Wednesday, January 13, 2021

This Is. Us 5.06: "Birth Mother"

“I didn’t even know I was looking for you. And then I found you and you were gone.”
– Randall

As the episode title suggests, this episode is all about seeing Laurel’s past. And I have to admit, it satisfied my hope that it would be in a similar vein to “Memphis”. Yes, we got one person telling her story while we saw things in flashback, but it felt like a good bookend to Randall’s origin story. And I am so glad that we are done with Randall’s search for his roots because now he can move on to other issues like healing things with the rest of his family.

Laurel grew up in New Orleans in 60s and 70s in one of the most prominent Black families in the city. She was ab it of rebellious girl and was always sneaking off to see her Aunt May, whom her father had told her not to see. We don’t learn until much later why he forbade contact and honestly, it spoke to the times she grew up in as to why. But before we get there, we need to talk about her own brother. She adored him (and I want to say that teen Randall played him but I’m not 100% sure). As is the case with so many people, he went to fight in Vietnam and did not come back. That broke Laurel’s heart and her Aunt May helped her through it by showing her how to let out and let go of her pain and grief. Over time, she’s seeing a nice, respectable man who her father approves of, but she is not really interested in. It’s one of those “rich people arranged relationship” type things and you can absolutely tell that isn’t Laurel’s style. She’s fallen in love with a Vietnamese immigrant fisherman who tried t save her when she was letting go of her pain (screaming in the lake). We see them fall in love over time (and see his English improve) and it is very sweet. But when Laurel’s father tells her that the man she’s been seeing is going to propose and he expects her to say “yes”, she freaks and run. She ends up in Pittsburgh where she met William and fell in love and had Randall.

Now, at this point, Randall is obviously upset about the fact Laurel didn’t try to reach out to William after she recovered from her overdose, but we learn that she spent five years in jail in California for drug possession in the early 1980s. And when she was released, she felt such shame that she returned home to her Aunt May. This is when she shares that she had a child with a married man and lost them both (it’s unclear if he took the child or if the baby died). But it is nice to see that Laurel has this person on whom she can lean. And as time goes on, she reconnects with her Vietnamese boyfriend (although not romantically because he’s married and has children). But they rekindle their friendship and eventually he finds out she’s got cancer and takes care of her for two years before she eventually passes away. She also shared her whole story (including Randall) with him during this time and apparently asked him to keep the house until or if he found her son.

As if all of this new information wasn’t enough for Randall to process, the farmhouse where they meet the current-day version of Laurel’s boyfriend is actually the house Aunt May owned which we are to assume she left to Laurel and Laurel left for Randall. So yeah, he and Beth now own a farmhouse on a lake in New Orleans. Randall can’t sleep that night and ends up going to the lake and stripping down naked and walking into the water (yes you could get a glimpse of all of him from the back). So risqué for the 9pm timeslot. Anyway, while he’s in the water he has what can be described as a spiritual experience where he has this whole interaction and conversation with Laurel. It was touching and beautiful as she finally could tell him (or he realized at least) that she loved him. And that William loved him. He’s spent so long wondering why they didn’t when he finally comes to see that they did in fact love him dearly, but circumstances saw fit to keep them from him for a period of time. As he lets out his own cathartic shout, you can just feel the weight finally lifting off Randall. I have to wonder if this will help relieve some of his general anxiety as well or if he will still have that battle. We know that much of his insecurity and inner turmoil came from not feeling like he fit in and I hope now that he knows his place, he can move forward.

As he and Beth start their drive back to Pittsburg, he wants to put the past behind him and Kevin as well. I know they’ve been slowly working toward this all season so I hope we get to see it and that the family can have a little less angst moving forward as we march toward that future with very old Rebecca on her deathbed. But, when he calls Kevin, it really is not a good time. Madison is in labor and Kevin is still in Vancouver and he’s trying to get back before the babies are born. Yeah, I am pretty sure I was yelling at the screen last week that twins come early, and Madison was kind of being too generous assuming the babies would stay put until after Kevin go back from filming. I have a feeling, given the status of filming right now, that the next episode might be the last one we get for a while. And I’m just hoping it doesn’t end on a huge cliffhanger that leaves us wondering forever!

