This Is Us Season 2, Episode 5
Posted by Shannon
The Pearson family has a few calling cards. Steelers fandom, a knack for performance, and an attachment to unique traditions all signify their familial bond. But they also share a deeper, more problematic trait; the all-too-common impulse to ignore what they’re feeling, to bury their anxieties down within their psyches, cover them up with addiction, or hide their worst memories away in the attic. This week, Jack, Kate, and Kevin alike all find themselves ignoring something they ought not ignore – painful pasts, frightening futures, and rampaging addiction. Randall, ever the outlier, is the only one who lets himself truly FEEL something – now that the constant distraction of his office job is at an end. I, for one, would like to take up a collection to get each and every one of them into therapy. But in lieu of that, there’s always camping.
Jack and Rebecca
While we’ve yet to see a particularly great time in the relationship of young Randall and Kevin, “Brothers” takes us back to one of their most challenging years. With Randall at a new school, Kevin is consistently horrible to his brother, avoiding him at all costs, making fun of everything that comes out of his mouth, and opting to hide alone with his Gameboy at every opportunity. Jack can’t let this stand, and decides to take the boys camping for the weekend, in the hopes that the time alone will break them down and create some kind of bond. Kevin definitely isn’t making it easy. From the moment they get into the car, he wants nothing to do with Randall, and the only time he has a modicum of fun at the campsite is when he’s laughing at his brother for getting trapped inside a collapsed tent.
Jack’s at his wit’s end. And while he’s got the right idea with his speech to Kevin, he also pushes the kid a little too far, leaning into his worst habit of being too emotionally open with his children and airing his frustration with their unique needs. (“All you kids, you need something different!” Maybe because kids are people and people are not all the same? C’mon, Jack.) There’s something deep and intense about Kevin’s reaction to Jack pushing him; right before Jack leaves him alone, it almost looked like Kevin was on the verge of a panic attack. Regardless, he completely shuts down, and Jack leaves, frustrated. Whatever’s going on here, Kevin isn’t able to express it; he might not even understand it. But when he finds Randall’s notebook, filled with ways to try to get on Kevin’s good side, he begins to understand that their dad is right. All Randall wants is to be friends with his brother.
Something in that list gets through to Kevin, and he ventures out of the tent to make s’mores with Randall. But Kevin isn’t the only Pearson wrestling with complex emotions on the camping trip. Jack is fixated on the faltering relationship between his sons, and fixated on being the best, most supportive father he can possibly be, in no small part because of the dramatic difference in his own upbringing. Throughout the camping trip, Jack has glimmers of flashbacks to being roughly the same age as Randall and Kevin, on a fishing trip with his father. We’ve known that Stanley Pearson was an alcoholic, and an emotionally and physically abusive figure in Jack’s past. The image of a young Jack, quietly convincing himself that his father hasn’t abandoned him, is heartbreaking – but it’s thrown into a new light when his little brother, Nicky, emerges from the backseat. Even at that young age, Jack’s internal drive to care for those around him, to protect them from anything and everything, was paramount. And yet, we haven’t heard a word about this brother before. At the close of the episode, we learn that Nicky signed up to go to Vietnam with his older brother, and there’s no way that story ends well. There’s something bad here, something that Jack is ignoring, and it has manifested into a desperate drive for his sons to get along.
With the boys out of the house for the weekend, Rebecca had planned to spend some quality time with Kate, taking in a double feature of Turner & Hooch and Honey I Shrunk the Kids before ending their mother/daughter day with a manicure. But it all goes out the window when a representative from Stanley Pearson’s nursing home calls, warning his next of kin that Stanley is close to death. Rebecca tries, to no avail, to get in touch with Jack, before finally heading off to the nursing home with Kate in tow. I suspect that the last time Jack saw his father, it was to ask for the house loan, and Jack had memorably slipped off his wedding ring before walking in the door. As a result, Rebecca and Stanley have never met; he certainly hasn’t met any of the grandkids.
