Friday, July 26, 2019

Food TV Friday: "Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat"

“I’m just gonna live here now. Eat cheese and butter until I die.”
-Samin Nosrat

I’ve gotta admit, “Salt Fat Acid Heat” is my current obsession. I’ve watched all the episodes multiple times, and I have the book (I’m reading through the whole thing in addition to cooking from it, because it’s really more instructional than recipe-focused). “Salt Fat Acid Heat” is the product of Iranian-American self-described cook Samin Nosrat. While working at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, she discovered that four elements are common drivers in flavor in cuisines all around the world: salt, fat acid, and heat. She developed this concept into a cooking class and eventually worked with food writer extraordinaire Michael Pollan. That eventually led to the book and now the Netflix show. The show itself combines some of the cooking instruction of the book with a travel element. Each episode takes place in a different country: Japan, Italy, Mexico, and the US respectively.

The show really works because Nosrat is such a charming personality. She really engages with the people she talks to, and she clearly loves food. She’s quick to both laugh and cry. Let’s go back to that loves food aspect for a minute. It is so rare to see a woman on television, especially one who isn’t skinny, just plain enjoying food. Nosrat never holds back in her enjoyment of food. She weeps in a parmesan cheese factory and erupts in tears and laughter when some salsa in spicier than she expected. She never hesitates to dig in and taste something, even seaweed. The conversation about women and food can be so fraught, and Nosrat just smashes through it all with pure joy. She’s gotten a reputation as a modern day Julia Child thanks to her bubbly personality and tall frame, and she is a delight to watch. Here’s a great video that captures Nosrat’s personality…plus, biscuits!

Another aspect of the show that I like is how many women Nosrat talks to about their food. She enlists the help of Italian Nonnas and Mexican Abuelas in her quest to show how her four elements unite cuisines around the world. So often it seems like food doesn’t become trendy until a hipster bro male chef makes it and sells it in a restaurant, but women have been doing plenty of cooking for centuries. Some of my favorite segments involved making pesto in a mortar and pestle in Italy, making miso in Japan, and making Pavo en Escabeche in Mexico. All of these women have mastered their craft over decades, and Nosrat delights in learning from them. And so did I, come to think of it! It’s such a different way of looking at food television in general. We often idealize a grandmother’s cooking, but we rarely see it on television, especially taken seriously.

As I mentioned before, Nosrat travels to a different location for each of the four episodes. The “Salt” episode takes place in Japan, where we learn about Japanese salt, miso, and soy sauce-making. I had no idea that so many, subtly different types of salt were produced in Japan. The “Fat” episode takes place in Italy, and the parmesan cheese, olive oil, and various types of cured pork made my mouth water. In the summer, I’m a big fan of making a meze platter for lunch with caprese and salami among other things, and this episode made me feel like I do when I’m eating that lunch. “Acid” took place in Mexico, specifically the Yucatan peninsula, and I was fascinated watching a cuisine I don’t know much about. Sour oranges figure prominently, a fruit I didn’t even know existed prior to watching. There was also a sweet lemon, which was also a surprise to me. “Heat” took place in Nosrat’s home of Berkley, California. The highlight of the episode was Nosrat’s mother helping her cook the iconic Persian dish, Tahdig. She also makes a beautiful buttermilk roast chicken, which has become something of a winter holiday tradition for me now. I even figured out a rig to keep the smoke down so I don’t have to constantly man the smoke alarm (I live in a row home, and the first floor is pretty small).

The production value of the show is extremely high, which is probably part of the reason there are only four episodes. I would have loved to have watched more episodes, but I can’t imagine how much it would have cost! The visuals are just stunning. The serenity of being on a boat in Japan and the many colors of the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico are really brought right to the screen. Even the “Heat” episode, which takes place near Nosrat’s home in Berkeley California (not as exotic as the other three episodes) contain little visual details that make it feel inviting. I also have to mention that the beginning of that episode introduced me to a band I really enjoy, The California Honeydrops.

Nosrat has repeatedly said in interviews that if nothing else, she wants her work to inspire people to just get out there and cook. I think she has definitely succeeded. While I’ve enjoyed cooking for quite some time now, she’s definitely made me more intentional in the kitchen. While my doctor doesn’t want me to salt things as much as Samin would anymore (I would seriously give up sugar before salt – this is not easy, people!), she has taught me little details, such as macerating onions in acid before pulling together a vinaigrette, that has made my cooking better. I’ve also heard many people, some of whom I haven’t known to be that into cooking, talking about that buttermilk chicken. The chicken is delicious and not very hard to make. You really should try it!

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

This Is Us 3.18: "Her"

“I’ll tell you one thing. I don’t think we figure out who we are all at once. I think it happens over a long period of time, piece by piece.”
- Kevin

Oh man, I was not expecting that ending of the episode! Before we can get there, though, we need to take a look at the drama unfolding for the Pearson clan in the present and briefly in the past. We find the Big Three as preteens and Rebecca ends up in a car accident due to careless driving. She’s banged up and has a broken arm. Her injuries freak the kids out a bit, as does her speech thanks to the pain meds. She insists Jack take them home and he does so but that just doesn’t go well. I’m not sure how or why Jack is so inept with parenting in this episode. I suppose it could be still around the time he saw Nicky so he could just be off. But, ultimately, he takes the kids back to the hospital and convinces a bleary-eyed nurse to let them see Rebecca before visiting hours start. This actually ends up tying more into the future storyline but we’ll get there in a minute.

In the present, Kate and Toby are still dealing with baby Jack in the NICU. He’s now two weeks old and has started to breathe on his own. Still, he may forget so they just need to tap his foot to startle him to remind him he needs to keep breathing. I don’t know if I had that problem, but I know my heart would stop sometimes when I was fed so similar scariness of preemies! Rebecca is dutifully taking notes on everything and asking the doctor a zillion questions which kind of annoys Kate. Then, when Jack stops breathing and alarms go off, Kate slightly panics and then Rebecca remembers what to do and the baby is fine. Kate snaps at h3er mother which sends Rebecca home. Kate ends up apologizing to her mom. So for now, it seems, they are in a good place.

That leaves us with Kevin and Randall, whose stories are somewhat intertwined. Randall has to take Deja to a debate tournament while Beth goes to teach ballet classes. Kevin and Zoe agree to watch Tess and Annie which leads to Kevin realizing he does still want kids. Especially after he gets to give Tess a pretty good speech about how you figure out who you are over time through different life experiences. Kevin also observes Zoe with Annie and thinks Zoe would make a great mom. But, later that night, she confirms that she in fact never wants to be a mom. I suspect she’s one of those people who likes being around other people’s kids but doesn’t want her own. Kevin finally acknowledges that he does in fact want kids some day and thus they end up breaking up again.

It turns out that Deja is a bit crafty. She took Randall on a long car ride to deliver a speech of her own, much like when he wanted her to sign the adoption papers. She brings him to the worst foster home she was in. The parents were abusive and took in too many kids just for the money so they could scratch lotto tickets. This is all to say that Randall and Beth need to sort their stuff out because she and Tess can feel the tension. And she thinks Randall “won the lottery” when he got adopted and when he met Beth. As Randall processes the wise words from his oldest daughter (she really is a pretty wise girl), he calls up his campaign manager to ask a question I was honestly surprised he would ask. He wants to know the procedure to resign. Unbeknownst to him, Beth is reevaluating some things on her end, too. We see her meet with a realtor in Philly and in true This Is Us fashion we think it means she’s looking at houses. But when she gets home, she tells Randall she wants to open her own dance studio in Philly so they can move there and that way Randall doesn’t have to give up his political aspirations and she can teach dance how she wants to.

