Wednesday, April 14, 2021

This Is Us 5.13: “Brotherly Love”

“I asked for this and now I wish I could put it off for another forty years.”
- Randall

The reckoning we’ve all been waiting for has finally arrived and I think both Randall and Kevin were dreading it a bit. It’s a big topic to tackle and an important one to address, not just for their family but for society at large. As much as it may be uncomfortable, Kevin’s (and hell even my own) Whiteness affords privilege we may not always take into account when we should. And this episode showed us a bit from both of their perspectives how they perceived their childhood and young adulthood.

We first see the boys as five-year-olds. Rebecca and Kate have gone off for a girls’ weekend and Jack has the boys. They’re transfixed as they watch Mr. Roger’s neighborhood. Randall loves it and now Kevin apparently does, too. They’re both over the moon when Jack reveals that a buddy from his construction company got them on the list to attend a taping of the show. Things take a turn though when the production assistant mistakenly skips Randall when handing out passes to the kids. Jack steps in to make it clear that Randall is his little guy and then insists on getting Randall the best seat in the audience. Little Kevin whines that he can’t see even though he’s sitting right next to Randall. After the show, Kevin runs off and little Randall approaches the stage and has a little chat with Daniel Tiger about imagination and that he has imaginary parents. At the top of the episode we see him with Black parents (but they aren’t Laurel and William).

We then cut to the college era. Randall has gone out to LA with the Model U.N. team and is staying with Kevin for a little visit. He even agrees to go out for a night of fun with his brother. This involves a lot of shots before they eventually call a cab to go to a club. They are definitely not old enough to be drinking (or likely going to the club) because Kevin got them fake IDs. The ID he got Randall has a much older Black man on it and when Randall points out the guy looks like he’s 40, Kevin replies that it’s fine because the picture is a Black guy and Randall is a Black guy. I cringed so hard when he said that and the look on Randall’s face broke my heart. Kevin really was clueless, not realizing his jabs at his brother about Carlton and the Fresh Prince weren’t well-meaning. They were insulting and lumping all Black people together. Then in the cab, driven by a Black man, Kevin is an utter dick about the music and the way the driver is going. He and Randall end up getting into an argument about Kevin’s drinking and the cabbie kicks them out of his cab. The boys tussle for a few minutes until Kevin freaks because he loses his keys. They spend an hour looking only to realize they’re still in Kevin’s pocket. But they’ve had time to calm down and Kevin admits his jealousy of Randall’s perfect life and future and how much of a failure he is at acting. Now, Randall wasn’t without his own ragging on Kevin, commenting on the secondhand furniture and painting (which Kevin later admits he painted to try and deal with his emotions). But they don’t really deal with the racially charged issues between them.

Then we cut to the present when Kevin arrives. Beth has taken the girls ice skating so that Randall and Kevin can have the house to themselves. She thinks that if the girls see Uncle Kevin first, it will derail the purpose of the visit. She’s probably right (based on how they react at the end of the episode when they get back to the house). But before then, Kevin offers an eloquent apology monologue but it sounded exactly like Randall described, a monologue. Kevin uses language about “if” he made Randall feel alone or bad. He definitely doesn’t realize that he did have tons of micro aggressions towards his brother their entire lives. And for a while, he’s not willing to admit it. He calls Randall out for having a glorious childhood where he was always made to feel special, which Randall retorts felt like a prison. And having to always be grateful for what he had was exhausting. And he notes that Kevin never considered that the day the Pearsons took him home, he lost his birth parents. Randall also challenges Kevin by asking if they would have had the same relationship if they’d been the same race. Eventually Randall explains about the concept of ghost kingdoms and shares his imaginary parents (they weather man and the librarian because they were the only consistent Black adults in Randall’s life at the time) but he also says that the Pearsons were always in his imaginary world because he felt guilty and because he loved them so much. Even after meeting William and discovering Laurel’s story, when he occasionally still has dreams about his ghost kingdom, it is still the weather man and the librarian. But that night, for the first time, he imagines William and Laurel and I have to hope that means he and Kevin are in a good spot now. Kevin has acknowledged that he’s going to get it wrong sometimes and he did resent Randall’s Blackness because he had it mixed up in his head with his jealousy of Randall’s special treatment. He always felt that Randall was better than him and so felt compelled to take him down a notch. The fact Kevin was able to admit those things seems a big step and not an empty platitude or the perception of doing the right thing. He is owning his own biases and just hope that he continues to work on those parts of himself.

