This Is Us Season 2, Episode 7
“The Most Disappointed Man”
Posted by Shannon
Disappointment and hope are intrinsically linked; in a heartbreaking, complicated way, it’s almost impossible to have one without the other. “The Most Disappointed Man” could be any or all of us on the wrong day, and each and every character this week has had a day like that themselves. But there’s beauty in all of those stories too; a persistence, a drive to keep going, to see some hope ahead when disappointment feels like it’s closing in. This week, the Pearson’s (and Pearson-adjacent) each find themselves on one side of the fence between disappointment and hope.
Jack and Rebecca
The Big Three have just arrived home, and amongst the chaos and clamour of three infants, Jack and Rebecca are fielding visits from baby Randall’s social worker, Paula. They’re anxious and prepared for the planned visits (and anxious and terrified for the unexpected ones) but regardless of the schedule, each time Paula shows up it’s clear how much they love all three of their children. After a year of successful check-ins and a glowing recommendation, they should be a shoo-in for an easy adoption. Paula doesn’t even bother attending the hearing, certain that it will be an open and shut case. For Judge Bradley, though, it’s not that simple.
Initially, Judge Bradley asks that Jack and Rebecca come back in three weeks with Paula, but when they find him in the hallway and ask to speak with him, it becomes clear that things won’t be that simple. The Judge firmly believes that Randall should not be raised by a white family, and he insists that he will not change his mind. In many ways, his arguments are the same ones that Jack presents to Rebecca when Randall starts asking questions about his birth family. Judge Bradley insists that without a Black family around him, there will be no one to help him “see himself, understand who he is.” Judge Bradley knows first-hand the necessity of a role model who shares the same experience as your own, and informs Jack and Rebecca that “what you have in your possession is a Black child who will grow up to become a Black man, and my fear is that he won’t have the tools he needs in his life if he stays in your home.”
Rebecca is ready to fight right then and there, but it’s telling that Jack, even all those years earlier, stayed silent. It’s not that he doesn’t want to fight for Randall; he does. And I’m not suggesting that the Judge is in the right here. But the basic core of Judge Bradley’s fears are justified, and Jack knows it. For Rebecca, there’s no question that she and Jack will find a way to get Randall the support he needs, no matter the challenge. She’s already faced one hurdle; to celebrate the assumed adoption, Jack and Rebecca took the kids to get formal photos taken. For the kid behind the camera, exposure is a nightmare; he can’t figure out how to balance all five skin tones, so instead, he makes a thoughtless side comment and tries for various exposures in an effort to make the best of it. With the photos back from the store, Rebecca can see a tangible representation of the difficulties they’ll all face. Rather than accept a photo where one (or four) of them look unbalanced, she cuts out Randall’s best photo and pastes it into Kevin and Kate’s – and sends it off to Judge Bradley as proof of their persistence. Three weeks later, Jack, Rebecca, and the Big Three all show back up to the courthouse, ready to face Judge Bradley yet again. But knowing that he would be unable to make the ruling, knowing that his bias couldn’t be shaken and that Rebecca wouldn’t be shaken either, he recused himself from the case.
Randall, Beth and William
Deja’s stay with Randall and Beth has started to even out; her hair is tidied and she’s even amused by his jokes. But the time has come for Deja to go on a visit with her mom, and Randall’s protective side is on full blast. Turns out, at the time of her arrest, Deja’s mom had been driving with an unlicensed gun in the glove compartment next to her daughter. Instead of seeing a complex situation for what it is, all Randall can see is Deja in danger, and he’s in no mood to bring her to the visit. But he knows she’s been looking forward to this, compliments her dress, and hears Beth out when she reminds him that this isn’t some random criminal they’re visiting. And besides, Randall hasn’t done this before, but Deja certainly has. Once there, Randall makes another jumpy move to cover her eyes at the sight of a person in handcuffs. It’s a massive sign of how far they’ve come that Deja doesn’t push him away, but reminds him that “you can’t do that,” and nearly even teases him at having only seen someone in handcuffs on TV.
This visit is meant to be a special one; Linda, Deja’s social worker, announces happily that they won’t need to be behind glass and that today, “you can hug your mom.” Randall puts his own feelings aside to calm Deja’s excited nerves, getting them through all the necessary checkpoints and assuring her that “your mom’s gonna love” her new hair. But when Linda pulls Randall aside and tells him that Shauna has opted out of the visit, the stress of it all gets to him. This is the first time we’ve really seen Randall be thoughtless, even cruel; he knows better than to ask Linda “if anyone here’s looking out for these kids,” and he’s so rarely careless that it felt like a slap in the face. Linda handles him calmly, but she’s shaken too; instead of reprimanding him directly, she tells him of another foster child she cares for who, after suffering from an untreated ear infection, is now deaf. Foster family after foster family doesn’t want the challenge, and Linda’s now an expert at saying “‘sorry sweetie, we still haven’t found a family for you’ in sign language.”
