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.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

This Is Us 4.17: “After the Fire”

“I could have done something. That’s what I do, I fix things.”
- Randall

We’ve reached yet another penultimate episode of “This Is Us” and it looks like we are going to be finding out “what if”. I’m both intrigued to see what’s changed (and stayed the same) and a little nervous that this is going to essentially be a filler episode. We still don’t know who Kevin’s baby mama/fiancée is and we’ve been told that next season picks up with the Big Three turning 40 so we have to know soon.

So, this episode didn’t turn out at all like I was expecting. It wasn’t filler at all. It did in fact move the plot along, even though I desperately wanted to smack Randall the entire episode. We spend much of the time with Randall in a therapy session. He’s told his therapist that he’s been thinking a lot about what life would have been like after the fire, if Jack had lived. She asks him to tell her how his life would have been different and thus begins scenario number one.

In the first version, Randall convinces Jack now to go back into the house (and a fireman has rescued the dog). Rebecca comes clean to Jack about knowing about William and although he’s upset, he’s united with her. Randall is very angry with his mother, but we see Jack take him to meet William and the tow strike up a bond and a relationship. We see Randall help William get clean (Jack helps, too, by taking him to AA and NA meetings). I suppose in a way, that helps Jack to stay sober, too. I had expected that Randall would still go away to Howard but he decides to attend the same school where he met Beth so he could still visit with William. We get a version of the Big Three’s first dinner home from college and it is there that Beth manages to get Randall’s head out of his ass about Rebecca and he starts to heal and forgive her for what she’s done. Kevin is also still married to Sophie (or at least dating her) and thankfully Kate isn’t seeing Marc in this version of events. Jack gives a sweet toast at Randall and Beth’s wedding and it’s a big happy family for a while, until William starts showing symptoms of stomach cancer. But hey, Randall is able to save his biological father from that, too. And then, as time passes, we see Rebecca start to deteriorate and it looks like Randall is going to save her, too, when the therapist steps in and calls Randall on his bullshit.

I honestly was glad she pulled the rose-colored glasses off. Basically, Randall was trying to fix all the issues in his life in this little fantasy. But we know life isn’t like that. She then tells Randall to tell her the version filled with all his fears about what his life would be like. We get the start of the story again and this time, Jack is furious with Rebecca and Randall refuses to forgive Rebecca for what she’s done. But this time, William, who is clearly still high, denies having any children, which sets Randall on a path to Howard University where he gets immersed in the culture (joining a fraternity) and becoming a professor who sleeps with his Teaching Assistants. It was weird to see Kevin be the stable one working for Big Three Construction. We also see that Kate has married a different guy and had twin girls who look to be around three or four when Kevin gets married to Sophie much older. Randall eventually gets a package of William’s belongings, but he tosses it in the trash. I will say, the dinner scene with all of the kids back from college was super awkward and uncomfortable but not just because of the cold shoulder Randall gives his mother but seeing Jack drinking and getting kind of aggressive. I was surprised that their marriage lasted. In the end, Randall reconciles with Rebecca when Jack calls and says she’s not well.

At this point, the therapist yet again calls Randall out. For one thing, he started the session off talking about how a disagreement with his brother about their mother’s care brought him into the office. She points out that it appears Randall is seeking someone who reminds him of his mother to try and work through the issues he still has with her not telling him about William for so long (as we saw, that’s the first thing she did in these two different versions of his life). Randall feels like he couldn’t safe or fix his biological mother, William or Jack and he thinks Rebecca’s death would break him. So, he’s been pushing so hard to take care of her. He calls Rebecca later that night and tells her that he’s been a good son and never asked her for anything but he’s asking her to do the clinical trial for him. She agrees but I can see that this is going to be the thing that tears Kevin and Randall apart. I suspect the trial isn’t going to be the cure-all Randall is hoping it is and that he eventually has to come back to the family and beg forgiveness.