Saturday, April 10, 2021

This Is Us 5.12: “Both Things Can Be True”

“There is only one person I owe an explanation to and that’s the one person I can’t give an explanation. I certainly don’t owe anything to you.”
– Miguel

Based on the promo for this episode, I didn’t have very high expectations coming into it. I like Tess but she has turned into such a drama queen since hitting puberty and coming out as gay. Maybe she’s just being a normal teenager but whatever. Anyway, I thought the episode would more heavily focus on that but I was pleasantly surprised that we got lots of other stories that were much more interesting. So, let’s get Tess out of the way. She is having Alex over for the first time and Beth is trying to be extra ware of using the right pronouns and making a good impression. Tess just wants her mom to butt out. As Beth is hemming and hawing downstairs, Deja points out that Tess has the door closed and it isn’t fair that she and Malik have to have the door open. When Beth goes up to check, Tess and Alex are all snuggled up together. Tess calls her mom a psycho which is just so over-the-top and Alex leaves. Later, after talking to her own mother and realizing she has to adjust her dreams and expectations for what Tess’s future holds, she tries to apologize but Tess wonders if they will ever be close again.

While Tess is going through her drama, Randall is attending a group therapy session for transracial adoptees. You know Randall is always the one who has to give the speech (he’s an orator as he tells Beth) but for once, he sits back and just listens. And as other group members talk, you see flashes of Randall’s childhood and he realizes that he’s not alone in the things he felt growing up, wondering who his parents were, wondering where he fit into his community. I think this is going to be a good thing for Randall and I am interested to see what happens moving forward.

On the West Coast, Kate is starting her new job while Toby stays home with the kids. It is clear from the beginning that the teacher Kate is paired with (Hi Jamie from A Million Little Things) isn’t impressed with her. She’s not really qualified to teach but the higher ups like her “energy” so there they are. He’s not happy that she is so distracted checking on Toby and the kids and having massive separation anxiety. Dude clearly isn’t a parent. And even when you’re happy for a little space form your kid, you do miss them. But when Kate gets a young student to open up and embrace the role/song she’s singing, it seems he’s a little bit impressed. I think the better part of this storyline was Madison and Toby bonding at the park. She and Kevin are in wedding planning mode and it’s made the tabloids. But she’s scared to tell him the venue they got isn’t the one she wants. And Toby is scared to tell Kate he hates being a stay-at-home dad. I like that we are getting more extended Pearson-clan bonding moments.

Speaking of Kevin and wedding planning, Miguel is the rehearsal dinner host but Nicky wants to be involved (it’s more because he doesn’t seem to like Miguel). I have to admit, I laughed out loud at the two of them sniping at each other. Nicky makes several snide comments about Miguel taking what he wants and swooping in to take his brother’s wife. Miguel eventually claps back that he didn’t marry Rebecca until thirteen years after Jack’s death and he spends every day wondering what Jack would think. He would owe Jack an explanation, but not Nicky. By episode’s end, Nicky apologizes and admits that he felt replaced by Miguel in Jack’s life. Miguel shares that when Jack got married, he asked Miguel to stand up at the altar with him and give a few words at the reception but that he never used the term “best man” because Miguel figured Jack, somewhere deep down, was saving that title for Nicky. It is nice to see Nicky fitting in more with the rest of the family. Madison manages to get up the courage to tell Kevin about the fact she wants a different venue and shares a story about her family shortly before her parents divorced that basically boiled down to she wanted to get married in a particular small garden. Kevin is down for it. Unfortunately, Toby doesn’t have the same courage to admit his feelings to Kate. I worry that he’s going to keep this from her and it’s going to lead them down a bad road.

