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.