I really do love this show and its complexity, but I have to say I was happy to see the therapist knock Randall down a few pegs. Because he can be so pushy (and he still is). He thinks he needs to take care of everything as a way of fitting in, but I don’t think that’s the case. It just makes him come off as trying too hard. I cannot imagine what it is like to be a man of color in this country right now and I appreciate that they are taking these issues seriously, I just wish Randall would be able to see some of the flaws in his character and work toward improving on them. It would give him better relationships with everyone in his life. He needs to work on ceding control for things that he can’t fix.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

This Is Us 4.16: “New York. New York, New York”

“She’s so happy right now. Let her have one great day.”
- Kevin

This episode of This Is Us found the Pearson clan going to the Big Apple for three very different trips. When the Big Three were in middle school, the family took a trip there for the day before heading to Randall’s debate tournament. Rebecca is saving ahojt her memories of the city form her trips there when she was a little girl and Jack is feeling inadequate even though we all know her dad is a jerk. So he tries to act like he knows where he’s going but he gets them lost in Queens. Finally Rebecca pulls him aside and he admits he’s out of his depth. He wants to give his kids a great day and they do manage to fit in what each of the kids wanted to do: natural history museum for Randall, a visit to a giant toy store for Kevin and a fancy tea for Kate: Rebecca wanted to go to the Met but when she gets there it is closed. This is a bit of a through line in each of the three time periods. Jack hasn’t decided yet what he wanted to do until that evening when he takes the whole family on a horse drawn carriage ride.

That brings us to the college years when Rebecca, Randall and Beth go see Kevin’s adding class showcase where he does a monologue from Death of a Saleaman (side note: I was not a fan of that particular work). Anyway; as the evening progresses it becomes clear that Kevin is trying to set Rebecca up with his acting teacher, Kirby. This leads to tensions between the boys since Kevin thinks a year is enough time for their mom to move on and that she shouldn’t be sad about Jack for the rest of her life. Randall doesn’t think she’s ready and it seems in this instance he may be partly right. Rebecca is making her second attempt to get back to the Met and Kirby offers to join her. They seem to hit it off at first, bonding over music and such but when she spits a horse drawn carriage ride and he dismisses it as a lame tourist attraction she bails on the Met. It clearly is too soon and it just brings up memories of Jack.

And then there was the present day. Kevin has agreed to take Rebecca to his movie premiere and Randall is coming up, too. But his motive isn’t to support his brother. It’s to try and convince Rebecca to enter a 9 month clinical trial. Honestly, I’m kind of torn. I understand that trials help people and it could prolong her memory and help her maintain her relationships but I also feel like Randall pushes it because of his own fear of losing his mother. Degenerative diseases like this are painful to watch and experience for everyone. But it really is Rebecc/a choice.

Kevin books them a room at the Plaza hotel and guys her a snazzy new dress and she can even walk the red carpet with him which she thinks is pretty epic even though she’s not usually into that sort of thing. I do have to aah the dress he got her was gorgeous. Randall shows up and they agree to wait to talk to Rebecca about anything medical until the following day so she can enjoy the night. But, of course; Randall can’t resist when Rebecca has a slip on remembering the name of the hotel when talking to Kevin’s manager. Randall starts to fill her in on all the details when Kevin comes back over and kind of snaps at Randall.. When Randall says that if Kevin hadn’t abandoned them he would have been part of the conversation, Kevin points out he was gone for two minutes at his own premiere. I’m with Kevin on this one.

Rebecca says she needs some air and then they get a text that she’s headed to the Met. They find her staring at a painting and she explains that she was a little girl when she came last and watched a woman stare at a painting for hours. She wanted to come back and do that as an adult. I kind of wondered if the woman young Rebecca saw was the woman in the painting. Anyway, Rebecca decodes that she’s not going to do the trial. She just wants to enjoy what time she ABA left and doing all the things she’s put off as “next time”. Kevon seems to accept this but as we know, Randall is having trouble. I think we are going to see this manifest over the next couple episodes as we reach the finals. At the end of this episode, we see Randall tell Kevin he was trying to save Rebecca because he couldn’t save Jack. Randall also admits that every day he wonders what life would be like if Jack had survived the fire. And at the very end we see a scene of what could have been, with young Randall telling Jack that if his dad went back in the house. Randall would go in after him. So I guess next week we get to see the alternate timeline where Jack survived. It will be interesting to see what’s the same and what changes. Does Kevin end up going to New York? Does Kate even date Marc? Would Beth and Randall still meet?

I thought this was a good episode and I think we are getting closer to whatever drives Randall and Kevin apart for a time. I think we must also be getting close to finding out who Kevin’s fiancée and baby mama is because I’ve heard we pick up season 5 with the Big Three turning the big 4-0. I do hope we get to see the rest of the scene in the future with Old Rebecca and I want to see more of adult Jack and his life. There’s still so much sorry left to be told for this family.