The sad fact remains, though, that Randall has to go back to Deja and tell her the news. They both take it in stride; he doesn’t tell her that her mom opted out, while Deja quietly asks for her purse so she can give her mom the allowance money she’s saved up for her.
Of course, Randall’s not the only one who’s protective streak has opened up to include Deja. Once they get home and Randall tells her the news, Beth demands that they cut Shauna out of Deja’s life entirely. (“I am done letting that woman hurt that child.”) Randall knows that’s not the way out either, but part of me still half expected him to go into his own meeting with Shauna as if he were going to battle. And maybe he intended to. But when he gets there, behind the glass, and sees Shauna’s wrecked face, his better instincts kick in. Mostly.
This scene is complicated as hell, and I don’t pretend to know how any of it would feel. But I do know that Randall misses many of Shauna’s points, misunderstanding the difference between drill team and cheerleading, assuming that Shauna’s history makes her a fundamentally bad mother (and that his financial privilege will make him a better parent). I know that Shauna’s assumption that Randall’s wife is white is complicated and messy. And more often than not, I kept thinking again that Randall should know better. He should know that while personal responsibility is important, the system is set up so dramatically against women of color that to say Shauna’s choices alone landed her in prison shows a fundamental lack of understanding. When Shauna reminds him that “you wound up over there no doubt cuz things broke your way,” she mirrors a sentiment that William shared, too.
Randall has been brought to this point in his journey by both his fathers, and as is so often the case, they’re the ones he needs right now. William would have known exactly where Shauna was coming from because in so many ways, he came from the same place. After losing everyone he loved, William spiraled into addiction, and was ultimately arrested in what would have been the Reagan era’s “war on drugs.” (The history of the war on drugs should not be lost on us as viewers. William Hill would have landed in jail along with so many other young Black men charged with nonviolent crimes, and there are multiple books, documentaries, and articles written on the issues that I can’t summarize here. Please do read them.)
With no record of any kind, the Judge admits his “disappointment” at William’s transgression. And rather than stand there and listen to that, William asks his own question – “what would you have me do, your honor?” He’s lost everyone, he barely recognizes himself, and he honestly doesn’t care if he’s thrown in jail or not. And in William’s own case of things breaking his way, the Judge sees a light in him, asks to speak to him alone, and decides to rule an acquittal. On one condition. Not that William be perfect (“I know you’ll make mistakes just like the rest of us”) – that he remember the Judge’s face, his “too tired, too old, too fat face” and that he remember that face every time he’s faced with a bad choice. And William being William, he’s true to his word for years – decades, even. Whenever confronted with his addiction, he makes the choice to stay sober, to stay safe. Until his diagnosis. He still sees the Judge’s face, but he’s ready to end his sobriety anyway. And we learn, finally, that this is what kept William so long when Randall was knocking on the door during their first meeting. Randall’s knock stopped him from making a terrible call, and now his son is faced with a potentially bad call of his own.
Randall knows that he and Beth have done exactly what all the books warn against; they’ve taken Deja as their own already. And while Randall is ready and willing to fight for custody if Shauna so chooses, he also knows the more people in her life that love her, the better. With William, Jack, and Rebecca in his own mind, he makes the right call for Deja, and gives Shauna their home number so she can speak to her daughter.
Kevin’s downward spiral shows no signs of stopping. For the third time in a row, he pushes off a trip to see Sophie, opting instead to lie about meetings with directors and stay in bed surrounded by pain pills and empty bottles. He’s a more depressed version of the Kevin we met early in the first season; clueless, checked out, waking up confused and brushing off responsibilities. But this time, instead of snapping out of it by quitting a job he hated, he leans in and throws his relationships into chaos and disarray. On the phone, Sophie reiterates what she said at the benefit; she didn’t ask for this. (“You came to me, you showed up at MY door. I was doing just fine.”) And from Kate’s point of view, something is definitely “off” with him, but she’s understandably too focused on her own life changes to click in with her brother emotionally right now.
