“They’re make or break, these moments.” – This Is Us Recap – I Call Marriage

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This Is Us Season 1, Episode 14
“I Call Marriage”

Posted by Shannon

The Valentine’s Day episode is still to come, but this week’s episode took the opportunity to focus in on love. What does it mean to love, in its many contexts and forms? Familial love, romantic love, and love of self all carry different burdens and challenges, and the Pearsons are struggling with the definitions and limits of this complex emotion. Some family members are handling it better than others, but for this episode, each of the characters are tending towards insular behavior, focusing in on their own relationships. Solitude has its moments, but this week, every single one of the Pearson clan would have been helped by opening up a little more than they have to their loved ones.

Jack/Rebecca


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It’s Jack and Rebecca’s wedding day, and after leaving what looked to be a perfectly 70’s ceremony at city hall, Miguel offers a toast during their reception. He summarizes their self-written vows over a montage of Jack and Rebecca living them out in their daily lives; there’s shower sex, bad oysters, and more general evidence of how charming and loving their relationship has been through their early years. Over a decade later, Jack and Rebecca are worn down and even a little awkward while they get ready to meet Miguel and Shelley for dinner. Once there, the reason for the tension makes itself known: Rebecca has been out late playing with the band night after night, and Jack’s work schedule has been increasingly demanding. The timing couldn’t be worse. After years of being unhappy, but before they turn the corner into being outwardly cruel to one another, Miguel and Shelley have decided to get a divorce. It sounds like a healthy move for both of them, and Rebecca hears it as that, but for Jack, it’s an utter betrayal.

Jack has implied his cut-and-dry perception of marriage before, but he’s never laid it out as clearly as he does now. For Jack, marriage is the meeting of two soul mates, never to be separated until death. It’s phenomenally idealistic, but Jack doesn’t see it as such; for him, it’s just a fact. Rebecca, though, knowing how unhappy Shelley has been, sees their divorce as a healthy step. It all shakes Jack to his core, and the next day at work, after seeing Miguel and Heather flirting yet again in the break room, Jack demands an explanation. Miguel promises that he hasn’t been having an affair, and offers up a far more realistic and subtle examination of romantic love. Sometimes, relationships die “not with a bang but with a whimper.” The small decisions made in daily life often carry much more weight than we know; for Shelley and Miguel, it was a cup of coffee, and the slow acceptance that they have stopped noticing each other. Jack hears this as a warning; even the small distance that has been growing between he and Rebecca is too much for him to bear.

Meanwhile, Rebecca sees no such distance. After Ben tells her that the band has the opportunity to play on an east coast tour, “on actual stages, to actual crowds,” Rebecca’s first thought is what it will mean for Jack. When Ben tries to sway Rebecca by saying that “if Jack really loves you, he’ll understand” she calls bullshit. She sees every single gesture that Jack makes, big or small, and loves them for what they are: daily evidence that Miguel’s warning was unnecessary, that these two have not stopped noticing each other. Far from it.



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Even still, Jack feels the need for a sweeping, romantic gesture. He packs an overnight bag for Rebecca and surprises her by renting their old apartment out for the night, all done up in lights, with champagne in every room and rose petals on the floor. Jack and Rebecca both appreciate their relationship, and they both make daily sacrifices, big and small, for each other. And now that we know the timeline for Jack’s passing, every moment spent in this year is tinged with sadness and fear of impending doom. The couple re-reads their vows, Rebecca admits that she wants to go on tour with the band, and I for one am left with a new fear – that Rebecca will be away on tour when Jack dies.



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Randall/Beth

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Randall is teetering on the edge of a breakdown. And just as Beth feared, he is actively refusing help every step of the way. His nightmare of finding William at the piano was horrific, but it’s also his subconscious trying to make him face what he can’t bear to look at in his daily life. After all, he’s too busy trying to be the perfect father, husband, and coworker all at once. Beth knows that something was very wrong with Randall when Annie wakes them up after wetting the bed, but they don’t get the chance to discuss it (and even if they did, Randall wouldn’t have said a word). Instead, after helping Annie get back to sleep, they find Tess downstairs, practicing chess with William in the early hours of the morning.

Tess is so scared that her parents will blame William for their late-night chess games, but she doesn’t know what else to do. With William napping after school, soccer practice on the weekends, and parents too understandably crazed to check the whiteboard for new obligations, the only time she can spend with William is in the middle of the night. And she knows what Randall won’t allow himself to recognize – their time with William is limited, and she needs to take every opportunity to make memories with her grandfather. William is in a healthy place mentally, all things considered; he immediately apologizes to Randall about keeping Tess up, but his face doesn’t carry an ounce of guilt. Nor should it. Tess will always treasure those moments, and they both know it.

Beth brings in a grief counselor to make plans for the family, but Randall shuts down at every single mention of William’s health. The counselor is there under the guise of helping the girls,  but Randall is the one who truly needs coping strategies. And this is where the pressure of trying to live up to Jack’s memory really comes crashing down on Randall. He won’t hear a word about William’s illness or end of life care, insisting that they don’t need any help, trying to be superhuman. Randall is refusing help at home AND at work. Maybe I’ve worked for non-profits for too long, but I believe his boss when he says that Randall’s position at work is not under any threat. After a decade of proving himself, a decade of being the first one in and the last one out, Randall has earned a little support in the office. Sanjay is there to help, to go to dinner with a client when Randall can’t. And Randall’s insistence that he can do everything at once, that he can go to client dinners and handle all his accounts AND support his family emotionally will be his downfall.



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Despite all of this, Randall and Beth are still Randall and Beth. She insists that he show up for Tess’s chess game, knowing that the office can wait, knowing that Randall is on the verge of making one too many sacrifices for the sake of his job at the expense of their family. (Perhaps a part of him is hiding at the office, too – after all, his work is important, but it’s not life or death.)  It’s a testament to their relationship that, even with all of this on his shoulders, they’re still the couple from the pilot – except now the soccer game is a chess tournament. Randall and Beth haven’t been as good at checking in on their girls’ daily lives as they could be lately, but they will always show up when the chips are down.

Randall’s fear that the girls will be broken by the loss of their grandfather is just more proof of his projection and of the constant emotional barriers he has built against his loss. Randall is the one who will be broken, not Tess and Annie. Just think about Tess’s grin when she knows she has a checkmate. Tess ONLY has eyes for William. She wouldn’t trade this for anything. But Randall is in danger, emotionally and physically. He’s made himself blind from stress once before. This time, his hand won’t stop shaking, and he won’t even wake up Beth to talk it out.

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“Why are you here?” – This Is Us Recap – Three Sentences

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This Is Us Season 1, Episode 13
“Three Sentences”
Posted by Shannon

The Pearsons are all about family traditions; be it big holidays or tiny annual celebrations, we’ve had plenty of opportunities to see just how much comfort the family takes in their unique customs. Now that we’ve fully experienced the day leading up to their birth, this week we get the chance to see how that day gets celebrated year after year. It’s been a while since we’ve seen formative childhood experiences reflecting in the lives of their adult counterparts, and their 10th birthday in particular echoed through the timelines. After all, it’s an important birthday.

