“It was enough time to know that I loved him.” – This Is Us Recap – What Now?

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This Is Us Season 1, Episode 17
“What Now?”
Posted by Shannon

After saying farewell to William last week, the penultimate episode of the season is full of complex themes. The Pearson clan has spent their recent days pondering legacy, blame, and forgiveness, and while some are making more concrete moves than others, each of them carry a hefty emotional weight. As we head into the season finale, Randall and Kevin share clarity and opportunity in their work and home lives, while the guilt and shame of Rebecca’s decision to lie to Randall is lifted and transposed to Kate. The legacy of the Hill-Pearson patriarchs is felt fully this week, and their children’s emotional connections to those legacies are not a simple matter. “What Now?” is rife with guilt and mourning, but there’s just as much joy to be found in those moments as there is sadness.  

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Jack/Rebecca

It’s time for Rebecca to head out on her two-week tour, and while she’s packing her best dresses, Jack is staying late at work for a retirement party. He’s under no obligation to stay, and he and Miguel don’t even like the guy they’re celebrating, but Jack is searching for any reason not to go home. While he hasn’t stopped Rebecca from going on tour, he’s determined to be as difficult about it as possible, making her wait until the last possible moments to say goodbye. Rebecca calls him out on this behavior as soon as he gets home, and the two bicker privately in the kitchen over schedule changes and getting the kids to a party. There’s a quiet sadness watching them like this, so disconnected, especially after their night in the old apartment was such a short time ago. They’re at least able to share a laugh over Kevin and Sophie, who are deep in the throes of teen romance and unable to keep their hands off each other, but even that doesn’t break their moods. Rebecca gives hugs to each of the kids, but Jack only offers a kiss on the cheek before she leaves for the van.

Kate sees right through her parents’ interactions, and from the moment Jack walks in the door, she knows something is wrong. She glares worriedly at Jack, urging him to give Rebecca a better farewell just with a quiet, muttered “….Dad….” Their connection is so strong (as is Rebecca and Randall’s) that she can feel every single one of her father’s moods, and she knows that he can do better than he’s doing right now.

 
 
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After Jack drops the kids off at a party, Kate lingers in the back seat, asking pointedly why he hasn’t made the relatively short two-hour drive to Cleveland to watch Rebecca’s show. This is SUCH a tough line for a kid to walk, and Jack does the right thing by assuring her that it shouldn’t be her problem. Her focus should be on “boys, and grades, and that band that sounds like they’re always kidding” – not on the ups and downs of her parents’ marriage. But Kate can’t shake the feeling that something is wrong, and while she does finally leave for the party, it’s only after making sure that her father won’t spend the whole night being sad and alone.

But that’s exactly what he does. After spending some time in front of the television with Chinese takeout, Jack grabs his keys and heads out the door – but it’s not for Rebecca’s show, it’s for his coworker’s after-party. Miguel is nowhere to be seen, but Heather is, and she promptly buys him a beer. She takes the opportunity to ask what’s been bothering Jack, and he opens up with one hell of a Freudian slip. (“She’s on tour with her Ben. Her band.”)  Heather tries to get Jack to admit that he’s having marriage troubles, but Jack isn’t having it. He’s a little too slow on the uptake, but once Heather puts her hand on his leg, he catches up quick, and shuts down her advances. Finally, after listening to his daughter’s fears, and defending Rebecca’s dreams to Heather, Jack knows that this has gone far enough. He calls the party and asks if the kids can stay the night, opening his schedule up to make the drive to Rebecca’s performance. Except he’s been drinking. A lot. After a final conversation with Kate, and after fumbling his keys, Jack gets behind the wheel and heads to Cleveland.

Randall/Beth

 
 
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It’s just been a few days since William’s passing, but Randall is already trying to make sense of the space William has left in his heart and in his home. The last time William was in Annie’s room, he was packing up for his final trip to Memphis, deciding what to take and what to leave. His instruments stayed; his poems were packed.  While Randall sits on the bed, trying to unravel the best way to honor his father’s legacy, (“Do I start wearing sweater vests?”) Beth spots a letter tucked underneath Annie’s pillow.

William rarely did anything without intention. Especially in the final weeks of his life, every single decision he made ensured that the people in his life knew how special they were to him. So of course, in his final letter to Tess and Annie, he knew just what to say. Rather than let Randall and Beth plan his memorial, he asks Tess and Annie to do it. After all, “adults make these things sad, and I want you two to make it fun.” The change in the girls from the beginning of the letter to the end is palpable. They take their mission so seriously, especially their grandfather’s request that it be joyful. Tess and Annie share mischievous smiles, and immediately scrap the plans Beth’s plans for catering and white doves. Randall asks just one thing of his girls: permission to deliver a eulogy. But eulogies are sad affairs, so it’s retitled a toast, and Tess and Annie agree.

 
 
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The Pearsons aren’t the only ones mourning William. I had wondered how Jesse would be included in the memorial, and his call to Randall is full of grace. Knowing himself and the danger of a potential relapse, Jesse has decided to stay in Chicago, but he wants to be sure that Randall knows how much William was loved by him and all of the people in their NA group. Jesse specifically passes along the well wishes of a gentleman named Sebastian, an athlete who started attending NA after an addiction to pain pills. Since no one at the group was into sports, William feigned an interest in football, hoping it would give Sebastian someone to connect with. Jesse and Randall’s conversation is painful and quiet and beautifully written. These two haven’t had the chance to get to know one another, and outside of William, they don’t have much of a connection. But William is enough, and they both feel the need to honor him, to share stories, to laugh when they can, to celebrate his memory. Randall won’t have many people in his life with which he can share those memories, and I hope this isn’t the last we’ve seen of Jesse.

When the neighborhood mailman brings in a perishable box from Randall’s office, it gives him another opportunity to learn the extent to which William was  “a soft arm rest for weary souls to lean on.” After getting to know each other on his morning walks, the neighborhood mailman is devastated to hear of William’s passing. I was so moved to hear him say simply that “this neighborhood will miss him.” Immediately, I flashed to the first of William’s walks, when his mere presence was enough to make the neighbors call the cops. The subtle racism of the suburbs can’t be handled simply, but his impact on the neighborhood is felt in that one line alone.

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“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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