This leads us to the future storyline we’ve been wondering about all season. We know from prior hints that it’s set probably 10-20 years in the future given Tess being a grown-up and social worker. We know that folks are gathering to see Rebecca. We quickly see Tess, Randall and Beth catch up with one another and it seems that Beth and Randall are in fact in a good place (as also evidenced by how things went down in the present). I am a little confused about why Deja and Annie aren’t around but who knows, maybe they are coming. Toby arrives, too, and says that he talked to Jack and “they” are on their way. That does not say that he is with Kate, although it could. We don’t know. It makes me wonder a little if Toby and Kate are no longer together. We also learn that everyone is gathering at Kevin’s huge house. We also meet a nameless child who it sounds like is Kevin’s son. So he eventually becomes a dad, too. We have no idea who his mom is (other than we know it isn’t Zoe). And then, Randall goes to see Rebecca and she is very old and it seems like she doesn’t remember Randall. Whether it’s just old age or dementia is yet another question to be answered. Perhaps the biggest twist in the future storyline is that it is not Miguel sitting vigil by Rebecca’s bedside. It’s Uncle Nicky! Okay, I was not expecting that and I need to know how Nicky ends up there given how much he brushed off the rest of the family when last we saw him. I did like how this scene was cut to show young Randall walking into Rebecca’s hospital room in the past. It was very well done. Now we just have to wait six months to see what happens next!

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend 2.04: "When Will Josh and His Friend Leave Me Alone?

“Life doesn’t happen to you. You make decisions. Right now I’m deciding to move forward with my life.”

I’ll be honest, the events of this episode are the main reason why, even though the first season of “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” is one of my very favorite seasons of television, I haven’t gotten very far beyond it in watching the show. In honor of the series finale airing this coming Friday, though, I thought I ought to dive back in. You see, I first started watching the show when a close friend moved across country under somewhat painful circumstances, and I was trying to cheer myself up with a quirky comedy and some pepperoni pizza. While watching the first season, I got very invested in Rebecca and Greg. Then when I found out that Santino Fontana was leaving the show and I saw the video for “It Was a Shitshow,” which featured their big airport goodbye, I knew I wasn’t in an emotional place to watch the whole episode. Just about three years later, I can confirm I was actually able to watch the whole episode (including the departure scene) without crying, so that’s progress. A lot has happened in the past three years, I suppose.

The episode opens where the last one left off, with Rebecca rushing to the airport just as Greg is about to board his flight to Atlanta to attend Emory University. Greg explains his reasons for leaving with the aforementioned “It Was a Shitshow,” and I was mostly reminded that damn, Santino Fontana can sing. I’m now contemplating a spontaneous trip to NYC to see him in Tootsie (although my bank account and work that needs to be done on my house may make me decide to do otherwise). Greg’s got a good point with this song. While Greg and Rebecca have crazy chemistry, they’ve done some pretty awful things to each other. Their relationship hasn’t been rosy, for sure. Greg does admit he loves her (which will have to sustain me until season four), but pursuing his dreams in Atlanta is the best thing for him at this point.

Rebecca is completely broken by both Josh and Greg leaving her in such a short space of time. She’s feeling very abandoned, and Paula, even though she’s dealing with her own issues (more on that in a bit) does try to comfort her. Josh and Greg keep appearing to her as visions, and they perform a rather epic song and dance number called “We Tapped that Ass All Over This House.” Rebecca decides to try burning everything that reminds her of both Josh and Greg in her kitchen sink, and it turns into a major fire and a 911 call that goes viral (probably because it involved Rebecca describing pooping in her backyard). Rebecca goes over to Heather’s house to see if she can stay there, and she learns that Heather still lives with her parents. Heather and her parents are all cool with Rebecca crashing at their place temporarily. Heather’s dad even makes her pancakes at 2 AM), and Heather’s mom gives her clothes to wear to work the next day.

Rebecca, looking quite disheveled, is devastated to find out that all her coworkers have been watching the viral 911 video. She thinks she’ll feel better if she throws herself into work, though, so she sits in on a meeting with Petra from “Jane the Virgin,” who in the “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” universe, runs a company called Miss Douche. Since douching isn’t really in fashion anymore, she’s desperately trying to rebrand the company (Whitefeather is helping them with legal transactions required for their new headquarters). She especially wants to replace their illustrated “Miss Douche” mascot with a real woman. They’re running a social media contest from which five winners will be chosen. The rebranding talk really appeals to Rebecca, because she desperately wants everyone to forget about that 911 video.

Back at Heather’s house, Heather’s mom is super supportive of Rebecca’s desire to have a post break-up makeover. Rebecca even comes up with a pretty silly song to accompany the makeover. Next thing we know, Rebecca is walking into Whitefeather with blonde hair and looking like she’s dressed for Coachella. She also made the Instagram post for the contest and has spent thousands of dollars on bots to give the post likes. Even though reaction to the new look was surprise more than anything else, Rebecca is feeling pretty confident in herself when she happens to run into Josh on the street. Josh doesn’t recognize Rebecca at first, but when he does, he tries to be kind. He makes the mistake of calling what Rebecca is wearing a “costume,” though, and that completely throws her off her game.

Meanwhile, you may recall that in the last episode, Paula found out that she’s pregnant. Her husband, to his credit, is still super supportive of the idea of her going to law school, but his attempts to show that he can manage the house somewhat to give her space to study doesn’t really go well. The house is more chaotic than ever, and Paula doesn’t see how she can possibly juggle her job, school, the kids they’ve got, and a new baby all at once. Her husband reminds her she has “options,” but Paula views that as a teenager’s way out. She thinks the right decision is for her to drop out of law school. She also doesn’t want to talk any of this through with Rebecca (even though Rebecca asks her a couple times how she’s doing), because she thinks Rebecca has too much on her plate and wouldn’t understand, anyway. She ends up presenting Miss Douche’s case to the planning commissioner, however, and he seriously compliments her work, so Paula finally makes her decision. She has an abortion. It’s all handled in a very matter-of-fact way (and she still doesn’t tell Rebecca), which was very interesting to see on television.

When we next see Rebecca, she’s officially a finalist for Miss Douche, but Heather is having a terrible time trying to get her out of bed to go to the competition. Heather’s parents aren’t helping. They’re totally cool with Rebecca just staying in bed not trying to win the competition. Heather’s taking this personally, I think because she wishes her parents had pushed her a bit more to not be a perpetual student. Eventually, Heather succeeds, and Rebecca shows up at the competition just in time. The ladies all have to answer questions from the judges. Petra (I don’t know her character’s name on this show, so I’m just gonna call her Petra) mentions that Rebecca seems like the kind of person who does it all – success ful attorney, living her best SoCal life, etc. Fundamentally, though, she wants to know who Rebecca is. The planning commissioner asks Paula who she is in a cut scene, so I’m guessing this is the theme that is tying the whole episode together. Rebecca ends up giving a speech where she says she doesn’t deserve to be Miss Douche because her life is a mess, and she suggests they choose Heather instead.

