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THIS IS US: SEASON 2, EPISODE 4: STILL THERE
My mom believes, still believes, that how you present yourself on the outside reflects how you feel on the inside. – Beth
“Still There” is an interesting title for the episode, because although I don’t think the writers intended it as such, I found myself applying those two words to every character and every situation within the hour…
…and it wasn’t all that difficult.
Kevin’s knee, what it cost him, and what he BELIEVES it may have changed about his life is “still there.” He looks back to his football days, and thus he considers a promising career tragically cut short. Whether that’s accurate or not isn’t really important, because it’s what he thinks of himself that matters, not whether he was actually good enough to succeed on the college or NFL level. Many parents say the kinds of things Jack said in the stands, many get recruited, and then end up never seeing the field on the post-prep stage.
But, having that knee to blame for his woes, or for unforeseen shifts, enables Kevin to avoid personal responsibility for the past, and drives him to rehabilitation and potential pill addiction.
Rebecca’s mother grew up in a different time, and while she’s not willing to fully admit to it, her prejudices and negative nature are both “still there.” Although the “racist” term is thrown out far too often in our culture, in this instance, the way she treated young Randall indicates she’s oblivious to her own unfortunate feelings. She gives him a basketball, says he’s probably a natural, and doesn’t even realize she’s given him three such hoops implements already in his childhood. She finds it hilarious that of the Pearson children, it’s that one that ends up in a private school. That was cringe worthy to be sure.
She doesn’t blame anyone, but she doesn’t take ownership until the final sequence, where she attempts redemption and healing by taking note of Randall’s brilliance as he gets his experiment to work. One thing This Is Us does very well is reminding the audience that hope and personal growth are always available, provided we seek them out.
Deja’s past is “still there,” but in a different way from Bec’s mama. While we should always be looking forward, trying to improve, we’re often composed of what’s already happened in our lives. “The past is prologue” is empowering, but I still think of my first college girlfriend from time to time, and I remember the mistakes I made during that time. I still recall the dumb things I did, the disrespect I showed, and the events I wish I could take back, often more readily than the good times.
For Deja, her life has been difficult, and the hardships have led to increased effects from alopecia through various stressors. She also immediately starts packing after the bowling alley incident, because that’s what she’s been conditioned to think is her future. When she shoves someone or acts out, she’s booted to the curb. Her pain is “still there.” Her hair issues are “still there.” Her fears are “still there.” Her aggressiveness is “still there.” It’s all a part of her, and it takes time to overcome deep emotional problems.
It bears mentioning that the star of this week’s episode was undoubtedly Susan Kelechi Watson. Beth was the key factor to the “present” side of the hour, and it was a wonderful performance that conveyed compassion and a bit of impatience all in one. I would argue that Beth, other than Randall, is the most consistent character on the “now” portion, with Jack being most instrumental to the “then” angle. But Susan was outstanding tonight.
And yes, Kate’s weight is “still there.” She’s working hard, she’s staring a hole through a healthy muffin, but then looking towards her goal dress. Since she was a child, she’s always had those problems. She looked at her gorgeous mother, and she heard from her backhanded compliment and bad advice-wielding grandmother about a Little Mermaid costume she could strive to fit into one day. If we’ve seen anything on This Is Us, it’s that Kate determines everything in the context of what the scale tells her.
However, we also arrived at a new place. “Still There” as a title came from Kate’s conversation with her doctor, as we find out in the episode’s final seconds that she’s pregnant. Her health choices are for more than just the upcoming performance, as she wants to have this child and she wants to do all she can to facilitate not losing the baby. Her weight and her diet, her lack of exercise, all could cause problems. So, rather than tell Toby, she’s now six weeks pregnant and quietly trying to prepare herself for it.
Toby’s irritation and frustration in Kate not seeing herself in the manner he sees her is also “still there.” He’s almost too positive, except when he flips the switch and starts to complain about HER complaints about herself. One thing he doesn’t handle well is the idea that sometimes in this world, people just need others to listen, not to make them feel better. Kate doesn’t need to be fixed. Kate needs to be heard. He’s done better with that as of late, but he wants her to see him as the radiant, awesome woman he’s set to marry, and she wants him to understand who she wants to be.
It’s not always ideal for someone to tell you how great you are, when things are spiraling out of control. Life is crazy, people do ridiculous things, and our minds play worse tricks on us and harm us more than any bully, any enemy, or any natural disaster ever could. He would be well to learn to stay quiet and just offer his shoulder for her, rather than imparting perceived wisdom on his bride-to-be.
What else is “still there? In this show, both the love and the conflict are both always knocking on the same door, jockeying for position. Jack and Kevin using the shovels, despite being sick, to find a way to get Rebecca’s mother out of the house, was love for their family, love for Bec herself, and even though it wasn’t exactly nice to grandma, she earned the treatment.
Jack’s love for his wife and children is stronger than anyone else’s on This Is Us, and that’s why he’s the one that had to die. It’s easier for the series to display him in a sympathetic fashion, because all the memories we see as flashbacks give us a picture of a man that tries his best, even when he falls short. He’s imperfect, but in a distinctly human, non-evil way. Because of how he’s written, he’s the one that had to go. Similarly, it’s why William had to pass away, because again, tugging at those heart strings is cake after we learn of his entire story and what a great guy he became.
Randall’s incessant need to find the perfect answer to every problem is also “still there,” as he reads parenting books, offers to take Deja on a run to relieve stress, and both suggests bowling, then second guesses it when it turns out to be a disaster. Luckily for him, his wife is also still there, because she’s the rock that grounds him. He may look to his brother and sister for support, but Beth’s actions and advice have almost always been the proper solutions. She’s the closest thing to William that still exists in his life, and though his time with his biological father was short, it has changed him for the better.
Someone wrote me last week and said they enjoy This Is Us, but sometimes feel the show is intentionally manipulative in the way it lays out and executes its twists. Here’s why the show feels that way, to anyone curious.
It’s because the show is intentionally manipulative in the way it lays out and executes its twists.
That’s why people are addicted to the show, it’s why it’s almost single-handedly rejuvenated NBC as a home for drama over the past 15 months, and it’s why we care about these characters. If everything were predictable, the effect would be diminished. The reason people can’t get enough of Shonda Rhimes on ABC is because anything can happen, and nothing is off limits. Eventually, it got to be too much for me, and once Olivia Pope’s father became a main feature of Scandal, I was done. But, for many, that’s when the show became even better.
This Is Us is still on solid ground, never floating too high, but it tugs on the heart of its audience in a very intentional fashion, and that’s why it’s a success. Inherently, we want to be manipulated by our entertainment. Sure, sometimes it’s good to escape, but often, the best fiction comes from the stories that pull us onto the page, onto the stage, or into the screen. This Is Us makes its viewers feel closer to the Pearson family, almost a fly on the wall situation, and it simply sucks us in, even when it gets cheesy or overwrought.
I’m @JMartOutkick. I’m the total package. I’m tough. Tough as hell.