This Is Us: Season 2, Episode 2 Review


You know Beth, that’s the only time in my brother’s entire life that he actually risked failure. It’s the only time. You know how hard that was for him? How scary that was for him. The man was terrified. – Kevin

Last week, I wrote a lot about inadequacy as a common theme in This Is Us. This week, I’m going to do the same thing, but in classic This Is Us fashion, I’m going to throw a twist into the mix.

Tuesday’s episode was again, largely about inadequacy, but it was a bit different than the season premiere. Whereas last week was about internal struggle to live up to an expectation inside oneself, I took this week’s installment as more of an illustration of a struggle to live up to a perceived external expectation in society.

Look no further than Randall and Beth’s portion of the story for a prime example of the concept. As Randall lays out his reticence for fostering a potentially troubled child, he mentions his own children. He talks of how he and his wife may have just gotten lucky. They didn’t have to do much, because their two daughters were exceptional. But here’s the kicker, he describes scenarios where he and Beth faked being tired in front of other parents to appear exhausted, and thus normal.

Right here, his story illustrates a situation where these two adults feared what their friends might think if they were constantly happy, well-rested, and at peace. It’s not what any of the other couples displayed, and they might either be chastised or resented for being themselves in public. They’re blessed, but their own inadequacy of another’s expectations drove them to what seems like a ludicrous choice to act, rather than to be.

As for Kate, we got back to her weight again this week in a big way, as she looks at her mother as the perfect specimen, who beyond her beauty also has “perfect pitch,” even when she’s just speaking. But, it’s less about Kate’s own insecurity in her own mind, and as a result she lashes out at Rebecca, who becomes the trouble source. She assumes her mother is disappointed in her, sees her as the little fat girl, and doesn’t even listen when mom tries to tell her she’s her daughter, and her “little bug.”

It’s about what she perceives to be her mother’s expectations, which she then can translate to everyone else’s thoughts on her. Then, no failure is hers alone. No criticism is fair anymore, because it’s origin is impure or unpleasant in spirit. It’s a way to avoid facing up to responsibility and taking charge of one’s own life. Kate Pearson is VERY good at it.

Also, there’s Miguel’s pigs in a blanket, which Kate is upset about, because Toby making those makes her feel like her mom will think all they do is “stuff our faces.” Good gracious, woman. Stop living your life like you’re a character in someone else’s novel and pick up the typewriter yourself. Write it, don’t read someone else’s script.

Yes, I’m aware that typewriter line was a John Mulaney style old-fashioned sentence. Next, I’ll be talking about playing with a barrel of monkeys outside the malt shop. But I digress…

Kate, who took a step in the right direction last week after being told she wasn’t good enough on ability, not appearance, reverted to a relatively unlikable figure this week. Contrasting her was Toby, who in one of his best scenes to date, speaks of being “Team Kate, forever.” As he refused to jump into the mix with Rebecca after Kate walked out of the bar, I immediately wrote in my notes the following sentence:

My guess is at that moment, Rebecca just became Toby’s biggest fan.

Seconds later, when the trio got into the car, she made me look like a genius. Not that it was difficult to see. If there’s one thing Rebecca cares about more than anything, it’s family. When Toby stood his ground and said that he would forever be on the side of his wife-to-be, he won the matriarch of the series over for life. It was a strong moment. Also, it was Toby thwarting any semblance of inadequacy coming his way.

He told her he wanted her to like him, badly in fact, but then said he has to make sure she understands where he’ll be on every single issue. That’s the most assertive move anyone has made to this point in the season, and one of the strongest plays a character has made at any stage of the series.

(Photo by: Ron Batzdorff/NBC)

Then there’s Kevin, who nearly detonates upon learning Casey, director and showrunner of The Manny, has made alterations to the final scene of the special return episode. As soon as we hear the attendant inform him, we know it’s going to be bad, and likely embarrassing. It comes after Kevin and Sophie are on set reciting the rant from the pilot. Casey was listening, and he’s unhappy that his former leading man is making light of an uncomfortable past.