And speaking of Jack and Rebecca getting hitched, we pick up with Jack trying to recreate their first date at the carnival. Which, come on man, that’s so damn beautiful and such a Jack Pearson move. Even Miguel points out that it is gestures like that which make other guys hate Jack. Unfortunately, Miguel insists on making Jack practice the proposal, complete with the ring. And it then gets stuck on Miguel’s finger. And just when it looks like Rebecca is about to catch them, her father shows up. He’s been ducking Jack’s calls, asking for his blessing, because he needed to think. He says that he will tolerate Jack’s marriage to Rebecca, because she’s made it perfectly clear that she’s chosen Jack. Jack is ready to accept that from his father-in-law-to-be but Miguel isn’t. He points out that Rebecca’s dad should be happy that Rebecca found a guy like Jack. He lists all the ways Jack has gone without so he could Rebecca ahead of himself. It honesty made me like Miguel a lot more and respect him. He is a decent guy who cares about the Pearsons and has been linked to their story for a long time, too.

Thursday, March 25, 2021

This Is Us 5.11: “One Small Step”

“It seemed impossible, but here I am. You two are my moon.
– Nicky

This was a really strong episode of “This Is Us”. I wasn’t in love with the Vietnam storyline in prior seasons but I liked that it introduced us to Nicky and gave us more insight into who Jack is and how he came to be the way he is. And this episode highlights Nicky as a person, where he started out and where he’s at in the present day. When we left Nicky, he was standing on Kevin and Madison’s front step having arrived out of nowhere to meet his great niece and nephew. He tells Kevin it wasn’t a big deal for him to come out, but we obviously know that isn’t true. And looking at his past, we see why what he’s done is such a huge thing.

In 1969, we find Nicky living at home with his parents and the family is gathering together to watch the moon landing. Nicky is really excited to show his dad the model lunar module he built. Nicky is kind of a space nerd and it’s really adorable. Jack has moved out at this point and he points out that maybe Nicky ought to move out, too. Nicky says that his dad is better with his mom when Nicky’s around. I’m sure jack felt like he had to protect his little brother growing up but Nicky feels the same way about his mom. He does end up admitting to Jack that there’s a girl at the vet clinic he likes named Sally. She’s a very free spirited hippie who lives in a van named Pearl. After asking Nicky out, we watch them go out and fall in love over a very short period of time (between the lunar landing and the astronauts coming home). Sally wants to go to Woodstock and then head out to California and live a life on the road. And she wants Nicky to join her. He’s hesitant to leave home but Jack is encouraging. He buys his brother a suitcase and everything. It’s unclear whether Nicky goes to Woodstock but I’m pretty sure he sticks around, seeing as he gets drafted for the war shortly thereafter.

We then jump forward in time a bit to after the war. Nicky is living in his trailer years later and he gets a call from an Army buddy (or at least a guy from his unit) about a get together that’s happening not far from Nicky. It might be good for Nicky to go to it, especially since Jack is going to be there, too. The Pearson brothers haven’t seen each other in years at that point but Nicky takes the risk, gets dressed up and even gets out of the car. But he doesn’t have the courage to reach out to his brother (who is now on his way to propose to Rebecca after his own army buddy tells Jack that it’s fine that he lied to Rebecca about his time in the war and to just keep that stuff buried down).

