“That would be some way to leave us.” – This Is Us Recap – Moonshadow

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This Is Us Season 1, Episode 18
“Moonshadow”
Posted by Shannon

The first season of This is Us had some near-perfect episodes. It also had some that stood on the importance of their character development, even when the plot or structure faltered, and some that worked despite sections with deeply problematic writing, but it hadn’t yet had an episode that just fell flat. So it’s especially unfortunate that the first episode to truly disappoint me was also the season finale. “Moonshadow” revelled almost exclusively in the show’s worst qualities, and while This is Us is secure in its unprecedented second and third season renewal, I for one hate that its first season went down like this. With barely a moment for the Big Three, no closure on Jack’s passing, and a lack-luster closing speech, we’re left with some lingering questions and a whole lot of plot devices to tide us over until season two.

Young Jack

 
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A Vietnam veteran, Jack has returned from the war and is living at home, working as a fix-it guy around the neighborhood. Mrs. Peabody, a widow who wants to set Jack up with her best friend’s granddaughter, opens the episode by offering him $5 for fixing up her car and chatting with him in the driveway. (Her car is immediately recognizable as the one Jack drives later on, so all that work on the engine will pay off in time.) Jack is trying to piece together his livelihood on odd jobs, and while he painstakingly saves every dollar he earns in a box with his dog tags, it’s slow going. Not only is he living in his parent’s attic, his horrible father is back and is taking every opportunity to berate Jack and his mother.

At least Jack has one friend to commiserate with; Daryl, with whom he wants to open up an auto shop. They even have a spot in mind, and they spend nights sitting outside of the garage, making plans and drinking beers. Jack and Daryl just aren’t saving up money fast enough, and Jack asks Daryl to get them into his cousin’s poker game in an attempt to move things along. It’s clearly misguided, but we’re still meant to see the origins of Jack’s best qualities in this conversation: against all odds, we’re told that he’s returned from Vietnam without any emotional or physical wounds, and he’s toiling away in a horrible family situation, working hard to pull himself and his mother out into safety. Instead, though, I found this characterization of Jack to be entitled and indignant. When he told Daryl that “we’re good guys, we deserve to make it,” for the first time it occurred to me that Rebecca was onto something when she called Jack out as only acting like the good guy to make himself feel better. Yes, motivation and drive are good qualities, but being a good person does NOT mean that good things will automatically happen to you, and even at this age, Jack doesn’t seem as naive as he’d need to be to believe otherwise.

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Once they get to the poker game, things are even more painful to watch. The set up is a cliché representation of a dive bar, just smoky enough to read as “bad” without actually feeling dangerous, and Jack plays the part of the fool, walking in and winning a pile of money on his first hand, only to bail on the rest of the game immediately afterwards. It’s a bad move in the best of circumstances, and of COURSE it means that he and Daryl get beat up outside the bar, with all their earnings stolen. Jack doesn’t see how foolish his behavior was, instead blaming it all on how unfair the world has been to punish him instead of his father, who’s always broken on the side of the morally bankrupt. He’s chosen to be the opposite of his father, to be “respectful to women, be a good man – look where it’s gotten me.”

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Jack is feeling angsty and angry, and ready to “take the life that I was supposed to have.” He intends to take that life by blatantly standing up his blind date and stealing his poker winnings out of the bar. Everything is going according to plan when Jack spots Rebecca singing an open mic, and stops short his life of crime. I’m not sure what it would have taken for me to find this plot line interesting, or more importantly, actually in character for Jack. Maybe if he’d seemed more genuinely angry or frightened by his life’s path, maybe if his entire character wasn’t now based in Rebecca as his salvation from petty thievery. Maybe if he hadn’t openly decided to stand up some poor unnamed woman, with never so much as a phone call or a thought to her well-being. It’s possible that this will all make more sense if we spend more time with young Jack, but with the context we’re given in “Moonshadow”, it just fell flat. Being a good person is not something to be done for a reward. You do good because it’s right, not because it will pay off in the end in some karmic display of gentle retribution. Before this episode, Jack had never seemed like the kind of person who acted singularly for ulterior motives, positive though they may be. And now that he’s been established as such, it’s that much harder for his words to ring true.

Young Rebecca

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Single Rebecca is, by contrast, living a pretty great life, despite friends who are on a constant mission to set her up. Rebecca is happy to sit alone, happy to focus on her career and to stand up for her individual goals. She’s busy and content, doing open mics and recording demos for a family member who works at a recording studio. Rebecca also manages to be confident in the face of two friends who seem dead-set on feeling bad for her, telling her that she needs to “diversify” her options by taking a date with a guy in finance so she won’t be doomed to go to a wedding alone.

