaurant who hosted the event explained that they were on the verge of eviction decades ago when the current councilman stepped in and set their landlord straight. How Randall moves forward with this storyline will be interesting. I’m hoping he sees that Beth is hurting and puts aside his own aspirations (and what he thinks he needs to do to live up to both of his fathers’ memories) to support her.

Speaking of living up to their father’s memory, Kevin sets out on his quest to learn about Jack’s time in Vietnam. Robinson writes back to him and invites him to come and chat. Kevin is all excited to meet someone who knew his dad back then. Zoe goes with him and there are some things that happen that she assumes that Kevin, as a white man, won’t understand. She needs her silk pillowcase (for her hair) but she doesn’t tell him the reason she needs it. Still, in typical clueless Kevin fashion, he actually manages to be sensitive to her needs and buys her one anyway. These two might just work out after all. At first, Robinson is hesitant to tell Kevin anything other than Jack’s line about being a mechanic. But, when Kevin insists he really wants to know this part of his father’s past, Robinson relents and admits that Jack was a Staff Sergeant. He shows Kevin a photo of the unit and I was honestly surprised that Kevin was able to point out that Nick was probably Jack’s brother. As we know, Robinson never met Nicky since Robinson was sent home with his amputated foot before Jack went to find his brother. We also get another clue in the puzzle that is pre-Rebecca Jack Pearson: the necklace that Jack gave to Kevin seems to have come from a Vietnamese woman whom Jack knew then (the mother of the little boy from last week’s episode). I honestly don’t think they’d go with the “secret family” angle. But I think Jack may have been found a friend in this woman after Nicky’s death.

Speaking of dealing with death, in the past, we find the Pearsons in their new apartment. The kids are getting ready for prom—well the boys are at least—but they don’t seem super excited. Randall is mostly nervous to meet his girlfriend’s parents. That goes horribly. Either she didn’t tell her parents that Randall is black or they are just typical white people in the 1990s, but her dad can’t handle the fact that Randall is not white. So, Randall bails on the whole thing and Kevin winds up massively drunk. So drunk that Sophie brings him to Miguel’s place to sleep it off. Miguel and Randall do get to share a nice moment which I think helps cement the fact that Randall doesn’t hate Miguel like his siblings do. We also see that Miguel finds a small upright piano and gives it to Rebecca. She and Kate end up bonding over it a little bit. This is the first time Kate’s even sung or touched an instrument since Jack’s death and Rebecca reminds her daughter that music is always in her. We even see this in the present when Kate is doing a singing telegram as Adele and one of the people points out how good she is and asks why she’s doing this instead of singing professionally herself. Kate explains that whenever her life takes a dark turn, music is the first thing to go. I appreciated that little tie-in.

While this wasn’t my favorite episode of the season, I am intrigued to see where the plots take us next. Will Kate and Toby actually get a baby out of this? What secrets will Kevin and Zoe discover in Vietnam when they eventually head there and what does life have in store for Randall and Beth?

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Halloween "Classic" Recap: Psych: "Scary Sherry: Bianca's Toast"

“I can’t believe this!”
“We actually started an urban legend!”
“That’s dope!”
-Gus and Shawn

The horror-themed first season finale of “Psych” is one of my favorite episodes of the series, and the flashback with young Shawn and Gus happen to take place on Halloween, so I’m counting it as a Halloween episode for the purposes of this year’s Halloween recap! Halloween is one of my favorite holidays, so I couldn’t let it pass by without a recap. I’m also being occasionally disrupted from writing by Trick or Treaters, but this is my first year living in a place where I get any (not an onslaught, but I’ve had a few), so I wouldn’t pass that up, either! Anyway, this particular episode of “Psych” was co-written by none other than Shawn Spencer himself, James Roday. I believe this may have been his first-ever television writing credit. Roday is a big horror fan, and he crammed quite a few horror references into this episode.

The opening flashback takes place on Halloween, where nine-year-old Shawn and Gus have been Trick-or-Treating. Little Shawn is a policeman, and Little Gus is Lando Calrisian (which is awesome). Henry wants to take the boys to the police station to have all their candy x-rayed, but he gets called on to help with a problem at the Wispy Sunny Pines hospital. A woman wearing a very wispy outfit (who we later learn is known as “Scary Sherry” is about to jump from an upper story window. Henry leaves the boys in the car and tries to help, but Scary Sherry jumps anyway. Twenty years later, we see a co-ed running through Wispy Sunny Pines. Unlike Scary Sherry, though, she doesn’t jump out the window. She is startled and falls.

