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THIS IS US: SEASON 2, EPISODE 6: THE 20’S
But what they don’t tell you is babies come with the answers. They tell you who you are. You’ll see. Tomorrow you’ll have all the answers you need. – G. Singh
It’s Halloween in Pennsylvania, both in Jack’s era and in 2008, as Obama/Biden stickers, magnets, pins, and yard signs are all over the lives of Randall, Beth, and Kate. It’s used to show the time, which isn’t out of the ordinary, but it’s clear they were BIG supporters, because we saw at least four instances of it in the first ten minutes. It’s not wrong for the time though, as Obama fans in 2008 were as energetic as any in decades.
This is the first time we’ve spent no time in 2017, with the 2008 flashback being the closest to today during the hour. It played well, because even as corny as This Is Us can get, this was a strong episode, following one that was lacking and felt overly artificial. From the open through the final sequence that occurred as Bill Fay’s 2012 cover of Wilco’s “Jesus, Etc” played, this was an hour that nailed what the show is all about at its best.
We got more background on the adult lives of the three children, as we found out about Kevin’s struggles as an actor, Kate thinking a quick tryst with a married man might feel good, and Randall and his wife worried about another breakdown the day before Beth’s inducement date. At the same time, Rebecca is preparing to become a grandmother and misses her husband more than ever.
In the even more distant past, Jack and Rebecca argue over the former coddling Kate and giving in to her every wish, while the latter fawns over Randall and doesn’t ever tell him no. Neither of these two seems to ever use that word with that respective child, and it’s not representative of the real world. It’s preparing them not to understand what will happen in their 20s and early 30s when they’re constantly told no.
It’s a powerful word. No is a word some are afraid to use, but don’t realize they’re just making things worse sitting on the fence. Concrete words provide closure, discipline, structure, and set limits, while encouraging personal responsibility. As Rebecca finally tells Randall they should improvise on his Haloween trick or treat map, he stalks off in a huff. But it had to happen.
Kevin hands his candy to uber-popular Billy Palmer as payment for holding his sister’s hand inside the Haunted House. It was a nice gesture, but Jack knows it means she’s still not experiencing the hurt that comes with rejection or simple honesty. When you aren’t told no while you’re young, you can’t take it when you’re older. And, it can extend from others to an internal yes man.
Think about Kate’s choice to figure out her new man is married, but still go with the decision to sleep with him, because she’s “tired of waiting for things to feel right.” The reason things feel right…is because they often are right. Temporary fixes are just that, and often they lead to amazingly stressful thoughts of guilt and shame. When you go to that pill bottle, that liquor store, that website, or whatever it might be for you, there’s a piece inside of you that you have to shut off in those moments.
You tell your soul to quiet down, so that you can do you and treat yourself, not realizing you’re cheating yourself out of the genuine article waiting down the road. Apply the same logic to Kevin, desperate for his acting career to take off, choosing to trash the name of his roommate and good friend to a Hollywood director in hopes of supplanting him for the role in a Christian Bale movie.
Brett calls him out, telling him no in the most authoritative and “you screwed up” manner possible. “But what I never figured you for was this. A guy who would steal his friend’s part. You will never work for me buddy. Not in a movie. Not even carrying a tray.” Again, that was a quick fix in Kevin’s mind, and was in effect no different than sleeping with a married man for the fleeting pleasure of it, regardless of who else it hurt.
The scene of the episode was in the hardware store, however, as once again we were treated to the brilliance of Sterling K. Brown as a performer. The writing here was very good, but listening to Randall pour out his heart to G. Singh, who listens, and then actually delivers legitimate advice, was terrific drama. It was pitch perfect in execution, and for it to culminate in Rebecca’s phone call that Beth was in labor couldn’t have been better.
The way the final 20 minutes tied together was classic This Is Us, with Rebecca talking to Randall in the hospital for the first time as his mother and then talking to Tess for the first time as her grandmother. Even though we see young Randall ask about Kyle and what the other family told him, his mom handles it well. She wished Jack could have been there during that moment, just as she misses him terribly as she, Beth, and Randall bring Tess into the world together in that living room.
Kevin and Kate are struggling in their 20’s, and confide in one another in Randall’s kitchen. Kate’s hurting, made a mistake, and Kevin hasn’t had an audition in nearly a year. Kevin confronts her with her insistence on pounding fast food in her car while staring at the old house, saying her dad wouldn’t have wanted that for her if nothing was there. He’d have wanted EVERYTHING for her. “For you too.”
There, Kevin jokes maybe he’ll take an acting class or join one of the lame Improv troupes, which leads Kate to say she thinks he’d be great. “I’m probably pretty funny,” he replies, and a few minutes later, we see him on stage at a club doing Improv work. It’s likely what led to The Manny, and shows what happens when you take a no, stop cutting corners in life, and actually go for what you want.