Jack/Rebecca

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That old handheld video recorder sure got a lot of use. Jack and Rebecca have taped every birthday the family has celebrated, and the opening montage runs through nine years’ worth of loving family parties. Year after year, it’s pin the tail on the donkey, three-layer cake, and wrapping paper fights. The celebrations are beloved and fun, but small; these birthday parties are a family affair, with no big, chaotic, packed parties to be seen. But for their 10th, Kevin and Kate have other ideas. The kids storm their parents bedroom with a list of demands: Kate insists on a Madonna party since she and her best friend Sophie are all about Madonna at the moment, and Kevin, a year older and infinitely braver than he was at 9, wants to celebrate with The Princess Bride.  Randall can’t really be bothered, but he can’t very well be the only Pearson kid without a birthday party, and the promise of a magician in attendance is enough to get him to agree.



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Their mini-rebellion didn’t leave Jack and Rebecca with much time to plan. The parents have only a day’s notice to orchestrate three themed parties. They hop to, and Jack is hard at work bedazzling Madonna gloves while he revisits some of the old birthday party tapes. He’s lost in thought, and emotional at how quickly they all seem to be growing up. Jack takes the perceived loss of tradition hard; he can’t stand the thought that the kids don’t want to play pin the tail on the donkey anymore, and he can’t bear letting the celebration go. His ask to Rebecca to consider having another kid is genuine in the moment, but ultimately misguided, and she knows it. He doesn’t really want another kid; he wants them to stay locked in childhood, as cute as they were at five.

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Despite the herculean turnaround time, the parties are going off without a hitch. Kevin shows his first performance tendencies by channeling his inner Mandy Patinkin, and Kate is looking fierce as hell with her Madonna clan. Randall, relaxing outside with the magician, is the wildcard; most of the yard is empty, except for Yvette’s kids and a few friends. But Randall, even at 10, is already the most emotionally mature member of the Big Three. Knowing his parents would be more upset at this reality than he was, he hadn’t wanted to bother them with the fact that his social circle isn’t as big as that of his siblings. Worried that his new school is full of “racist bastards” and that Randall isn’t fitting in as well as they thought, Jack and Rebecca are beside themselves – just as Randall knew they would be. The thing is, Randall couldn’t be happier. He has his three really good friends (“That’s a lot!”) and as far as he’s concerned, the most important thing about his new school’s social dynamics is that he has a friend to sit with at lunch and make a book of mazes. Randall’s emotional awareness at such a young age is striking, but what’s more impressive to me is how little he’s changed as an adult. Randall’s needs are straightforward and clear. He doesn’t care how many people are around; what matters to him is that the ones who are around TRULY know him. It’s why he’s so distraught when his brother won’t let him in emotionally, and why his mother’s deceitfulness hit so hard. It’s already there, playing across his 10-year-old face.


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Their son’s self-assuredness won’t stop Jack and Rebecca from trying to poach kids from the twins’ parties to fill in Randall’s. Their efforts are largely unsuccessful, but Kevin’s aren’t; most of the Madonnas have left Kate to join in on The Princess Bride party instead. Jack is determined to solve the defection, and while his efforts to cheer Kate up are valiant and adorable, they’re also not quite enough. Kate’s entering the most intense, most emotionally fragile years of girlhood, and not even her dad’s vogueing efforts can stop that. She just wants to be alone.

Jack is devastated, but he won’t give up; knowing that Kate doesn’t want him around right now, he goes to Kevin’s section of the party to see if he can coerce Sophie into spending more time with Kate instead. He and Rebecca are told off quickly and simply; Kevin can’t ask Sophie to go back to the Madonna party. After all, he loves her.



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This is charming and precious and lovely, and Mandy Moore and Milo Ventimiglia give master classes in subtle reactions while they listen to their son’s admission. But it’s also incredibly telling, and not just because of adult Kevin’s reveal at the end of the episode. Jack and Kate clearly have a special bond, as do Randall and Rebecca. Not to say that both parents don’t love all three of the kids; of course they do. But those two relationships are undeniably special; and it means Kevin was left out in the cold. It’s no wonder he felt insecure and second-best in adolescence. And my tendencies towards psychoanalysis are probably showing here, but I think it says a lot that Kevin imprinted on Sophie so quickly in his childhood. Even at 10, he’s looking for affection and attention, anywhere he can.

Once all the guests go home and the parties close down, Jack and Rebecca collapse together, recovering from the day. They’re emotional and exhausted, but they also both know that they weren’t actually interested in having another kid. Their emotional reaction was one that I’m told many parents feel; the desire to keep their kids frozen in time, at an age where they will never outgrow pin the tail on the donkey or ask for time alone, and certainly at an age where Jack’s talks will never falter. (“That’s like, my thing!”) And while the Big Three are getting older, they still haven’t outgrown their family traditions; downstairs, the kids kick off a wrapping paper fight. Jack and Rebecca can’t wait to join in.

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Randall/William



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Work never stops when family life is in chaos, and lest we forget that Randall is still holding down his day job trading weather, his boss has asked for an early morning meeting. It leaves Randall with no time for yogurt, much less the time to help William put music on Tess’s old iPod. William, who had just bounded into the kitchen with insurmountable energy and unbridled joy, is experiencing what Beth immediately identifies as a chemo boost. Beth is wary of the medical implications for William, but she still plays along with him while he jokes and dances his way through the morning, laughing about the differences between iPods and iPads. (“Let’s call the whole thing off!”)

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“You’re going to have to take the good with the bad when it comes to me.” – This Is Us Recap – The Big Day

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This Is Us Season 1, Episode 12
“The Big Day”
Posted by Shannon

As we learned in “The Game Plan,” the thesis statement for This Is Us rests on the interconnectivity of our lives. Generational impacts, along with smaller, everyday decisions, conversations, and meetings, all converge to make up a painting of human interaction. This week’s episode tests that thesis in a new way, breaking format away from the Pearsons at large and focusing on the day The Big Three enter Jack and Rebecca’s lives. We even spend some time with the ancillary men who helped bring the family together: Dr. K, whom we all know and love already, and Joe, the firefighter who discovered baby Randall and brought him to the hospital.

Joe/Samantha

Turns out, that red cigarette box from the pilot carried a lot more symbolism than we knew. For those of us who didn’t see the timeline switch coming (I certainly didn’t), Joe’s red cigarette box was the catalyst to the big reveal that Jack and Rebecca’s storyline was set in 1980, when smoking indoors at a hospital was just business as usual. For Joe himself, that box carried symbolism too: his marriage is deteriorating, and though he’s told his wife he quit smoking, he’s bought a new pack in secret. The purchase alone sent him to confession, asking the priest to save their marriage. It’s just a little miracle.

Joe and his wife Samantha met after they got into a fender bender, and while there must have been some good times in between, things are not going well in their home these days. Samantha is at her wit’s end, and is completely unmoved when Joe tells her what he asked of Father Williams. It’s unclear what got their relationship to this state, but it also doesn’t matter; Joe is moody and rash, Samantha is dismissive and frustrated, and their communication is non-existent. When Joe heads off to work at the fire station, it’s mere moments until he hears a baby crying outside. With young William hiding in the corner, watching to make sure someone came for his son, Joe picks up the baby and sees his miracle.

