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.