In the present, we see that Nicky gets the baptism invitation for the twins but he doesn’t really understand what Zoom is. This is what prompts him to decide he’s going to go all the way to California to meet the babies. So, he enlists Cassidy’s help in ordering a boatload of stuff from Amazon. He’s making a handmade gift for each kid and she even helps wrap the gift and drive him to the airport. He’s worried about just showing up, but he doesn’t want to disappoint anyone if he chickens out. Cassidy gives him a pep talk that Nicky is facing a lot of his fears and stepping out of his routine which is a positive step. This all takes a tenuous turn when going through security at the airport and they open the gift and discover he’s made snow globes. They exceed the amount of liquid you can bring on the plane. Obviously Nicky didn’t know about this rule and he goes to dump the water out in a nearby trash can but then he drops them and the glass shatters. One could imagine that the Nicky we first met when the Big Three went looking for him would have caused such a scene, he would have been escorted out of the airport (or maybe even arrested). But, he manages to get on the plane and shows up at the house. So yes, Nicky, it was a big deal for him to get there (and the title of this episode is apt on so many levels). Later that night, he calls Cassidy, saying he’s thinking of bailing but she reminds him that Jack would be proud of him and so he sneaks into the nursery to gift the babies paperbacks of his favorite John Grisham novels he picked up in the airport gift shop. He’s jotted some notes in the books but he gives a beautifully tender monologue about how the moon landing made the impossible possible and that he never thought he could be happy or find love from family again after the war and yet these two tiny lives had done just that for him. As he says, they are his moon. It’s touching and reminds you how sweet and gentle of a soul he was before the war messed him up. The next morning, Kevin finds Nicky asleep in the nursery and finds a picture that Sally had taken during a dinner at the Pearson home with Nicky and Jack smiling and happy just before everything changed.

This was a great episode all around and it just touched me to see the acting so seamless between the older and younger versions of Nicky. You could really see the transformation he underwent as time passed and he’s starting to find himself again. He may have thought he lost all connection to his brother but Jack is still there for him, just in ways none of them ever expected. And this is why I love this show. It gifts us such beautiful, touching moments of family and humanity.

Thursday, March 18, 2021

This Is Us 5.10: “I’ve Got This”

“That’s the thing, Toby. We’re all family.”
– Kevin

While I enjoyed this episode, I can’t say that it blew me away. It moved plotlines forward a little bit and we did get to see some dynamics come to a head that really needed it. And I did appreciate how the effects of lockdown are starting to show for the Pearsons. In the past, we see Rebecca and Jack starting to get the hang of being new parents to three wiggly babies. But it’s not long before Jack has to go out for a fancy dinner to try and get a promotion. After all, if the big bosses only see him as a foreman, he’ll never get ahead in the company. Jack, in typical fashion, is trying to impress and goes a little too far. He wins over his bosses with a funny anecdote about meeting a baseball player and then gets roped into credit card roulette. He feels like he has to participate to get them to like him and then he heads home with a $230 bill. Rebecca is not pleased and she ultimately tells Jack that she is going to be in charge of their finances.

Money is the big issue facing another facet of the Pearson clan this week, too. Kevin and Madison invite Toby and Kate over for dinner (while their nanny watches all four babies). It appears that Kevin has tons of money and we know that Kate and Toby are struggling since Toby lost his job. He tries to put on a brave face but he can’t hold it in as Kevin smokes fancy cigars and fantasizes about building a family compound in Malibu. At one point Toby even thinks Kate told Kevin about his woes and blurts out that he’ll find a new job. Kate obviously didn’t’ spill the beans and then things between Kevin and Toby get heated. Not season 4 Kevin-Randall heated, but Toby points out how condescending Kevin is, throwing money around like it’s no big deal, like Toby should be happy to accept his brother-in-laws supposed charity. Toby feels like it’s his job to provide for his family and Kevin should stay in his own lane. I can understand why Toby is prideful and wouldn’t want the hand-outs and he is right that Kevin doesn’t think before he speaks or acts most of the time. But, I can also see that Kevin was trying to be supportive in his own way. They do end up making up by the end of the episode (even if Kevin makes Kate promise to come to him she ever really does need anything for her or the kids). And she makes the decision that she’s going to go back to work as a part-time Teaching Assistant at Jack’s school.