This Is Us 4.15: “Clouds”

“Sometimes, making people forget about their worries or what’s coming next is the most important thing you can do for someone.”
- Rebecca

We are in the home stretch of “This Is Us” and things are starting to settle down for one of the Big Three, but ready to ramp up to 11 for the other two. First, let’s drop in on Kate and Toby. Kate goes off to brunch with Madison, who is trying to apologize for sleeping with Kevin. There doesn’t appear to be any danger of Madison becoming a Pearson but she does give Kate some good advice about how to approach things with Toby. She shouldn’t resent him for being honest about his feelings. So when she goes home, after he’d tried to show her the music studio he wants to build for her, she realizes that he is being sincere in his attempts to be a good dad to Jack. It seems now that he’s been able to deal with his own emotions and fears, he’s in a better place which means he and Kate are going to be in a better place. He doesn’t want to just build the recording studio for Kate. He wants it to be for Jack, too. And we get a sweet montage of Jack growing up in the little studio, all the way to adult Jack recording in there, too. I hope that Kate and Toby are able to stay in a good place (because we really only saw Kate in the montage with Jack as he grew up).

While Kate and toby are on the mend, Kevin and Randall are on a collision course over Rebecca. They just don’t know it yet. Randall spends most of the episode in therapy and it doesn’t go well. Then again, I can’t imagine anyone is surprised by that. He has such a need for control and he even admits that to the therapist. Eventually, as he gets more and more agitated, he exclaims that he’s the whole reason his family hasn’t fallen apart at this point. I definitely think he’s wrong but I can see how he would think that. He feels like he had to step up and be the man of the house after Jack died and take care of Rebecca while his siblings were off doing their thing. But I also think a lot of it was down to Rebecca stepping up for her kids. So that’s going to be interesting as they continue to explore his feelings about his family. He also got really agitated by the out-of-date magazines, the constantly whistling coffee pot and the weird artwork. I think maybe part of the issue with the coffee pot was a little PTSD about the slow cooker but the rest of it was ridiculous. I can also sort of understand why he was mad the doctor Googled him before meeting him but also, she was probably trying to understand where this man was coming from to help him get to the heart of his issues. He’s ready to quit the whole therapy thing when Beth explains that she needs him to get the help because she’s been dealing with things she hasn’t told him about since the break-in because she doesn’t want to put too much on him and watch him fall apart. It was a small scene in comparison but I think it was very impactful. So, by the end of the episode, we see him go back to the office and ready to try again. I know Randall wants a quick fix but with the stuff he’s dealing with, it’s going to take time to unpack, sort through and find ways to deal with it all. And it’s going to be painful.

Meanwhile, Kevin and Rebecca end up going to an old record store where she listens to some Joanie Mitchell, prompting a search for her old house. She says she and Jack tried to find it on their first trip to LA but couldn’t. They didn’t have Siri back then and Kevin finds the house. Rebecca even decides to sneak in (the gate was open). They don’t go in the house but it’s clear Rebecca is loving this fun little mother-son trip. She even says she wants to go his New York premiere with him (which given what we see for the next episode, probably happens). Rebecca doesn’t want to go get her MRI results (which is part of what prompted the trip to find Joanie’s house) but Kevin, for once, is responsible and gets her there (a circumstance Randall rails about in therapy, saying he’ll likely get a text from Kevin saying he lost track of time and missed the appointment). I’m glad Kevin stepped up and was the adult here. It’s showing that he’s starting to really mature. At the end of the episode, he ends up going to buy the same baseball card he and Rebecca hunted for that day long ago to keep in his wallet to remind him to still be fun because that’s what his mother needs him to be right now.

We also see in flashbacks where he got into running. Jack is trying to help Randall manage his worry and anxiety by letting it out through exercise because preteen Randall is stressing over an A-. Kevin managed two As (in PE and Art) and he still gets $10 as promised. He insists that Rebecca take him to the baseball card shop so he can complete his 1991 collection. So while Randall and Jack are off running (and really it can only be a coping mechanism for so long), Kevin and Rebecca end up having fun at the shop trying to find the one card Kevin still needs to complete his collection. And Jack gets to have a really sweet moment with Jack about her breakup with her first boyfriend. He equates first boyfriends to first waffles. You got to go through several before you find the right one. It was so Jack. But it was kind of sweet all the same.

This Is Us 4.14: “The Cabin”

\“It was a fun, silly time capsule, bro. And I choked. I’ve been anxious for so long and I don’t get better. Not really. The truth is, as soon as I tackled that mugger, I had him. I didn’t have to hit him. I wanted to.”
– Randall

This was a really strong episode of “This Is Us”. The Big Three all finally know about Rebecca’s diagnosis and we get a glimpse into the future that answers a few questions. And we are finally done with Marc. When the Big Three are thirteen or so, Jack and Rebecca decide to do a time capsule at the cabin, with the intent of digging it up when the Big Three are eighteen. That obviously never happened so it’s still buried in the back yard. As everyone tries to figure out what to put in it, we see Randall struggle with what he wants to put in while Kevin and Kate seem to already know. It appears Jack is also struggling. Rebecca catches him sketching a design for a big house and he says he wants to build it on the hill above where the cabin is. This all becomes very important to the later storylines. But before we get there, we need to deal with the problem named Marc.