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While the rest of the firehouse suggests bringing the baby to the precinct, Joe has other ideas, and takes the infant home to Samantha. She sees through this immediately: a baby won’t solve their problems or save their marriage. It would do exactly the opposite, especially with no time to decide on the adoption together. She insists that the baby be taken to the hospital, where Jack will ultimately find him and bring him home. And though the reality of adoption would have surely driven their marriage to an even more unstable place, the faith that Joe showed in their partnership might have been just the ticket. His gesture is a kind one, and while his confidence that they could make it work was misguided, it showed just how willing he was to continue fighting for their marriage. It’s enough to let Samantha re-set her emotional clock; the two start over, and Joe gets his miracle after all.

Joe and Samantha present a vignette of life in the community, and just like Jack and Rebecca, their timeline doesn’t matter. Their story could have just as easily been in the 60s, 90s, or present day. We’re meant to feel for the timelessness of their relationship, and I did, but the only real emotional connection for me here was what baby Randall came to represent. What would have become of him if Samantha had agreed to Joe’s initial plan? What would Randall have looked like without Jack’s steadfastness or Rebecca’s fierce protection? I’m not convinced that the show did this intentionally, but what kept me going through this storyline was not an emotional connection to Joe and Samantha. It was the constant debate of nature vs nurture, and its implications for baby Randall.

Jack/Rebecca


 
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Back with the Pearsons, we first see Rebecca and Jack just after they’ve found out the babies are triplets. They’ve adjusted beautifully to the news. Rebecca is loving her pregnancy, and Jack is loving the excuse to dance to Stevie in the living room. Flash cut to just six weeks before the due date, and man, things have changed. Rebecca is physically and emotionally miserable; she can’t get up on her own, her hormones are in chaos, and she’s freaking out at the state of their new home. Six months between move-in and due date was ambitious to say the least, and while Jack got the house livable, it’s still covered in boxes. (I for one get anxious if I haven’t unpacked as soon as I get in the door from a trip, so I really felt for Rebecca here.)

Rebecca is in a state, and she just needs a day on her own, with some peace and quiet. Jack has been on a mission to get her out of the house – shoe shopping, or a double feature at the movies – but Rebecca is not having it, and kicks him out for the day. (“There are too many things in this house and I need you not to be one of them.”) Jack’s patience is running thin too, but he leaves her to it. Unfortunately, there was a reason behind his efforts to get her out of the house, besides his general standing as man of the year. It’s his birthday. Miguel had called to wish him well and offer a chance to get out of the house, and while Jack had turned him down at first, he ends up at the golf course after all.

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Just a few moments after Jack drives away, desperate to learn how much longer she has until the triplets make their grand entrance, Rebecca checks the family calendar and realizes what she’s been missing. She’s beside herself, but with nothing in the kitchen and only one family car, she’s also low on options. After pulling together some fashionable DIY sandals using flip-flops and duct tape, she heads out to the only spot within walking distance: Liquor and More. (So where’s the more?)


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“Always a headache with triplets.” – This Is Us Recap – The Right Thing to Do

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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.

Jack/Rebecca


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.

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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.


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Kate

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.

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The Best Performances of 2016

Posted by Kim and Sage

We’ve discussed the best TV moments of 2016 (you can find those here and here), so now we turn to the individual performances that brought us the most joy this year. These are the performances that inspired us, that stayed with us, and drove us into many a social media fight defending their worthiness. (Note of warning: if you come at Ryan Gosling, we WILL fight you.) I love everything we do for this website, but I have to admit that our annual “Best Performances” holds a special place in my heart, especially when I go back and re-read them when they pop up in our Timehop. These posts are like little time capsules of OUR year in entertainment; they reflect our crushes of the moment, our long-standing love affairs with performers that can do no wrong (Hey Eddie Redmayne), and a scrapbook of all the TV and Movies that we saw throughout the year. Some of these are the performances EVERYONE is talking about, whilst others are the ones that we think you all should be paying attention to. (ARE YOU ALL WATCHING SPEECHLESS BECAUSE YOU SHOULD BE.) Thus we present to you our 18 Best Performances of the year plus four Honorable Mentions. Because it’s our blog and we can’t be limited to our normal 20 shout outs. We hope you love them as much as we do.  — Kim

1) Millie Bobby Brown – Stranger Things

I obviously follow many celebrities on Instagram who are on the convention circuit. And I’ve noticed a pattern over the last few rounds of cons. All of these icons who themselves draw fans by the droves to their photo ops were all geeking out over one of their own. I can’t tell you how many backstage selfies I’ve liked of some famous fan cheesing like mad with Millie Bobby Brown.

And why shouldn’t they be starstruck over her? Millie burst onto the pop culture scene in the role of Eleven on Stranger Things in a striking performance reminiscent of Drew Barrymore in Firestarter. Eleven is a scientific marvel and a weapon, but she’s also a child – a child who was stolen from her family and exploited by the only “Papa” she’d ever known. Millie can do a thousand-yard stare like nobody else, but my favorite moments in the series are the ones where Eleven grasps for a sense of normalcy and belonging with the boys who find her. (“Still pretty?”) This young actor’s work warrants those deep reads of Stranger Things as an allegory about puberty, child abuse, or just being a kid in this big, bad world. 2016 will always be her breakthrough year, and we can’t wait to see how Millie’s career unfolds. –Sage

2) Kylie Bunbury and Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Pitch

The success or failure of Pitch as a show depends entirely on the woman playing Ginny Baker. If the audiences don’t connect with Ginny and her journey as the first woman to play professional baseball, the show never gets out of the dugout. (BASEBALL METAPHORS.) Lucky for the creators of Pitch and the television audience at large, we’ve got Kylie Bunbury carrying the entire show on her (very toned) shoulders. And the thing is, Kylie makes it look easy. Ginny Baker is an incredibly complex character and Kylie is tasked with a LOT. She’s got a spine of steel yet she remains incredibly vulnerable. (If you weren’t moved by her breakdown in the bathtub during her Almost Famous-esque “fuck everything” night, you may want to make an appointment with a cardiologist.) She’s been hurt and taken advantage of by so many people, yet she constantly puts herself on the line in the name of pursuing her dream. She fights to be treated as an equal in her workplace. (The episode where she blatantly refuses to back down from the “Beanball” war because she is a woman is SO IMPORTANT.) Kylie makes Ginny wonderfully human; she is flawed and complicated and she struggles being considered a role model when all she really wants to do is just play baseball. She’s the most important female character on TV right now, for so many women, and I PRAY that Fox does the right thing and picks up the show for season two.

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And in the other corner, we have Mark-Paul Gosselaar as the aging All Star catcher Mike Lawson. Listen, it’s not like this is an out of nowhere comeback for the erstwhile Zack Morris. Mark-Paul has worked steadily since his Saved By The Bell days, but something feels DIFFERENT in this performance. He brings a “seen it all” attitude to Mike. He has a weariness that could easily be seen as a disillusionment towards the game when really it’s a career ballplayer being painfully aware that he’s coming to the end of his time in the sun. It took me about 75% of the pilot episode before I realized that I was watching Mark-Paul Gosselaar on my TV screen and it’s NOT just because of his GLORIOUS mountain man beard. Mark-Paul completely disappears into the character and brings a very Coach Taylor-esque quality to the Padres captain. It’s the speeches and the eye crinkles and the bone deep love of the game. Come on, you KNOW Mike Lawson would bust out with “Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.”