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“Take me to meet your father.” – This Is Us Recap – Memphis

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This Is Us Season 1, Episode 16
“Memphis”
Posted by Shannon

“Memphis” is the second episode of the season to narrow its focus to something smaller, less sprawling, than the usual story. But instead of focusing on a day, it focuses on a person – the life of William Hill, from birth to death. We’ve known this was coming, of course, and as much as I was hoping for William to receive a miracle cure, I’ll settle for the knowledge that Ron Cephas Jones will be back in the second season. The episode sends William off with the grace and style he deserves: on his own terms, surrounded by music, and in his old home. But first, we have the opportunity to learn a little more about his upbringing, and to paint the picture of William’s life before Randall was born.

Young William


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Dorothy Hill, while pregnant with William, lived in Memphis with her husband. Their time together is summarized quickly, but it doesn’t take long to see that William’s dad had the same loving, kind eyes we know so well in his son (and his grandson, for that matter). Music rang through the home already too – William’s father would sing quietly to Dorothy and her baby bump, prompting a kick or two along the way. But just a few months before he was born, William’s father died in WWII, leaving Dorothy to raise him alone. And raise him she did; William and Dorothy lived happily in a home full of music, poetry and dancing. Their bond is strong and clear, but when Dorothy’s mother takes ill, she heads up to Pittsburgh and leaves William to his music.

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Dorothy knows the temptations that surround William and his cousin Ricky, and as they say goodbye at the train station, she leaves him with a request: to make the best of his time in Memphis, and to choose the best possible future for himself. William is already well on his way – he and Ricky have a band and spend their nights playing cover songs at a club called Melvin’s. While Ricky parties and gets smacked upside the head by the female population of Memphis, William takes his mother’s advice to heart. He declines Ricky’s invitations night after night, plays records, works on his poetry and music, and writes often. It’s a quiet life, but a good one. Up in Pittsburgh, Dorothy’s mother passes away, but she decides to stay put after landing a job at the local library. She can’t quite bear to leave, since her job “pays well and I get to be around books all day.”  (Dorothy, you’re a woman after my own heart. Stay with your books, girl.)

William has struggled to take his poetry and set it to music, but inspiration finally comes in the form of a killer soul number, “We Can Always Come Back to This.” He and his mother’s farewell at the train station was hugely impactful for William, even a few years later, and it serves as his song’s launching point. It took me a few times through the song to realize it, but the lyrics are a complete encapsulation of William’s life. It’s a song of goodbyes, hope, home, and loneliness. The refrain, “If I’m gonna be alone, then let it be with you,” is applicable to everyone William has loved and lost – Laurel, Jesse, Dorothy and of course Randall and his family. William has carried all of them in his heart his whole life, and even when he was physically alone, he’s been comforted by the knowledge that he has loved and been loved by a beautiful family.

The song, of course, is a huge hit. The crowd at Melvin’s grows and grows, and the band is poised to make a break just when William gets a call from Dorothy. She’s fallen ill, and he immediately heads up to Pittsburgh to take care of her. William knows this is the worst possible time to leave, but his priority is clear, and Ricky supports him completely. (“Never apologize for taking care of family.”) William heads off with a small loan from Ricky and the promise to return with a notebook full of 16 new tracks. Once he’s in Pittsburgh, William finds Dorothy in far worse shape than she let on. She sends him right back out again for the afternoon, off to the bus outside her apartment (“I know how you like the bus”) to explore the city.

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And all of a sudden, with the familiar chords of Jackson C. Frank’s “Blues Run the Game,” we’re back to the place where we first met William. The picture is more complete now; not only is he meeting and falling in love with Laurel on a Pittsburgh bus, but the two are taking care of Dorothy. They frequently decline invitations to hang out and party down the hall, focused instead on her care, but eventually, Laurel turns the corner. Slowly but surely, her drug habit becomes more serious. William can’t be distracted from his mother and spends every day at her bedside, reading her poetry and making sure she’s comfortable. Laurel used to paint Dorothy’s nails and keep her laughing, but as her addiction grows, she stumbles into Dorothy’s room and can no longer make eye contact to say goodbye.

Dorothy hadn’t even wanted William to know how sick she had become, so it’s no wonder that she was dismayed to have her son see her like this. Remembering all her years spent taking care of William as a child while she looked down at him from the bedside, Dorothy is heartbroken that the positions have been reversed. William wouldn’t have had it any other way, and I cannot imagine him leaving Dorothy to her illness alone. But the care takes a toll, and their second farewell leads to another pivotal moment in William’s life. His loss leads him to addiction and a life spent in Pittsburgh; he never makes his way back to Memphis.

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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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“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

source: bigthree.tumblr.com

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.

source: kepnerrrd.tumblr.com

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.

