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.

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