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

This Is Us 5.05: "A Long Road Home"

“I let myself fall in love with the idea of our family.”
– Madison

This episode seemed to pick up pretty much where we left off in the last episode for some of the characters, but it also seemed like Madison was farther along in her pregnancy as well. Let’s start with Kevin and Madison. They are getting ready to interview a nanny who has been caregiver to the children of stars like Justin Timberlake. Kevin is all excited and then gets a call from his agent that the filming for his movie for the final two weeks has been moved to Vancouver. He says he’s out of the film then because he can’t leave Madison, but she insists he go because there’s still time before the twins are born when he gets back, even with the necessary quarantine procedure on the front end. I wanted to remind her that twins don’t always come on their due date. They often arrive early. But whatever. At the nanny interview, Kevin makes a big deal about needing someone who could travel with the family for consistency. Madison gets upset by this and says she pushed Kevin to do the movie because the babies aren’t here yet and she had the expectation that he would be staying put afterwards. So, she urges Kevin to consider what he really wants and how he’s going to honor that commitment when he heads off to the airport.

On his way there, he calls Randall looking for advice and admits that he often considers what Randall would do in certain situations that he’s unsure of. While it’s nice, the call is definitely awkward and came at a really bad time on Randall’s end. Earlier in the day, he gets the news that a man reached out to him via the city’s complaint contact form and it turns out it is the fisherman grandpa we saw earlier. He lives in New Orleans and he knew Laurel. They were friends and he was with her until she died of breast cancer in 2015. Randall is obviously thrown by this news as we all know William told him his mother died shortly after giving birth. I will say, I liked getting see a snippet of William again as we see him filling Randall in on the fact that Laurel was clean during her pregnancy but OD’d shortly after. Randall hates the idea that William lied to him. After all, we know Randall has massive issues with people lying to him about his heritage. But after talking with his therapist, he decides to reach out and get some answers. And boy is he glad he does. The man explains that he believes William thought that Laurel was dead, so he didn’t lie to Randall. And Randall and Beth decide they are going to head to New Orleans to meet the mans o he can show them where Laurel lived for 35 years and some of her favorite places. I am kind of hoping when we get to that part of the story that it’s told in a similar fashion to Memphis. I think that would be a very fitting counterpoint. It would also allow the writers to fit in the backstory for Laurel in a more organic way. And now I want to know if Randall has more family in New Orleans!

And then there is Kate and Toby. I was a little worried where the story was going to go when we first caught a glimpse of the pregnancy test with teenage Kate, but I was pleasantly surprised by it. We see her make the decision to get an abortion and she learns she has to wait 24 hours before they can do the procedure. She ends up going to see Marc. He acts all nice and makes her food which is classic abuser behavior. Trying to make her think he’s changed or won’t do it again. He even tries to rationalize his past behavior. I am sure she was going there to tell him about the pregnancy but when he starts acting like his usual self and starts drinking, she bolts, ultimately having the procedure on her own. When Rebeca gets home from her trip to see Kevin (who is going to head off to LA and ultimately cheat on Sophie and ruin their marriage), Kate requests ice cream to cheer her up from a sad movie (or you know, making a huge life choice without sharing that with anyone and then carrying the weight of that abuse and that choice for twenty years. In the present, Toby points out that he would have thought she would have told him about the abortion earlier, especially during the two years they were trying to conceive Jack. I would have assumed her doctor would have asked about past pregnancies and she would have disclosed the one at age 18 but maybe I’m wrong or maybe she did, and Toby just wasn’t around. But he also points out she’s clearly not over what happened to her which leads her down an internet stalking rabbit hole where she finds Marc is living in San Diego. She goes to confront him all these years late and he’s still a total douchebag, but she gets to stand up for herself. I had to cheer a little when she told him off after he said she was broken “in all the right ways”. Yes she was grieving and emotionally vulnerable and he took advantage of that pain and used it against her. She finally gets to take her power back and it was so satisfying. And to see her now in a relationship with someone who values her as a person and loves her makes me love Toby even more. Yes he can be kind of corny and over the top but he at least respects Kate as a person. I have to say I missed this show and I’m happy it’s back (for however long we have due to pandemic-related scheduling).

