This Is Us Season 1, Episode 4
Posted by Shannon
I was never one for public pools as a kid. Maybe it’s just because I was already a serious introvert who preferred to stay inside and read all day – plus, being an only child meant there weren’t any siblings around to drag me out of my comfort zone. The public pool that acts as our main focal point this week certainly didn’t do much to change my opinion. It’s rife with chair stealing and checked-out lifeguards, a place where all your deepest childhood insecurities are laid out for all to see and take advantage of. (You don’t have to worry about any of this when your summer hideaway is a movie theater. Rebecca knows what’s up.) But it does give us a perfect place to explore the childhoods of our Big Three and their adult counterparts, who are still wrestling with the dynamics they faced one sultry summer day.
It’s the middle of the summer, and Jack and Rebecca’s air conditioner is on the fritz. Jack, who has just made his promise to Rebecca to quit drinking and turn his parenting score up to 11, decides to go big right out of the gate. While his renewed focus on being the best possible father and husband doesn’t extend to his air conditioner repair abilities, it does mean he has a grand scheme for a mini-vacation by the pool. Preparations include a beer-free cooler, the book Rebecca has been trying to finish for two years, and a fantastically 80’s “Florida Surf’s Up” alligator shirt. The kids are set to go with minimal drama – Kevin isn’t crazy about Randall’s location preferences, but he’s outvoted, and his sister is just itching for the opportunity to show off her new Care Bear Bikini. (GIRL. I want one.) They’re off to the pool in no time.
Knowing the crowds and general disarray that awaits them, Rebecca is wary from the get go, but she’s happy to let Jack try to be the perfect father for an afternoon. While he’s four short of the promised five pool chairs, Jack snags one to act as a family base and the kids are let loose. From here, things take a turn pretty quickly for everyone. Kate’s school friends immediately laugh at her outfit and pass an outrageously cruel note to her, Randall slips away to join the black families located way too far from his parent’s sightline, and Kevin ends up in danger after he takes a despondent swim over to the deep end of the pool. Each of the children’s actions have a clear line to the their adult lives, but the way Jack and Rebecca handle the crises is so telling.
For his part, Jack completely proves what Rebecca told him during their confrontation; when he’s paying attention, when he’s truly acting as the best father he can be, he’s an absolute dream. We see that on display right out of the gate, when Kevin storms back to his parents to confront them after they don’t notice that he nearly got lost in the deep end. Jack immediately jumps to Kevin, calms him down, and gives him a short but gorgeous apology. Hearing a parent admit that they made a mistake is incredibly powerful no matter what the age, and while Kevin’s eyes take a while to really calm down, Jack leaves no room for doubt about his regrets and promises to do better. You can’t ask for a better apology than this.
Rebecca’s embarrassment at Yvette confronting her came out as aggression, and her response towards Yvette was painfully misguided at best, casual racism at worst. It’s clear that Jack and Rebecca have been out in the cold on this one, keeping their heads down. Worse than that, Yvette points out that they haven’t even bothered to introduce themselves to any of the few black families in the neighborhood. This is EXACTLY what gave me pause when Rebecca was so quick to dismiss William’s desire to check in on Randall from time to time. While her initial bonding with the babies was absolutely vital, William would have been able to offer her and Jack a sounding board on small but important things like razor burn, and vitally, it would have given Randall a black man to identify with in his young life. Instead, they were trying to raise a black child in a vacuum, with no one to talk to but themselves. Of course, it’s likely she wouldn’t have been able to hear William’s advice for what it was, but I can’t help feeling like while it would have been a challenge for Rebecca, it would have been better for Randall.
With all three kids calmed, Jack and Rebecca get a few moments to themselves. Rebecca finally makes it to the last page of Misery, and Jack naps with the kids piled on top of him. For now, they all find some peace and quiet, safe in each other’s arms.
William heads out for his walk while Randall tries to collect himself, half-heartedly chat with Kevin, and get everyone out the door. The morning really goes off the rails, though, when William is confronted by the neighborhood security guard, who had been called to the scene with reports of a man “loitering.” My blood boiled for the entire scene; the white neighbors, scared of an unknown black man taking a peaceful walk, make an awkward appearance to apologize to Randall (not to William, note), and Randall quickly and quietly makes peace with everyone around him. William and Randall exchange a few glances after the apology, and while William is clearly insulted, he acquiesces and lets Randall handle the situation.
I actually don’t think that William had any real animosity against Randall here, but that’s not the point, and William knows it. He can see Randall’s anger for what it is. It’s the rage of a kid who was left as the only child of color in a lily-white neighborhood, left to assume that his family was dead or otherwise lost, who has suddenly learned that he had a father out there in the world. One who was healthy and able-bodied during his childhood, who had no real “excuse” – but just wasn’t there. It’s so telling that when William confronts him at the end of the episode, it’s with the words “I’ve offended you somehow.” He starts off assuring Randall that while he’s in no place to judge him, “If I was judging you, you’d be getting a very high score.” Randall, who has finally caught on to his own feelings, clarifies the timeline and explains that the little score marks in the notebook he carried around as a child were to count every new black person he met.