At Psych HQ, Shawn and Gus return from what looks like a game of racquetball happy engaged in their usual banter. They are surprised to see Juliet inside, dressed like a cross between Cher Horowitz and Elle Woods. She’s undercover as Mary Lou, Vice Parliamentarian of Beta Kappa Theta sorority. She’s investigating the (more recent) death at Wispy Sunny Pines, and the victim was a Beta Kappa Theta pledge. She wants Shawn’s psychic help to solve the case, because the girls keep reporting spooky supernatural happenings. They think Scary Sherry is back. Shawn and Gus head to the Beta Kappa Theta house, and they are enthusiastically greeted by all the girls. A sister named Bianca (played by Cheylan Simmons, who I know from “Wonderfalls” and “The LA Complex”) tells about how her clock was destroyed. As Shawn tries to create a distraction so he can go upstairs with Juliet (I forgot Gus hated being mistaken for Bud from “The Cosby Show”), the lights start flickering, and a voice screams at the girls to “get out.” The guys hightail it out of the house, but Juliet calls them back. Shawn obeys, of course, but Gus drives right away in the blueberry.

Meanwhile, Lassiter has been reassigned. He’s supposed to help train a rookie, Detective Goochberg, a much older woman that Lassiter anticipated. He starts by taking her to the shooting range, where she promptly destroys his favorite gun. Then she says she has to ride in the back of the car because the sunlight bothers her retinitis pigmentosa. Worst of all, she harasses, the chases down, a clerk who is trying to report a crime that happened at his deli. It turns out that she has a heart attack during the chase, and she winds up in the hospital. Lassiter is not pleased. He’s less pleased when (Interim) Chief Vick tells him that everyone thought he and Goochberg would get along because they’re so similar. It makes him start to rethink how he relates to Shawn, Gus, and Juliet.

All is not well in Beta Kappa Theta. The girls are out on the quad trying to recruit new members. Juliet sees Alice Bundy, the victim’s best friend, and tries to reach out to her. Alice, however, is not impressed. The other girls start getting annoyed at Bianca for not passing out enough flyers. Bianca says she’s still upset over all the hauntings, and she leaves in disgust. It turns out Bianca has good reason to be scared. Shawn and Gus have a breakthrough when they realize that one of the noises the ghost was making earlier was “Bianca” spelled backwards. They call Juliet and try to warn her, but it’s too late. Right before the sorority’s big recruitment mixer, Bianca is electrocuted in her bathtub. The sorority house receives a card inviting them to a vigil for both victims, Doreen and Bianca, at the same time as their mixer. This leads sorority sister Betty to confess that Bianca was in the Scary Sherry costume and accidentally scared Doreen to her death.

Shawn takes it upon himself to get to know Alice Bundy a bit better. He approaches her with a pineapple to share, and while she’s weirded out at first (I don’t blame her), we eventually learn that Doreen was her best friend, and they grew up together when Doreen’s parents took her in as a young child. Alice appeals to Shawn’s affection for Gus, saying she couldn’t have possibly murdered her best friend. Later, Shawn and Gus go to Henry’s house for dinner. Henry and Shawn are still somewhat estranged, so this dinner is awkward. We do learn, however, that Scary Sherry didn’t actually die. While Shawn and Gus had their eyes covered, Henry saved her, and she was rehabilitated. Shawn and Gus are pretty impressed with themselves for starting an urban legend.

Shawn and Gus pay a visit to Alice’s house, where Gus (who pretends he has lost his cat Mrs. Pickles) meets the nanny, Poppy. She says Doreen’s parents and Alice are all at the cemetery. Shawn gets a phone call from one of the sorority sisters saying Juliet went to a vigil. This makes him very worried. He and Gus think that Alice is going to try and kill Juliet because she thinks Juliet is the queen bee of sorority girls, and they are right. Juliet approaches Wispy Sunny Pines and sees a bunch of candles. She’s met by Alice, who lures her upstairs then tries to attack her with an Axe. Shawn calls Lassiter for backup, and the three all meet up at Wispy Sunny Pines. Gus isn’t thrilled at being back there, and he tries to set up some rules to avoid being the stereotypical black guy in a horror movie. He spends most of his time with his foot stuck in a floor board scared out of his mind. Juliet manages to fight off Alice just as help arrives, and Alice admits to trying to kill Juliet. She asks Shawn what he would have done if it were Gus.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

The Good Place 2.09: “Best Self”

“You’ve been our teacher this whole time. If we’re the best versions of ourselves, which that balloon just proved, then you definitely are.”
- Eleanor