Heather does end up as the new Miss Douche, which is not what anyone would have ever expected. She wants to take the money and strike it out on her own. She’s tired of her parents enabling her to keep living in her safe bubble. And she wants Rebecca to be her new roommate. This is going to be quite an interesting combination! Later, the two of them start looking at listings, and they see a familiar face gorging on a donut. It’s none other than Valencia – since when does she eat carbs! The three ladies are all surprised to see each other and don’t know quite how to react. Do I detect a potential third roommate? This could get interesting.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

This Is Us 3.17: “R & B”

“I love you Randall, but you consume things.”
- Beth

If you thought that Beth and Randall’s epic fight was going to be over and done with at the start of this episode, you’d be wrong. It was just the start of a look back at their relationship starting with their first meeting. Beth prefaces the trip down memory lane that they have been having the same fight for twenty years and as the episode went along, I could see it from her perspective and it really made me feel for Beth. But at the same time, she could have pushed back harder sometimes and stood her ground. The Beth we met who was a force as a teenager did seem to get swallowed up a bit by Randall and that is the problem.

I did like that we got to see the phone call with Kevin giving Randall pointers asking Beth out on a date. That was definitely cute, but the date itself was awkward in part because Randall totally info dumped all the sort of “memorable” stuff about his childhood—being adopted, his dad dying. Yeah, Randall, you don’t want to lead with that on a first date, buddy. And then the waiter requested that they pre-pay for their meal before ordering. Randall was all set to do it (even though he knew it wasn’t right…hello 1990s racism) and Beth couldn’t believe it. She didn’t want the flowers and the fancy dinner. She just wanted to hang and eat some nachos. She tells Randall not to call her again. That clearly didn’t last because when next we catch up to them, they’ve been together for seven years and Randall has repeatedly been proposing to Beth. She hasn’t said yes yet but he’s determined.

Things take a turn for Randall and Beth when Beth suggests they skip Sunday dinner with Rebecca in favor of mini golf. Randall likes the idea of golf but insists Rebecca come along. I get that he doesn’t want his mother to feel abandoned but she would understand I’m sure. This leads to Beth flipping out at Randall for telling Rebecca about all of his proposal attempts. Randall storms off and Rebecca and Beth have a heart to heart. Beth loves Randall but she is worried he will consume her and she wasn’t that. Rebecca insists that won’t happen because Beth isn’t a “wall flower”. So, Beth ends up taking Randall to a diner where she orders nachos and then tells him to ask her to marry him. She says yes this time.

Cut to their wedding day. Beth is trying to finish writing her vows because she didn’t have time earlier thanks to lots of little things that were going on with wedding planning. They bought the big house (where they live now) and they are holding the ceremony in the back yard. She asks Kate to stall for a few minutes which leads to Randall and Kevin going over Randall’s vows which Randall realizes was more of a boring dissertation on marriage than how he felt about Beth. Beth is not having any of this and so they agree to write the vows together and it is a really sweet scene intercut with their actual exchange of vows. They promise to be whole people with each other and not get swept up by the other but as we’ve seen, that’s not going to be the case.

When next we pick up with Beth and Randall, they are both sleep-deprived trying to deal with baby Tess in the middle of the night. After sniping at each other over the baby wipes to use and the right way to put on the diaper, Randall offers to make Beth some nachos. But, they end up having yet another spat. Beth tries to explain that she feels like Randall does things and he doesn’t mean to it but leaves Beth with less. She uses a fairly apt nacho metaphor. Before we get back to Beth and Randall in the present, we have one more stop on memory lane: the time that Kevin was living with Beth and Randall as well as William. Beth lies about going to a conference out of tow but really, she just needs a night to herself away from everyone else. Randall catches her in the lie when he and William stop to pick up syrup and they run into her at the store. Randall is upset but also then asks her what episodes of a shared TV show she planned to watch and Beth ends up going home.

The point of this whole trip down memory lane is of course to show that whenever there is an issue, Randall gives some big speech and Beth ends up bending or adjusting her life to fit him. It is never the other way around and that is not fair and it wasn’t what they promised. Now, I don’t think Randall has meant to do any of these things and I also don’t think Beth realizes she’s’ been giving in as much as she has. She has become a bit of a push over at times and she and Randall both need to figure out how to move forward. I found it interesting that when Beth was trying to get Randall to admit he thought his job was more important than hers and he refused to say it, we got flashes of teenage Randall walking in on Jack and Rebecca’s big fight. It was essentially the same thing. I suspect that Randall has been trying to avoid having that fight so he’s been doing everything he can to not come off like he resents Beth following her dream. But in the end, he heads back to his office because he can’t be in the house with her. Whether this is the beginning of the end of Beth and Randall as a couple (leading to that future where it seems clear they aren’t together) only time will tell. But there are definite fractures in their relationship that I am unsure how or if they will be able to fix. I didn’t get teary this week but damn, the writers are still bringing us through the wringer.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

This Is Us 3.16: “Don’t Take My Sunshine Away”

“I’ve never heard my kid cry; can you believe that?”
- Toby

The writers are really not letting us catch our breath on the Randall and Beth storyline. They’ve been struggling to make both of their jobs work and it is clear that it isn’t going to hold for long. They are like ships passing in the night and it’s clear that Randall is starting to resent Beth, especially when she initially agrees to go with him to a work dinner and then seems to back out. He gets super aggressive and mean when he thinks she’s not coming and then tries to cover it when she does show up. After the dinner—where they make nice for their hosts—Beth tells Randall he should stay at his office but comes home. He’s not going to do that. They need to address their issues. I suspect that’s going to be the focus on next week’s penultimate episode.

Speaking of dealing with couple-y issues, Kevin and Zoe are in couple’s counseling. Kevin professes he wants to do his sobriety right this time and he wants his relationship with Zoe to work, too. She’s just worried about the fact he lied to her for so long. But, he’s determined to prove to her that he wants her. At least, until she points out that she doesn’t want kids (coming off a comment he made in the session). She essentially gives him an ultimatum: choose kids or choose her because he can’t have both. He ends up going to an AA meeting near Sophie’s apartment and runs into her. Well, okay, he was loitering a bit but they end up going for coffee and she points out that he’s never really had to choose anything before. Even when they were younger, he got everything he wanted. I wouldn’t necessarily say that’s true. He didn’t “get” football after his injury and he lost Sophie twice. I have to admit when she was leaving the diner, I thought he still wanted to be with her. But, he goes home and commits to Zoe and their future together. He even appears to move on from Sophie by giving her and her fiancĂ© Billy Joel tickets.

And then there’s Kate, Toby and baby Jack. At the start of the episode, we see Jack is two days old and Beth and Randall are saying their goodbyes (before all their drama ensues). We then jump to about a week out and Toby is not handling things well. He gets kind of freaked and annoyed when the nurses come to take blood and urine samples to make sure the baby is doing okay. He ends up having to leave and ends up in the waiting room where he bonds with another NICU dad (played by the actor who portrayed Toby on Scorpion which I think is hilarious and it felt like he was playing a version of that character. To be honest, he even looked a little like his character from Scorpion. At first, he and Toby commiserated over how their babies were doing. Toby bemoans the fact he hasn’t heard his son cry (thanks to the ventilator tube). I hadn’t thought about that but I would be pretty disturbed if I hadn’t heard my baby cry, too. How would you know when he needed something? But, the other dad points out that there are parents there whose baby isn’t going to make it home and as horrible and dark as it sounds, comparing their situations to those parents (hey at least Kate and Toby have a shot of brining Jack home) makes it all a little better. They also agree that the moms handle things better. When Toby finally goes back to the NICU, he gets Kate to admit that she is scared of everything that’s going on but unlike Toby, who can only see the tubes and wires, Kate sees the little boy underneath who has Toby’s eyes and her chin. In the end, Toby even manages to hold baby Jack. I hope that is what he needed to help him start bonding with his son.

