This Is Us Season 1, Episode 10
Posted by Shannon
For the first full episode this season, the whole Pearson crew is on the east coast. And it is SO good to have everyone together. But before we can get the whole family under one roof, we get to spend some time focusing in on individual characters and exploring some dynamics that I for one have been itching to learn more about. The mid-season finale is built out of a series of stand-alone two-person scenes, and every single one is a doozy. So let’s take them one by one this week.
It’s good to see that the Pearsons hadn’t been planning on taking a trip to Grandma and Grandpa’s house after finally establishing their own Thanksgiving traditions, but unfortunately it doesn’t mean they’ve avoided an unexpected change of plans. Kate, complaining about stomach pain, lands in the hospital for appendicitis, and Christmas eve is suddenly relocated to the ER. It’s a pretty standard procedure but the family is understandably freaked out; Rebecca’s initial attempt at comforting Kate falls flat. (“It’s like having a tooth pulled?” The dentist would be an even worse place to spend a holiday, c’mon Rebecca.) Meanwhile, the boys are reacting in a perfect mirror to their adult counterparts. Randall hangs back, thoughtful and quietly worried, while Kevin simply won’t be moved from his sister’s side. He doesn’t go so far as kicking and screaming, but he follows along while she’s wheeled into surgery, far past the point he’s allowed.
For Randall, though, Dr. K represented something new and vital to his young life: an older man with some answers, someone who was there before his adoption, and even partially responsible for it. It’s not quite the answer that he’s been looking for, and he won’t fill the void of a biological parent, but he can help shine a light on how Randall got to where he is. So it’s no wonder that he immediately spends his Grandmother’s Christmas money on a gift for Dr. K, or that he’s the one who really bonds with the Doctor. We leave 1989 here for now, with Dr. K leaving yet another imprint on young Randall, instructing him to pass the same kindness Jack has shown on to someone else during his lifetime.
It’s only fair for Kevin to be thrown into the deep end with Sloane’s family after her time at the cabin, and their dynamic is just as delightfully relatable as the Pearsons. With a judgy, overly perfect sister and snarky mom, Sloane is the outlier in her family, and she plays right to type. She’s casually infuriated that her family found time to watch The Manny (or at least claimed to) while not showing up for her play, and throws barbs around at everyone in sight. Kevin’s just along for the ride, but then the lights go down and Sloane tells the story of Hanukkah to the kids. He can’t take his eyes off her. No one can; it’s no wonder her family insists she be the one to tell the story year after year. She’s funny and smart and dynamic, and you can see Kevin’s wheels turning the entire time. It’s the inspiration for Kevin’s best idea all season; he can put the money up for the play himself, with Sloane acting in Olivia’s old role. This is the most excited Kevin has been for the play hands-down, and frankly, it’s the most excited I’ve been too. Kevin and Sloane have a gorgeous chemistry, and they bounce off each other so much more naturally than he and Olivia ever did. Kevin radiates inspiration and affection when he’s around her, and all of a sudden I am VERY invested in both the success of their play and the inevitable transition from “fake relationship” to very very real and genuinely delightful relationship. Sloane brings out the same side to Kevin that Kate does; his eyes are brighter around her, his senses sharper. I just want to watch these two be adorable for a while.
Kate and Rebecca
This is the one I was waiting for. FINALLY, we get some time with Kate and Rebecca. It’s a mirror to their Christmas Eve spent in the hospital back in 1989, except this time, Rebecca is accompanying her daughter to the initial appointment to discuss Kate’s potential gastric bypass surgery. The risks here are legitimately horrifying; not only is the surgery intensive, but Kate’s quality of life going forward would shift. Her diet would need to be extreme, and the risks for not following Doctor’s orders to the letter are dramatic. Kate grits her teeth, no doubt knowing most of this before she went in, and still feels that the change will be worth it. But it’s all new for Rebecca, especially when the doctor moves on to the intake questionnaire.
The dynamic between a mother and her grown daughter is complex. Of course it varies dramatically from family to family, but so much of Kate and Rebecca’s tensions are deeply relatable. Living far away from her family and existing more or less as an island, Kate has been facing daily struggles for depression (trying to get treatment with prozac, but giving it up after it caused more weight gain) and wrestling with frequent bingeing. It’s horrifying to Rebecca, but to Kate, and to many grown women, it’s just life. Adult children who move that far away from home and aren’t terribly close with their parents wouldn’t jump on the phone to talk about untreated depression. It’s a natural distance, and it’s partially because of the reaction Kate knew Rebecca would have. Of course Rebecca would want to know the difficulties her daughter faces. But for Kate, the mental math of sharing this information just never added up.