He and Kate arrive at the cabin and he continues to be a manipulative, abusive jackass by first making sure she still loves him and then when she makes coffee and asks him to use a different mug (the one he grabbed was Jack’s and no one but he drank from it), he purposely breaks it and upsets Kate. Then, she goes to get firewood and he takes a dig at her weight before locking her out in the freezing snow for what appears to be quite a while. Meanwhile, Rebecca and the boys are on their way up because Rebecca is worried about Kate given that phone call at the pay phone. They can’t get to the cabin that night because of a road closure due to a tree. When they arrive the next morning, Rebecca insists that Randall and Kevin tell Kate they came up because of the snow. Things quickly devolve though when Kevin remarks on how cold it is in the cabin and then Randall notices a broken window. Then it’s revealed that Kate is wearing gloves to cover up a nasty cut she got on her hand when she broke the window to get back into the house. Marc tries to play it off but Rebecca stands up to him and tells him to get out of her house. And just like that, he’s gone. I will admit, I kind of wished Kevin had gotten to hit Marc because that would have been very satisfying.

Now to the present where the Big Three head to the cabin to try and bond or commiserate or whatever. We briefly get to see Toby taking care of Jack, complete with a choking scare. But baby Jack is okay and then Toby (finally) shares his love of Star Wars with his little boy by making sound effects as he shows him the figurines he has. It was very sweet and I’ve been waiting for Toby to realize he can share things with his son. Back at the cabin, the power goes out and both Randall and Kate start to panic because Randall can’t see the camera feed on the security system and Kate can’t FaceTime Toby and Jack. Kevin is just trying to keep the fact he slept with Madison a secret. But that cat gets out of the bag when Madison leaves Kate a series of voicemails about it while they are at a convenience store stocking up on supplies. When they get back to the cabin, Kate and Kevin note that Randall is not okay given how much he panicked about not being able to reach Beth for a few hours. Randall gets defensive, claiming he’s just exhausted from everything going on, including his trip to LA. And just like that, the cat is out of the bag about Rebecca’s diagnosis. Kevin flips out, assuming (rightly so) that Rebecca was worried about his sobriety. I mean, I can understand him being upset that she didn’t tell him and he was the last to know but also, we saw how easily Kevin feel back into things when life threw curveballs at him. This prompts Kevin to go sit outside for a while, leaving Randall and Kate to work on a puzzle that Jack had created from a family photo. Jack’s eye is missing when they finish up and this prompts Randall to declare it is time to dig up the time capsule. It turns out that Randall couldn’t choose and Kevin told him to take the puzzle piece because when they dig it up, people will be happy they found it. We also discover that Rebecca put Jack’s drawing of the house in and Jack put in a recording explaining about the house and watching the kids try to decide what to put in it. I’m a little surprised they weren’t more emotional hearing his voice for likely the first time in twenty years.

By the end, Kate is heading home and Randall is finally able to admit that he’s not getting better with his anxiety and he needs help. He’s going to consider a therapist but I have my doubts that it’s going to go as expected. And in a glimpse of the future, we see that Kevin built the house that Jack designed on the hill and that’s where everyone has gathered with old Rebecca. Gotta admit, Kevin looks pretty good with the grey in his hair and beard. Not bad. I like that we got that piece of the puzzle (no pun intended) filled in while still leaving lots of questions still to answer. We only have a few more episodes until the end of the season and I’ll be sad when they are over ad we have to wait six months for more. But hey, at least we know the writers get to tell the whole story they intended to tell!

This Is Us 4.13: “A Hell of a Week Part 3”

“I’m strong. You made me strong.”
- Kate

We have reached Kate’s part of this mini trilogy and I have to admit I was a little disappointed. While we got some insight into her relationship with both Toby and Marc, it appears we won’t get the rest of the full story with Marc until next episode. In the way past, we see Jack convince little Kate to tell him a bedtime story since Rebecca is sleeping. It’s a sweet time between father and daughter where he sort of prompts her for information Mad Lib style but it’s all very sweet and we get a story about a princess in a magical forest who meets a prince and they go on an adventure to find her mom. It’s all to be juxtaposed against post high school Kate’s relationship with Rebecca.