As a backdrop for all of the drama going on in the present, we find Jack and Rebecca chaperoning the Big Three’s first school dance. Kevin is hoping for a first kiss with Sophie. Kate just wants to hang with her friends and while Kate’s friend invited Randall to the dance, he’s going all OCD about a science test. So, it’s going to be a mixed bag. We also learn that Jack never went to a school dance. Mostly because of his father and Rebecca wonders if he’s sad. She even tries to entice him to go sneak off with her to the library to make out. They don’t get far because they find Randall studying. His parents are disappointed he bailed on his commitment to his date (which makes me think as an adult he takes things too literally in this department) and send him back to the dance. We also see that Sophie is totally right in the present about Kevin getting what he wants. He and his friends are toilet paper-ing the principal’s office and he even convinces Sophie to partake, even though she really doesn’t want to. He even gets his first kiss out of it, too. And then we get a really sweet moment with Jack and Rebecca as their share a slow dance where Jack is certain that if they’d met as children, he would have fallen for her, little hairbows and all.

I have to admit, I’m really getting tired of Randall being such an inconsiderate tool. He doesn’t handle things not going his way very well and I know that’s always been a part of his personality but I didn’t realize just how much Beth propped him up in things. It makes me wonder if their relationship wasn’t really as strong as we thought it was originally. It also makes me see that it makes sense somewhere down the line they break up and get divorced so Beth can pursue her dream of dancing. It is getting seriously ugly in that branch of the Pearson clan and I am just ready for it to be over. But something tells me we are in for a bigger storm before it ends.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

This Is Us 3.15: “The Waiting Room”

“I’m sorry but anything that doesn’t have to do with Kate or my grandson doesn’t belong here. It doesn’t matter. So, you need to put it away right now.”
- Rebecca

Well, we finally got our first real “bottle” episode of “This Is Us”. For those not in the know, a bottle episode is often used to save money by using a single set to film the whole episode (or in this case 2 sets but no actual on location shooting). Much like last season’s Rehab episode (which now that I think about it, was somewhat of a bottle episode, too), a tense family situation brings out all the Pearson drama.

Kate’s water has definitely broken so the baby doesn’t have much (if any) amniotic fluid left to keep him protected from infection so they’ve given Kate antibiotics to help just in case. But they have managed to delay her labor. The whole family (including Zoe) has camped out in the waiting room and boy is everyone testy. When last we left things, Randall and Beth were on the outs for his frankly stupid suggestion that Beth not teach dance and Kevin had admitted to at least Kate and Toby that he had relapsed. As we find out, everyone else now knows about Kevin’s relapse and he is in quite the mood and state. For one thing, he’s clearly hung over and he’s frustrated about the lack of news on Kate. He even gets kind of bullying with the doctor who points out that right now, they are doing what they could to keep the baby inside Kate to further develop.

As tends to happen when you put this family together during stressful times, folks start to snipe at each other. It isn’t that surprising that Kevin and Randall go at each other several times over a whole host of issues from Kevin’s drinking to Beth teaching dance. Randall tries to explain that he’s worried about the financial aspects of daycare given the reduced salaries both he and Beth would now be working with. Then, he suggests that Miguel and Rebecca could babysit. Again, I don’t get why the girls couldn’t stay home for a few hours by themselves. Or have Beth and Randall prepare meals ahead of time that the girls could easily heat up (like in a crockpot). Miguel explain\s that they were considering moving to California to be with Kate, Toby and the baby for a while since they will need help. Randall is kind of taken aback by this but in the end, he does understand. I was annoyed—much like Beth—at Miguel constantly talking for Rebecca during this episode. She’s acting kind of spacy and I was honestly worried we were seeing the start of some sort of neurological condition (it had me thinking about that future storyline). She’s counting chairs in the waiting room, noting how the electrical sockets look like surprised faces and the chair patterns look like bacteria. When Madison shows up with donuts, Beth manages to get Rebecca to eat a little something. Kevin promptly snaps enough at Madison that she leaves, although Miguel finds her later on and she explains that Kate had a whole plan and that Madison was supposed to be there for the whole thing. Miguel reminds Madison that he, too, is on the outside of the Pearson family, even though he’s been around a part of it for a long time. He says he’s okay with it although you can tell later on that he really isn’t okay with how the family treats him.

Things finally comes to a head when Randall and Kevin are having yet another shouting match and Rebecca basically tells everyone to shut up and put their drama aside because Kate is what’s important. She also recounts in chilling detail how she remembered the waiting room on that fateful night when Jack died. She detailed all of the furniture and how the chairs looked like key lime pie (courtesy of Jack’s observation) and then they started recounting their favorite pies which led Rebecca to remember she hadn’t eaten since that afternoon (on the day). So yeah, being in that hospital waiting room was a massive trigger for her and I totally understand her reaction. I’m just glad for now it seems she is okay.

Speaking of Kate, we learn that the baby’s heart rate went into distress and they had to do an emergency C-section. I’ve never seen Toby so out of it as he tells the family that Kate is fine but the baby is a ventilator and in an incubator and so small. We don’t get to see the family go up to see Kate or meet baby Jack (yeah, everyone knew that was coming) but we do see snippets of the various pairings. Madison shows up and passes off a Ruth Bader Ginsberg doll to Miguel to give to Kate (that apparently Kate wanted to give the baby once he was born) and Randall and Beth at least seem to remember they are on the same team in all of their own drama. The bigger worry is Kevin and Zoe. She is hurt that he lied to her which triggers her own trust issues. She’s especially upset when she realizes that the water bottle Kevin was drinking from was vodka. I mean, I’m not surprised in the least that he’d continue to relapse through the stress of his twin sister going through such a life altering event. It seems Zoe wants to stay with Kevin, even though she knows he’s still lying to her. I can’t imagine that’s going to end well. When we finally get to witness Kate and Toby visit baby Jack in the NICU, I have to admit I got kind of weepy. I’m sure they got a fake baby for that scene but all the wires and stuff, oof, that is tough. But Kate seems optimistic that he’s going to be okay. She even says a little prayer to her dad to make sure her son is okay. Time will tell.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

This Is Us 3.14: “The Graduates”

“You’re a story and no offense Randall, but I don’t want to do it that way.”
- Deja

This week’s episode of ‘This Is Us” was pretty emotional and made me both sad and angry. I have to admit that post-loss Rebecca (while the Big Three were still teenager) is just so raw and kudos to Mandy Moore for pulling that off. After a brief glimpse of Jack and Rebecca with toddler-age Big Three shopping for a new video camera, we find Rebecca on the eve of the Big Three’s high school graduation in search of a new camera. She’s clearly not sure what to get and runs into a father who’d been on the PTA when the kids were in middle school. He makes a recommendation and then asks Rebecca out for coffee. She understandably is thrown by the offer and bolts. When she gets home, she finds that Kate is refusing to walk at graduation, saying she doesn’t need everyone’s pity for “the girl whose dad died” and she’s also pissed at Kevin for following Sophie to New York to become an actor. She doesn’t seem as mad at Randall for going to school, too (although he’s going to stay closer to home).

