“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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“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 pieces are moving faster now.” – This Is Us Recap – Pilgrim Rick

 
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This Is Us Season 1, Episode 8
“Pilgrim Rick”
Posted by Shannon

Family dynamics are unique and strange and phenomenally individualized, so it’s no wonder that every annual celebratory gathering (holiday or otherwise) develops its own patterns. Traditions can grow out of anything – quiet, peaceful moments, casual repetition, or even extreme and unplanned chaos. For the Pearsons, what originated as chaos has evolved into a beautiful, cozy holiday celebration. This week, we see a holiday experienced from both sides: we have the origin story and the comfortable patterns that have taken root across three generations. Think of your weirdest holiday tradition – now ask yourself if the annual Pearson family celebration is really all that extraordinary.

Jack/Rebecca

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source: bigthree.tumblr.com

It’s Thanksgiving in the 80s for the Big Three, and Jack and Rebecca are gearing up to spend the holiday with Rebecca’s family. Nobody’s very excited to go, and from the sound of things, I can’t say I blame them. Rebecca is as anxious as we’ve ever seen her, laser-focused on perfecting the cranberry sauce so she can avoid passive aggressive commentary from her mother. Jack isn’t looking forward to hearing his brother-in-law wax poetic about his new, top of the line CD player, and Randall is dreading a subtle but odious tendency from his grandmother, who keeps requesting photo shoots with “just the twins.” (Rebecca has called her on it, several times, to no avail. And Kevin wondered why she was protective of Randall.)

Jack, who had hoped that he and Rebecca could develop their own traditions now that his parents have passed, still puts on a smile, packing the car with snacks and Paul Simon records. The kids are enjoying the day before they end up stuck in the car; Kevin and Randall are actually hanging out and having a good time together, and while Kate is annoyed by the itchy sweater her grandmother knitted, she’s still ready to wear it for the day. All in all, it looks like the Pearsons have made the best of their newly annual six-hour road trip – until the boys knock into Rebecca and her cranberry sauce. The day gets exponentially longer, as they now have to kick things off by bouncing from grocery store to grocery store in search of a replacement side. Jack tries to keep the kids in line, but alas – Graceland really loses its powers of distraction after the fifth listen.

source: NBC

source: NBC

While Rebecca probably couldn’t imagine a worse start to the holiday, the Thanksgiving disasters have just begun; a tire blows out, and while Jack manages to keep everyone safe, he can’t avoid veering off the road and taking out a fence. It’s a 3.4 mile hike to the nearest gas station, but there’s nothing else for it, and the whole family sets out for the walk. When the animal noises kick off from the woods, Jack and Rebecca get their first opportunity to come in with a stellar distraction technique – the Thanksgiving game, where everyone describes how they want to celebrate the holiday when they grow up. Kevin’s the only one who gets out a proper plan – he intends to play for the Steelers, and eat a whole turkey after his game – but Randall throws a wrench in works by declaring that he won’t have Thanksgiving as an adult, since “when you’re an adult, you don’t have to do things you hate.” (Oh, kid. If only.)

The rebellion reaches Kevin and Kate, too, and before their parents can blink, the Big Three have revolted against the entire holiday. The quiet pain in Rebecca’s voice is palpable; she’s SO distraught that her holiday tensions have rubbed off on her kids. But it only gets worse when she hears that she’s a part of the problem, too; all the pressure of handling her family turns Rebecca into a walking ball of stress, and each one of the Big Three picks up on the change in her personality. Jack, who sees the situation coming more and more unglued, tries to assure her that the “kids are delusional from the cold” and don’t really mean it. But Rebecca has heard her family’s complaints, and the impact is already taking hold.

 
 
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Once they arrive at the gas station, things don’t get much better – the attendant can’t get a tow truck to come out on Thanksgiving, and he suggests calling someone to come pick them all up until the car can be fixed in the morning. Rebecca puts her head down and gets ready to call her family, but it’s clearly out of instinct and not any real sense of security. It takes just a few sentences from her mother for Rebecca to lose all patience. Once her mom’s been assured that everyone is ok, she lists out what must have been a tirade of complaints – why are they so late, why didn’t they call earlier, why did it take so long to get in touch. But now that Rebecca has really felt the pain that has trickled to her kids, something switches within her. It’s not just that she’s worn down enough to take a stand – she’s making a change on behalf of her entire family, and refuses to “subject my kids to that this year.” With the slamming of a payphone, the Pinewood Lodge becomes the site of this year’s Pearson family Thanksgiving.

We don’t officially know where the Pinewood Lodge is located, but this is a weird, small New England town if I’ve ever seen it (and I grew up in one, so trust me). This lodge has it ALL: separate tiny cabins for each of its guests, a moose head on the wall (and it’s definitely real, despite Jack’s assurances otherwise), a furnace stuck on high and zero television reception. The real star of the Pinewood Lodge, though, is the hotel clerk – complete with a fancy hat, he creepily asks the “kiddies” if they’ve heard of the Mayflower, and refuses to answer to anything except his designated character name, Pilgrim Rick. No matter how firm she was in her decision, the whole set-up is unsettling enough to make Rebecca question whether or not she’s done the right thing. But the decision has been made, and the family settles in for a very different Thanksgiving evening.

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source: kepnerrrd.tumblr.com

Jack’s not a perfect father. No one is. But Rebecca was right when she said that Jack is an 11 when he sets his mind to it, and that quality really shines this week. He completely turns the evening on its head – under the guise of ducking out to talk to Pilgrim Rick about the furnace, he returns in character, knocking on the door and pretending to be Pilgrim Rick himself, at the room on a mission to fix the heating. The entire family’s reaction to Jack is so joyful – every single one of the kids is giggling, and Rebecca, who had been genuinely nervous when she thought Pilgrim Rick was knocking on the door, is clearly relieved – the family is finally LAUGHING, and they each really feel like themselves for the first time all Thanksgiving. In a whirl, a terrible gas station dinner becomes a thrilling floor picnic, complete with cheese dogs and Police Academy Three. Rebecca closes it all out with one last touch; Kate’s itchy sweater is coming undone, and it’s hard to avoid the symbolism here – while the family truly branches out to become their own unit, with their own celebrations, they physically destroy the only thing in their room that represents the holiday they were “supposed” to be having. Each family member yanks on the string, says what they’re thankful for, and throws the sweater to the next person. And so the holiday origin story is complete; the Pearson family traditions are born, the kids are enchanted, and the Thanksgiving holiday morphs from something each child was dreading into a truly special celebration of their unique identity.

 
 
 
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Kate

source: NBC

source: NBC

Stuck on the West Coast with Toby, Kate’s position as the outlier was particularly intense this week. Even though Toby has decided to leave the group in peace, she’s still attending meetings, and this week the group focuses on each person’s Thanksgiving struggle. Everyone has a trigger that they’re particularly worried about, but Kate perks up when a member of the group mentions her gastric bypass surgery. It’s been a difficult road for the group member, but so far it’s been successful – she’s lost 30 pounds, and cautiously tells the group that the journey has been worth it. Frustrated with her lack of progress so far, and feeling particularly vulnerable after the change in Toby’s diet, Kate is visibly curious about the procedure.

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