When our core four and Michael duped Sean and the rest of the demons last episode, I wasn’t sure what this week was going to entail and frankly was the rest of the season (let alone series) was going to be. It feels like the writers tend to blow through story rather quickly on this show. Anyway, the gang is left in the “Good Place” and they need to find a way to get to the actual Good Place before Sean realizes what happened and punish everyone. Michael says he’s come up with a transportation device to get them there that turns out to be a giant hot air balloon which some rules that you have to be your best self to get on. Eleanor, Tahani and Jason get on but Chidi ends up being booted. He starts spiraling emotionally and Eleanor ahs to talk him down. The next go around, Tahani, Chidi and Jason make it and Eleanor doesn’t. When Janet tries to get on, she breaks the thing and Michael admits that the balloon was a lie and that he never figured out how to get to the Good Place. I guess it’s kind of interesting that he’s learned to admit his mistakes and take ownership of them. I thought Michael was going to admit that he made the balloon purposely not let everyone on so he could stall and spend more time with them but I was wrong.

While the gang is temporarily pissed at Michael, they end up sharing some really good moments while they are all getting hammered (thank you Eleanor). Tahani and Jason break up (whether it’s because Tahani realizes Jason is kind of an idiot or she doesn’t want to compete with Janet it’s unclear but she’s actually solving her own problem for once so that’s progress. And Eleanor admits to Chidi that she still has feelings for him. I did like Michael reciting the time they fell in love. Sure, he was all grossed out by the kissing but it was really nice to hear that there was some version of Eleanor and Chidi who were comfortable enough with each other to actually express those feelings. I suspect if Chidi just relaxed a bit, he and Eleanor could actually be together and be happy. I feel like they’ve spent more time on the whole Janet/Jason/Tahani triangle and they are just not nearly as interesting. I still find Jason really dumb and annoying and Tahani is just so self-centered and full of herself that I want to smack her. For me, Eleanor and Chidi are the couple of the show that interest me and we’ve barely seen any development with them. I know we still have a few episodes left for the season (and the show has been renewed for season 3) so maybe we’ll get more progress with the two of them.

Near the end of the night, the gang ends up awarding Michael “Honorary Human” status, complete with a gift box of useless crap that makes him happy and highly amused including car keys, a beat up stress ball and a diet book. He really has found his tribe in all of this. I wasn’t expecting that to be the outcome when this season started but he’s actually making progress in being better. We also get some fun dance montages, including a sweet Chidi and Eleanor slow dance. Things then devolve into the core four wondering what the real Bad Place will be like for them all. After some drunk rambling, Tahani suggests they go to the Judge and plead their case. That’s all fine and good except the only way to get there is through the actual Bad Place (and a portal).

Elanor leads the charge to just throw caution to the wind and try to get to the Judge through the Bad Place and after Sean sends a bunch of texts to Michael about a Bad Place train arriving in the morning and the core four being rounded up and tortured, our ragtag bunch of misfits is off and running. Michael deactivates Bad Janet and our Janet conducts the train to their next destination as the fake Good Place disappears into a black void. I know we only have a handful more episodes this season but I honestly can’t predict what’s going to happen. Will they make it through the Bad Place? Will they actually get into the Good Place? I will be interested to see what the actual Bad Place looks like and how they end up changing it from what we’ve seen so far. Will we get to encounter some of the other demons we got to know, like Vicky?

The one problem I still have with this show is that the episodes sometimes seem random. I honestly worried we’d spend an entire episode dealing with the scale on the hot air balloon this week. The fact that they are burning through story (and not exploring things like the Eleanor and Chidi relationship in more depth) is worrisome to me. I feel like they could have spread things out over a longer period of time. They kind of wrote themselves into a bit of a corner by revealing that Michel was a Bad Place architect and they were in the Bad Place too early. They could have built up the other characters more before doing that. And now that they are on the verge of maybe getting into the Good Place, it makes me wonder how they will continue the story. I suspect they won’t actually make it into the Good Place this season. Or if they do, Michael won’t be let in and the rest of the group will have to decide whether they do an all or nothing approach or if they abandon him.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

The Good Place 2.08: "Leap to Faith"

“You’re bad, Eleanor. This is exactly the place you should be.”

“Leap to Faith” was one of the twistier episodes of “The Good Place,” I think, and “The Good Place” is a pretty twisty show overall. Throughout the episode, we have no idea if we can trust Michael, and the other characters all have various different opinions on the topic throughout the episode. Things changed so quickly and so often that I didn’t know who to believe. Even at the end of the episode, I still wasn’t 100% sure about Michael. He seems to still be on the side of the humans for now, at least, but when the going gets rough and he doesn’t have a plan like he had this time around, I’m not sure if his loyalty will remain. Even this time, his plan to help the humans, while successful, was pretty darn cruel. It was cruel enough that the humans temporarily doubted him, which could have been a major liability.