In that time period, we see Kate is still dating Marc and working at the record store. He buys her a Patti Smith book and she insists he didn’t have to do it but he says he wanted to because he wants to make her happy. But the minute a customer asks about an album and Kate knows information about it that Marc doesn’t, or at least he perceives she’s trying to show her up, his entire demeanor changes. He then stops talking to Kate until that night when she finally gets him on the phone. He says he was just embarrassed but he’ll see her at her mom’s birthday dinner. But things don’t go like she’s planned. Rebecca, probably sensing that there’s something off about Marc after hearing Kate argue with him on the phone, asks Kate to have coffee with the three of them so she can get to know Marc. Marc is late and he’s kind of a jerk before saying he’s quit his job at the music store because he was getting bored and his boss was on him about taking too many smoke breaks. He also says that he and Kate are going to record songs together and suggests the family cabin. The Pearsons hadn’t even opened the cabin yet but Kate says that she and Marc can do it. But when Rebecca tells her she doesn’t think it’s a good idea, Kate storms off with marc to the cabin that night. Not surprisingly, things get tense in the car when Marc tells Kate she should quit her job, too. When she says he can’t because she needs the money, he gets really upset and starts driving erratically. When he finally stops, he kicks Kate out of the car, leaving her on the side of the road. She manages to call Rebecca in tears but then Marc shows up at the gas station with a blanket and ushers her back into the car. This prompts the scene we’ve seen a few times now with Rebecca and the boys heading out to go get her because it’s clear she’s in trouble. From what I’ve glimpsed from the preview for the next episode, Marc’s behavior escalates and I suspect we will find out what happened to split them up.

In the present, we are still the night after Toby’s birthday party. He’s obsessing on the fact Jack could see a little light and shadow and he’s researching a girl who underwent gene therapy and got some vision back. I have to say, Toby’s perspective really annoys me. It’s probably because he’s seeing his son as all the things he can’t do, rather than what he can. As a blind person, that just rubs me the wrong way. I know there are plenty of people out there who feel the same way as Toby but it just makes me sad that he is still wallowing. The next day, Kate ends up going to the retreat with Jack and Rebecca because Toby says he can’t cancel a bunch of meetings at work. I did like seeing Gregory again and the fact that he seems to be a shoulder that Kate can lean on. She’s kind of overwhelmed by all of the discussion and people at the retreat but she’s also energized by it. She sees all the possibilities for her son from learning music with Braille to riding a bike with a bit of echo location assistance. Kate does express real worries about what’s happening in her marriage but Rebecca assures her that she’s capable of handling whatever comes and raising jack if that’s what it comes down to. She also convinces Kate to have a late night pool heart to heart. I like that we get to see Kate finally finding her mom again like little Kate wanted in her story. Rebecca ends up sharing her diagnosis with Kate. She explains that it feels liberating because sure she knows there will come a time when things get bad but for now, she’s going to live and enjoy life as much as possible. It’s made her free. So now two of the three kids know the truth about Rebecca’s condition. So I don’t feel like this is what is going to set Randall and Kevin on the path to not speaking in nine months. When Kate and Rebecca get home, Kate flat out asks Toby if he’s able to be the man she needs him to be as a husband and father and he says he wants to be. After the Big (Sad) Three call, she tells him he needs to just do it. She’s going to take Jack to the cabin for the weekend with Kevin and Randall but Toby insists that he take care of Jack for the weekend. It appears from the preview that Kate has concerns about it but fi Toby is really serious about wanting to step up and move past his own issues, then I think taking care of Jack by himself is a good way to do it. Plus it gives him some time to really bond with his son which he sorely needs.

As always, I appreciate this show for tackling real issues that have real consequences. They don’t shy away from topics that are uncomfortable and they aren’t afraid to show perspectives that may be unpopular. The writers are respectful of the story lines they are telling and I am glad that they continue to do that as the show progresses. I also like that they are starting to focus on more of the present and future rather than the past, even though I adore Jack (with all of his flaws). Most of his story has been told by this point. I don’t think he’ll be gone from the show because he’s such a part of the characters’ collective story and memory but they acknowledge it’s time to focus on other characters.