So what happens when you put these two incredibly dynamic performers opposite each other? Fireworks, naturally. Kylie and Mark-Paul’s chemistry is SO PALPABLE and has so many levels. For Mike, Ginny serves as an inspiration and a reminder of why he loves baseball in the first place. In Mike, Ginny finds a true teammate who will stand up for her and not treat her with kid gloves. There’s a definite mentor relationship between them but there is also an undeniable sexual chemistry. Bawson is the slowest of slowburns, with their attraction building through lingering looks and late night phone calls. It’s the most DELICIOUS kind of tension and it’s one they are both incredibly aware of. Mike and Ginny are like magnets, pushing against each other, challenging each other, and eventually, falling into each other. To quote my boo Kate Moseley, “all they needed was a little flip.” — Kim

3) Joshua Sasse – No Tomorrow

As the meteor he believes is hurtling towards Earth inspires Xavier Holiday to live his life to the fullest, so does the uncertain future of the CW’s apocalyptic romantic comedy No Tomorrow inspire us to recognize it while we can.

Bearded, beanied, and tattooed Xavier is played by HOT AUSSIE Joshua Sasse, fresh off the unfairly canceled musical romp Galavant. (YEP, he sings too.) He makes an amazing case for not writing off the sexy guy who’s into you juuuuust because he believes the rapture is on its way. He breaks the Dealbreaker Scale, basically.

I’d like to keep on objectifying Xavier and Joshua (as the show clearly does – he’s 1/2 or more naked in most episodes), but I’ll get serious. It’s a challenging part, because Xavier has to believe completely in his end-of-the-world theory but not come off as dangerous or deranged. And as charming as he is to Evie and the audience (and OH, HE IS), Xavier is also kind of an arrogant jerk, accustomed to putting himself first. It’s a credit to Joshua’s embodiment of the character that Xavier is still our hero – a flawed person who heard terrible news and decided to use it to turn his life around. You see his petulance when Evie challenges him, but you also see the way he lights up when someone around him takes control of however many days they have left. And the man knows how to sell a love scene, just saying.

He’s so convincing that I wonder sometimes if Xavier is actually right about our impending doom. And if No Tomorrow gets the pick-up it should, I hope it ends with a completely fulfilled Apocalyst and a vindicated male lead. –Sage

4) Sterling K. Brown – This Is Us

2016 was a garbage year but it’s ALSO the year that gave us Sterling K. Brown’s major career breakthrough, so I am ALMOST willing to call it even. I foolishly missed out on The People Vs. OJ Simpson (and am counting down the days until it gets added to Netflix), so my first exposure to Sterling’s acting came when I saw the pilot episode of This Is Us. Sage said it perfectly when she wrote about Sterling for our Handsome Young Man post: just when we think Sterling has hit his peak as Randall Pearson, he just gets BETTER. Randall is easily the most compelling character on This Is Us, and sometimes I can’t decide if it’s because he has the best story or because Sterling is just THAT GOOD in a cast filled with stellar actors. I actually think it’s a combination of both; Randall DOES have the meatiest stories, but Sterling also elevates every single scene that he’s in. In my humble opinion, he is giving THE male television performance of the year.

It’s clear that Sterling understands Randall on a fundamental level. The performance is never one-note and Randall can switch from achingly vulnerable to slyly sarcastic in the blink of an eye. (His comic timing is MASTERFUL.) If I had to think of one word to describe Sterling’s performance it would be DEFT. You never see him working, you never see him changing gears, and you NEVER see Sterling. You only see Randall Pearson, king of bad Dad jokes and devoted son, brother, and husband. It’s such a fully formed and nuanced performance. But the most important thing about Randall is how wonderfully human he is. It would be quite easy, after all the truth about William and Rebecca and his adoption came out, for Randall to be played as bitter and jaded. But he’s never been that, even in his initial meeting with William in the pilot episode. Randall Pearson has the biggest HEART and his capacity for love and forgiveness is truly inspiring. Sterling imbues him with such grace and warmth that you can’t help but fall in love with him immediately. It’s the perfect combination of actor and the character he was meant to play and we’re so blessed to watch him work week after week. — Kim

5) Aya Cash – You’re the Worst

The first time I saw Aya Cash perform was in 2008 when she played a disillusioned teen in the off-Broadway comedy From Up Here. She was memorable in a way that surpassed quirkiness, and I’m so thrilled to see her thriving in a role like Gretchen Cutler.

I binged the first two seasons of You’re the Worst in time for the season 3 premiere and responded instantly to the show’s filthiness and honesty. As it progresses, the show digs deeper and deeper into what familial and chemical circumstances make Gretchen and Jimmy, in fact, the worst. And what Aya has done with already keen and incisive material is to give an alarmingly accurate crash course on clinical depression. Jimmy can talk himself out of feeling most things, so it’s scary for him and for us when the normally verbose Gretchen goes nearly comatose. She wants nothing, asks for nothing, finds comfort in nothing. For the novelist, cause and effect are always talking to each other. Aya shows Gretchen paralyzed by the fear of telling Jimmy that there’s not switch to flick when it comes to her illness. She worries that he loves her because she’s irreverent and fun, but she can only be those things when she’s capable of feeling anything. In a brave and desperate moment of confession, she finally tells him: “So the only thing I need from you is to not make a big deal of it and be OK with how I am and the fact that you can’t fix me.”

This is You’re the Worst, and it’s not the kind of show that will present a newly determined Gretchen facing her illness with gumption and putting one foot in front of the other until she’s better. Mental illness and its treatment are not linear. In season 3, she backslides and claws and insults her therapist for wearing the same pair of jeans every day. But that’s Gretch and that’s depression. Even badass bitches can have it. –Sage

6) Minnie Driver – Speechless

Speechless is my favorite new comedy of the season and that’s largely in part to Minnie Driver’s FIERCE performance as ultimate tiger mama Maya DiMeo. The overbearing mom is a sitcom trope that could easily go the clichéd route but Minnie plays Maya like she’s in on the joke. She KNOWS she’s ridiculous but she also makes no apologies for it. (Also, she’s advocating for her disabled kid, so how ridiculous is she, REALLY?) It’s such a WRY performance, especially in the way Minnie delivers so many of her lines completely deadpan, her posh British accent just ACCENTUATING the dry delivery. While I never watched About a Boy, I heard nothing but good things about Minnie’s performance on it, so I am so happy to see that she’s found herself another television vehicle to showcase how talented she is. (Look, I can make a very strong case for the fact that she should have won the Oscar for Good Will Hunting. Ask me about it over cocktails.)