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

This Is Us 5.04: "Honestly"

“Do not make your dreams smaller, make them bigger. Not in spite of your daughter, but for her.”
– Randall

This episode moved the story along marginally more than the last episode did, but we got some interesting and needed nuggets of backstory, especially for Kate. She and Toby are trying to temper their expectations with Ellie (their potential birth mom) as they sign a birth plan and Kate goes her next ultrasound. Things seem to be going well until Kate calls the baby Chloe. Ellie later explains that a girl in high school who bullied her and tried to convince her future husband not to go out with her was named Chloe. More importantly to the story, though, she admits she consid4ered abortion. Kate says there’s no judgment there but later on, she admits to Toby (and it may very well be the first non-medical person she’s told) that after her break-up with Marc, she discovered at age eighteen, that she was pregnant. We knew that there was going to be more to Kate’s story and that this will lead into her dependence on food. I’m wondering if she turned to food and put on the weight to avoid men wanting to be with her so she wouldn’t risk getting pregnant again. I am eager to see where this storyline goes and I pray it isn’t as traumatizing as it could be (as in, I hope she doesn’t have to deal with Marc over the decision to abort the pregnancy but this was in the 90s so it’s possible).

Out in Philly, Randall is kind of excited to have Malik shadowing him for the day for a civics project. Things don’t go as planned though because Malik shows up six minutes later and he’s yawning through a morning meeting with Jaewon. Randall has taken to doing a daily livestream to his constituents where he shares news and answers questions. Malik is excited to be able to help out when Jaewon has a conflict, but his attention gets diverted by a phone call from his mom about his daughter and he misses the cue to cut the livestream. This results in all of Philly getting to see Randall Pearson undress (well only his shirt but still) and do a nerdy little dance around his office while he folds his dress shirt. The video goes viral and we see the Vietnamese man watching and he seems to recognize William’s name. There’s clearly more to that story that I hope we find out soon.

Kevin’s story in the present is the most tied in to the glimpses we see of the Pearson past. We get to watch Rebecca and Jack trying to sleep train baby Kevin who just keeps howling. Having been there not that long ago, it definitely hurt my heart. But jack was right, they had to let Kevin cry it out and eventually he managed to settle himself down. But this gives us a look at how Rebecca treats Kevin. Whenever things get too hard for him, she swoops in and lets him off the hook. Didn’t want to continue Boy Scouts because it was boring, she let him quit. And in the preteen storyline, she’s ready to let Kevin quit football because he seems miserable. Jack insists that Kevin made a commitment to the team and he needs to stick with it. (Side note: I was kind of surprised to see George Eads playing the football coach). Kevin has been working out a lot but he’s not having any luck memorizing the playbook. He calls Randall a nerd for color coding his study notes but eventually, he begs his brother to help him learn the football plays. Rebecca see the boys getting along and it’s kind of touching to see Kevin studying the plays via flashlight after Randall has gone to bed. Jack is also pleased to see his son has managed to stick with something. He tells Rebecca that he wants to let his kids know that he sees greatness in them because his father saw nothing in him and called him “Jack of all trades, master of none”. I do hope we get to see more of Jack’s history with his father. I really want to know how the man we saw when Nicky was born became the abusive alcoholic asshole he was when he died.

In the present, Kevin has gone for the meeting with the director for the new movie and he’s excited to be working with both the director and the female lead. But the director is overly dismissive of Kevin and praises the female lead repeatedly. Kevin gets kind of frustrated as he’s trying to do what the director wants but isn’t sure how his performance isn’t meeting expectations. While I understand the director wanted to push Kevin, I thought he could have bene less of a jerk about it. He could have actually given Kevin notes if he thought he wasn’t handling the scene the way he’d envisioned it. Afterward, Kevin tries to get feedback which the director takes as looking for an “Atta-boy”. He tells Kevin he could be a great actor if he put in the work. Kevin ultimately says he’ll be back the following day. But on the ride home, he calls Kate and says he thinks he might not stick with it because his performance was “tired” (Randall used the same words, which Kate points out). Kevin is dismissive of Kate bringing up Randall’s feelings of being unseen in his white family although we see in the past that Randall points out that he has to try twice as hard as all the other kids at his school to be the best because of his race. That night, the director sends Kevin an “Atta-boy” gift basket and Kevin tosses it aside and goes back to using Randall’s study method to learn the script. So maybe there will be some sort of reconciliation down the line.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