Saturday, February 1, 2020

This Is Us 4.12: “A Hell of a Week: Part Two”

“At the funeral today, I was about the lose it. But I found you and I locked in on you.”
- Sophie

This episode could have gone a ton of ways. I’m kind of glad it went the direction it did, even if it means we aren’t really any closer to solving the Kevin’s baby-mama drama. And much last the Big Three-centric episodes of the past, we continue with the storyline in past and present from Kevin’s point of view. We get see flashback to the night Jack died as well as to the night of Rebecca’s birthday when the Big Three are college-age. And we also see Jack having to console little Kevin who wants his sheep mobile from his crib but it turns out Rebecca donated it. I think Jack has done less damage (or at least not in the same way as with Randall) by telling Kevin that sometimes things we love go away and we have to find new things to love. I hope Kevin is doing that with Sophie but that’s still kind of up in the air.

The night Jack dies, we get to see that Kevin gets a warm reception from his future mother-in-law, Claire. We also see Kevin and Sophie head to the movies from the lame party, then head back to the campsite because the movie projector has problems. They vow never to see the end of Good Will Hunting (because they think the endings they can come up with are way better). They don’t explain this right away so when Kevin gives Sophie a scenario when she calls to tell him her mother died, it’s a little out of left field. But we do get the sense that it’s something that’s been a long-standing thing between them. We then jump to the past of Rebecca’s birthday when Kevin and Sophie show up a day early and go to hang out with Claire again. Apparently things between her and Sophie are a bit volatile because Sophie thinks her mother is irresponsible with money and instead of fixing an issue with the house, Claire bought tickets for she and Sophie to go see the Aurora Borealis. Kevin then takes the chance to tell Claire he’d like Sophie’s grandmother’s ring to give to Sophie, since they basically eloped. Claire tells Kevin he hasn’t earned it. And as we know, he never does because of the way he screws up with her so frequently. And then we get a tiny hint about past Kate’s storyline. Kevin shows up with flowers for Rebecca and she says that dinner is cancelled because she and Kate got into a fight, Kate went off with Marc and then Kate called Rebecca crying.

But things take an interesting turn in the present. Kevin goes to the funeral but doesn’t approach Sophie. I did like how we got to see her give the eulogy for her mother and nearly breaking down before she found Kevin amongst the crowd and it centered her. They really so wrapped up in each other’s stories. Later, at the reception, Kevin shows up with donuts and Sophie asks him to get her out of there. They drive around for a while until he takes her back to the campsite where he learned that Jack died. He tells Sophie that he never thought he could go back there (she’d explained in her eulogy that she couldn’t go back to her and her mother’s favorite coffee shop because that’s where she found out about her mother’s death) but Kevin points out that with time and space, he was able to come back. It still makes him sad, obviously, but it doesn’t hurt the same way. They also decide to watch the ending of Good Will Hunting and agree the real ending was way better than any they came up with. They exchange longing looks before Sophie tells Kevin it’s time for her to go home. I don’t think Sophie quite knows what to make of Kevin popping up into her life again. He’s definitely in a better place than he ever was when they were together. In fact, Kevin points that out when he goes to visit Claire’s grave alone. He tells her that she was right about him becoming a star and she was probably right and knew he’d screw up with Sophie. He’s got a line about how he wishes he could have another shot with her but it’s too late. But we also get the sense that Sophie isn’t entirely thrilled with her fiancé, either.

I suspect we’ll have to wait a little while for that story to pick up again. As this week’s episode wraps up, we get back to Randall and Kevin’s phone call. We see Kevin in bed with a blond who turns out to be Kate’s friend Madison. She was dog-sitting while Kate is at a retreat and Sophie is at work. Madison is wallowing a bit after being broken up with and Kevin realizes the next morning what a huge mistake he made. He seems to have a thing for hooking up with Kate’s friends. Anyway, he proposes to Randall that they make a trip to the cabin to get away from everything that’s been going on. They conference call in Kate who agrees it’s needed, especially because ominously she says her marriage is on the verge of imploding. I want to know what’s going on with Kate’s story. It’s too bad we have to wait a couple weeks to get the resolution to this mini-arc of story. I have to hand it to the writers and producers of this show. They are very good at seamlessly fitting scenes from other episodes together. I have to believe all three of these episodes were shot together so that scenes where we were going to get coverage from both sides are consistent. I can’t wait to see how this wraps up and where we go after this part of story.

This Is Us 4.11: “A Hell of a Week: Part One”

“Look bro, I get it. Us men of a certain shade aren’t used to talking. But that’s therapy, right? Talking.”
- Darnell

This week kicks off the yearly Big Three-centric episodes and we begin with Randall. As we know, he has struggled with panic attacks and anxiety from a very young age. As it turns out, it probably started in his very early childhood when he and his siblings moved to big kid beds and he was convinced there were monsters under the bed. Jack slept on the floor for a while but when he tries to sneak out, Jack tells him that he needs Randall to be strong and brave for him because his siblings are kind of high maintenance. I don’t usually disagree with Jack’s parenting but here I think he set Randall up for a rough time.