So often on television, unabashedly alpha females are portrayed as ball busters or stone cold bitches. Speechless takes a different approach. Maya IS a ball buster and she is often a bitch but it’s clear that those closest to her adore and cherish that part of her personality. Her husband Jimmy (a DELIGHTFUL John Ross Bowie) is more than happy to let Maya wear the pants in the marriage, but not from a slacker “oh look at the old ball and chain” point of view. It’s clear that Jimmy loves and respects his wife immensely and takes pleasure in watching her run the show. (And he’s always there to pick up the pieces when she comes in like a wrecking ball, shrugging his shoulders in a “Yeah, isn’t she great?” kind of way.) While her kids often roll their eyes at Maya, it’s obvious that there is no one they would rather have in their corner than their mother. Same. TV needs more characters like Maya DiMeo and it needs more actresses like Minnie Driver to bring them to life in an honest and relatable way.  — Kim

7) Kate McKinnon – Ghostbusters

Dudes, I love you. But it is IMPOSSIBLE to explain to you how much Ghostbusters means to us. When you tell me it’s “OKAY” or “good but not great,” you’re just proving how little you understand our intense craving for movies like these. We were DEHYDRATED over here, okay? But we didn’t know how thirsty we truly were until we saw Kate McKinnon as Jillian Holtzmann.

We got Holtzmanned, baby. And we loved it. Forever an SNL MVP, Kate imbued the gadget-loving scientist with a resplendent weirdness that made the whole movie sing. She instantly became an icon for girls who geek and – explicit though it wasn’t allowed to be – girls who would absolutely hit on Kristen Wiig if she ever wandered into their basement lab. The women in this movie were never sexualized, yet somehow, everyone I know walked out of that theater with a massive crush on Jillian and her collection of safety goggles. I’m so distracted by the gif below, it’s taken me 40 minutes to write this paragraph.

Which brings me back to why this is so important. Not since Ellen Ripley can I remember a female character kicking paranormal ass like Kate does in that sublime slow motion fight scene without being stuffed into cut-offs or a catsuit. Holtzmann is not a token hero, like so many in the “There’s One Girl!” teams that have been shoved down our throats. She’s a brilliant, bizarre, queer, ghostbusting scientist who’s biggest takeaway from this whole world-saving thing is that she’s finally found her tribe.

There should be a sequel. Kate McKinnon should be a movie star. Safety lights are for dudes who say this movie could have been better. –Sage

8) The Women of Penny Dreadful

RIP Penny Dreadful and some of the best female characters to grace our television screens in years. I’ll never understand why awards didn’t rain down upon Eva Green, Billie Piper, and Patti LuPone (whose role is the definition of a Guest Acting Emmy). But WE know the truth and we will never stop preaching the gospel of Vanessa Ives. Years from now, television historians will look back on Eva Green in Penny Dreadful and laud her bravery and her boldness. Her performance exhausts me, honestly. I don’t know how she did it. It was completely free of vanity. She wouldn’t just go to the ugly places, she would marinate in them and let them soak into her soul. Watching her every week was a masterclass in character development and determination and any episode that was Vanessa-less was weaker for it.

It was such a brilliant move to bring back Patti LuPone back for season three as Vanessa’s shrink, Dr. Seward. She had an incredibly memorable role in Season 2 as Joan Clayton, a witch who helped shape Vanessa’s life and cemented her identity as the Scorpion. I love how the two roles were completely different but yet the underlying thread of overwhelming compassion for Vanessa Ives tied the characters together. Patti brings SUCH gravity to all of her roles and really she’s the only woman who could go toe to toe with Eva Green and WIN. My biggest regret about the fact that we won’t be getting a season 4 is that we won’t get more of Seward the Vampire Slayer. NEVER FORGET how Seward casually admitted that she killed her abusive husband with a meat cleaver. Where’s my spinoff John Logan?

And then there’s Billie Piper, Queen of Our Hearts and the 2016 Feelie Winner for Best Supporting Actress in a Drama. There’s not much to say about Billie’s furious portrayal of Lily Frankenstein that we haven’t said before, so I’m just going to quote creator John Logan here. “It’s a very feminist show, and the idea that the audience gets to see, in our three years, Lily as a degraded figure who’s abused by men, as Brona, literally being reborn into a blank slate and then achieving incredible power but always having a great human connection. That was a case where I was also inspired by the actor, because Billie Piper so delights me, and I found that in the second season I was able to write her an eight-minute monologue that she absolutely delivered, completely, in a way that I found thrilling. I just wanted to do it again, because she’s an actor who understands theatricality and understands larger than life language in a very unique way, and that’s part of what this show is about.”

Quite right too.  — Kim

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The Top 20 Television Moments of 2016 – Part One

Posted by Kim and Sage

WE DID IT YOU GUYS. The end of 2016 is nigh. Everyone take a deep sigh of relief.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that 2016 was a dumpster fire of a year. It was brutal with the celebrity deaths and it felt like the world was on the verge of imploding every time you turned on the news. I can’t help but think of Samwise Gamgee at the end of The Two Towers when I think of 2016. “How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you.” These end of year posts are the stories that have stayed with us. We hope you enjoy the memories as much as we do. –Kim

1) Michael Phelps swims the 200 Butterfly – The Rio Olympics

Michael Phelps did not come to the Rio Olympics to play. After being disappointed with his performance in the London Olympics (you know, a measly six medals, four of them gold), Michael returned to the pool as a man on a mission. The most important part of that mission? Getting back the gold medal in the 200 meter butterfly that South Africa’s Chad le Clos had taken from him. As fate would have it, Phelps and le Clos were in the same semifinal, swimming right next to each other. It’s the perfect sports story, really. The undisputed King of the Pool and the younger and cockier rival who had lorded his victory over Phelps for four years. Who would triumph? Here’s why I love the Olympics so fucking much: the completely pure and unstaged moments of human emotion. As cameramen in the holding room focused on the two rivals they caught le Clos showboating and shadowboxing in front of Phelps. And there sat Michael, his hood up over his head and his trademark headphones on making a FACE OF DEATH. Seriously…laser beams were about to shoot out of his eyes. Thus, the greatest meme of 2016, #PhelpsFace, was born. (It’s also the default facial expression to describe the year.)

Was le Clos trying to psych Phelps out? Was Michael truly just in the zone, as he later claimed, or was he making the face at the obvious showboating? We’ll never know, really. What we DO know are the results in the pool. Phelps and le Clos qualified 2nd and 3rd in that semi, which set up an exciting final that was packed with contenders for the Gold. There was something about Michael’s swimming and attitude in Rio though. While he never looked MISERABLE in previous Olympics, it was clear that Michael had always been focused on winning and shattering records alone. In Rio, he seemed to have rediscovered the JOY of swimming and it showed in his interviews and his emotions on the podium. Michael shaved off nearly 8/10ths of a second off his semifinal time to take back his precious Gold Medal and his jubilation was reminiscent of a certain end zone dance by Rod Tidwell. One might say that Michael Phelps found the Kwan in Rio and we all got to see it. — Kim

2) The #HamilTonys

Look, Hamilton was going to come into the Tonys like a wrecking ball. Everyone knew it. Hence the joke in the opening (Hamilton-themed) number: Leslie Odom Jr., Daveed Diggs, Anthony Ramos, and Okieriete Onaodowan advancing on a Tony-toting James Corden, who stops them by singing, “Just you wait, just you wait…”

The Best Musical award was a foregone conclusion. (In any other year, Waitress. Any other year.) Score and Book were too. The tightest races in a couple of the acting categories were actually BETWEEN Hamilton castmates. And though no choice would have been the wrong one, the Tonys – in our opinion – played it just right. For once, Alexander Hamilton didn’t spoil an Aaron Burr victory; Leslie accepted the Leading Actor Tony he deserved. There was no controversy, since Lin went home with a wheelbarrow of other awards. Broadway veterans Christopher Jackson and Jonathan Groff looked on proudly as newcomer Daveed Diggs was handed the Featured Actor Tony. It’s safe to say that being in Hamilton would change anyone’s life, but of those three, it changed Daveed the most. And come on, the guy plays one character per act, spits RECORD-BREAKING fire, and delivers the best asides in the show. (Whaaaaaaat?) Renee Elise Goldsberry cried as she gave her Featured Actress acceptance speech. And if it hadn’t been for the unstoppable Cynthia Erivo, Phillipa Soo would have been on that stage too.