Kevin hasn’t wasted any time after landing in New York, and already has an audition for a serious play lined up to hit the ground running. But, like so many of us in our early New Yorker days, he miscalculates the length of his train ride, and arrives at the theatre late. As far his scene partner Olivia Main is concerned, his role has already belongs to “Daniel” – and that’s before Kevin rolls in late and condescends to everyone in the room, insulting the playwright and launching into an ill-advised speech about how he’s “in it for the right reasons.” Kevin’s intentions are sincere, but he’s dramatically out of his depth, and that audition scene is downright painful.
Even a phone call to Kate (who was, to be fair, distracted with her own issues) doesn’t center him, and when he runs into Olivia on the street, he’s even more discombobulated than he was in the audition room. Even though Kevin knows the disastrous audition was on him, he can’t quite take full responsibility, and jabs that she “didn’t exactly do anything to help.” He’s not wrong; she clearly had the part cast in her mind already and didn’t do anything to make him feel welcome, but that also wasn’t her job. Olivia’s advice to him at the bar was sound – go back to where he’s comfortable, get some formal theater training, do this the right way – but casting directors know the Manny will sell tickets, and so Kevin lands his first stage acting gig.
Kevin has clearly made a habit out of this behavior – he regularly expects everyone around him to accommodate him immediately. Childhood Kevin has the same ticks – he’s a sensitive enough kid to see when his siblings are suffering, but so far, their suffering hasn’t been enough for him to seem like he really cares all that much about it.
Now that Kate’s newly unemployed, she spends the day having lunch with Toby and kicking around town. But things take a hard left when they run into Toby’s ex wife Josie; she and Toby exchange the traditional awkward ex hug, and he doesn’t offer up much detail about her. This is an uncomfortable moment in the best of circumstances, and Toby is clearly shaken, but Kate is flat-out triggered; Josie is a classic LA skinny girl, and Kate shuts down immediately.
In a flash, Kate calls Kevin and falls into a pit of Facebook stalking. Kevin tries to talk her down, but even though he knows trouble is just a few more clicks down the line, declaring that he “did not leave you in LA to self-sabotage,” he’s so distracted that the effort is half-hearted. The twins rely on each other for so much, especially to keep each other in check during emotional judgement-call moments (just remember how quickly Kevin fell into bed with his ex when Kate wasn’t there to answer his call last week) but as soon as they’re not face to face, things start to fall apart. Armed with the power of the internet, and with no one to stop her, Kate takes off for Josie’s boutique.
Once there, Kate interviews for a job she didn’t know was open, and passes her internet stalking off as research – before she knows it, she’s got the job, and the regret sets in immediately. She arrives at Toby’s door to explain the situation, and I have to say, she’s remarkably cavalier about the position she’s put him in. I haven’t been Toby’s biggest fan, but Kate’s SO eager to believe that Josie was clearly a wonderful person and that, as a result, she must have been a wonderful partner. It’s a total leap in logic, but one that is all too familiar for those of us with self-confidence issues. She doesn’t take a step back to think about what might have ended their relationship. Instead, she sees her own faults and insecurities, and desperately tries to place them against the version of Josie at the boutique.
My heart broke for Toby even before he began opening up about the mistreatment he withstood at Josie’s hands. He underlines Kate’s self doubt immediately, asking why she’s so willing to hear compliments from Josie, but not from him. It’s a vital question, but it’s also one that can’t really be answered, especially not by Kate herself. Self esteem issues can pop up in weird, unexpected ways, and while Toby knows that, he also knows that it takes real work to confront those problems and to come out the other side. And so far, Kate has been focused on the outward representation of her self-confidence issues rather than the inner workings of her emotional life. It’s a hard road, but it certainly doesn’t get any easier when you ignore it, and Toby makes it clear that, as angry as he is, he’ll be there while she’s doing the work.
- Eight year old Randall solved Kevin’s rubix cube in seconds. The kid is SMART, and I wonder if this is the crux of Kevin’s oft-mentioned, not-yet-explained childhood jealousy.
- Randall’s neighbor apparently collects owls, and if I wasn’t so angry with her for calling the security guard on William, I’d want to see that collection. Are they just any artistic representation of an owl? Are they all one medium? WHAT IF THEY’RE REAL OWLS, GUYS.
- I held my breath the entire time Kevin swam out to the deep end, and I was horrified when his little kid feet couldn’t touch the ground, but …. “Where’s Kevin? OH, guess what, he’s DEAD.” made me laugh every time.
- Tess is listed in her school program with the last name Pearson. Ladies and gentlemen, we finally have a last name!
- “Was that the Manny? I LOVE that show.” WILLIAM. MY HEART.
- “I want you to say it out loud. Daddy, I will never go to Daytona Beach.”
What are your thoughts on “The Pool”? Let us know in the comments.