On graduation night, Rebecca has a panic attack when she realizes she and the kids are going through a huge milestone without Jack, especially since Randall is valedictorian of his class. Miguel manages to talk her down and ultimately, he convinces her to go to a grief support group. Seeing her panic at graduation and break down when she called Miguel to come pick her up was just heart breaking. This storyline is somewhat mirrored in the present day. Kate has earned her last credits to get her Bachelor’s Degree and Toby is insisting on putting on a ceremony for her and the other three folks who finished their degrees with her. Kate doesn’t want the fanfare—especially given the fact her graduating college comes 16 years late—but she kind of gets into it eventually. Rebecca flies across the country to be there and Kevin has been out there, too. Although, as we see, he’s lied to them about having meetings with various directors and producers. He’s been on a bender and he’s trying to hide it from everyone. He bails on the party after the little ceremony and when Kate shows up, she realizes what he’s doing. She insists he get a sponsor this time and go to meetings. He’s not ready to tell Zoe because he worries he’ll disappoint her to the point she leaves. He does agree to go to a meeting and Kate drives him. On the way there, her water breaks and she ends up in the hospital. They manage to stall labor for now but she’s only 28 weeks. I’ll be honest, this part got to me quite a bit. Not just because I was a preemie born at 29 weeks but because I’m around the same place in my pregnancy and having a preemie is one of my big worries. I just hope Kate and Toby get a happy outcome.

And then there was Randall’s storyline. I started out the episode rooting for him and how fiercely he fights for his girls but by the end of the episode, lord I wanted to strangle him. We pick up with him and Beth trying to figure out their schedules with the girls and all of the other responsibilities that come along with Randall’s job and Beth’s dance classes. It is going to be complicated but they think they can find a way to do it, even if it means getting someone to stay with the girls for a few nights during the week. Well, until Randall gets a frantic call from Deja to pick her up. He pulls up to find her walking away from school and she explains they had to write personal essays in English class. She got an A which is all well and good but the teacher posted Deja’s essay online without her permission and she wrote about the time she and her mother were living out of her mom’s car. Now kids around school are calling her Pontiac. Randall is visibly horrified by this (he can’t even form coherent words and sentences). So, he goes to the teacher and rips her a new one, making her cry. She takes down the essay (not really the point and it won’t stop the kids from bullying Deja still) and explains she was impressed with Deja and wanted to share her work. She also points out that Deja has caught up with all of her classes in seventh grade should be sent to high school next year.

Randall and Beth think this is a good idea but Deja has other plans. Initially, she tells Randall she doesn’t want special treatment just because she’s the kid who used to be homeless. She’s also somewhat distrustful of the White teachers’ motives. She doesn’t want to be a “story” like Randall. Later, she confesses that she likes the routine of all three girls going to the same school and having Beth or Randall drop off and pick them up every day. She hasn’t had that type of stability before and she really doesn’t want to lose it. I’m honestly just so impressed with Deja. She’s so mature for a seventh grader. And then Randall has to go and be a big moron. He’s looking for folks who can come stay with the girls and it’s expensive to find someone who can handle their girls’ specific needs. He also asks if they really want to leave their girls with strangers and then tells Beth she shouldn’t teach classes for a while. First of all, Beth is right to point out that it’s entirely unfair that Randall gets to pursue his dream and she can’t. Also, Couldn’t she just go to the studio and for the time being try to teach classes that were more during the day? Yes, it would probably be younger kids but it would still fulfill her desire to dance. It seems like there are more options available than just forcing Beth to give up her dream. Also, Tess and Deja are almost teenagers; can’t they be home alone for a few hours and watch Annie? They seem like pretty self-sufficient kids to me. Randal just jumped to totally wrong conclusion and Beth better not let him forget it. It also makes me worry that they really will be on the outs in that flash forward.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

This Is Us. 3.13: “Our Little Island Girl”

“Sister-cousin, I know you inside and out and there is something bigger going on with you and you need to find a way to talk about it.”
- Zoe

We’ve been waiting for a Beth-centric episode and it is finally here! When last we saw Beth, she was heading to DC to help out her mom who bruised her hip after being knocked into by some unruly high school kids at the school where she’s a principal. Beth picks up Zoe and they head and along the way, Beth admits she hasn’t told her mom about being laid off yet. Given that it’s been months, that’s kind of surprising and Zoe calls her out on it. She says that Beth clams up around her mother because her mom is terrifying. When we meet Mrs. Clark in the present, she insists she doesn’t need help and thinks they are foolish for worrying. She doesn’t want to slow down or even consider retiring. And while they are eating, Mrs. Clark starts in on Zoe for not having a path and career like Beth, prompting Beth to blurt out that she got laid off. Her mother jumps in and says they’ll look at new firms and spruce up her resume in the morning. But we can all tell that Beth isn’t interested in doing that and as we look back at her childhood, we learn why.

We first find young Beth around eight or nine years old (and my God if she doesn’t look a lot like Tess from season 1). Good job casting folks at “This Is Us”. Then again, they always do a really awesome job of casting people to play different characters at different ages. Beth gets accepted to a prestigious ballet academy but her mother is skeptical both at the time commitment and the cost. But Beth’s dad is all gung ho to see his baby girl dance. As he keeps saying, she danced before she walked so it’s got to be in her blood. The owner of the company explains that the goal of all the classes is to participate in a senior showcase and hopefully get recruited by one of the major ballet companies worldwide. With this dream in mind, Beth manages to get her parents to agree. She works hard but she isn’t exactly the best in class. She’s not horrible but she’s got to push harder than some of the other girls.

When Beth gets to be a teenager, her teacher tells her that she’s not built like typical dancers and if she wants the solo in the showcase she’s going to have to push herself even harder. She also sees that he brings in another Black dancer (who Beth feels has it easier because routines just come that much faster to her). When she gets home that night, her parents drop the bomb on her that her dad has developed lung cancer (despite not spoking as Zoe points out). Beth thinks it is her fault that her dad got sick because he had to work extra hard to make enough money to support her training. Her mother brushes that off as ridiculous and she’s no nonsense that he is going to get chemo treatment because that’s what the doctor said. Inevitably, the cancer claims him and Beth is understandably upset. Though, I think she was more upset by how her mother just kept going as if they didn’t need time to grieve. When Beth doesn’t get the solo like she’d hoped, her mother points out that she can’t continue to pay for the classes so Beth’s path is going to need to change and she’ll need to go to college. Eventually, we see Beth at a freshman mixer where she bumps into none other than Randall Pearson!

In the present, Zoe wakes Beth up in the middle of the night and they end up getting high off some weed Zoe hid behind a picture. They have some real talk where Beth comments about how they don’t’ acknowledge how much Zoe has accomplished. Zoe admits that while everyone else saw Beth’s mom as harsh and strict, Zoe saw her as someone who wouldn’t hurt her the way her own father had. Zoe also points out that Beth clearly has something big she’s trying to deal with and she needs to get it out before it just explodes. So, Beth eventually confronts her mother. She points out that her mom didn’t have to rip dance away right after her father died. Her mom in turn explains that her mother fought for her to have every opportunity her brothers did and that Beth’s mom wanted to give her kids that same chance and push them to do well. But she acknowledges she shouldn’t have pushed Beth away from dance like she did. By the end of the episode, Beth realizes what’s been missing in her life and she seizes on it. She shares it with Randall who in typical Pearson fashion is supportive. She wants to get back into dancing. She wants to teach and if the glimpses of the future are any indication, she’s going to be doing it for a long time. It still makes me worry that Beth and Randall aren’t in a good place in the future. I just hope we get to see more of that sooner rather than later. I want to know what lays ahead for the Pearson clan!