All told, Hamilton took home 11 Tonys, falling just short of the The Producers‘ record. But that wasn’t the whole story. Hamilton in its very existence is a statement. In the same awards cycle when #OscarsSoWhite trended worldwide, Hamilton contributed to the Tonys’ incredible diversity achievement of all four musical acting awards going to non-white performers. The show made this the hippest Tonys (is that a thing??) in recent memory. The 2016 telecast was the highest rated in the last 15 years. And those new viewers were tuning in SPECIFICALLY to see Hamilton – a piece of art that’s reinvigorated and redrawn the medium by prioritizing inclusion, truth, and a ridiculous amount of work.

A dark shadow was cast on the Tonys. Early that same morning, the Pulse massacre occurred in Florida. The telecast was dedicated to the victims and their families. One of Lin’s speeches was a quickly composed sonnet honoring them too. And Hamilton‘s producers made a decision to alter their performance. There were no muskets in “Yorktown.” The actors and the ensemble mimed their presence. And that image – two dozen people in Colonial garb pointing invisible guns into the audience – will stay with me for a long time.  –Sage

3) The Origin of The Big Three – This Is Us



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I was fully on board with This Is Us from that first trailer that featured guaranteed tearjerker “I Won’t Give Up” as the soundtrack (and because it had Mandy Moore). But I was also completely aware that a great trailer by no means makes a great show and that This Is Us could easily be saccharine overdose. I was lucky to get to see an early screening of the This Is Us at the Paley Center a couple of weeks before it premiered. I was immediately taken in by the sharp and funny dialogue and the tightly drawn characters. (Sterling K. Brown gets Randall from the GET GO, guys.) I was so drawn in by the four principle stories of the pilot that I forgot to look for the twist of how they were all tied together (SILLY ME). I ignored niggling questions like why in the hell with triplets did Mandy Moore’s Rebecca NOT have a c-section scheduled? I missed the hints of Randall saying that he was abandoned at a fire station and adopted by a wonderful couple. I COMPLETELY missed it…and so did most of the people in the Paley screening room.

A collective GASP swept through the room when Milo Ventimiglia’s Jack, mourning the loss of one of his triplets, stood at the nursery window smiling at his two babies and started talking to the fireman standing next to him, who pointed out the baby who had been abandoned at his fire station. “OH MY GOD,” I quietly (or not so quietly) exclaimed, as the camera panned back to reveal people in period clothing wandering the halls of the hospital. “THEY ARE A FAMILY.” It was in that moment that we KNEW that This Is Us was going to be a special kind of show: unabashedly sentimental, expertly acted, and one that would take us along on the journey.  — Kim

4) The Blood Threesome – Penny Dreadful

Rest in peace, Penny Dreadful. You crazy bitch.

Showtime’s literary horror masterpiece pulled out all the stops for what we didn’t know would be its final season. We didn’t get this gory orgy not in the finale, oh no. This was episode THREE.

I have some issues with the way it was resolved. But overall, I am all about Penny Dreadful turning the horror of being a woman of no consequence in Victorian London around on the godless men who exploit them. It facilitated some jaw-dropping Billie Piper monologues, that’s for sure. It also facilitated this consummation: Lily, her benefactor Dorian, and their bloodthirsty protege Justine celebrate Justine’s first kill by indulging in the most indulgent act possible. Lily and Justine are celebrating being masters of their own bodies for once. And Dorian? Well, Dorian’s just a hedonist.

The camerawork, the candles, the score: it’s all so over-the-top and UBER-DRAMATIC and not really that necessary for the plot. I love TV that will throw over subtlety when necessary, and go to these places just because it’s FUN. –Sage

5) Murtagh gets his vengeance – Outlander

When I look back at Season Two of Outlander, I can sum it up with a singular text I got from Sage whilst she watched episode 11, “Vengeance is Mine”: “THIS SHOW IS SAVAGE.” Season Two was a LOT, from all the shenanigans in Paris to the emotional wallop that was the entire episode of “Faith” to Jamie stabbing BlackJack Randall IN THE DICK to a pregnant Claire being sent back through the stones. The entire season was a masterclass in pacing and storytelling because we KNEW the ending in the opening moments of the season premiere, yet the show managed to keep us on our toes and have us HOPING that said ending would not come to pass. But sadly, I can’t single out the entire season for this post. Thus I settled on the moment that prompted Sage’s text message: Murtagh’s savage beheading of the Duke of Sandringham. Because as a book virgin, I did NOT see that one coming.

Let’s face it: Murtagh is the unsung hero of the series. He faithfully stands by Jamie and Claire’s side in France, even though every expression on his face says “I MISS SCOTLAND”. His only reaction when Jamie FINALLY told him the truth about Claire was to punch him in the face for not trusting him with this information sooner. He pulled a “I’m with you till the end of the line” with Jamie at The Battle of Culloden when Jamie tried to send him away. (SIDE NOTE: MURTAGH BETTER BE ALIVE IN SEASON THREE BITCHES.) Murtagh is good people. So it was devastated to see him wracked by guilt over not being able to protect Claire and Mary when they were attacked (and Mary was brutally raped) on the streets of Paris. HE WAS UNCONSCIOUS WHAT COULD HE HAVE DONE? Nevertheless, his promise to avenge Claire and Mary was one he took to heart. The last minutes of “Vengeance is Mine” were absolutely thrilling, from Red Jamie storming in ready to kick some ass to Mary grabbing the knife and stabbing her attacker once Sandringham’s complicit involvement in the attack came to light. But it was all capped off by Murtagh grabbing a fucking AXE and taking a swing at the Duke. Off came his head and he grabbed it and placed it at Claire and Mary’s feet as they looked on in shock. “I lay my vengeance at your feet,” he said, kneeling before them. That’s Murtagh for you. Taking things literally. — Kim

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“Nothing bad happens on Christmas Eve.” – This Is Us Recap – Last Christmas

source: cookiesordeath.tumblr.com

This Is Us Season 1, Episode 10
“Last Christmas”
Posted by Shannon

For the first full episode this season, the whole Pearson crew is on the east coast. And it is SO good to have everyone together. But before we can get the whole family under one roof, we get to spend some time focusing in on individual characters and exploring some dynamics that I for one have been itching to learn more about. The mid-season finale is built out of a series of stand-alone two-person scenes, and every single one is a doozy. So let’s take them one by one this week.