Across the country, Beth’s mom has been staying with them while they were out on their New Orleans trip. But she’s getting ready to leave and Beth can’t wait. Neither can Randall, who has set up show on the porch, complete with a copy maker and a space heater. But, it sounds like Beth’s mom isn’t ready to leave just yet and Beth is not taking it well. She feels like her mother is always judging her for what she’s doing wrong raising her family, especially with how the girls have been acting. They definitely have two teenage girls with teenage problems in their house. And poor Annie gets relegated to being ragged on by her sisters for liking NCIS. Malik comes over and asks Randall for advice on what to do about his ex-girlfriend suddenly wanting got be in their daughter’s life. Randall shares that he felt he would have saved a lot of heartache and therapy had he known his mother growing up. And then dinner ends up being tense in the Pearson house because Beth’s mom comments on how all the girls are on their phones. Beth takes the devices away and then manages to piss of Tess for using incorrect pronouns for Tess’s friend Alex. And it turns out Tess is actually dating Alex. Then Deja sees Malik’s phone getting lots of texts from his ex and she gets mad that he didn’t tell her what was going and storms off. As if things weren’t chaotic enough, Beth then lets her mom have all the judgmental anxiety she’s been building up. Beth’s mom leaves the table and when Beth goes to apologize, she’s packing her things. She explains that she is so lonely in her house, she’s been telling time by the traffic patterns. She likes the chaos and the mess of Beth’s place because at least she’s got people around. So later, Beth brings Randall (who has had a bit of a reconciliation with Deja over the ex-girlfriend issue) some beer because he’s going to be staying on the porch for a while. Her mom is staying indefinitely. They aren’t the only Pearsons having an impromptu guest. Just as Kevin proclaims to Madison that their family of four is enough and he’s ready to focus on his new family, there’s a knock at the door. And should appear, but Uncle Nicky and something tells me he’s going to be sticking around for a while, too!

Overall, this was a fine episode. It just didn’t wow me. I liked we got to see more of the kids because we hadn’t seen them in a while (especially Randall and Beth’s girls) but it wasn’t the most earth shattering episode we’ve had. I know they are only fictional characters but I do feel connected them and I enjoy seeing their lives play out. I’m eager to see what comes next and how we get to the place in the future. They still have a lot of questions to answer in the next twenty six episodes. I know I said it last time, too, but it almost feels like that’s not enough time to cram in all of this storytelling.

Thursday, February 25, 2021

This Is Us 5.09: “The Ride”

“That’s where you and Tess and your mom come in. You are my branches. You are the start of my family tree.”
– Randall

It was a big day across the Pearson clan’s history in this week’s episode. We got to see every member of the family bringing home a baby (or two or three). In the past, we see a wary Jack and Rebecca get ready to take their three newborns home after four days in the hospital (and after apparently Rebecca had a c-section. They look woefully unprepared. Jack hasn’t even installed the car seats and he installed them backwards (although by today’s standards, he was putting them in correctly by having them face backwards). A security guard points out he’s putting them I wrong and then asks why Jack has three of them. Later, on the drive home, Rebeca wishes she could sit in the backseat with the babies because turning hurts her stitches (girl I feel you on that so much). They end up pulling into a gas station (babies screaming their heads off) when another driver cuts them off. Jack kind of loses his mind on the guy but Rebecca pulls him back from the brink. He does end up getting a little bottle of whisky and some mints to hide it before getting back into the car. He does then suggest Rebecca drive so he can watch the babies. By the time they get home, all three babies have fallen asleep and they sit in the car until the babies wake up. Jack admits his drinking and they both worry they aren’t going to be good parents before reassuring each other that they will be fine. We even get a montage of the family car as their lives unfold.

In the not-so-distant past, we find Randall and Beth bringing home Annie from the hospital. Randall is thrilled that she has his eyes because as he points out during a trip to Dairy Queen (Beth’s request for after the birth), he never had that sort of connection with his parents. He did a family tree in school but they weren’t his branches. He thinks now he has a chance to have that sort of connection through his daughters. And he tells Beth he’s thinking about another kid already (I agree with Beth, that soon after, don’t even mention it), because he wants that connection. I think he’s happy with Deja as their third child and I’m sure he’s going to be even more thrilled in the future.

