This Is Us Season 2, Episode 13
“That’ll Be the Day”
Posted by Shannon
I know, I know. I’ve been saying since the Season 2 premiere that teasing out Jack’s death was manipulative and tired. And I stand by it. But to be completely honest, now that we’re here, I’m not sure I’m ready. For once, this week’s episode answers more questions than it asks. We now know how the fire starts, and we know how each of the teenage Big Three land in their respective places ahead of the tragedy. In the modern timeline, Jack’s death is top of mind for his kids, haunting each of them in different ways. The Super Bowl episode will be the exceptionally traumatic one, delving into the fire itself and presumably answering the last questions surrounding Jack’s death. (And full credit goes to Kim for calling that timing the MOMENT This Is Us landed the coveted post-game time slot.) (Editor’s Note: THANK YOU. -K) But for now, most of the hour is quiet and contemplative, heavy with the weight of what’s to come. And I for one will never, EVER be able to hear “That’ll Be the Day” the same way ever again. (Remember thinking that song was cheerful? Me neither. Sorry, Buddy Holly.)
Jack and Rebecca
In the best of circumstances, this was always going to be a transitional Super Bowl for the Pearsons. With the Big Three off to college the next year, it’s the last one that guarantees all five of them will be under the same roof. Plus it’s Jack’s first sober Super Bowl Sunday; Rebecca has even switched out their traditional whiskey wake-up shots out for orange juice. Besides the OJ shots, Jack’s recovery has taken a decidedly building-focused turn. Whenever he wants a drink, he focuses his efforts on construction instead. It means a whole lot of new and improved furniture around the house, and for Jack himself, it makes big Three Homes an even better career move. But he also doesn’t want to jump into anything too quickly, so for now, the plan is to keep his job and flip a home or two on the side to help make a name for himself.
It’s a painfully solid plan and honestly this whole thing is off to a pretty brutal start. Kevin, Kate and Randall are all good kids who happen to be 17. So of course, it’s not as simple as sharing one last Super Bowl Sunday under the same roof. Kate is moody and anxious after finding out she’s made the final rounds to Berklee. An original song submission is next up for the process, and Jack insists she make a video rather than another audition cassette, which Kate has no interest in doing. Randall and Allison, the ginger from the mall, are generally adorable until Allison starts prodding Kevin about Sophie’s NYU application. And as for Kevin? His post-injury sentimentality is long gone, and he’s back to making snipes at his parents at every opportunity. It would all be so endearingly teenager-ie if we didn’t know what was coming.
Jack is determined to turn the kids around before kickoff, and naturally he starts with Kate. Taping her from the hallway was honestly a pretty icky move, even with the best of intentions, and I was SO proud of her for standing her ground and insisting that her father stop and truly listen to what she had to say. Kate knew it was painful for Jack to hear, and while she made herself clear, she was never cruel. She was standing up for herself, and for her own emotional well being. Meanwhile, Randall and Allison made non-football related plans for the afternoon. Allison wants to see Titanic for the seventh time (which was my record for seeing it in theaters too, so live your best lives, kids) and Randall wants the chance to finally take her on a real date. Again, I’m proud of Randall here, as painful as it is for Jack. Randall’s instinct is always to do what will make his parents happy, from letting them plan a magic-themed birthday party to making sure Jack is comfortable after the trip to Howard. It couldn’t have been easy for Randall to make this ask, knowing how much the game means to his Dad.
Which leaves us with Kevin. Injured both physically and emotionally. Moody as hell. And on the receiving end of a piece of truly difficult news. Sophie got into NYU, and is heading off to celebrate with her parents. Rebecca tries to let Kevin know that it’s okay to be upset, that it’s natural to feel a little left behind when his own college plans have been so completely decimated. But Kevin can’t hear her. “I’m not frustrated, I’m pissed,” he spits, lashing out at both Rebecca and Jack. Kevin has consistently felt second best in every family dynamic. The ferocious ego he’s built up to deal with those feelings of inadequacy has nowhere to go now that his main point of pride has been cut out from under him. It’s natural, horribly and cruelly natural, for him to take it all out on Jack and Rebecca, belittling their lives along the way. As soon as it’s out of his mouth Kevin knows he went too far. He’s genuinely sorry. But his ego is still raging, bitter with the feeling that “Kevin’s the worst again, order is restored to the universe.” He takes off for Sophie’s, leaving the house for the night.
It’s just about game time, and Kate’s the last one of the kids left in the house. As real as her request was to Jack earlier in the afternoon, she’s since watched his video. Seeing her Dad grinning with pride in the mirror is the thing that does it, more than watching herself. Still, the tape does bring Kate around to seeing her own skill and beauty, and she’s grateful for it. (Also, can we talk about how IDENTICAL Hannah Zeile and Chrissy Metz look in that scene because it was breathtaking.) Her talk with Jack is quiet and peaceful, and still, ends with her bailing on the game. Before heading off to a party at her friend Molly’s, she at least compliments the TV stand he’s been fixing, and then she’s off. It’s just Rebecca and Jack and a whole bunch of Super Bowl food.