The majority of the episode splits between the present and when the Big Three were just out of high school. In the past, Randall is dealing with crazy stress-filled dreams about Jack. He keeps seeing various scenarios where he can’t interact with his family and he’s left standing there yelling at them and nothing happens. Beth tries to support Randall and suggests he see a counselor to deal with the trauma of losing his dad and the stress. He brushes it off. He does, however, agree to go with her to Grief party 9which sounds like a really weird idea but I’m intrigued and kind of sad we won’t get to see it). The reason: the family is gathering to rally around Kate. She’s still seeing Marc (the slime ball abusive boyfriend) and something has happened which puts a damper on celebrating Rebecca’s birthday. If these episodes are like the ones where we saw Jack’s last day from each of their perspectives, I suspect we will finally get to see what happened to Kate.

I’m thinking Randall probably should have gotten therapy a long time ago because he’s not coping well with a lot of things going on in his life right now. He is clearly stressed and anxious about Rebeca’s condition and keeping it from his siblings. I do think it is really unfair of Rebecca to make Randall that information from Kevin and Kate. At the close of the previous episode, Randall went into the kitchen to get some water and was confronted by a figure. At first I thought it was going to be a figment of his imagination like a smoke and soot covered Jack or something but it’s some kid wielding a knife and he’s very real. Randall offers his credit card, tells him the police are on the way and kid takes off.

Now, Randall was totally lying about having a security system or that the police were on the way. The officer who responded to his later call explains that sometimes burglars come back the next night because often families don’t feel safe and they stay in a hotel. Randall isn’t going to leave his home undefended so he sends Beth and the girls to a hotel for the night and he installs a very high-tech security system which ends up consuming a lot of his focus. He’s hyper aware and he isn’t sleeping. He’s got every notification possible on the app for the security system running so he knows when a leaf blows across a sensor. He also freaks out when he comes home and the alarms are going off. Annie opened a window and set off the alarm and Beth couldn’t remember the override code.

The lack of handling his anxiety becomes obvious when he holds a Town Hall with his district to talk about the new housing bill he’s backing that could impact a lot of small business owners. One in particular is Malik’s dad. He shows up when Randall is about to go for a run (to try and manage his anxiety) and points out that the new condos could hike up his rent to a point he couldn’t continue to operate his shop. He also tells Randall that talking helps deal with anxiety and he ended up going to therapy after confiding in a minister for a while (until the minister got tired of giving out free therapy). It is obvious that Randall isn’t into the suggestion, even though I think he really needs it. I understand there is a huge stigma around mental health in the African American community, especially with men, but Randall is going to fall to pieces again and it’s going to be ugly and he needs to get help. It doesn’t help that as he’s out for his run, he sees a woman being mugged and he jumps in and starts being up the attacker (breaking a few bones in his hand in the process).

As Beth and Randall try to get back to normal after the break-in, they realize that the burglar actually was in their bedroom and took a pair of Beth’s earrings and a pair of Randall’s cufflinks. This sends Randall spiraling into bad dream territory again as he imagines worst case scenarios of the burglar hurting Beth. Ultimately, he calls Kevin (who he’d talked to briefly before to let him know what happened). We also learn that Sophie’s call in the last episode was to let Kevin know her mother died so he’s now in Pittsburgh for the funeral. Yeah, that’s not going to end well (or hey, if she’s the baby mama then maybe it is). As Randall breaks down in the bathroom. I guess he’s willing to talk to his brother (sort of) about what’s happening and he asks Kevin just to talk to him, which Kevin says he’s good at doing.

As much as I love Randall, him not being willing to accept help when multiple people suggested he do so is really irritating. Perhaps this whole situation will convince him to go talk to someone who isn’t a member of his family or spouse. Someone who doesn’t already know the Pearson baggage. I have a feeling this show isn’t shy about addressing lots of topical issues and mental health in general is a big one. So here’s hoping they continue with the storyline. I think it was good to see how even though we like to think Randall has it all together, he really doesn’t and he’s fallible, too. Annoyance aside, this does make him human and I love that about this show. It just shows people living their lives and follows you through the good and the bad.