I thought this was a good episode overall and finally gave us some insight into who Beth is and how she ended up the way she is. I really liked getting that glimpse into her past and as usual, the acting was top notch. I got a little emotional when Beth and her mom finally had their talk to sort out the drama that had been lingering between them. I also liked to see that Beth’s mom at least acquiesced to using a walker at the school. This was a necessary step along the path of the larger Pearson clan and I look forward to seeing more of Beth’s family. Maybe we’ll get to meet her brother and sisters next time.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

This Is Us 3.12: “Songbird Road: Part Two”

“You jump at the chance to save everyone else on the planet. He’s our uncle. He’s family and suddenly you have to be home for dinner?”
- Kevin

If you thought this week’s half of “Songbird Road” was going to be uplifting like Randall finding and welcoming William into his life and home, you, like Kevin, were going to be sorely mistaken. The Big Three manage to convince Nicky to go with them back to their hotel but he’s clearly not comfortable in the strange surroundings. He pulls the shades, checks all the closet ands and bathroom and locks the door. Kevin insists that they have to help their uncle get help for his alcoholism and PTSD and very quickly he’s left with telling Rebecca the latest. It turns out Kevin stays up all night trying to find veteran’s programs for Nicky. Nicky doesn’t seem overly interested and then things take a turn when Rebecca shows up. She needs answers from her brother-in-law and it isn’t going to be what she’s hoping for. After Kate and Randall head out and Kevin’s attempt to get Nicky into a program fails, Rebecca has a conversation with Nicky. She admits she was scared to meet him because she didn’t want to unravel Jack’s narrative. She tries to connect with Nicky, pointing out that Jack had been newly sober just prior to his death and that he would have found his way back to making amends with his brother at some point if it hadn’t been for that damn fire. And she points out Kevin, too, has been struggling with sobriety. Nicky rightfully points out he’s not going to be treated like a pet project. Not everyone can be fixed or is willing to accept the help.

As Kate and Randall head to the airport so Kate can get home for a doctor’s appointment, she recalls the weekend when Jack went to see Nicky in 1992. It’s interesting to see how all of the family members recall this weekend differently. For Kate, she remembers creating a ridiculous pizza and having a sequin fight with her dad and Randall (while making Valentine’s Day cards for her class. Randall recalls the angst that Jack was going through. We see Jack unable to sleep and Rebecca offer to take Kevin to the mall to get one of his rookie baseball cards signed, leaving Jack home with the other two kids. He’s not really paying much attention to what they are doing and instead goes to sit by himself outside and then work out to try and relieve some stress. When he gets back inside to see the mess the kids have made with the pizza and the cards, he kind of snaps and ends up throwing a plate against the wall. Randall recalls the darker side of that weekend, while Kate only remembers the good times. Randall points out that Jack did his job by making her remember the good stuff. They do decide to go swing by where the old house used to be and meet the new family who lives there (who has their own issues) but I don’t think they are particularly relevant.

Speaking of Kevin and Rebecca in the past, we see that Kevin—for all his whining about being ignored—isn’t thrilled to spend time with just his mom. He pitches a fit when she wants to get out of line and get food. And when Rebecca spot shim chatting with the player from a far, he refuses to tell her what they talked about. So, she resorts to asking the player and we see that Kevin has the capacity to be caring and thoughtful to others (and he knew how libraries worked). It’s hat desire to help people that is going to Kevin in trouble in the present. He’s devastated when Nicky turns down his help. He goes back to Nicky’s place to try and clean it up and he leaves a frustrated voicemail for Zoe before sitting down and taking a huge step backwards. He ends up downing most of the bourbon sitting on the table. The look on his face as he’s doing it and after just breaks your heart. He knows he’s faltered but we also know that he doesn’t handle that sort of slip well. He isn’t one to seek support from others even when he needs it most. I just hope he’s able to recognize that he needs help and it is okay to lean on other people. I suspect that things with Zoe are going to take a nosedive as well once she finds out what’s he done. I half expected him to admit what he’d done to Rebecca at the end of the episode; he looked so despondent and ashamed.

I liked how this week’s episode showed the same weekend from various perspectives as the characters reflected on it in the present. It was a different approach from last season’s Big Three individual-centric episodes leading up to Jack’s death. I also like that it showed how people remember the same situation differently, colored by perception and what was going on in their own lives. I’m disappointed to see that Kevin has taken that step backwards in his journey but it also quite clear that he didn’t know what he was expecting to get out of the whole journey looking into Jack’s past. I get that he’s mad at his father for keeping all of this from them. It hurts to know the people you looked up to as a kid aren’t perfect. But it will be interesting to see where the show goes from here. I know we have a Beth-centric episode coming up and I am very much looking forward to seeing the life experiences that shaped Beth. I also suspect we haven’t seen the last of Nicky. Now that he’s out there in the world and the Pearsons know about him, there is a chance to revisit him, although unlike with some of the other characters, I’m not sure we are going to need to get that added backstory and information. We explored him pretty in-depth.

Monday, February 11, 2019

The Good Place 2.11: “The Burrito"

“If this isn’t a test, then it’s something way worse: a choice that we have to make.”
- Chidi

You can definitely tell that we are getting to the end of the season with the characters reaching what we’ve been led to believe is an endpoint (and again, I’m not sure where they are going to go after this). When last we saw, the core four were being sent through the portal to the Judge and Michael sacrificed himself to let Eleanor get away. Admittedly, I thought this episode showed the most character growth for the most characters (albeit not all because lets be real, I don’t think Jason is ever going to be more than the dumb stoner kid).

Michael gets berated by Shawn and Bad Janet (which is such a minor part of the storyline that it doesn’t need more than a few sentences dedicated to it). In fact, it turns out Bad Janet is actually Good Janet in disguise and she and Michael abscond to the Judge’s chamber by the end of the episode. The real meat of the episode revolves around the core four humans trying to plead their case to the Judge.

At first, the gang thinks the Judge is a burrito (just because the Bad Place can do weird things) only to find out the Judge is a real being. She’s kind of quirky and a mix between what we’ve seen in the fake Good Place and the real Bad Place. She is more neutral than the demons and everything and not as nice as Janet. I like her. She says she has to deny their case because they just showed up and didn’t file the proper paperwork but the moment Tahani opens her mouth, the Judge is enthralled with her accent and agrees to hear the case. She ends up issuing them each a test to see if they can make it into the Good Place. Eleanor negotiates that the decision will be all or nothing. The Judge thinks this is a ridiculous idea but I happen to think it shows Eleanor’s growth. She’s thinking about more than just herself for once. So, they each get tested.

Jason and Chidi’s tests are kind of ridiculous, but they do fit their personalities and the flaws that landed them in the Bad Place initially. Chidi is tasked with picking a hat (It takes him over an hour to choose one…thus failing) and Jason is supposed to try and exercise control with a videogame where he’s told if he plays, he has to play against his favorite team and win. He doesn’t realize that he could have opted not to play the game at all. Something tells me Jason would never have gotten that possibility at all. He’s just not that bright. Thus, he loses as well. So things aren’t looking good for our gang.

Tahani’s task is to walk down a hallway to a door and along the way she’ll pass closed rooms where various people (from Winston Churchill and Steven Hawking to her parents) are sharing how they truly feel about Tahani. She makes it almost to the end without going inside but she then comes to the door with her parents and she can’t resist. They are pretty terrible people, too. Something tells me when they kick the bucket; they’ll end up in the Bad Place, too. They basically say that she’s never been as good as her sister and she never will be. But in the end, Tahani realizes that she has accepted that she’d never be good enough for them and she’s actually found happiness in the afterlife, including eating a Cheeto. But, because she went into one of the rooms, she too fails her test. I was honestly proud of her for confronting her parents and being self-aware enough to accept the things she couldn’t change and move forward with her existence.