We pick up with Michael being very surprised to see his boss, Shawn, sitting in his office. At first, Michael thinks that all his failed attempts at creating what I’m going to call a Huis Clos neighborhood (read your Sartre if you don’t get the reference) have been found out and that he’s in big trouble. That isn’t quite the case, though. Shawn says he’s been reading the reports on the latest reboot, and he’s trilled that our four humans are more tortured than anybody in a traditional Bad Place scenario. Shawn thinks this is just the second, reboot, though, not hundreds of attempts in. Due to the resounding success of Michael’s neighborhood, Shawn has been promoted, and he’s sharing the wealth by promoting Michael, too. He’s got a senior staff pin to give out and everything. When Vicky finds out about this, she is not at all amused. She wants a promotion, too. Michael thinks he has her under control, reminding Vicky that if Shawn learns about Vicky’s latest successful neighborhood, he’ll also learn about all the failed versions, and they’ll all be in trouble.

The four humans are called into Michael’s office, where Michael gives the “you’re actually in the Bad Place” speech and the humans try and act surprised. Shawn says that they’re going to shut the neighborhood down and send the four to a more traditional Bad Place neighborhood to be tested then tortured. Back at the house, the four debate what to do next. Chidi toys with the idea of ratting out Michael to Shawn. Tahani and Jason vote for taking the train to the Medium Place, which has been complicated by the fact that Shawn has shackled Janet, and she’s acting like she’s drunk, so she can’t call the train. Eleanor, however, thinks Michael is actually still on their side. She points out that a reference Michael made to Kierkegaard was too specific to be random. She thinks Michael was trying to tell them to take a leap of faith and trust him to work things out.

To send off the neighborhood in true Bad Place style, Michael hosts a comedy roast followed by an all night rager. The comedy roast is especially cruel, with Michael saying the exact right thing to really hurt each human. He even insults the Jacksonville Jaguars (that’s the final straw for Jason)! The roast is hurtful enough to make Eleanor doubt Michael. She thinks he is indeed in league with Shawn. Meanwhile, the demons are all partying like crazy to a Puddle of Mudd song and “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” on repeat thanks to DJ Bad Janet. Michael kind of conspicuously mysteriously talks to Janet a couple times, and this draws the attention of Vicky. Vicky starts trying to ingratiate herself with Shawn, but then the train suddenly pulls out of the station. Since things are going south, she automatically wants to give Michael credit for everything about the neighborhood.

I’m going to take a little pause here for a second to recognize a pretty cool guest star (or maybe she’s been recurring and I just didn’t notice?). Amy Okuda, who I know from Felicia Day’s groundbreaking web series “The Guild” plays a demon named Gail. On “The Guild,” Okuda played a bratty but endearing gamer named Tink. I’ll admit, there’s not much to the character of Gail, but she kind of hits some of the same notes (she’s a major tattletale). It’s nice to see Okuda working on television, though. I like when people from my nerdy, small-time fandoms get a chance to make some bank. Plus “The Good Place” is a pretty great show to get to appear on, even if it is pretty brief.

Anyway, thanks to Gail being a tattletale, Shawn thinks that Vicky is responsibly for the humans escaping on the train. He calls up another train to follow them and encases Vicky is a very oozy cocoon. Once the second train pulls out of the station with all the demons on it, we see that the humans have been lying on the track the whole time. They sit up to see Michael staring at them. He is so happy to see them safe that he starts crying uncontrollably, and soon the whole group is crying.

We get a nice little mystery-style recap of exactly how the gang followed Michael’s clues to (relative) safety. Each of Michael’s insults at the comedy roast provided one of the pieces to the puzzle. They needed to get Derek (who I still think of as Pimento from Brooklyn Nine-Nine) back from Janet’s void and have him call the train. Then they needed to hide on the train tracks so that they couldn’t be detected when Bad Janet was asked to scan for human life signs. The final terrifying wait while the train traveled over them was the last piece of the puzzle. Michael, of course, has to mention that he actually left them 1,200 clues since their brains are so underdeveloped.