When Rebecca finally does get in touch with Jack, thanks to a park ranger with a car radio, he has no interest in coming home, and doesn’t even ask Rebecca to pass along a message to his father. That father and son relationship is far past the breaking point, and Jack’s priority is the family he’s built with Rebecca. Nothing else matters.
Tensions are still high at Randall and Beth’s breakfast table, but with Kevin back in the basement (for all of one night, but still), the issue of Deja’s hair has been shelved. Still, Randall and Beth are both on high alert for any and all comments about Deja’s appearance, and Kevin is all too happy to ignore their concerns and generally act like his oblivious self. When he invites Randall and Beth to join him at Sophie’s charity gala, they decline, but Deja quietly asks to join instead. Beth has some legitimate concerns about this plan; not only is a “swanky, Manhattan charity ball” an intimidating place to bring Deja, Beth can see the real reason for Deja’s interest – her burgeoning crush on Kevin. After all, as Beth reminds Randall, “your brother is smoking hot.”
Not even that mortifying piece of evidence can sway Randall in his efforts to connect with Deja. He’s just happy that, for the first time in her stay, she’s excited about something, and he can’t let that opportunity pass him by. Beth does want it to go well, and besides consistently reminding him not to discuss her appearance, she also gives Randall a strict set of dad joke guidelines – which he promptly throws out the window. (“Cool means normal.” “No it doesn’t. Cool means cool.”) Throughout the car ride and their arrival at the party, Randall is in fine form, making endearingly cringe-worthy jokes ranging in subject matter from Dairy Queen to Star Trek and everything in between. (Petition to have Sterling K. Brown recite the entire opening monologue of Star Trek: The Next Generation, please and thank you.) As always, though, Randall’s efforts have a deeper, thoughtful motivation. He remembers his first day at private school, looking out into a sea of white faces not unlike the one he and Deja find themselves in now, and he wants her to feel at home. But Kevin does that in a heartbeat, with all the ease and humor that Randall always envied in his brother.
Despite Deja almost completely ignoring Randall, their attendance at the gala gets off to a decent start. She’s enjoying herself, carrying herself with poise beyond her years, and generally looks a hell of a lot more comfortable at her first non-profit gala than I did at mine. Randall is so impressed with her, and watches her out of the corner of his eye while she takes in her surroundings and enjoys some shrimp cocktail. He’s happy to keep a distance and let her have this experience, but when Deja goes to eat the tail of her shrimp, he jumps, grabbing at her shoulder to stop her from choking. Once again, Randall is well-intentioned but clueless about Deja’s reactions to his physicality. He pulls back quickly when she jumps, and lets her leave for the restroom without visibly following her, but still – he should have seen this coming.
Barging in on Deja in the women’s room could have gone either way. She could have seen his standing in front of her stall as a trap, or taken it as an order to share a story she wasn’t ready to share. It could have backfired, and it could have backfired badly. But instead, Deja almost seems to be grateful for Randall’s steady, quiet energy, and so she opens up. It’s been clear that Deja was a survivor of abuse, and she tells Randall that the second to last foster home was the worst yet; she was regularly beaten by her foster mother’s boyfriend, along with all the other foster kids at the home. Randall hears her out, doesn’t ask questions, and doesn’t demand any further information. He’s just there to listen, and when Deja is done talking, he lets her leave with dignity before taking her home for the night.
Kevin’s back on the East coast for a long weekend, and even after spending a night regaling Tess and Annie with set stories about Ron Howard and Sylvester Stallone, he does not look great. The film has wrapped, but Kevin’s not in town to celebrate: Sophie’s hospital is having their annual charity benefit, and Kevin has agreed to be auctioned off for a date to help raise funds. Instead, he spends all of his time fixated and self-medicating. When he can’t find extra pain pills in Randall’s guest bathroom, he leaves message after message at his LA doctor’s office, asking for yet another Vicodin refill. In between phone calls, he guzzles beer, and even though he hasn’t seen his girlfriend in weeks, Kevin is distracted and disinterested at her apartment. He’s lying to her constantly; he never once mentions his knee, even though Sophie knew about the injury, and he pretends all his calls for pain meds are just calls to Kate, helping her with a universal remote crisis.