This Is Us 5.03: "Changes"

“I got stuff too, Madison. I got a lot of stuff. Including stuff with my brother I have to work out. but sometimes I lay in bed and I stare at the ceiling and I worry that I’m gonna pass that on to my kids.”
- Kevin

So, this episode didn’t move things although very far in any particular story but it was nice to see the pre-teen (eighth grade) Big Three starting to hit puberty and watch Jack and Rebecca try to deal with all of that while Randall and Beth tried to deal with an acting out Tess. In the past, we see some of the competitiveness between Kevin and Randall come out when Randall points out that Kevin’s weight at the doctor is below average. Then at home, Kate is excited because her ex-boyfriend, Stuart, picked to be in her group project. While Jack tries to bond with Kevin over sports and working out (something that ultimately becomes an addiction and obsession for Kevin), Rebecca tries to help Kate impress Stuart while the other girl in her group hits on Randall. She tries to kiss him he freaks out. She makes a comment about how she’s always wanted to kiss someone like him. That’s either a race thing or a smarts thing and given where the writers are taking Randall this season, I’m inclined toward the former. And poor Kate learns that Stuart just wanted to be in her group because of the subject they were covering.

In the present, Tess is being a somewhat typically moody teenager, not wanting to eat her mom’s pancakes and just being contrary. We soon learn she and a friend made a video insulting/clapping back at a teacher they felt wronged them. The teacher touched Tess’s hair and referred to her friend as ‘she” when the friend goes by “they/them”. The video included the phrase “screw you”. Beth classified this as profane language and Tess ultimately gets grounded and loses her phone for six weeks. Now, I don’t disagree that the video was inappropriate, and it appears the conduct toward Tess stopped when she confronted the teacher about it. But the punishment does seem rather harsh. There are far worse things they could have said in that video. On another note, Randall has found a new Black therapist whom he feels comfortable with. He is also instructed by said therapist to write down the first childhood story that comes to mind. I think it’s the one we saw play out in this episode because I’m sure Randall never really processed those feelings.

We have a little bit of mystery this episode, too, with a Vietnamese grandfather and his granddaughter. They’re out fishing, and the little girl catches a big fish, but is then impatient while her grandfather prepares and cooks it. He points out that he learned to cook to impress a woman and by episode’s end we see that the woman is Laurel, Randall’s birth mom. So, either she was a long-time love who died or was just a passing part of his life but it is entirely possible that Randall has other family out there, not that he seems overly interested in keeping in touch with the ones from William’s side of the line. But I’m sure we will find out all there is to know in due time.

Out in LA, Kate and Toby meet their potential birth mother. In typical Kate and Toby fashion, they banter a little while they wait but then it seems almost too goo to be true when she arrives. She loves Kate’s mask, named her daughter Willow after the character from Buffy (apparently Hush is her favorite episode….yeah I won’t go into that because I personally felt all of season 4 was pretty terrible). She has a Ghost Busters ring tone. As Toby points out, it was like she looked them up on social media ahead of time. Having never been involved in an adoption I don’t know the kind of things they would put in an adoption profile but I’m pretty sure it isn’t that kind of information. But the birth mom explains that she has an eight-year-old daughter from a marriage that ended when her husband died. She rebounded with some random guy and she doesn’t want this baby. The look on Kate’s face when she talked about ending up in bed with a stranger only hours after meeting him reminds me of some of Kate’s behavior from the first season and I’m wondering if that informs part of why she turned to food as her vice. I can’t tell if she’s playing them or if this might actually work out because she did mention that the baby is a girl, and we know Jack has a sister. We also get a kind of adorable argument over diapers which is also quintessential Kate and Toby.