Before completely self-destructing, Kevin gives his relationship one last desperate attempt at a save. He books a red-eye and stops by a jewelry store, asking the attendant to “show me whatever’s the most sparkly.” Kevin’s addiction has completely taken over here. He’s not paying attention to his own feelings, and he’s certainly not paying attention to the feelings of those around him. But none of that matters to him in the moment; all he sees is a way to mimic his father’s grand gestures. He avoids all possible decisions, buys three rings and gets himself to Manhattan General as fast as humanly possible.
When he arrives at the hospital, Sophie’s just left for a transport, and while Kevin wanders the maternity ward waiting for her to come back, he takes even more pain pills and falls into a nightmare vision of his life as a father and husband. And here’s the real problem with that vision. It’s not that Kevin doesn’t want to get married and have kids; a lot of people don’t want that and there is absolutely nothing wrong with it. The problem is that I genuinely don’t know what he wants. Kevin is blundering but well-meaning, occasionally cold and more than occasionally clueless, he’s personable, good at the occasional speech, and superficial as hell. But beyond that? His hopes, his dreams? We don’t know what they are. And neither does he. Which brings us to this.
Jetlagged, sweating, and out of his mind, Kevin tries to leave Sophie’s life the same way he came back into it: appearing unannounced on her doorstep. And I can only imagine the betrayal that Sophie must have felt while listening to Kevin blather on about how “there’s nothing inside me to give to you.” The “grand gestures” version of Kevin who appeared on her door a year ago might not have been him, but neither is the guy who says “when I dream of our future together, Sophie, it’s a nightmare.” But no matter which guy he really is, Sophie’s reaction is the right one; she slams the door in his face.
Kate and Toby
Now that Kate has told Madison about her pregnancy, the dam has broken and she’s ready to tell her family. They start with Kevin, of course, and even while he’s spiraling in his own mess, Kate and Toby’s giddiness is infectious. Next up is Toby’s mom; but as a severely practicing Catholic, she won’t be as entertained by their hoodie-zipper-shirt-reveal. Toby’s too freaked out to call her, much less during her “Judge block – Judge Judy, Judge Mathis, Divorce Court” and tries to avoid the conversation as much as possible. Toby’s mom was heartbroken when they decided to move in without being married, and when Kate pushes the call button, Toby nearly has a panic attack. The severity of his reaction gets to her, and Kate, knowing that “nothing about our relationship has been traditional,” suggests that they just go to the courthouse and get married.
It’s all well and good at first, but none of this feels like Kate and Toby. The reality here is that a courthouse wedding would mean that they’re both avoiding something; Toby would be avoiding his mother’s wrath, and Kate would be avoiding multiple personal nightmares. From dress shopping to facing guests repeatedly bringing up Jack, Kate is all too happy to dodge the whole thing with a “Whoosh, you’re married.” When she goes so far as to say a courthouse wedding would “get it over with,” Toby clicks in and realizes that her heart wouldn’t be in this.
Back at home, watching his own Judge block, Toby needs to talk out the problem. But Kevin is checked out, he has a complicated relationship with Rebecca, and he frankly barely knows Randall. So instead, Toby starts talking to himself – and to Jack. He knows Kate loves weddings. Knows she watches “Say Yes to the Dress” with a special notebook. And he knows that a part of both of them would always be disappointed if they didn’t have a celebration – with the wedding itself, but also with the engagement. So instead, he calls his mother to tell her about the pregnancy, buys five hoodies and waits for Kate to get home.
I love a lot of this proposal. I loved “If there is any part of you that wants the big wedding… I think you deserve that, kid.” I loved that he mentioned Jack. And I love that he did the right thing. When Toby comes through, he comes through.
Colors of the Painting
- “Good morning, Destiny’s Children.”
- I really love that the Pearson family photo countdown word is “Steelers.”
- Toby’s right, Kate’s two brothers are “stupidly handsome.”
- It was a tiny moment, but Randall asking Deja who was driving to the meeting with her mom killed me. It’s so casual, so lovely, and a sign of how far they’ve come that she’s amused by his dad jokes even at a time like that.
- It’s standard This Is Us symmetry to have both William and Rebecca’s judges in the same courthouse, but I’m still touched and haunted by the possibility that William was in the building the same time as the Pearsons.
- A moment for Beth’s outfit on the way to work, honestly that woman is killing it on the regular.
- Speaking of outfits, baby Randall and baby Kevin are wearing MATCHING SHIRTS to the first courthouse hearing.
What are your thoughts on “The Most Disappointed Man”? Let us know in the comments!