Finally, there’s 2008 Rebecca, now on Facebook thanks to Beth, viewing a message from Miguel Rivas. The two haven’t spoken in over eight years, and he found her on there, asks how she is. She first writes “I’m hanging in,” then erases it and says “I’m good. How are you.” She told Tess moments before in the hospital, “Maybe we’re both at our next beginning.”
It wasn’t a “twist,” but it was another reveal, and this episode was filled with explanations for how and why our characters are where they are. Randall got his answers, just as Singh said he would, and he was beyond strong for his wife in her biggest moment of need. His fears weren’t realized, and he was everything he had to be and more.
This was a return to form for This Is Us, which has been uneven during Season 2, and hasn’t had the consistent pull of its predecessor.
THIS IS US: SEASON 2, EPISODE 7: THE MOST DISAPPOINTED MAN
Interesting hour tonight as we took a look at the difficulty Jack and Rebecca had in adopting Randall, due to a judge (Delroy Lindo) that believed the boy should be in a black home and that white parents were unfit to prepare him for what he would face in a racist society. That wasn’t the entire story of course, and in fact, if anything congruent emanated from the episode, it was in one trying to decide what’s best for another.
Think of Kate and Toby and their marriage scenario, which led to Toby finally getting down on one knee and offering his fiance the big wedding, rather than the courthouse job that wasn’t worthy of someone he loved. He was initially afraid to tell his Catholic mother he was having a child out of wedlock, but gave in and manned up in order to take all pressure off Kate. She went to the “what’s best” place and thought that would simplify things, but didn’t realize her husband-to-be was more concerned about her happiness than anything else.
Judge Bradley wants Randall with a black family, because Jack and Rebecca can’t prepare him for a prejudiced life. Here, he thinks he knows best what that boy needs, without any care for whether or not the Pearsons were good people. It wasn’t until Rebecca wrote the letter and sent one of the adoption announcement photos that he recused himself and brought in another judge, who ruled in their favor. He was stubborn until the end, still unable to approve it himself, but removing himself as an obstacle, and he did that begrudgingly. Lindo was very good here, but the character was a little too “TV” for my taste, which is a usual This Is Us critique.
2017’s Randall knows what’s best for Deja, or so he thinks. The most effective part of the hour was definitely his realization that her birth mother might deserve the chance his birth father received. We see in flashback format the judge that could have thrown William Hill in jail, but instead took a chance on him, telling him “to picture my old, ugly mug” when any further street amd drug temptations took hold.
I couldn’t help but think to spirituality and to Christ in this moment, as the judge offered his own version of grace and forgiveness to Hill, asking only that he rely on a vision of that gift when times were toughest. For William, he successfully tried to keep that promise. He finally had a way to attack his addictions from a position of offense, rather than defense.
At the moment William was about to truly give in to the needle, he pictured the judge and still couldn’t stop himself, but then came at the knock at the door that forced him to bag up the trouble and put it in the drawer. The blessing on the other side was his son, Randall, who had finally tracked him down. It was the scene we saw from early in the first season, and it had full context by this point, and was thus far more powerful. The arrival of the son replaced that bag, and as we know, he didn’t slip back into that life again.
Kevin’s storyline has become really obnoxious, as the character has gone dark, but in a very annoying way, and is self-destructing at record pace. Worse, we’ve seen this very thing done so many times on television of all quality, and none of this feels original. He flies to New York to break up with Sophie because he can’t be what she needs (again here he thinks he knows what’s best for her, and for now, he’s right), Kate wonders if he’s “a little off,” and he’s chasing pills with beer in the morning. Honestly, this is just dumb. It’s relative to Jack in some ways, but that story was executed far better than this one has been thus far.
The Randall, Beth, Deja angle was the episode’s high point, as it correlated to William’s history as well as the adoption and the overall theme of the episode. In the end, Randall figures out the William in the birth mother, and provides her an opportunity to stay in Deja’s life while incarcerated. All it took was that sit down at the jail, days after the same woman had declined to see her daughter because she had been assaulted and didn’t want Deja to see her in that condition. It was in that chat with her that Randall understood her situation, and decided it would be better to play William’s judge than Jack and Kate’s first during the adoption hearing.
Notice Beth still doesn’t like this at all, and she stated earlier the woman would have no communication or part in Deja’s life. Here, her feelings are warranted, but Randall’s compassion is important. It also backs the idea of playing from a position of offense, not to mention offering a second chance to someone asking for it in a condition of genuine regret and longing. William was “the most disappointed man in the world,” but the judge responsible for writing horrible stories calls himself a close second.
The concept of a different ending for William’s story becomes Randall’s hope given to Deja’s mother, and it’s also smart in that keeping her on their side could create less conflict down the road if it came to a custody fight. I don’t think he considered it from that perspective, but it’s definitely a portion of the truth.
I loved the William Hill portion of the episode, despised the Kevin content, and generally was fine with the rest. All in all, an average episode of This Is Us with one story that helped it mightily.
But they have to get this Kevin thing on a better path. Right now it’s terrible.
I’m @JMartOutkick. Don’t you dare say I’m here by choice.
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