And we can’t end without checking in on Kevin and Madison, who honestly are starting to grow on me. Kevin gets a call about a new movie role, but Madison seems kind of unhappy about it. He tries to ask her about it, but she brushes him off until they eventually both open up to each other. Kevin admits that working out is an addiction, like alcohol and so he’s been obsessing. Plus, at 40, it’s harder to maintain a ripped physique and that’s how he made his career, so he feels like he needs to keep it up. Madison explains that she struggles with bulimia and she keeps the sonogram of the babies on the fridge to remind herself t eat because when she goes to the doctor and they weigh her and she sees the number going up, she panics. While they’ve done this whole relationship thing backwards, I think it was probably one of the most self-aware, mature conversations Kevin’s had in a while. So, good on them. I am interested to see where they go with this relationship as time goes on.

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

A Belated Halloween Round-Up: Modern Takes on the Classic Country House Murder Mystery

As I’ve said on here several times now, I’m not watching much traditional scripted television anymore. I’m a Youtube fiend (give me all the travel, cooking, and foreign language learning channels!), and I still love me a good calming stand and stir or cooking competition. I’m also trying to learn Spanish (I was actually supposed to be in Mexico for Dia de Muertos right now, but that has been postponed for probably at least two years), so finding content in Spanish on streaming services has also been a focus for me. La Casa de la Flores on Netflix is especially fun. All this is to say I wasn’t originally intending to do my usual seasonal posts this year. Then, when I was watching “Clue,” one of my favorite movies, on Halloween night, I had an idea for a belated, not really about TV Halloween post. I’m going to talk about modern takes on the classic country house murder mystery. Three are films, and one is a web series, and all are quite entertaining. Welcome to Jen’s Halloween mystery dinner party. Will you survive?

Clue (1985)

When I was growing up, Clue was one of my favorite board games. My Dad taught me a strategy that would give me a very high chance of winning (I’m not telling), and I always relished a chance to put that strategy into action. Movies based on any existing piece of intellectual property a studio can come up with (Battleship, anyone?) is kind of a cliché joke these days, but “Clue,” coming decades before this trend, is truly a well developed, clever film.

It’s a dark and spooky night of course, and a group of Washingtonians (and one New Yorker who works for the WHO) find themselves at a remote mansion dinner party at the invitation of “Mr. Body.” They are all asked to use pseudonyms, of course, and so we meet Professor Plum the kind of skeevy psychiatrist, Miss Scarlet the madam, and Mrs. Peacock the Senator’s wife, to name a few. The events that follow weave together blackmail, state secrets, and “me too” before its time. There are so many great, classic performances in “Clue.” I think the late, great Madeline Kahn describing her anger at her husband as “flames on the side of my face” is always quotable. Tim Curry, in a memorable turn as Wadsworth the butler, says “no” in a unique way that uses all the vowels. Christopher Lloyd is always a treat, even as the super creepy psychiatrist. Eileen Brennan (you’ll hear about her again) brings both comedy and an edge to Mrs. Peacock. Michael McKean as the hapless (so it seems) Mr. Green is also memorable. To top it all off, there are three endings to the story, and any way you watch it, you’ll get to see all three.

Edgar Allan Poe’s Murder Mystery Dinner Party (2016)

As a Baltimorean, I’m a bit of an Edgar Allan Poe enthusiast. I have raven bookends on my kitchen cookbook shelf and a picture of a “passive aggressive raven” that says “nevermind” near that. I also lived across the street from Poe’s grave for three years, and some friends who lived in the same apartment building even threw a Poe’s birthday party one year. So I was predisposed to like this literary take on a country house murder mystery featuring Mr. Poe and his friendly household ghost, Lenore.

“Poe Party,” as it is known among fans, was written by siblings Sean and Sinead Persaud and produced by their web video production company Shipwrecked Comedy. It was funded by Kickstarter (full disclosure: I was a backer). Shipwrecked always tries to do work with a literary bent, and “Poe Party” was the epitome of that. Poe, in a bid to win over the heart of Annabel Lee, hosts a big murder mystery dinner party and invites all famous authors like Mary Shelley, Charlotte Bronte, Earnest Hemingway, Oscar Wilde, H.G. Wells, and more. The murder mystery party turns into a real murder mystery, and the twists and turns keep coming. “Poe Party” is mostly a very clever comedy, but it has its tragic moments as well, and the cast clearly loves what they are working on.