This leaves us with Eleanor. At first it seems like she and Chidi are given the same test in that they are given tokens granting them entrance to the Good Place but they can only go just the two of them. They’d have to leave Tahani and Jason behind. At first it seems like Chidi is doing his usual thing and waffling back and forth but then he says they should forget ethics for a second and consider their own happiness together. This is the clue Eleanor needs to realize this is a fake Chidi because he’d never toss ethics aside or put his friends’ welfare behind his own satisfaction. She says she isn’t going to the Good Place (even though she realized that she wasn’t going there in the test already). She won’t leave her friends behind. This is a huge step for Eleanor and I’m glad to see she is actually becoming a better person. She does lie about her test (and cuts off the Judge when she is about to applaud Eleanor for passing her test). Eleanor didn’t want to hurt her friends by letting them know she’d passed and they all failed. It seems they are on their way to the Bad Place when Janet and Michael up, teeing us up for the season finale.

I may have had my issues with the plot and pacing of this season but I have to admit this penultimate episode was pretty strong. We almost didn’t even need the Michael subplot. It really didn’t add much. But, I was pleased to see how far most of the core group has come. I mean, Chidi was actually able to make a decision and Tahani was able to accept that people didn’t like her and realize who her real friends are. And Eleanor has finally found her tribe and is willing to fight for it. For all the bumps in the road to get here, I’m pleased we did and I am genuinely intrigued to see what happens in the finale and where the show goes in season 3.

The Good Place 2.10: "Rhonda, Diana, Jake, and Trent"

Principles aren’t principles when you pick and choose when you’re going to follow them.”

This particular episode of “The Good Place” moved the plot along nicely while also providing some more insight into a few of the characters The gang find themselves in Bad Place HQ, and they face a series of challenges as they try to escape. I especially liked the focus on Chidi in this episode. We really dive a bit more into his neuroses, and we see him work to help the group in spite of them. We also get to learn some more about how the Bad Place operates. I always appreciate some good worldbuilding, and this one’s got some creative elements, like pin-activated portals to judges. Also a museum dedicated to human torture (well, that’s not so cool, but you can’t say it’s not creative). Overall, it was a great blend of plot, worldbuilding, and character work, which is really what television at its best should be.

The episode picks up with our human crew (and Michael) on the train. Michael reveals his plan to the humans. He wants to take them to the Judge, who can decide if they have enough points to escape the Bad Place. To get to the Judge, though, they’ve got to take a portal from Bad Place HQ, activated by a thumbs-down lapel pin. Michael is going to have to find enough lapel pins for the whole crew, though, which is going to take some time. He decides to stash the humans in the Hall of Low-Grade Crappiness at the Museum of Human Misery. The Museum is pretty clever. There are exhibits exhibiting the first time humans did all sorts of stupid things that just annoy others, like the first guy to send a dick pic.

Unfortunately, Sean has other plans that are going to make life significantly more difficult for Michael and the humans. He has planned a raid on Mindy St. Claire’s house, even though that’s technically illegal. He’s going to bring the humans back by force. Of course, the jig is going to be up when the raid happens and Sean learns that our crew actually isn’t in the Medium Place right now after all. When Michael learns of the plan, he does his best to play it cool, but he’s really panicking on the inside and trying to get those thumbs down pins as fast as possible so they can all be out of Bad Place HQ when the raid goes down.

To make matters worse, the usually sparsely attended Hall of Low-Grade Crappiness is going to be filled with demons on this particular day. The Bad Place Powers that Be have decided to launch a new museum exhibit dedicated to Michael’s experiment and its inhabitants, and they’re having a party to celebrate the opening. Our humans try to pretend to be fellow Bad Place torturer demons, and they each have very specific characters they are playing. Tahani is especially enthusiastic about this, considering she’s a wannabe actress. She’s very excited to put all that training to work. Chidi is the least enthusiastic. He thinks lying is completely unacceptable from a moral perspective, so he won’t lie under any circumstances. He won’t even tell white lies. It’s all truth all the time with Chidi. This gets even more difficult when a demon named Chet (played by Kristen Bell’s real life husband Dax Shepard) is convinced that Chidi is a demon he used to work with named Trent. Trent always had the best torture ideas, and Chet and his buddies are in need of some help with an especially difficult torture subject. Chidi just barely holds it together through these interactions.

Interestingly, it’s Eleanor who finally figures out a way to get through to Chidi. She mentions a philosophy called “moral particularism,” which holds that specific moral principles aren’t necessary for moral action. Basically, she tells Chidi that one can decide what to do in a situation on a case by case basis. Chidi wants to help his friends, so he sucks it up and really tries to be “Trent.” He suggests to Chet that he and his buddies torture the especially difficult human by forcing them to read philosophy books, of course. This was amusing, but I think it also showed some serious character growth for Chidi. Chidi has always been so indecisive about important things and so wedded to specific moral principles that it was often hard for him to function. This is the first time I can really recall seeing him try to fight through all that, and I enjoyed watching it.

Everything seems to come to a head all at once near the end of the episode. First, Michael finds himself in the Bad Place situation room as the raid on Mindy St. Claire’s house is happening, and the audio quickly makes it clear that all did not go as planned. The SWAT team basically just finds Mindy having sex with Derek (complete with wind chime genitals) and nobody else. Michael is immediately suspected as being up to no good, so he hightails it out of there. Around the same time, the big exhibit is revealed at the museum. The exhibit features animatronics of the four humans, and the demons who had just interacted with them recognize them right away. Before the chaos really kicks up, the humans are able to escape with the help of a Molotov cocktail courtesy of Jason. He’d been talking about Molotov cocktails all episode, so it was pretty amusing to see that throughline finally pay off. It was basically Chekhov’s gun at that point, so it had to pay off. It definitely got a good laugh out of me.

The climax of the episode happens as Michael and the humans all meet up at the portal. Michael starts handing out the pins, and everybody starts jumping through, anxious to escape before they’re caught. When Eleanor is about to jump, however, Michael realizes he’s one pin short. After some quick thought, he decides to give his own pin to Eleanor. Eleanor jumps through, and Michael is left behind, awaiting whatever punishment Sean and his crew come up with. I thought this showed a lot of character growth on the part of Michael, who hadn’t seemed especially selfless in the past. In fact, there’s still a tiny part of me that wonders if Michael doesn’t have some ulterior motive, but for now at least, I appreciate the sacrifice.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

This Is Us 3.11: “Songbird Road: Part One”

“Your father saw things in black and white, never shades of gray.”
- Nicky

After waiting, we finally know what happened to Nicky and Jack in Vietnam after that explosion. We explore that incident as Jack and the Big Three make separate trips to see Nicky in Pennsylvania. We see that after the war, Jack would get post cards from Nicky and just stash them in a drawer at his office until one day he gets home from bringing the kids in from baseball practice and gets a post card at home. He lies to Rebecca, saying he needs to take a trip the next day for work but in reality, he’s going to see Nicky in his run-down trailer. It is rather sad, given that we see them as young boys and Nicky wants to have two houses on a lake and a boat.

It is pretty clear that Jack doesn’t want anything to do with his baby brother at this point but he sticks around just long enough to let Nicky reminisce about their childhood a little. When Nicky tries to bring up the war, Jack shuts him down completely. He doesn’t want to talk about it or think about it again. I understand that the war was hard on Jack like it was for a lot of the men who served and I suppose knowing what we do now about what went down with Nicky his stance is understandable. In flashback we see Nicky wake up the morning after he was fake shooting people on the dock. The little boy whose foot he refused to bandage shows up and at first Nick is taunting him by eating a chocolate bar but then, the little boy takes Nicky’s glasses and they end up laughing and Nicky takes the boy out on a boat o catch fish. As soon as he started using grenades to stun the fish, I knew it was going to end poorly. Ultimately, he grabs one where the pin is stuck and then he wrestles with the little boy who tries to pick it up. Needless to say, the grenade goes off and the boy dies. Nicky dives overboard just beforehand. Jack obviously thinks Nicky did this on purpose and he exclaims that he’s done with Nicky. Given how shell-shocked Nicky is through this whole situation, I can see why he was sent to a psych hospital upon his return.