This Is Us 4.10: “Light and Shadow”

“That’s what I am. A part-time mechanic. That not who you belong with.”
– Jack

The first episode of 2020 was a bit of an emotional roller coaster for the Pearsons (then again, when isn’t it?). Kevin is determined to find his future spouse (and procreate) in the next nine months and to do that, he’s decided the best move is the hire a matchmaker. But he quickly realizes it’s a load of crap when he goes on a date with a racist woman. Not long after that, he ends up meeting the woman he thinks is “it” in a coffee shop. They go on this really fun date (where he rents out the Hollywood Bowl and gets John Legend to sing for her) but then she admits that he’s’ her hall pass (as in the one celebrity she could sleep with and it wouldn’t count as cheating). But she can’t actually go through with it. This leaves Kevin quite dejected but he’s’ got other things to focus on, like reshoots for his big movie. And just as he heads to set, he gets a call from Sophie. He doesn’t see it though and it just makes me wonder if he’s going to go back down that road again. Is she really going to be his big love story? They really aren’t’ good together and Kevin just keeps breaking the poor woman’s’ heart. But I guess we will have to wait and see.

Randall is still dealing with the possibility of Rebecca having some cognitive issues. He’s doing it alone because she’s asked that he not involve his siblings. So he flies out to California to go with her for some neurological testing. Miguel isn’t exactly happy that Randall is butting in. But when the tests reveal Rebecca is having some memory issues, he starts to feel guilty about missing or ignoring the signs. He admits he noticed things but he just wanted to attribute it to getting older. I can understand it has to be terrifying to see someone you love fade away like that and I know we are going to have to see that with Rebecca on screen, too, which is going to be really rough. I did like hearing Rebecca tell Randall that she would sneak into the nursery when he was a baby because he would wake up early and they would sit and she’d rock him and listen to music and they would watch the sunrise through the closed curtains.

In the flashbacks, we see the aftermath of the golf club incident where Jack got drunk and had that confrontation with Rebecca’s dad. Jack breaks up with Rebecca, claiming he’s not good enough for her and then not long after, Rebecca’s mom drops the news on her daughter that her dad basically scared Jack off. Rebecca isn’t having any of this possessive, aggressive nonsense and she tracks Jack down at the garage where he works part-time 9blowing off her dad’s big birthday party) and tells him that he is worthy of her and they’re going to have an epic love story. I think this flashback serves two purposes. We see where Kevin thinks he gets the notion of this epic love story for himself (then again, he only saw pieces and not all the rough patches along the way) and also to serve as Rebecca trying to hang on these memories of her husband.

And then there was Kate and Toby. As you might recall, Kate saw a text from one of Toby’s cross fit friends basically trash talking Kate at Thanksgiving time. When they get home from the holiday, Kate confronts Toby about it and he says that there’s nothing going on with this woman and they are just friends and sometimes he vents to his friends but he’s not lying to her and would never do so. Fast forward to the New Year and she is getting ready to throw Toby a Jimmy Buffet-themed birthday party (hence where Kevin meets Mrs. Hall Pass). Kate is trying to keep an open mind about the whole thing and says she’s happy to meet Toby’s cross fit friends so maybe she can stop being so stressed about the woman he’d been texting with. At the party, however, the woman isn’t there and Kate learns form one of his other friends that Toby hasn’t been the gym in several weeks (despite the fact that Kate has been giving him protein shakes and he’s been heading off or so she thinks that whole time). After the party, they have yet another confrontation. Toby admits that the woman tried to kiss him but he rebuffed it and he made the decision to switch gyms so that he wouldn’t have to deal with her and he didn’t want to tell Kate because he thought she’d be suspicious (which she is). I think we are seeing the lingering trauma of Kate’s relationship after high school.

Then we get into the bigger discussion of why Toby seems to avoid being at home. He confirms that Kate does feel him pulling away but it’s not due to an affair or anything like that. He’s been avoiding being around baby Jack because it just makes him so sad. He feels like his son is going to miss out on so much of life and Toby doesn’t want to ruin the pure joy that Kate has when she looks at Jack. This was kind of a tough storyline for me. Being the blind (or visually impaired) person, I know that life can be fulfilling and that one’s disability shouldn’t hold you back. And we’ve seen that clearly Jack succeeds in life. One of the things Toby said about not being able to watch Star Wars with his son hit me. Blind people can watch movies, too. It’s just a different experience. Kate tells Toby that she got him a getaway at a retreat for families with blind children but now she’s not really looking forward to it. Until she realizes that baby Jack has some light perception. As lovely as that is, I don’t really think they should be getting that excited over it. But hey, if it puts them in a more positive space, then good for them. Next week starts a trio of Big Three centric episodes where we find out more about Randall’s anxiety and how he handles (or fails to handle) it.