This Is Us Season 1, Episode 11
“The Right Thing to Do”
Posted by Shannon
I have a theory about handling a crisis: it’s just as important to understand how you’ll react in the aftermath as it is when you’re in the midst of one. As the Pearsons watch the dust settle from their holiday season, every member of the family is navigating their own crisis or its aftermath. And every one of our primary players has to decide what doing the right thing means to them in this moment. This week, This Is Us lets us observe these characters as they react to their own individual crises, essentially taking each of their emotional temperatures and setting the stage for the second half of their first season.
It’s the early days of Rebecca’s pregnancy, and she’s nesting. Hard. The two are on the hunt for a new apartment, and Jack and Rebecca are both thrilled to find a sun-filled, two-bedroom, sixth floor walk up that feels a lot like home. At $200/month (insert modern New York apartment-dweller sounds of dismay here), it’s a stretch, but Jack puts down first, last, and security without a second thought. The timing is perfect; the couple is just about to find out the sex of their baby, and let Rebecca loose on full-scale apartment decorating, when Dr. Schneider comes out with the unexpected news. Not one baby, but three. Dr. Schneider knows that it’s a curveball, but his bedside manner leaves something to be desired, and the couple is shocked. (Was opening with the twins line supposed to ease them into it? Cause I feel like it didn’t.)
Back at their new apartment, Jack and Rebecca try to adjust to the news. I can’t imagine how intense this would be for both of them, but my heart broke especially for Rebecca. The last time we saw her talking about motherhood, it was at the Steelers bar, frustrated and confused and filled with anxiety at the prospect of changing life as she and Jack knew it. The couple had clearly come to a new place in their relationship and decided this together, but three kids? Right out of the gate? There must have been a voice in her head whispering that this wasn’t what she signed up for. To make matters worse, Rebecca has a lunch date with her mother set for the afternoon, and won’t have time to really process on her own before facing her mom.
We’ve known that Jack and Rebecca both have complicated relationships with their parents. But this week, the curtain is drawn back to show us just how bad things had been for them both. Jack’s father had been verbally and physically abusive to his mother (and likely to him as well), and as a teenager, he had often witnessed his father’s outbursts. At the beginning of this episode, we see a young Jack coming to his mother’s defense during one of those moments. His mother, sitting at the kitchen table while her teenage son comforted her, had asked for a promise: “Promise me you’ll never be like him.” I was completely floored by the mirror to Rebecca and Randall here. Randall’s mother had asked for a promise after a crisis, too: “Promise me you’ll always be good.” And while the circumstances of those oaths could not have been more different, both the Pearson men held fast to them, and we’ve seen both promises shape their lives as adults. For Jack, it’s meant doing anything and everything he can to support Rebecca and the kids: it’s meant overtime work, it’s meant shelving the dreams of his own construction company, it’s meant laying on the floor with Randall on his back doing push up after push up after push up. All of it has been in honor to the promise he made to his mother, and all of it has set himself at a distance from his father in every way possible.
Rebecca, growing up at the hands of a quieter form of emotional abuse, rife with passive aggressive, controlling, and demeaning barbs from her mother, knows that her familial relationship with wasn’t healthy either. This kind of struggle isn’t as cut and dry, and while she makes a cruel aside to Jack about how she knows his father was worse, he doesn’t take that to heart. Rebecca’s anxiety (and later on, her confusion at how to speak to her only daughter) is a clear line from the nightmare lunch she sits through the day she found out she was having triplets. Her mother orders for her at the restaurant (a diet soda, a salad without dressing), constantly degrades Jack, his profession, and his ability to support them, and nearly refuses to put out her cigarette when Rebecca asks. Every sentence is dripping with disdain and condescension, and Rebecca sits, tries to defend herself and her husband, and ultimately hears her mother’s suggestion when she admits that she doesn’t know what to do.
When Jack and Rebecca are back at home, Rebecca makes her mother’s suggestion to Jack: that the two move in with her parents after the triplets are born, save some money, and take advantage of the space at her old family home. It’s painfully clear what this would mean for Rebecca, and Jack doesn’t believe she’s even voicing this suggestion – but she doesn’t see any other way out. Rebecca feels trapped, and when Jack doesn’t see how dire her emotional state has really become, she promptly sends him out for ice cream. Once she’s alone, the effects of the day finally come crashing down around her. The triplets, the apartment, her mother, her desperation – all of it leaves Rebecca in their tiny kitchen, falling against the wall, sobbing. No part of her wants to let Jack hear her break down, but he does anyway, after forgetting his wallet and heading back into the apartment to get it. The loneliness that Rebecca was feeling here was palpable. Jack does everything right: knowing she wants to be left alone, he doesn’t go to her, and lets her believe he hasn’t heard the depths of her tears.