Knives Out (2019)

I spent New Year’s Eve 2019 seeing “Knives Out” at one of those upscale eat a mediocre yet overpriced dinner while you watch your movie places because it was close to my house, and I don’t like to do a whole lot of driving on New Year’s Eve. Little did I know that I would only see one more movie in a theater (Parasite) before the pandemic would hit. I decided to watch “Knives Out” because I generally like country house murder mysteries, and I thought it would be fun to see a contemporary take on it. As much as I love all things Disney (the animated movies, Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars – all of it), I was also craving something with an original plot not based on existing intellectual property.

“Knives Out,” directed by Rian Johnson (I liked “The Last Jedi." Luke has always been a whiny brat. Fight me.), has quite the all star cast, including Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, and Christopher Plummer. Plummer plays famous mystery writer Harlan Thrombley, who has serious health problems and is nearing the end of his life. His nurse, Marta, is played by Cuban-Spanish actress Ana de Armas, who gives a very memorable performance (and is now currently dating Ben Affleck, but that’s a subject for another blog!). Thrombley is found dead of apparent suicide after hish eighty-fifth birthday celebration, and the plot takes off from there. What is a bit different about “Knives Out” compared to the other works we’re talking about here is that the police and famous Louisiana detective Benoit Blanc (Craig) are investigating a murder that has already happened, as opposed to a bunch of unrelated people being gathered for a party, and then a murder taking place that they have to solve. It is a lot of fun and even manages to work in some immigrants’ rights material.

Murder by Death (1976)

“Murder by Death,” written by Neil Simon, is the oldest of the murder mystery parodies I’m showcasing here, and there are certainly aspects of it that don’t age well at all (mostly having to do with Sam Diamond, who is played by the legendary Columbo himself, Peter Falk, and the stereotypical Chinese detective Sidney Wang, played by the talented, but Caucasian, Peter Sellers). I tend to take films as products of their time and not completely disregard them for how women and minorities are portrayed, but I felt it was important to point out those aspects here, because they are definitely problematic in 2020 and don’t reflect the world as it should be.

Like “Poe Party,” “Murder by Death” has a literary bent. Lionel Twain, played by none other than Truman Capote, has called together five of the world’s greatest private detectives and their companions for what essentially turns into a competition for who can solve his murder first. Each of the detectives are parodies of detectives in literature and pop culture, such as Miss Marple, Hercule Poirot, and the Thin Man. I feel like “Murder by Death” is the most farcical and out there of the four parodies. It includes twists and turns such as multiple versions of the same room and simulated thunderstorms. Lionel Twain (or is he really Lionel Twain?) is one sick puppy. I do enjoy watching the mystery unfold, though, and I also enjoy the caricatures of famous fictional detectives. Oh, and at the risk of not following the Chekhov's gun rule, Eileen Brennan was in this film too, as Sam Diamond's harried assistant, Tess Skeffington.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

This Is Us 5.01 & 5.02: “Forty: Parts One and Two”

“This world is a bright and resilient place. And we fight on.”
- Beth

Boy is it good to have the Pearson clan back on our TV screens. It’s silly to say but I will fully cop to having a slight sense of normalcy creep back into my life now that this show is back on the air. I know that the world is on fire and everything is terrible and our country hangs in the balance, but damn is it good to have this family’s drama to enjoy.

It wasn’t a shock to me that the show worked in several current social issues. After all, we have always known that the show plays out in roughly real time and so we pick up in March 2020 just when the pandemic hits. We get to see Kevin find out the news form his agent as he’s with Madison. Over the length of the double episode opener, we get to see a bit of an evolution of Kevin and Madison. I may still be secretly longing for Sophie to come back but it seems for now, at least Madison is here to stay. After sharing the news with Kate and Toby, we see them trying to figure out their living situation. Kevin suggests they could rent a big house and quarantine but Madison offers her guest room. It’s a little awkward at first, but they seem to settle in (including hooking up again at least once). They do seem to have kind of an easy back and forth which is kind of sweet. When Madison trips over a suitcase and panics she hasn’t felt the babies move, Kevin dons his mask and whisks her to nearest urgent care facility. All is eventually well but Kevin proposes and after telling her he isn’t taking it back, I guess they’re engaged?