Speaking of, we find a young woman in her residency and she’s doing her labor and delivery rotation. She bails and ends up in a car with her sister who gives her a gift. The doctor-in-training is pregnant. I knew pretty quickly that it was adult Annie and Deja by their mannerisms and speech patterns. Plus the casting is so spot on for this show. They’re heading up to join the rest of the family at the house to say goodbye to Rebecca. Randall is thrilled to have all three of his girls there and just as the episode ends, we see another car pull up so I’m thinking we’re going to find out soon whether Kate is still around. I really hope we get to see more of the flash forward storyline in the coming episodes.

In the present, Kate and Kevin’s respective trips home with their kids don’t go as they hoped either. For Kate, Ellie admits on the car ride home that she doesn’t want to do the open adoption. She can’t handle it. Kate is hurt by this but Toby assures her that they’ll figure it out because as he says, Kate is unflappable. Which is good because he just got laid off. Oof. Right when you’ve got a new baby (I can so feel that, too). Kevin, on the other hand, is dealing with annoying fans and the paparazzi. First, when Kev is trying to get the car seats into the car, a fan keeps snapping pictures. Kevin lashes out at him and the guy kind of apologies. He sympathizes with Kevin about his kids and Kevin eventually takes a picture with him. Later, on their drive home, Kevin notices another car following them. I bet that fan blew the whistle. Kevin loses his mind when he pulls over and so does the guy (who just keeps snapping pictures). It was very reminiscent of Jack’s behavior on the way home forty years earlier. And like then, it takes the woman to diffuse the situation. She does promise to call the guy to let him know when Kevin goes running. I’m kind of hoping she lies to him. She ends up driving home and Kevin has a dream where Jack gets the babies to calm down. Jack tells Kevin not to be so terrified that he’s not going to live up to Jack. They have both spent a lot of time being terrified of being (or not being) their dads. It’s time for Kevin to figure out what he wants. And he decides he really does want to marry Madison.

This episode didn’t make me cry last week’s did (and that was a lot of tears). But I enjoyed seeing the family starting out on this journey. It reminded me of our trip home with our son and all the related worry that comes along with having a new little human that is solely dependent on you. I honestly couldn’t imagine handling two or three at once (babysitting a pair of twins was enough thank you). It’s also hard to believe we are already halfway through the season with only one more confirmed after that. We’ve got 27 episodes left right now and that doesn’t seem like nearly enough time to tell all the stories that are left to tell. Adult Jack, Hailey and the next generation? Miguel and Rebecca’s reconnection (and Miguel’s background in general). Wrapping up the future with Rebecca’s death. It just doesn’t feel like it’s enough time to say goodbye to this family that has become such an important part of so many of our lives.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

This Is Us 5.08: “In the Room”

“I know this isn’t how you imagined the births of these babies, but I know that Kevin is out there trying his damndest to get to you.”
– Randall

I loved everything about this episode. It was just beautifully done and there was a little surprise at the very end that I wasn’t expecting. And not in the usual “This Is Us” fashion. At the start of the episode, we meet Ester and Nasir at a party in Albuquerque in 1963. He’s Indian, she’s Argentinian and while she has no clue what he’s talking about with regard to computer programming, she likes the way he talks. They end up getting married and having a son (who I swear was going to be Miguel). Then a few years later, Ester is waiting for Nasir at home and she’s mad because he was supposed to come home at 6:00 for family dinner. When he starts going on about his work and how close they are to a breakthrough, she makes him tell her what he’s talking about in terms she (and their four-year-old son) would understand. Basically, he and his team worked on the algorithm that allows technology companies now to send images and videos across the internet. Nasir is actually a real-life person (Nasir Ahmed) and he’s the reason we can do Zoom and Skype and FaceTime today. I cried when they dropped the title cards at the end of the episode explaining who he and Ester are. It was just so touching and not at all how I expected these new characters to connect to our core cast.