Later, as she takes in the scale of what she doesn’t know about her daughter, Rebecca turns to Kate and simply asks “Did I do this to you?” There’s no answer to this question. There just isn’t. Kate is too early in her journey to know, and even if she did, it’s not Rebecca’s place to ask. Sure, Rebecca’s coming from a place of love and concern, and especially after she was faced with the implications of her lie to Randall, it’s understandable that Rebecca would want to know if she caused that much pain to yet another one of her kids. But Kate’s life isn’t about Rebecca’s guilt. All Kate wants is someone to support her decisions, to assure her that this is HER choice to make and hers alone. Rebecca, reminded of their time in the hospital all those years ago, finally hears what her daughter needs – simple, straightforward comforting. An assurance that she’s not alone. And so Rebecca tries as best she can to summon up some Christmas magic, to comfort her daughter when she needs it. And that alone can do wonders.
It’s been implied that William basically abandoned his own life when Randall came knocking, but it was just a matter of time until he had to go back and tie up some loose ends on his own. With his treatment causing more and more problems and his health faltering, William heads back to attend his old NA group to give a proper thank you. It’s the first time we really hear William talking about his time struggling with addiction, but his testimonial’s focus is more sweeping. If any single thing had ended differently, or if NA hadn’t been there for him to aid in recovery, then William’s life wouldn’t have brought him to where he always wanted to be: with Randall. Even a devastatingly abrupt timeline for that relationship can’t stop his gratitude at being given the chance to know his son. Joy and pain cannot be separated for William, not this year, and perhaps not ever.
Then it’s the next group member’s chance to speak. And what a devastating speech it is, too. The stranger had recently been abandoned, his love vanishing without warning, leaving no notice and no comfort for the stranger, who could only be left to think that his partner had relapsed, landed in jail, or any other horrific combination of the two. William’s face is in his hands for the entire speech: he looks pained, physically and emotionally, and can’t even bring his eyes up to the stranger when he approaches and offers William a cookie.
A few minutes into this exchange, it started to hit me. Jessie was so sweet, so affectionate even though he was clearly stung and truly hurt by William taking off and leaving no trace. And something about the way William genuinely could not bear to look at him felt so different. After all, William has NEVER looked away from Randall, or even from Rebecca when they were found out at Thanksgiving. This was something we’ve not seen before (and THREE CHEERS to Ron Cephas Jones for portraying that so flawlessly). The reveal that William and Jessie are in love was so perfectly quiet, so perfectly loving, so perfectly PERFECT. I am overwhelmed with joy for these two. And I really need a mystery cure for William.
For someone who loves his job so much, Randall’s office seems to be a pretty bizarre place. His boss insists that everyone spend Christmas Eve at an office holiday party, standing around while he gives out bonuses. (Gross.) Randall’s bonus this year must have been pretty solid, because the first we see of him, Beth is tracking him down to clarify if her husband has or has not purchased a boat from a coworker. He has. Beth, knowing that her husband spends money when he’s depressed, tries to get him to focus on the root of his emotional distress. But Randall’s not having it today. (“The little boy in you is still hurt.” “So I bought him a boat! You’re welcome, little boy.”) As delightful as this banter is, it’s all a setup for a much more intense sequence. She insists that Randall cancel the boat purchase, and Randall shuffles off find his coworker Andy.
Andy is found on a balcony, removing his watch and wedding ring. Randall knows IMMEDIATELY that something is very very wrong, and tries to get Andy to come back inside. Instead, he starts telling Randall about the turn his life has taken in the past year. After having an affair with Tina in payables, he has grown farther and farther away from his wife. He’s made bad choices at work, finalized risky investments, lost a lot of money for both himself and the business. It’s the result of a year of poor decisions and a lifetime of perfectionism, and Randall can see himself in the latter. There’s a lot wrapped up in perfectionism; not the least of which is the feeling that, if you stop for even a minute, everything will come crashing down. And Andy feels it has.
Randall tries everything he can to support Andy, and ultimately when Beth comes looking for him, Andy runs off, back into the party. This sequence was a lot, and honestly I’m not sure how I feel about it. Randall has already learned so much from his time with his biological father, and his own life has felt like it’s come crashing down as well. Sterling K. Brown, once again, makes the absolute best of the script and his performance is stunning. But I don’t know that we needed that manipulative of a sequence to give Randall the opportunity to speak on his journey thus far.
Colors of the Painting
- All Sloane’s mom wants is to show off the tape of her daughter’s high school performance of Guys and Dolls, and all Kevin wants to do is watch it. Have I mentioned how much I love those two together?
- An important notice to those of us who were VERY WORRIED about the fate of William’s cat, Clooney: he’s been cared for by William’s neighbor and is safe and sound back home. Thank GOD.
- “Maybe he had some daughters too, but we’ll never know, because welcome to history.”
- Miguel is finally racking up some endearing moments; first his Pilgrim Rick display last week, and this week, his devotion to successful Christmas decorations. Bless.
- I really love how important music is to the Pearsons; nine-year-old Kate was dead set on going caroling before her appendix burst, and Randall still gets the family to sing karaoke on Christmas Eve. The million dollar question is, what are the Pearson family go-to karaoke songs?
- Toby’s collapse brought an abrupt end to the holiday, but I just have to point out Randall’s face when his daughter schools him on the very obvious state of William and Jessie’s relationship. He is OVERJOYED, and I adore him.