I’ll say this for Kevin’s addiction; it’s certainly spiraled out fast. This storyline feels tired and predictable, but I’m hopeful that it acts as a launching point to get us to his actual emotional core. To the reason for his divorce with Sophie, the reason for his shutting down after Jack’s death, even the reason for him refusing to click into his emotions while he was camping with Randall all those years ago. There is SOMETHING in Kevin’s center that’s driving all of this, and I hope that the current storyline is just a way to get us to something deeper.
Having spent the last two weeks getting accustomed to her pregnancy, Kate decides it’s time to tell Toby what’s going on. The way she goes about it, though, is incredibly telling. Rather than sit Toby down at home, privately, Kate shows up at his office unannounced and asks to talk in his office. Toby being Toby, he assumes Kate wants to have office sex and clears off his desk before she even gets a word out. (Please know, Toby, that I do not hate you because you watch porn. I hate you because you assume this visit is about you, and therefore the only purpose for the visit could be sex, and therefore you are terrible. I digress.) When Kate breaks the news, Toby is thrilled and ready to break out his happy dance, but Kate’s just not there emotionally. Kate is doing all she can to keep from feeling the weight of this news; it’s no wonder she decided to tell him at work. It’s not that she’s concerned about “jinxing” anything; it’s that she’s TERRIFIED. And considering the fact that any pregnancy at 37 is considered geriatric (“That’s literally what it’s called!”), combined with potential complications due to her weight, Kate has every reason to be cautious.
Obviously it’s Kate’s call when and how to share this news, and it’s still early for her and Toby to start telling people about the pregnancy regardless. But demanding that Toby not even talk to her about it, not share any of his hopes for their pregnancy with her, is pretty extreme. Kate’s on edge at every moment, and when she shows up to group only to listen to Madison complain about meeting a new guy during a mini-pizza party, it’s just a matter of time until she snaps. Full disclosure, I cracked up at Chrissy Metz’s performance here. And it’s very possible that Kate’s on to something when she accuses Madison of being the group’s Marla Singer. But also, where was the moderator during Kate’s outburst? And for that matter, where’s the moderator with Madison in general? I have a lot of questions about this group.
When Madison and Kate finally confront each other in the parking lot, they both make some valid points. Madison’s right to call Kate out for giggling her way through meetings with Toby. (I’ll never forgive them for that note-passing situation MID-MEETING last season.) Our sympathies are meant to be with Kate, and again, this entire scene really rides on Chrissy Metz’s performance. When Kate and Madison get into their inevitable fender bender, leading Kate, shocked, to share the news with Madison, she immediately drops any and all animosity to be there for Kate. Her happiness for Kate’s pregnancy, and her relief that she’s not hurt, is so genuine. Is it too much to hope that these two can become pals? Because Kate needs a good girlfriend in her life and that window-hug was charming.
Safe and sound at home, Kate makes a deal with Toby; he can tell anyone in a random restaurant that Kate is pregnant, as long as they never go back to that restaurant ever again. And again, Toby being Toby, he somehow “charms” the manager into plugging in his phone and playing his happy song for his celebration. It’s Hootie & the Blowfish. Of course it is.
Colors of the Painting
- Shout out to Mandy Moore and Milo Ventimiglia, who were acting their faces off during that phone call/car radio scene.
- Kate and Rebecca’s relationship was so genuine and loving at this point in their lives. It’s no wonder Rebecca can’t figure out what went wrong.
- I spent so long on the Chuck Noll wikipedia page and I still don’t get this reference. Help, sportz people.
- Is it just that I’m desperate for any and all references to House, M.D. or does Kevin’s bad leg and Vicodin addiction make anyone else wish he was Hugh Laurie?
- I was going to try to pick a favorite Manny title, but when the options include Iron Manny, Manny Get Your Gun, and Of Mice And Mannies, it’s impossible to go wrong.
Are you as wary of the Kevin addiction story as we are? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!