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.

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