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Jack/Rebecca


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Christmas preparations with triplets is no small feat. The tree is absolutely bursting with presents, and while Jack sees that as the fruits of his labor and love for his family, Rebecca’s got the traditional concern that the kids are only seeing the holiday for the sparkly gift wrapping and not as an opportunity for the family to be together. As one would expect for nine-year-olds, she’s not too far off the mark: Kate’s counting presents and Randall is counting Grandma’s Christmas money. At least Kevin, when pressed, assures his mom that he knows what the holiday is really about: Jesus stuff. (I mean, the kid’s not wrong.)

It’s good to see that the Pearsons hadn’t been planning on taking a trip to Grandma and Grandpa’s house after finally establishing their own Thanksgiving traditions, but unfortunately it doesn’t mean they’ve avoided an unexpected change of plans. Kate, complaining about stomach pain, lands in the hospital for appendicitis, and Christmas eve is suddenly relocated to the ER. It’s a pretty standard procedure but the family is understandably freaked out; Rebecca’s initial attempt at comforting Kate falls flat. (“It’s like having a tooth pulled?” The dentist would be an even worse place to spend a holiday, c’mon Rebecca.) Meanwhile, the boys are reacting in a perfect mirror to their adult counterparts. Randall hangs back, thoughtful and quietly worried, while Kevin simply won’t be moved from his sister’s side. He doesn’t go so far as kicking and screaming, but he follows along while she’s wheeled into surgery, far past the point he’s allowed.



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When she slips off to get some snacks from the vending machine, Rebecca hears a familiar voice – Dr. K, holed up in a hospital bed after spinning his car out on some ice. Dr. K was close to retirement when we first met him back in the pilot, and it’s a full nine years later. He’s aged well, but the accident has left him with internal problems and he’s not too confident that he’ll make it out of surgery. Rebecca and Jack hop to immediately. There’s just no way they would allow Dr. K to sit in the hospital alone on Christmas Eve, and the family settles in to keep him company while they wait for Kate to get out of surgery.



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Kevin’s highest priority was and is Kate. As kids, the twins don’t actually get a ton of scenes together, but all we need to know about their childhood is right here. Kevin barely says a word at the hospital; all that matters to him is where his sister is, and when he’s not able to follow her into surgery, he tries to settle on the best possible religious figure to pray to for her safe recovery. He spends most of the evening clutching his side, feeling the same physical pain she was, and he can’t really be bothered to speak to his parents or to Dr. K.

For Randall, though, Dr. K represented something new and vital to his young life: an older man with some answers, someone who was there before his adoption, and even partially responsible for it. It’s not quite the answer that he’s been looking for, and he won’t fill the void of a biological parent, but he can help shine a light on how Randall got to where he is. So it’s no wonder that he immediately spends his Grandmother’s Christmas money on a gift for Dr. K, or that he’s the one who really bonds with the Doctor. We leave 1989 here for now, with Dr. K leaving yet another imprint on young Randall, instructing him to pass the same kindness Jack has shown on to someone else during his lifetime.


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Kevin and Sloane



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I figured Olivia wouldn’t be able to handle Kevin calling her out on her behavior nearly as well as she expects everyone else to, but I didn’t think she’d be quite this irresponsible. Turns out, immediately after their time at the cabin, Olivia just…disappeared. She jumped ship entirely on the play and hasn’t been seen for a month, leading the producers the pull the plug on the whole operation. Kevin and Sloane are both frustrated and disheartened; Kevin feels like he’s put the entire fate of his career into this play, and Sloane, as the playwright, actually has. But Sloane isn’t going to admit defeat on her entire holiday season, and demands that in return for driving her lead away, Kevin accompany her to her family’s Hanukkah dinner. In character. As her boyfriend. (“I can’t show up with no play and no Manny.”) Kevin is totally on board for this plan and jumps right in – after all, he did this story line twice in The Manny.

It’s only fair for Kevin to be thrown into the deep end with Sloane’s family after her time at the cabin, and their dynamic is just as delightfully relatable as the Pearsons. With a judgy, overly perfect sister and snarky mom, Sloane is the outlier in her family, and she plays right to type. She’s casually infuriated that her family found time to watch The Manny (or at least claimed to) while not showing up for her play, and throws barbs around at everyone in sight. Kevin’s just along for the ride, but then the lights go down and Sloane tells the story of Hanukkah to the kids. He can’t take his eyes off her. No one can; it’s no wonder her family insists she be the one to tell the story year after year. She’s funny and smart and dynamic, and you can see Kevin’s wheels turning the entire time. It’s the inspiration for Kevin’s best idea all season; he can put the money up for the play himself, with Sloane acting in Olivia’s old role. This is the most excited Kevin has been for the play hands-down, and frankly, it’s the most excited I’ve been too. Kevin and Sloane have a gorgeous chemistry, and they bounce off each other so much more naturally than he and Olivia ever did. Kevin radiates inspiration and affection when he’s around her, and all of a sudden I am VERY invested in both the success of their play and the inevitable transition from “fake relationship” to very very real and genuinely delightful relationship. Sloane brings out the same side to Kevin that Kate does; his eyes are brighter around her, his senses sharper. I just want to watch these two be adorable for a while.

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Kate and Rebecca

This is the one I was waiting for. FINALLY, we get some time with Kate and Rebecca. It’s a mirror to their Christmas Eve spent in the hospital back in 1989, except this time, Rebecca is accompanying her daughter to the initial appointment to discuss Kate’s potential gastric bypass surgery. The risks here are legitimately horrifying; not only is the surgery intensive, but Kate’s quality of life going forward would shift. Her diet would need to be extreme, and the risks for not following Doctor’s orders to the letter are dramatic. Kate grits her teeth, no doubt knowing most of this before she went in, and still feels that the change will be worth it. But it’s all new for Rebecca, especially when the doctor moves on to the intake questionnaire.

The dynamic between a mother and her grown daughter is complex. Of course it varies dramatically from family to family, but so much of Kate and Rebecca’s tensions are deeply relatable. Living far away from her family and existing more or less as an island, Kate has been facing daily struggles for depression (trying to get treatment with prozac, but giving it up after it caused more weight gain) and wrestling with frequent bingeing. It’s horrifying to Rebecca, but to Kate, and to many grown women, it’s just life. Adult children who move that far away from home and aren’t terribly close with their parents wouldn’t jump on the phone to talk about untreated depression. It’s a natural distance, and it’s partially because of the reaction Kate knew Rebecca would have. Of course Rebecca would want to know the difficulties her daughter faces. But for Kate, the mental math of sharing this information just never added up.

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“Relax your eyes and look through it.” – This Is Us Recap – The Trip

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source: thisisusedits.tumblr.com

This Is Us Season 1, Episode 9
“The Trip”
Posted by Shannon

Much of the focus for This Is Us has been on the long-term reverberations of decisions made by parents and parent’s parents; it’s a generational exploration, significantly larger in scope than we typically find in a family dramedy. Of course that still plays a part of the story this week, but this episode shifts focus to narrow in on the significance that community and family hold on a daily basis. “The Trip” is all about the importance of holding each other up in the here and now. Generational impact is all well and good, but where would any of us be without the people in our lives who will always stand within eyeshot when you need their support, or be willing to sacrifice their emotional security for your own? And what becomes of us when we don’t allow loved ones into our internal struggles?