 
 
 
source: thisisusedits.tumblr.com
 

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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“Back in the basement.” – This Is Us Recap – The Best Washing Machine in the Whole World

source: thisisusedits.tumblr.com

source: thisisusedits.tumblr.com

This Is Us Season 1, Episode 7
“The Best Washing Machine in the Whole World”
Posted by Shannon

Spending your adult life in New York comes with a set of special skills.  I can identify storage space in otherwise unnoticeable nooks, I can kill weird kitchen bugs without freaking out (too much), and I can do a pretty decent yoga practice in a confined space. But it also means some very standard facets of adulthood are completely and utterly foreign to me. Enter the washing machine. In-home washing machines are nostalgic entry points to my childhood rather than my adult life, and as the show moves us through the decades in the Pearson home, I was quietly flashing back to a series of personal vignettes set in New England houses in the 80’s and 90’s. The same thing happens for Rebecca; she finds herself a little lost in time, using home electronics as her guide. It’s the most banal moments that stand out, as is so often the case in life. Those small mornings spent warning of an impending machine break or digging out from piles of soapy water are the ones that remind her of how far they’ve come, and of the stability that the family has created for themselves. This week, we explore the most decades yet in one story, and the consistency of the characters throughout those decades stands front and center. That, and the fact that past decisions, no matter how well-meaning, never really go away.

Jack/Rebecca

source: thisisusedits.tumblr.com

source: thisisusedits.tumblr.com

When last we left Jack and Rebecca in terms of their respective careers, Jack had taken the promotion with Miguel and Rebecca had presumably stopped singing at the sports bar after the arrival of the Big Three. Now we find ourselves in the 90’s; Rebecca is gearing up to return to performing, and Jack has been settled into his desk job for quite some time. Things seem to be  going well at the firm – Jack has even landed a big, impressive-sounding new account. But he and Rebecca aren’t quite connecting at home. Their interactions this week are stilted and just don’t have the same feeling of unity that they have in the past. The most glaring misstep comes early in the episode; Jack almost leaves without giving Rebecca a kiss for the first time in 18 years. He’s so distraught that he still can’t shake the guilt, and throughout the whole episode, Jack never really feels like himself.

Rebecca, for her part, is juggling her family’s needs with a rediscovered focus on her own passions. After getting a call from an old friend, Rebecca jumps at the chance to spend some time performing again.  While she’s a bundle of nerves all day at home, Rebecca shows up to rehearsal prepared, warmed up, and wearing a genuinely fantastic hat. I love that she’s giving herself the space to continue performing; even though she clearly stopped for a while, and perhaps longer than she wanted, Rebecca is still the dedicated, focused, and inspired girl she was when she was singing for a bar full of fans before the Super Bowl.

Football keeps circling around the Pearsons during their most important moments; despite a late work meeting that came along with the new fancy account, Jack arrives in time to watch the high school game with Rebecca. It’s a tricky game in the best of circumstances; Randall and Kevin are now playing on opposite teams, and the teen boys have their own powder keg of problems developing. (More on that later.) However, Jack and Rebecca barely speak to each other in the stands – Jack initially starts off asking about rehearsal, but Rebecca, clad in beige so as not to promote one boy’s school over the other, only gets out a few initial thoughts before a random parent interrupts them to talk about Kevin’s quarterbacking skills.

Jack and Rebecca’s problems connecting this week felt…odd. Technically, both of them have what could be read as mildly flirtatious interactions with other people. The band leader clearly has a thing for Rebecca, and I don’t know what the office assistant, Heather’s, deal is but I do not care for it. (“Your wife should have caught that”?? Really, show? Ugh.) But all that said, I don’t think we’re looking at an affair plot here. Rather, I think we’re seeing the first signs of whatever illness is going to claim Jack. I can’t shake the suspicion that it was Jack who forgot to tell Rebecca about his big work deal, not the other way around, and This Is Us has proven that it has a real penchant for focusing in on character’s ages as focal points for plot: don’t forget that Grace’s son Jeremy, the family from the wake Kevin crashed, was 15 when his father died – the same age that the Big Three are this week. I think we lose Jack in the 90’s, and I think it’s going to be rough.

 
 
source: bigthree.tumblr.com

Randall/Kevin

source: bigthree.tumblr.com

source: bigthree.tumblr.com

This week, we finally got to focus on one of the relationships I’ve been the most curious about – Kevin and Randall, through the ages. We open on the two sharing a room at fifteen; Randall has stayed at his private school and recently joined the football team, while Kevin is well known as his school’s star quarterback. They’ve aged since their time at the pool, but the dynamic hasn’t changed: Kevin wants nothing to do with Randall, and starts a screaming match in the middle of the night while Randall is still up trying to finish all his homework. Rebecca comes in to sort them out, and though Randall tries to make peace by offering to do his homework in another room, Kevin jumps at the idea of his own space in the basement. Randall is visibly downtrodden at the suggestion, and even more heartbroken when Kevin acts on the offer the next day. In an effort to understand his brother’s constant rejections, Randall goes to Kate and asks her advice. Knowing the two brothers’ default position is intense competition, Kate suggests that Randall try to go make some jokes and relax a little. It backfires immediately. Randall’s jokes aren’t much better at 15 than they are at 36, and Kevin has no patience for his brother, kicking him out of the basement almost as soon as he gets there.

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