But of course he has. And now that Jack understands how trapped and desperate Rebecca is feeling, he has to take action, has to do the right thing. He takes a detour from the grocery store and arrives instead at his father’s front door, with his wedding ring safely hidden in his pocket. Jack is a blank wall during this conversation, and it’s devastating to watch. Jack sits there and listens while his father repeats many of the same lies about him that Rebecca’s mother had thrown at her during lunch. After his father prompts that he must need money for gambling debts, Jack grabs at the suggestion and leans in. There’s not a word about Rebecca, not a word about the expected triplets; Jack has kept his father as far away from his life as humanly possible, to keep them all safe. When the gambling lie isn’t quite enough, he repeats back his father’s insults, knowing that groveling and stroking his father’s ego is the only way forward. It’s brutal, but it works – he walks out with a check, slips his wedding ring back on his finger, and moves on.
He sells the car. Gets a loan. Goes back to his boss, who had already given him a 10% raise at the triplets announcement, and gets a solid deal on the money pit he’d been working on. It’s in shambles, but Jack has six months to pull the house together and nothing can stop him. By the time they welcome the Big Three, that construction disaster has become the Pearson family home we all know and love.
The big mid-season cliffhanger left Toby in the hospital, after he collapsed during the Pearson Christmas celebration. This week, the show doesn’t linger on his fate for very long; it’s mere moments before Kate is visiting Toby, alive and relatively well and snapping at everyone he can find. He had suffered an arrhythmia, and has been recovering in the hospital ever since. Hospital stays rarely bring out the best in people, but still, Toby is at his worst. He admits that he’s “cranky,” which seems like a pretty dramatic understatement considering his opening sentence to Kate is “That’s what I get for flying across the country to surprise you” and that he’s openly hostile to every doctor in sight. It’s clear that he’s scared, and that he’s trying to act like none of this is a very big deal. But it very much is, and he’s not out of the woods yet.
His doctor arrives to tell Toby the official cause of his arrhythmia – a small hole in his heart that, while it could be treated using medication alone, should be operated on as quickly as possible. Heart surgery is terrifying, and with the doctor suggesting they operate in the morning, the turnaround is quick. But Toby doesn’t intend to volunteer for a second procedure when he’s already had a stent put in. He stops mocking the doctor long enough to decline, but Kate is having none of it. She sees right through his fear and calls him out on it immediately. She does it “gently and quietly,” though, because Kate has no intention of upsetting him more than she needs to in order to make her point.
Kate’s talking to was short, but it was enough to prompt Toby into doing the right thing. Before we know it, he’s texted her “GET BACK HERE ASAP 911! *cryingface*” to make sure she’s informed before he goes into surgery. He’s in a panic, and it’s with genuine fear that he rattles off word associations faster than he can breathe. Kate is completely and totally there for him during his panic, not shaken by the preparations, and not even blinking when he says he’s in love with her for the first time. (I thought that would have been said during their Christmas reunion, but apparently not.)
Randall and Kevin are by her side immediately (and with what must have been no notice), their respective tales of woe at the ready to distract Kate from Toby’s surgery and profession of love. I was so thrilled to see them both there for her without any reservations; their time after the cabin dealing with Randall and Rebecca’s fallout seems to have really solidified their adult relationships. Kevin and Randall still have their moments, but their interactions don’t have the same tension or aggression that they have in the past, and Kate knows that she’s able to rely on them both to be there for her above all else. The Big Three, hot messes or no, clearly need each other.
After the time spent with her brothers, and with Toby safely out of surgery, Kate is feeling more centered. While he’s asleep, she returns his I love you, and goes even further, wondering if the two could spend their lives together. It’s gorgeous acting from Chrissy Metz; her delivery is quiet and a little rambling, in that thoughtful tone that people often settle into when they’re talking something out. It’s not a conversation, though; it’s Kate coming to terms with her feelings, and to me, it read like a deeply private moment. But it was very much not; Toby was awake the whole time. The two end the episode with an informal engagement.
Kevin and Sloane are living their best “artnership.” The pair are acting by day, crashing Randall and Beth’s by night, and generally gallivanting around town having a delightful time. They even get the play’s original director to admit that they’ve got great chemistry on stage. Kevin’s plan to self-produce the play seems to be going off without a hitch. So naturally, it’s time for Olivia to show up at the theatre, complete with a new blonde villain bob. She has no doubt that she’ll be recast in the play (and the previously won-over director is quick to declare that they would have been dead without her), but Olivia knows that getting Kevin to give her another chance will be the harder ask.
Olivia is quick to promise that, thanks to Kevin’s speech back at the cabin, she’s changed: she’s found true authenticity, and is ready for them to have a real relationship. (The fact that she still thinks being inauthentic is worse than being cruel means she clearly hasn’t changed, but okay.) The timing is particularly nasty for Sloane, who had just admitted to Kevin that she “can’t totally process why someone like you would sleep with me.” Kevin shuts that down, and quick. He can’t understand why Sloane would be confused at his attraction to her when she’s smart, talented, funny, and sweet. They’re having fun, in the best sense of the phrase; they genuinely like each other, have a real attraction, and seem to be moving at a healthy pace. Even though she mutters that “every feminist bone in my body will stop talking to me,” Sloane is still comfortable enough to bring up her feelings to Kevin directly, and he’s comfortable enough to open his family up to her, and to trust her completely during a massive turning point in his career.