This Is Us 3.04: “Vietnam”

“He’s there now and he’s struggling. I just need to be where he is even if I can’t get to him, even if I can’t do anything for him. I just need to be there. He’s my little brother, Doc. It’s my job to take care of him.”
- Jack

Everyone’s been waiting to see the story of Jack’s time in Vietnam. And this episode introduced us to the start of the journey. The story was told in backwards fashion, using consecutive farther back flashbacks but I’m going to present it in a more linear fashion so we can see how Jack and Nicky ended up where they did (even if Nicky would prefer to look back and try to figure out how he got where he was).

We begin with Nicky’s birth. The nurse tells Jack’s mom that October 18th is a lucky day and Nicky just misses sharing a birthday with his alcoholic grandfather. It’s interesting to see that at this point, Papa Pearson isn’t a drunk or abusive. I want to know what causes him to snap and become so violent and such a horrible person. At this point, he seems like a decent guy. Next we find Jack and Nicky as young kids. They are tossing a football in the front yard and Nicky breaks his glasses. He’s terrified he’ll get a beating from their father but Jack swears he’ll never let that happen. He even fixes Nicky’s glasses for him with some tape. Later that night, both boys stand up to their dad and he ends up leaving their mother alone. I like that Jack tries to encourage Nicky to be brave and strong, even with glasses (he calls him Clark Kent).

It’s clear that Jack spends most of his life looking out for his baby brother. Even as adults, Jack has a plan in the event Nicky gets drafted to the war. I found it fascinating that Jack was more of a hard working type (he was a mechanic before the war) while Nicky is a bit more of a long-haired hippie. But, the worst comes to pass and Nicky gets drafted. To be honest, I didn’t realize they just called people’s birthdays out and everyone with that birthdate had to go to war. I will admit that not having an active draft is a blessing. I applaud the show for addressing this time period and this particular conflict since not many shows or films ever venture into the territory. I also appreciate that they filmed quite a bit of this storyline (even what we haven’t seen yet) on location. That’s some serious dedication! Jack plans to get Nicky to Canada to avoid the draft but in the end, Nicky decides it’s his turn to be the super hero and defend people for once.

When next we see Jack, he and his mother have gotten news from Nicky overseas that he’s not doing well. Despite a heart condition, Jack begs his doctor to let him enlist to look after his brother. The doctor isn’t thrilled but given that the government doesn’t have people lining up to voluntarily enlist, he gives Jack a few tricks to get him past the physical. It seems that even back then, Jack was a good leader and quickly becomes a Staff Sergeant leading his own unit. Unfortunately, they had to show the brutality of war and one night his unit is ambushed and he loses one man and another, Robinson, loses a foot. I liked that they tied in that he was the one Kevin reached out to in the previous episode. I also loved (and totally got a little misty-eyed) when Robinson was about to be sent home and he told Jack to breathe and put his hands on his face. Like Jack does with Randall as a kid. I just love getting to see where all these little gestures and mannerisms come from. It makes them all feel that much more real.

Following the ambush, Jack and his unit get sent to what’s considered a “cushy” job. They have to monitor a small village which is suspected to harbor Viet Cong and sympathizers. It’s mostly a village of women and children. It was also authentic to see some of Jack’s unit show prejudice against the people in the village, especially the little boys who would grow up to be teenage boys who could be drafted to fight against them. But, Jack, using some bribery gets his men in order before command shows up and uses it to buy himself a day to go see Nicky. Whether he intends to straighten out his brother or just be there, we aren’t sure. But it was kind of jarring to see Nicky with a close shaved head and beard when last we saw him he was a hippie. Nicky also doesn’t look pleased to see his big brother there. Then again, it’s been about a year and a couple months since Nicky got drafted. He’s no doubt seen some horrors of his own by this point. And he hasn’t had Jack to look out for him.

This wasn’t exactly what I was expecting when they touted that we would learn how Jack became Jack. I guess I was expecting more storyline with Jack and Nicky in the war. But we have the rest of the season (and beyond as I can’t imagine the network not renewing the show for at least a fourth season) to explore their relationship at this point in their lives and what leads to Nicky’s death. I find it fascinating that Jack lied to everyone about his war experience. I’m sure it had something to do with Nicky’s death. While it would have been interesting to tie this episode’s content in with Kevin’s search for Jack’s past, I think it served us well to give some necessary backstory and spotlight on Jack. I’m glad that even though we solved the mystery of his death, we have so much yet to explore about who Jack Pearson was. I love seeing little pieces of his experience from this era bleeding into how he operates as a husband and father. To me, it speaks to how strong a person Jack was to be able to take all of these experiences and still come out of it a decent and loving man. Yes, he had his own demons but he was willing to face them and do better for the people he loved.