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.