Jack/Rebecca

Jack and Rebecca start off this week by carting the Big Three to the grocery store. It’s a relatively uneventful errand with standard levels of chaos and confusion, which Randall uses to sneak away.  Fresh from a science unit on inherited traits, Randall is armed with a new test in the search for his biological family: he’s taken to approaching any and all black adults he can find and asking if they can roll their tongues. His curiosity on the subject has made a natural progression from his subdued notebook to something more active; he’s even taken to making up stories to Yvette’s kids about who his birth father might be. The options he’s rattling off range from a cook to a famous basketball player to a mailman: all roles, Yvette points out, that Randall has seen filled by black men. He’s actively seeking out adult black males to look up to, and while he hasn’t got many options in their small town, it hasn’t stopped him from looking.



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Interestingly, during Randall’s first year of private school, Jack and Rebecca have switched places in their parenting styles. While Rebecca was the one to see past Jack’s misgivings about taking Randall out of school for what they really were (fear about his own career and the path his work life had taken), the situations have reversed. This time, its Jack pushing Rebecca to consider making a change on behalf of their son’s emotional well-being by tracking down Randall’s birth parents. Even Jack’s gentlest prodding, and his loving concern that he doesn’t want Randall “sticking his tongue out at strangers when he’s 80” sends Rebecca into a fit of anxiety, which she promptly takes out on the dishes.

On Yvette’s recommendation, and knowing how vital the need for a more tangible connection to the black community is becoming for Randall, Jack signs him up for a martial arts class. The studio is a haven for Randall; it’s full of black men and boys, and the teacher, Ray, emanates strength, calm and focus. He promptly takes Randall over to a photo of Ron van Clief, a renowned black martial artist, and starts to explain the Black Dragon and his legacy. This is precisely the kind of exposure Randall desperately needs, and exactly what Jack knows he and Rebecca can’t offer. Hard as they might try, the two will never be able to draw from a black experience. The best they can do is actively put him in environments like the dojo, with people who can offer that level of guidance and identity.

Still, Jack can’t shake the feeling that the dojo alone isn’t enough. One hour a week won’t be enough exposure to the black community to truly give Randall a sense of self, and Jack again mentions to Rebecca that it might be worth searching for the birth parents. Jack’s initial sensitivity at Randall looking elsewhere for a father figure is nowhere to be seen. Instead, he’s willing to make his own life more difficult, emotionally and practically, if it means giving Randall a more comprehensive, “inherent understanding” of his identity.  He even comes prepared with a PI recommendation to get the ball rolling. Rebecca, though, is painfully uncomfortable with this conversation, and only becomes more anxious the more Jack brings it up.

Of course we know Rebecca wouldn’t need a PI to track down William. When Randall first started asking questions, in the early days of his intense drive to find his birth parents, Rebecca once again found herself speaking to William without telling Jack; she knocks on William’s door, hoping he still lives there. And he does. (Rent control is a beautiful thing.) I’m not sure that Rebecca truly knows what she wants out of the meeting, but what she sees must have been a comfort and a horror all at the same time. William has already turned his life around; he’s been sober for over five years, he’s working at an instrument repair shop, he’s playing music in the back room during off hours, he’s attending Narcotics Anonymous. He’s more or less returned to the William we first met on the bus; writing often, living alone, and cautiously curious about how Kyle’s doing. His eyes lit up when Rebecca explained that they took his advice and changed his name; it was even more impactful to William that Randall’s namesake was Dudley Randall, after William’s favorite poet. The two share an uneasy but kind-hearted dialogue; Rebecca tells William all about Randall’s penchant for GI Joe’s, his skills at math and science, and his innate kindness.


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William is moving through so much in this moment: sadness, nerves, gratitude, and regret, but he takes comfort in knowing that Randall is living a happy, healthy life. Rebecca stops short of telling William he can or should meet Randall; what she says, rather, is that Randall has been asking questions, that he wants to meet his father, and that’s why she’s there. William, still struggling with his separation from his child and seeing an opportunity, jumps on it. His response is a little manic, and immediately he switches into turn of phrase that both had avoided thus far: “My boy wants to meet me.” All of a sudden, William launches into a whirlwind, offering a tour of the instrument repair shop, music lessons, even sleepovers and poetry collections that William had written for his son. It’s too much, too quick and too horrifying for Rebecca – she sneaks out the front door while William is searching for his poems, not saying goodbye, and certainly not leaving any way for William to get in touch.

These are exactly the fears Rebecca had in her mind when speaking with Jack. She doesn’t see any potentially positive outcome from Randall meeting William. She’s terrified by every option – that William could fall back into drugs, leaving them to decide what to tell Randall – or, maybe even worse for Rebecca, there’s the fear that Randall’s birth family would be great. That they would love him just as much as the Pearsons, and that they would want him back. I’m no expert on adoption laws, so I’ll take Rebecca’s comments here to be truth; without a paper trail for the adoption, without the Hills having legally given Randall up, it would be feasible for William to make a case to take Randall back, away from Jack and Rebecca and the twins. And that risk, no matter how slight, is a non-starter for Rebecca. She won’t budge, no matter the cost to all of them: to her, for having to keep the secret from Jack and Randall, to William, denied contact with his son, and to Randall himself.



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Jack, seeing how deeply Rebecca is set against a search for the birth family, continues taking Randall to the dojo. During Randall’s first formal class, Ray begins an initiation. He formally welcomes Randall into their community, acknowledging that while Randall’s life is generally positive, there will be ups and downs and challenges ahead. But at every turn, the community he’s built will hold him up, beginning with his father. The ceremony begins: Jack enters the formal dojo, and with Randall on his back, completes push up after push up, representing the support he will continue to give to his son. Ray prompts Jack to make a pledge, and Jack follows every “yes, sir” with a glance to Rebecca. He’s not just promising to Randall, and to Ray, and to the community at large that he will do anything and everything for his boy: he’s promising Rebecca, too. Even after Ray gives Jack the all clear to stop, Jack just keeps going. He goes, and goes, and goes, and for who knows how long; he only stops when he physically can’t continue, and by that time Rebecca has gone to his side.




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It’s a powerful, phenomenally moving gesture, but it’s also completely necessary.  Jack needed to prove to himself that he would push as hard as physically possible for his son to feel loved and supported, no matter the differences between them. He needed to show Rebecca that he would go as far as he could to make her feel comfortable and safe within their family unit. And of course, Randall needed to feel that support, and to see it made by his father in the community that they’ve joined together; both are outliers in a community of black men and their sons, but they are no less included in that community. Rebecca sees all of this as proof that she and Jack are all Randall ever truly need. Without knowing how William would have reacted to actually meeting Randall, without knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that their family unit would grow rather than shrink, she makes the call, writes the letter to William, and never contacts him again.

source: thisisusedits.tumblr.com

source: thisisusedits.tumblr.com

Kate

After her “seize the day” moment on the plane, Kate is holding steady to her decision to get gastric bypass surgery. While Kevin insists that she’s being too flippant about a dangerous procedure, Kate is never someone to take a decision like this lightly. She’s run the numbers (of course she has) and found that if her current weight loss rate stays steady, she’d be 106 by the time she reached her goal weight. Between this and the breakup with Toby, Kate is in the middle of one of those moments we all face from time to time: she’s thrown all the pieces of her life up in the air, mixed them up, and let them fall into a new order, hoping the new combination lets her feel more like herself.

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