Speaking of Kate and Toby, they are on the adoption train and as the Big Three’s fortieth birthday approaches they get their profile sorted on the adoption website. By episode’s end, their journey to becoming Hailey’s parents is well underway. I will say that I thought that particular plot point was a bit rushed. Then again, I suppose we don’t know if the person they have been matched with is going to be their birth mother. Those kind of stories tend to have their own ups and downs.

And then there’s Randall. He’s still reeling from that epic fight with Kevin and as the country slides into chaos and not only the pandemic but the civil and racial unrest begin to bleed into his job as a Councilman, he tries to manage all of the stresses. He’s seeing his therapist twice a week over Zoom but it seems he’s not getting the most out of those sessions. We get a very powerful moment of him watching the George Floyd video footage. He is clearly rocked by this tragedy as is the rest of the family. On his birthday, he actually has an interesting conversation with Malik about it. Malik explains that he and his dad take a walk after news like that breaks. Randall confides he’s never had anything like that because growing up in a white family, issues about race were never discussed. We also see Randall admitting that there are things he doesn’t feel discussing with his white therapist and therefore, he’s going to be getting a black therapist to help deal with his issues. And I have to say I felt for Kate when she asked Randall if they were okay and she says she never asked or talked about these issues when they were kids because she didn’t want to say the wrong thing. And I totally feel where she’s coming from. Sometimes being an ally while also acknowledging your own privilege is painful and uncomfortable. I do hope we get to see them come back and be closer together, though.

When the Big Three’s birthday actually hits, we catch glimpses of Rebecca’s moment of getting lost and while everyone starts to freak out, including Randall driving to the cabin where everyone has gathered, we ultimately learn it was a bad reaction between her medication and an allergy med she took for some poison ivy. It will pass. She confides in Miguel that she’s more scared of forgetting the little details as her memory fails her. I expected Kevin to get snippy with Randall who caught med error but he didn’t. You could see they wanted to say more to each other but they both stopped themselves. The snippets of Rebecca’s memory slip aren’t the only ones we get to revisit. We get to see a new side of the day the Big Three came into the world, including getting a lot more information on Randall’s biological mom, Laurel. We see her struggle with heroin addiction and that his birth was particularly painful for her. We see her OD and William call the paramedics for help. We even get to see him and Jack cross paths unknowingly at the hospital after he drops Randall at the fire station. He begs God to forgive him because he can’t raise Randall on his own and Jack prays that God brings Rebecca through the difficult delivery with the triplets. We catch a glimpse of Jack reaching out to his father, asking what he prayed for at church all those years ago. His dad said he was praying his boys would turn out better than he did. They had such a turbulent relationship. I hope we get to explore some more of it. The biggest shock of the season opener was of course in the final moments when we cut to William fleeing the apartment with baby Randall in his arms. The paramedics are about to pronounce Laurel dead when one of the medics gets a pulse and she comes back around. So, somewhere out there, Randall’s biological mother is probably wondering what happened to her son and when they finally meet, she is going to no doubt rock his world!

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

This Is Us. 4.18: “Strangers Part Two”

“I think the trick is not trying to keep the joys and the tragedies apart. But you gotta kinda let them cozy up to one another, let ‘em co-exist. Life has a way of working out to more happy than tragic.”
- Dr. K.

We’ve reached another finale of “This Is Us” and boy has this year had its ups and downs on issues that seem far more personal to me, given the material. But hey, at least I’m hoping we find out who Kevin’s fiancée and baby mama is this episode so we can go into season 5 prepared. And Based on the episode title and what I’ve heard, I’m hoping we get to check in with the characters we met at the start of the season (I’m especially eager to see grown-up Jack and Cassidy).