Speaking of the core cast, we pick up with Randall and Beth still driving home from New Orleans and they’re now video chatting with Madison as she’s laboring. She’s still worried that Kevin isn’t going to show up or that she’s bothering Beth and Randall. But, they are happy to stay on the line because they know she needs the support. She freaks out about getting the epidural when the contractions get to be too intense and Randall tells an adorable story about Kevin being drunk after junior prom and jumping on his bed naked singing “MMMBop”. Now, as a life-long Hanson fan I not only appreciated this reference, but I truly appreciated Randall actually signing the chorus with the proper melody. I spent a lot of my childhood people singing it wrong as a joke to rag on the band and I’m just grateful they could respect the band and their fans by actually giving it a good effort. As Madison finishes getting the epidural, Kevin arrives.

Out in California, Toby is sitting in the parking lot of the hospital while Kate is Ellie’s birth partner. At first it seems like Ellie is gung ho about handing the baby over to Kate, instructing the nursing staff to hand the baby to Kate after she’s born. Perhaps the more interesting part of this story, is the man Toby meets in the parking lot. We never learn his name but his wife Rose is in the hospital battling COVID and she’s on a ventilator. He comes to the hospital every night and parks in spot 157 (her lucky number). Of course, Toby is parked in that spot and after chatting a little, he moves over a couple spaces. He and the man bond as both Madison and Ellie labor.

Not to forget the elder generation of Pearsons, we find Rebecca and Miguel at the cabin and Rebecca feels so disconnected from her children. She feels like she should be there and this bring sup memories of a trip to the cabin she and Jack took when the Big Three were preteens. The kids all arranged sleepovers and Rebecca suggests they can have a romantic trip, but it gets interrupted by a burst pipe in the bathroom and Rebecca’s ragging on the kids gets to Jack. He keeps worrying that they won’t be in each other’s lives once the kids grow up and move away. He compares his fears to what he and Rebecca did with their own families. She promises that they will always be connected and she points to a ruined piece of artwork that they did with the kids as toddlers where they all did their handprints in paint. It’s a picture older Rebecca keeps staring at in the present and it represents that the family will always be connected. She also references how they never talk about how Miguel has to carry Jack’s death differently than the rest of the family. I’m sure we’ll eventually get more information on their relationship post Jack (beyond their wedding and honey moon in Puerto Rico).

Eventually, both Madison and Ellie deliver their respective bundles of joy. Kevin is pretty much in awe and he and Madison name their kids Nicholas (after Uncle Nicky….and a little bit Nick Cage) and Frances (after Madison’s grandmother). I’m excited to see more of Nicky and Franny in the future (maybe even in the grown up Jack future timeline). Speaking of the Damon family, we also get to meet little Hailey Rose, too. Toby was allowed to pick the middle name and as soon as he connected with the guy in the parking lot, I knew that’s what was coming. I was worried for a split second when Ellie asked to hold and then spend some time alone with Hailey. The look on Kate’s face I think mirrored most of the audience. But, Ellie just needs to say her goodbyes and soon she’s in Kate’s arms and we get a ton of FaceTime video going on. Rebecca gets to see each of her new grandbabies and then the babies get to meet each other and Kate dubs them “the new Big Three” which I think is adorable. And we see Kevin and Randall closing in on reconciliation and willing to have a frank discussion about Randall’s experience growing up Black in a white family. I don’t know what This Is Us holds in store for the Pearson clan next, but I’m so on board for it.

Thursday, February 11, 2021

This Is Us 5.07: "There"

“That’s the thing about parents. That’s why the loom large in our heads, I think. They mean a thousand things all at once. And even long after they’re gone, we’re stuck with them.”
– Jack