His relationship with Sloane is easily the healthiest romantic connection Kevin has found, and I believe he knows that. He’s attracted to Olivia physically, but not a single aspect of her personality is appealing to him. So when it’s time for Kevin to make the call on both the casting and the relationship, he makes the right one. He can trust Sloane, she hasn’t abandoned him professionally, and as the producer, the final casting is his call. And he knows that Sloane is the healthier romantic choice for him as well. But of course, he slips in one truly wrong sentence, and while Olivia doesn’t pick up on its implications (or doesn’t care), Sloane overhears.
The worst part of this is that I don’t actually think he means what he’s saying. I don’t believe that he “doesn’t want” to be with Sloane. I DO believe that, while he’s desperate to be taken seriously, he doesn’t want the responsibility of being an adult in all aspects of his life all at once. Why else wouldn’t he have moved out of Randall’s home by now? Kevin is clinging to his id, to the ability to do whatever he wants, whenever he wants. He is growing out of his past behavior, but he’s also sad to see it go, and he’s sad to take on the responsibilities all of that entails. It’s time, and he knows it, but he doesn’t quite want to do it. Olivia represents his id in a way that Sloane doesn’t, and that’s what he’s really talking about here.
But of course Sloane doesn’t know that, and honestly even if she did, it wouldn’t (and shouldn’t) matter. He’s misspoken in a horrible way that cuts right to her core, and I just hope he’s come far enough along to make it up to her and not go running back to Olivia.
After William and Jessie’s appearance at Christmas, Randall is deep in the emotional weeds, trying to come to terms with the existence of his father’s partner. It’s an adjustment, and Randall being Randall, he’s so concerned with the possibility that his awkwardness is due to latent homophobia that he completely misses the real cause of his emotional discomfort. It doesn’t help that Kevin is continuing in his tradition of being the worst version of himself around William. He’s dismissive of William’s sexuality, switching out bisexuality for being “only half gay” and again, is firmly put in his place by William acting as the moral voice of reason. (I almost wish that Kevin’s poor behavior around William was due to some jealousy at Randall having another father figure, but I don’t think that’s where Kevin’s coming from. At least that would be an excuse within the story for his distasteful “jokes.”)
Beth, of course, sees right through Randall’s concerns. He’s not homophobic; he’s uncomfortable at the late reveal that William has had a partner at ALL this whole time, and without telling Randall about it once. Randall thought he was getting to know William, and all of a sudden there’s a whole section of his present-day life that he hadn’t shared. While an unknown romantic partner doesn’t dismiss their growth, it must make Randall wonder what other secrets his biological father has been keeping. (Especially after Rebecca pulled the rug out from under him at Thanksgiving.) Beth suggests that Randall try to take some time to speak to Jessie, and get to know him a little.
It’s fitting for Beth to joke that meeting Jessie will be good practice for when the girls bring home dates, because that is exactly what their little back and forth feels like. Randall stumbles all over himself, offering Jessie fancy Japanese whiskey, only to take it back when he remembers that Jessie is in recovery, and he even falls for the tinder meet-cute for a solid minute. William comes to their rescue and the two dash off for the night, leaving Randall in a haze when William is noncommittal about when he’ll come home.
Not only is Randall feeling a little misled, he’s simply sad to see William spending time with someone else, and with no real warning. Randall’s jealous, and knows that his time with William is limited already. He can’t bear the thought that William would be spending time away from him right now, even though he knows William has every right to a romantic relationship. By the time William comes home, Randall has come to terms with his real feelings, and sits William down to talk about it.
William immediately hears Randall’s fears for what they are, and openly discusses why he and Jessie have been spending so much time alone. William has been making plans for his passing. Jessie, who’s had more experience handling sickness and end of life care, has been taking him to state-funded nursing homes and caring for William while his illness enters a new stage. It’s all been an effort to keep the burden of his death away from Randall and his family. And again, Randall proves that he will take on more than he can bear without a second thought. Insisting that “you live in this home and if it comes to that, you’ll die in it,” Randall comforts his father through his own tears, asking if he wants to stop the chemo. Ultimately, it’s exactly what Beth knew would happen. Randall will do everything for his family and more, just like Jack. They could never live with themselves if they did any less.
Colors of the Painting
- I understand the reasons, but I do want to point out that Jack seems to have a bad habit of making huge financial decisions without consulting Rebecca.
- “Why is that a problem?” “I dunno.” and “It’s a big, gay curveball” are tied for Sterling K. Brown’s best reactions of the episode. I can’t pick one, don’t make me.
- Olivia’s search for authenticity brought her to the following experiences: doing ayahuasca with a shaman in the salt flats of Utah, howling at the moon with the prairie coyotes of Kansas, and fishing with the lobstermen of Maine. It also brought me to the experience of rolling my eyes completely into the back of my head.
- As always, even William and Beth’s smallest scenes together are a gift, especially when they’re united in their efforts to poke fun at Kevin.
- I’ll just leave this here.
What were your thoughts on the return of This Is Us? Let us know in the comments!