In the present, the Big Three head out to find their uncle, leaving Rebecca and Miguel to watch Randall and Beth’s girls (Beth has a bunch of job interviews). Rebecca is having a real hard time with the fact Jack lied about his brother. As we see throughout the episode, even when Jack got back and told her he in fact went to see someone from the war instead of work, she didn’t push for more information. Now, she regrets not pushing harder. Miguel gets rather eloquent about the whole thing saying that Rebecca and the kids were Jack’s light but she’s not buying it. I still love Jack and I think he sacrificed a lot for his family but he definitely has his faults. He isn’t the superhero we all thought him to be in season 1.

The Big Three make it to Nicky’s trailer and he’s an old man and just as crotchety. He lets them come in but he’s not really interested in talking to them. But then Kate refuses to leave because Kevin has been on this journey and she wants her brother to get answers. I thought he would have no clue about the Big Three but before Jack left, he showed his brother a picture of Rebecca and the kids. So at least Nicky knew he had nephews and a niece. But he didn’t know about Jack’s death. Randall drops that truth on him after Nicky explains about what happened back in Vietnam. I found it interesting his little reaction to Randall saying that Jack died of a heart attack from smoke inhalation after getting everyone else out. Because that is the Jack, he remembers I’m sure. The one who sacrifices himself for others. Nicky says he never got to tell Jack that the whole thing was an accident. So yeah, it’s understandable why Jack would think he knew what his brother did given his actions leading up to that point but he died having believed his brother was a lost cause. I went back and forth on feeling for Nicky in this episode. By episode’s end, Kevin recalls a conversation he had with Jack right before he left to go see Nicky when Jack explained that he could either repeat his father’s mistakes or correct them. Kevin has a feeling and they go back to the trailer to find Nicky sitting there with a gun. It seems that this time Kevin will be the one to bring home a long lost relative to try and save.

I thought Nicky had some good points about Jack. He is very segmented in his thinking and he compartmentalizes a lot. I also found it interesting that it seemed Jack took all of Nicky’s problems during the war as a personal failing of his. He couldn’t save his brother and so he just pretended like he was dead because it was easier than having to deal with the reality. It does make Jack more human which isn’t a bad thing but it is interesting to see the cracks in his person. He still has many great qualities as I said before but when it comes to his family especially, he acts like his past doesn’t matter and doesn’t need to be shared. Jack held onto and hid a lot of pain from his life from the people he should have been sharing it with and it has rippled through their lives for decades. I am intrigued to see how Rebecca reacts to meeting Nicky in the next episode and if Kevin is able to pull off a Randall and bring this lost member of the Pearson clan back into the fold.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

This Is Us 3.10: “The Last Seven Weeks”

“What a great life you’re gonna have. What a great man you’re gonna be.”
- Jack

It feels like it was a long time ago that we were with the Pearson clan. This episode picks up in media res on election night for Randall before jumping back to take a look at what happened for everyone over the last seven weeks. At the start of the episode, Randall has clearly stayed in the election and while he was down in the poll numbers before, at the time it was too close to call. Jumping back seven weeks, we find that Beth and Randall are not in a good place. He puts all of his focus on the campaign to the detriment of the family and Beth is clearly angry about it. From flashbacks to the trip he and Jack took the DC shortly before the fire, we see that he and Jack have a very interesting conversation about Randall’s future and that Jack knows his son is going to be a great man. Over the course of the episode, Randall struggles to live up to that belief. But, things start to look up for Randall as things get closer to the election. Sure, he and Beth right before Christmas because she did all the shopping for the girls and he’s been off being a man of the people and he accuses her of being angry that he’s got something he’s passionate about in his life while she is still struggling to find a new job. But, on New Year’s Eve, after having a conversation with the local reverend (who has historically been in his opponent’s corner), Randall goes home and apologizes to the family for not making them his priority. I have to admit, I am glad that Beth and Randall are back on good terms. It was uncomfortable to see them struggling because for most of the show we’ve known them to be this stable, supportive couple. Of course, even they can have issues and it makes it all the more real. But, yeah, I’m glad they are back to a united front.

Kate and Toby are having some issues of their own. The pregnancy is going along just fine and they are starting to put the nursery together. Kate tells Toby he has to sell all of his “toys” (girl, action figures are not toys). She accidentally sells a box of his Star Wars figures to some frat bro nerd named Gabe. He explains to Kate that he had been bringing them with him everywhere he moved in preparation to give to his child one day. Kate and Toby try to get the figures back but the frat bro isn’t having any of it. Not even when Kate breaks out the “I’m pregnant and have nothing to give my child because my house burned down and my father died” sob story. But, things aren’t that tense between her and Toby for long because she tries to replace them. He also makes a similar gesture by getting a guy who makes dollhouses to make a replica of the stadium Jack built her when she was younger. This storyline got me thinking a bit about legacies and what we give to our children. I know I have a ton of Power Rangers toys sitting in my parent’s basement that our little boy will get to play with!

Speaking of Jack, Kevin and Zoe are still on the hunt for more information about Nicky. They get back to town and after Zoe makes mention of being happy to be “home” Kevin suggests she move in and she accepts. She even gets all of her stuff shipped from Chicago to New York. But things aren’t all that rosy. Kevin’s search for information through the VA is stymied by the fact he needs proof of his relationship to Nick or a letter on his behalf from someone with clout. Like a Congressperson whom Zoe knows because she dated them for a little while. He takes the meeting but things are super tense between them and while he agrees to send a request on Kevin’s behalf, the Congressman sort of storms off. Kevin obviously probes into what went down and Zoe explained that she and the Congressman were going to move in together but she didn’t feel like it was right so she broke up with him after two years in a brief email. Ouch. I don’t blame the guy for still being hurt. But Kevin starts to see signs that maybe Zoe is going to do something similar. She hasn’t unpacked her stuff yet. Oh, and when he does get the file on Nicky from the VA it’s very thin on detail. We do learn that Nicky was med-evaced out of Vietnam in 1971 and sent to a hospital in the US for a psych eval before being discharged and signing himself out of treatment as “Clark Kent”. So, we know that Nicky definitely didn’t die in that explosion we heard. It does still make me wonder if Nicky was attempting suicide and that’s what led to him being discharged. Kevin and Zoe have quite the blow up after getting this information and they don’t speak again until election night. Zoe gives Kevin his key back but later on, she explains that because of what happened with her father, she’s never really felt safe living with another person. But she wants to live with Kevin because she loves him. They reconcile and then start unpacking. Zoe finds a box of Jack’s war mementos which includes some post cards including one with a Pennsylvania return address from someone named CK.

So, we clearly know that Jack both knew Nicky wasn’t dead and was still corresponding with him up to a certain point. Very interesting. It presents a ton of new questions. What has Nicky been up to this whole time? Does he know that Jack died and more importantly, why would Jack lie to literally everyone about his brother being dead? It definitely seems very unlike Jack to hide. I get that war was tough on him and everything and he didn’t want to talk about that experience. But, something else must have happened to keep him from telling the truth to his family. Based on the promo for the next episode, it looks like Jack was still visiting Nicky well into the Big Three being around (based on the facial hair). Can it be next week yet?