So, I’ll be honest, this episode did not end where I expected it would. We start off with an image of a crashed car on fire and a close-up of Kevin’s wallet with his ID in it. Of course, we’re dealing with the This Is Us writers and so they’ve clearly faked us out. Granted, they usually aren’t this blatant about it. We find out that Kevin is a week shy of wrapping his filming in Canada but Madison calls saying she thinks she’s in labor. We also see a call between him and Kate before he talks to Madison. Apparently Ellie (her and Toby’s birth mom) is being induced that day. I highly suspect that the twins and Hailey will be the next generation Big Three. The news that Madison is in labor sends Kevin into a bit of a panic as she’s six weeks early (duh, dude), and he wasn’t expecting it. Multiple people (mainly his agent and the director) tell Kevin they’ll try to wrap up his scenes that day in like six or seven hours so he could get to LA the next day, meet the babies and fly back. This does not work for Kevin. He doesn’t want to just swoop in for a photo op and then jet off. We haven’t seen all of what he’s been doing in his time away but it seems clear he is consciously making Madison and the twins a priority over his career. In fact, he tells the director that none of those plans will work and he gets in his car and starts driving for the airport. Along the way, he tells the director he quits the film because the guy is being such a dick about everything. It’s very interesting to see Kevin actually put family over his career. He’s been so focused and driven by trying to famous and popular, it’s just nice to see him making that distinction.

Along the way, he talks with several family members, including the scene from the last episode with Randall. Throughout the episode we see Kevin struggling to make it to the airport (Miguel and Rebecca find him a direct flight out of Seattle) but on his way, he sees a crashed car in a cell phone dead zone. He pulls over and rather heroically gets the guy out of the gar. But unbeknownst to him, he drops his wallet and ID on the ground in the process of the getting the guy back to Kevin’s car so they can get to the hospital (just not the one Madison is in). I will say before Kevin happened upon the accident, they did one hell of a job trying to convince us that wreck could have been him. He nearly gets hit or veers into oncoming traffic multiple times as he’s trying to deal with phone calls. In LA, Madison explains to a nurse that she doesn’t really have family she can call to be with her and the two people she’s closest to (Kevin and Kate) aren’t exactly around. And then, Randall calls and tells her that he and Beth can stay on the line with her as long as she needs as they head back to Philly from New Orleans.

The past storyline gives us some insight into why Kevin is so driven to be there for the birth of the babies and not just drop in and out. We had two sets of flashback in this episode that informed the present-day storyline. In the far past, we see preteen Jack (or maybe early teens) playing little league and he prays before the game. It turns out, he was praying that his team would win so that when his dad inevitably got drunk, he’d be happy, rather than a mean drunk. Unfortunately, this time his team lost and when Jack tries to get his dad to wait a while before going home (he can’t come out and say it’s because of his dad’s drinking), his dad blows him off. Ultimately, he tells Jack to drive home then. This is clearly a brand new experience for Jack and he’s nervous for a whole host of reasons. But he makes it home unscathed and even gets some praise from his dad. Then we see Kevin getting ready to go to football camp for the weekend with Jack. We see Kevin trying to review some plays before they leave and when they get to the hotel and he meets some players from Penn State who will be running drills, Kevin gets so nervous he throws up. He then tells Jack he thinks he’s not good enough to play football and if he doesn’t have football, then he’s got nothing. We’ve always known Kevin had some self-esteem issues. Jack insists that football isn’t all Kevin is or has and take shim to the hotel bar for a nice steak and cokes. Before they go, though, Kevin confides that his coach yells at him every day which Jack tries to brush off as being “old school”. Then Kevin admits that the coach calls him stupid basically every day. This clearly sets Jack off and that’s part of what prompts the bar visit. He suspects the coach will be there and ends up confronting him in the bathroom, telling him to never call Kevin stupid again. Jack vows to be at every game, too not just to support his son but to ensure that the coach is behaving himself. Back at the bar, Jack tells Kevin that he tried to be better than his father but feels like he failed by pressuring Kevin with sports. Kevin assures his dad that he’s nothing like grandpa.

But as we see Kevin get to the Seattle airport only to find he’s not go his ID, he realizes he may in fact miss the birth of his children. He’s trying to be better than his father (who he believes would have stopped and rescued the injured guy and still found a way to get to the births) but he’s really struggling. We’ll have to wait to see how the episode resolves but I’m hoping for a good outcome.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

This Is. Us 5.06: "Birth Mother"

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

This Is Us 5.05: "A Long Road Home"

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

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

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

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