But, what was it that took Kevin away from The Manny in the first place? He didn’t think anyone was taking him seriously as an actor, because he was known for corny shirtless jokes. When he compares his return to George Clooney on ER, he shows just how insecure he truly is, and he should have thought of how far Clooney came not from the drama series, but from the sitcom on which he began. Lest we forget The Facts of Life? Kevin’s coming off a successful play and working in a Ron Howard movie, yet he’s still not sure anyone thinks he’s any good.

There’s the key, because in the past, it’s largely been about HIM not thinking he’s any good, then diffusing that reality into the heads of his audience. Figuratively, consider the old “picture them in their underwear” adage you hear before you perform in front of a crowd. Now flip it on its head, and you have Kevin, who literally wears a diaper and crawls around on the floor searching for the missing baby. The audience stares at him in what amounts to briefs, and he then can make himself believe it’s destroyed what he’s trying to build.

However, just as Toby did with Rebecca and Kate, Sophie does what’s necessary for him to stop thinking and just BE. “Clooney it.” Just go and own it, no matter how humiliating. Be a professional, show it doesn’t bother you, rise above, have fun with it, and remember you have both worth and talent. And, even though it’s tough for him, he does it, and gets thunderous laughter for that final scene. He didn’t like it, and when we see him in his dressing room afterward, he’s still fighting back negative emotions.

Even in the past, Jack Pearson hides his alcohol addiction from his family, and in the episode’s final sequence, we see him speak to the younger Kate. “I’m sorry. I never wanted to disappoint you, but I have to be honest with you guys, because I need you guys. And, in the hour’s most emotionally resonant moment, the young girl places both palms on her father’s cheeks, as he had done for all of them in the past when anxiety took over, and then she hugged him as hard as she could.

If there’s a lesson to be taken from this episode in particular, it’s that far too often we fear the sword when we should instead prepare for the embrace. Expectations can make us do wonderful things and achieve on levels we never thought possible. But, they can also cause us to fear asking the perfect woman out (at least not without our brother on the line for support), they can cause us to bow out of a talent competition after hearing our mother belt out Lean on Me in the shower, and they can cause us to stay in our vicious self-spiral, when we need help.

Like Jack, we all have our vices, and the answer to our problems is almost never available without asking for it. Whether it’s God, family, or devoted friends, someone will always be there to answer that call. My own personal issue is one I continue to work on daily, as I’m sure yours is, but it’s not one I could tackle on my own. Others help me through it, as does my faith.

When Jack confided in Kate and was honest, expectations of a flawless father be damned, he took the real first step in winning the battle.

Punching a heavy bag might work out the frustration, but it doesn’t solve the issue. Unburdening oneself doesn’t come in a boxing gym, and it does’t come from a glass bottle, a flask, a pipe, or any other temporary mental alteration. Distraction isn’t a fix. By its very definition, it’s a means of looking the other way. Lasting change comes from within, but it also comes from nearby.

Randall and Beth are ready for the foster child by the end of the hour, because he’s willing to risk what’s comfortable, what’s expected, and what’s easily obtainable for a challenge, a growth experience, and something a little scary. Perhaps we all should do the same.

Whether it’s Alcoholics Anonymous, a new teenager in the house, an engagement, a new job (perhaps returning to an old one), or shaking the often false comfort of solitude after many failed heartbreaks, we’re better off when we strive, rather than when we settle. Believing that our daughter will hug us when we fall short is the essence of forgiveness, and it’s the essence of humanity.

Kate didn’t laugh at Jack. She loved him. It’s okay to give in and accept that some people do generally care for us, even when it feels improbable.

Because it’s not.

Though it took some stumbling around to get there, most of the familiars of This Is Us began to figure that out, not because of external expectation, but because of external love and respect.

And then there’s Kate, who yet again annoyed the crap out of me. But, the Landslide scene with the montage was beautifully done. The episode was strong, and it’s hard to imagine many dry eyes as Jack told his daughter he had a drinking problem. I know mine were soaked. I’m a man.

And, regardless of what I assume your expectations of a man to be…

…this man cries sometimes when he watches TV. And this man is good with that.

Deal with it.

I’m @JMartOutkick. I just Clooney’d the hell out of this thing.

Written by Jason Martin