In retrospect, it’s shocking that Jack and Rebecca didn’t have this plan all along. Her taking care of the business side of things while Jack manages the construction is so perfect. It gives her a creative, intellectual outlet while playing to her strengths. It gives both of them something to hold on to while their kids are off at school. It’s truly, painfully, horribly perfect. Jack and Rebecca end their night in bed, their lives back on the same track for the first time in years, inspiring and supporting each other all the way.
Kate’s off at Molly’s. Kevin calls the house to apologize, only speaking to Rebecca. He’ll spend the night at Sophie’s. And Randall unintentionally wakes up Jack when he comes home, futzing in the kitchen for a glass of water, practically floating after his first kiss with Allison. Jack’s last moments that night with three of his four most beloved people are perfect and quiet and comfortable. And he’d forgiven Kevin, too, even if Kevin will never know it. Jack pets the dog. Cleans up the kitchen. Looks at the kid’s height markers on the wall. He’s happy. It’s honestly too much to bear.
Oh, George. Dear sweet George. I wanted to like you so much. We’re set up to think that it’s George and Sally’s home that Jack and Rebecca will flip. But once again, we’re reminded that we should never assume we know the time period of the scene This Is Us is showing at any given moment. Sentimental, with a tendency to hoard anything and everything in his garage, George lived across the street from the Pearsons when Rebecca was pregnant. He just wanted the “stuff of our lives” to be of use. To help another family. And so he gifted his old crock pot with the finicky switch to a young Jack and Rebecca, who, 17 years later, will forget that the switch needs watching. In what seems like the blink of an eye, the pot catches fire, aided by the dish towels Jack hid jewelry in all those years ago. With no batteries in the kitchen smoke alarm, none of the Pearsons asleep on the second floor have any warning. The entire kitchen is in flames, and it’s roaring up the walls. It all happens so, so fast.
Randall, Beth and Kevin
Knowing what we know now about Kevin and Jack’s last conversation, the next step in Kevin’s recovery takes on a whole new weight. It’s time for him to make amends. Several of the names on his list are already checked off, but whoever remains has Kevin in desperate need of a distraction. It’s a sign of the brothers’ growth (or of how few people Kevin knows, but I prefer option one) that Randall is the first person he reaches out to. In a string of perfectly Kevin texts, which include but are not limited to the phrase “bro-down,” he tries to get Randall to come out for the day. But Randall and Beth have their own plan to worry about.
William’s old building is officially under the ownership of the Pearsons, and for their first day as owners, Randall and Beth have organized a meeting with all the tenants. Randall has prepared by binge watching Property Brothers and Seinfeld, which means his strategy includes bagels and a full improvement plan. Beth knows SO much more about this process than Randall does, and she knows how overly excited Randall can get. It’s all kind of a recipe for disaster, and Beth walks into the meeting on high alert.
It all starts off well enough. Lloyd is cracking wise immediately, and while Beth’s priorities of sorting out the fire escapes and pest control are logically the best moves, no one in the building is in a position to appreciate starting points with such a seemingly low impact. Their priorities feel far more urgent, the kind of immediate issues that so often go ignored in lower income spaces. For tenants with faulty heaters, no hot water, and doors that won’t close, getting the fire escapes up to code is a tough sell. Randall recognizes many of these issues as the things William wanted the super to fix, and he essentially starts taking requests, flipping the page on all of Beth’s far more practical action items. When Kevin shows up looking to help, the whole thing just spins out. Kevin and Randall are just qualified enough to get into trouble. Beth knows better – Beth ALWAYS knows better – but when she confronts Randall about his new plan, all she gets is his assurance that “I built our house, it’s the same thing! My dad was in construction, it’s in my blood!”
I knew Beth was right. I knew this was a terrible idea. And still, the sight of the Pearson boys headed into the building with their tool boxes and sledgehammers warmed my cold, dead heart. Kevin fixing Rosemary’s door and explaining how laugh tracks work, while Randall fixes toilets and makes notes, was SO damn endearing I could barely stand it. (And while we’re on the subject, Rosemary gathering the women in the building to have tea and watch Kevin tear down the wall her terrible ex built gave me my whole life. You go, ladies. You go.) It’s all going so well that Randall can’t resist the opportunity to call Beth and brag, which of course is the cue for the roaches hiding in the walls to overtake Lloyd’s apartment. An exterminator has to be called in, and the entire building put up in a hotel. Or as Lloyd puts it, “Evicted, day one. Nice work.”
After the building clears out, Randall finds Kevin still inside, hard at work. It’s clear to his brother that Kevin has spent the whole day trying not to think about something. And while it could have just been his recovery, Randall rightly suspects that there’s something else going on. The moment his brother so much as pushes on the subject, Kevin admits what’s really going on. In his effort to make amends, Kevin fears that “there are a few people that I don’t think I’m gonna be able to square things up with.” It’s Kevin’s hope that helping strangers will somehow, cosmically, balance out the impossible amends he can only wish to make. Randall MUST know how Kevin and Jack left things, must have some idea of the regrets his brother has been harboring. And Jack has been on Randall’s mind, too. He’s starting a new career in his late 30’s and not only that – it’s almost exactly the one Jack wanted to do himself. Suddenly, the spirit of this building is just as much in Jack’s memory as it is William’s. Without the opportunity to see Jack grow old, Randall can’t picture having the chance himself. But before he gets too lost in his own mind, Kevin pulls him back, reminding his brother that he DOES have the image of an older father figure to remember. “You’re gonna be a great old man, by the way. You’ll be like your other Dad.”