Before we dive into the current (and future) storylines, let’s look back at the Big Three’s first birthday. Jack is all ready in his terrible towel and Rebecca comes in with a cupcake and her bathrobe on. She’s not keen to be showing off her body a year after delivering triplets. And Jack doesn’t get his usual birthday show because the kids start screaming. And even though it’s super cute as the Big Three try cupcakes and cake for the first time, Rebecca needs to take a minute. She’s been feeling really sad lately because she’s been wondering what Kyle’s first words would have been or when he took his first steps or gotten his first tooth like the Big Three. Jack admits he’s been feeling sad about it, too but he didn’t know what to do about it. So, he decides to take the family to see Dr. K. He’s pleased to see them, but he suspects what’s on their minds. He recounts how he and his wife lost their first child and he had sung “Blue Skies” to his wife’s pregnant belly and then after their loss, they’d sit listening to the song and it made them sad. But then, they got pregnant again and he was back to signing it and this time their child survived and he danced to the song with her at her wedding. So, he points out that they have to let the joy and the sadness exist together. And so, we see Jack and Rebecca watching home movies of when Rebecca was pregnant as a way to remember Kyle. I did find it interesting that they brought him up. I do often wonder why none of them talk about him much.

In the present, the family is gathering in LA to celebrate Jack’s first birthday. We get a little touch stone with Cassidy and Nicky (apparently, they’re still checking up on each other which is a good thing) and Nicky even sent Kevin baby shoes to give to Jack as a birthday present. It was really sweet, and Kevin is happy that he’s made it to a year of sobriety. But not everything is as it appears. We see that Rebeca hasn’t told Kevin or Kate that she’s entering the trial and Beth thinks that Randall pushed her to do it and I don’t blame her. Randall has a savior complex and this need for control and it’s going to push the people he loves away. And he’ll have done it to himself. Initially, Randall acts like he’s just as surprised as everyone else about Rebecca’s change of heart. But when Rebecca uses a phrase that Randall used when the Big Three were talking about it, Kevin puts the pieces together. Beth smartly takes the rest of the family out to see the city while Randall and Kevin have their blowout. And boy is it brutal. It starts off small and is interrupted by Madison (who is carrying Kevin’s twins!) and the it gets really ugly. Randall accuses Kevin not caring about anyone but himself and Kevin responds by saying the worst day of his life was the day Jack and Rebecca brought Randall home from the hospital. Ouch. And then Kevin decides to go all in and says his great love is going to be his kids. I don’t really see Kevin and Madison ending up together, so we still don’t know the identity of his fiancée. Unless they get married because of the babies and split up later down the road. But we also get a glimpse of Sophie seeing a ridiculous ad that Kevin did. So, she’s not totally gone from the picture either.

While all this chaos is happening, Kate and Toby take Jack back to the hospital and put up a picture on the “success” wall. Toby recounts to Kate a conversation they had after Jack was born abut him being there for her and Jack. He admits he’s not done the best job over the last year, but he is committed now. I’m pretty sure they are going to be fine. Especially since Toby sys he wants to give Jack a sibling via adoption. And this leads us to the future where Adult Jack and his wife are eagerly awaiting the birth of their overdue baby. Jack starts singing one of his songs and her contractions start. We see them get to the hospital and they want to be surprised by the gender, but the nurse lets slip that it’s a girl. They’ve been struggling to come up with a name, but they finally settle on one when Jack ‘s sister Hailey arrives. She works at a gallery and before we realized Toby and Kate were adopting, I honestly thought maybe she was the baby mama to Kevin. But, the next generation of Damons has a name: Hope.

And the Pearson clan is going to need a lot of it in the future because we visit the timeline where everyone is gathering to say their goodbyes to Rebecca on her death bed. We see Kevin’s’ twins (a boy and a girl) and we see that Kevin ha a wedding ring. There’s still not answer as to where Miguel is and wherever Kate and the kids are coming from must be far away because they haven’t showed up yet. And we also get a glimpse of the fact Nicky has a wedding ring on, too. Some people have speculated he married Rebecca, but I don’t think I see that being the case. Other’s have suggested Cassidy but that seems a bit farfetched, too. So, we’ll have more questions to ponder until the fall when the show returns. Kevin and Randall have a bit of an icy reunion but as the episode ends, Kevin puts his hand on Randall’s shoulder. So maybe they’re going to be okay after all, even if it takes a decade to get there.