After spending the day really, tangibly helping people, Kevin’s ready to take on one of the last names on his list. He heads to Sophie’s apartment, lingering outside just as he did the first time he came back into her life, waiting to make his amends. And it’s a perfect goodbye. After a marriage, a divorce, and a well-intentioned second try that ended just as painfully, all Sophie wants is to be left with some decent memories of her first true love. “Just leave me with the past,” she asks, forgiving him before he even truly apologizes. It feels deeply final. More than that, if Kevin were to even try to get in touch with Sophie again, it would feel like a betrayal. There’s still so much of Sophie’s life I want to see, but if we do see her again, I think it will be in the form of those memories she holds so dear.
It hasn’t been spelled out yet, but I think it’s clear that if Kevin had come back home all those years ago, and slept in his room in the basement with his leg in a cast, he would not have made it out. Still, the regret he’s felt for these long 20 years must be so much to bear. Staying out of the house that night probably saved his life. But it also means he never got the chance to apologize to his father after their fight. He could have asked to speak to Jack when he called the house, could have at least known that his father forgave him. But he didn’t. Kevin’s list of amends will never really be complete, not in his heart. Comparatively, getting his father’s necklace back could seem like small comfort. But it doesn’t.
A main piece of the puzzle for that horrific night sits with the family dog. Ragged and adorable and as far as I can tell, unnamed (holler in the comments if you know it!), teen Kate’s dog was always at her side. A main theory, and the one that I can’t stop thinking about, is that Jack ultimately goes back in for the dog, gets him out, but somehow doesn’t make it himself. We’ll have the answer soon enough, but for now, Toby is the only non-Pearson to know the full story. So when Kate walks in on him looking at dog adoption sites online (“Something that resembles Tinder for dogs?”) he knows to keep it together. Sure, one of his coworkers got a puppy and his canine pull is particularly strong right now. But for Kate, getting a dog is a non-starter.
Still, it’s been twenty years. And Kate, in her heart, is still a dog person. She doesn’t say as much, but I kept thinking that this was the perfect time for Toby and Kate to get a dog. As a comfort animal and support system for both of them while they continue to heal from the miscarriage, a dog could do wonders for them individually and as a unit. She heads off to an animal shelter found on Toby’s browser history, complete with a truly delightful Lena Waithe cameo. Almost as soon as she gets there, Kate falls in love with a seriously adorable little creature named Audio. Kate and Toby are perfectly positioned for pet adoption, with flexible schedules and a comfortable space, which means the application is no trouble. Plus, Audio’s loves music and his little face fits right in Kate’s hands. So when Kate starts to spiral, it all just feels awful. Her apology to Audio says so much about where she is right now in her own healing. She’s done enough work to make a real go of it, to know somewhere inside of her that this is a good idea. But actually taking the next step and bringing Audio home is a step too far right now. “This isn’t gonna work,” she tells him tearfully. A new dog comes “with a lotta baggage that isn’t your fault,” and she just can’t bear it. Kate takes off, leaving the dog behind and heading home.
At first, I really thought she wouldn’t be ready for this. And it made sense for Kate to want to tell Toby that she tried, that an effort was made and that maybe, one day, she’d be ready. But on the drive home, thinking about Audio’s little face and how much it would mean to Toby, Kate had a change of heart and turned around. Welcome to the family, Audio. You DO kind of look like Jacob Tremblay.
Colors of the Painting
This week was rough, so please enjoy a collection of my favorite jokes to lighten the mood.
- “Trouble in Rome, Caesar?”
- “Has anybody seen the Manny?”
- “Look at you, you’re getting all red!” “I am 60 pounds overweight and Irish, that’s my color!”
- “No porn. No puppies. No puppy porn.”
- “The least we can do is bring a schmear.”
- “We can’t have sex in the office, that would be unprofessional.”
- “Do some good, don’t go broke. Company motto, write it down.”
- “Randall looks the same every single day, he’s like a cartoon character.”
- “I love it, it’s like some weird obnoxious celebrity baby name!”
And last but not least, please enjoy Beth’s full speech to Randall after picking him up at the hotel because it, like her, is a thing of beauty and brilliance.
- “I am gonna say you always start with pest control. And you always start with pest control because you don’t want to go bustin’ through a bunch of drywall when you have a building full of roaches. And then you’re gonna say, that makes sense. And then you’re gonna say something charming about how much you love me and it’s gonna almost get you off the hook. But you know what’s really gonna get you off the hook? Is when you say, I’ve never owned a building before! But my partner here, she’s been working with underserved communities her entire career. She’s a real resource to me. I’m gonna utilize my resource!”
What did you think of “That’ll Be the Day”? Was the use of “To Build a Home” in the last scene EXCEEDINGLY RUDE? Are you ready for the Super Bowl? Let us know in the comments.