“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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“He was the one that could steady you when the world felt like it was spinning.” – This Is Us Recap – Jack Pearson’s Son

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This Is Us Season 1, Episode 15
“Jack Pearson’s Son”

Posted by Shannon

One of the most remarkable things about This Is Us is its ability to speak on a topic before really expanding on the details that brought its characters to that point. This has never been clearer than in “Jack Pearson’s Son,” which, for all of its plot points, truly comes down to one thing: that the death of Jack Pearson, however it happened, has left his family with a lack of a clear moral center. Jack was not a perfect man – and that’s never been more clear than in this episode – but he created a family that relied on him to act as their true north. Their constant. Jack wasn’t a superhero, and of course he didn’t have the ability to protect his children from the difficulties of their lives (Randall will always have anxiety, Kevin and Kate will always live with self-doubt and self-confidence issues) but he was one of those rare people who had the ability to center anyone who needed it. And without him, the center has tilted, spun, spiraled – leaving the surviving Pearsons in chaos.

Jack/Rebecca

Now that we know the ages of the kids when Jack passes, it’s impossible to watch an episode with them as teens without wondering when the other shoe will drop. That awareness leaves this Valentine’s Day celebration with a fog hovering overhead at every moment. Rebecca is about to depart for her five-state, month-long tour, and she’s in the throes of guilt and anxiety. Leaving her family for that long, with one parent to juggle Kate’s music lessons, Randall’s debate team meets, and Kevin’s football games seems insurmountable, but Jack assures her that he has it all under control. He even has time to book their favorite restaurant and their favorite table to celebrate Valentine’s Day – after Rebecca finishes her gig with the band.

Jack puts on his typical superhero husband face while he and Rebecca make plans, but it’s a different story when he’s at work with Miguel. It only takes a little bit of prodding for Jack to admit that he’s not thrilled about the tour after all (“Who does she think she is, Janis freakin’ Joplin?”). Jack refuses to tell Rebecca how he feels, convinced that she’ll resent him for denying her the opportunity – and he’s right. She would resent him – but she’d be right to do so. And what Jack misses entirely is that his feelings about the tour have already bred resentment in their marriage; except it’s Jack who’s resenting Rebecca. He’s clearly worried about Ben, the bandleader we met earlier in the season, and the fact that he isn’t willing to talk to Rebecca about how he feels NOW, before things blow up, is a real flaw. That said, it’s been a while since Jack has shown flaws of any kind, so it was time to see his perfection crack and give way to a bit of realism.

Meanwhile, Miguel has completed his divorce with Shelley and he’s anxious to get back out on the dating scene. He initially asks Jack to go out with him once Rebecca is on tour (and it’s telling to note that he’s quick to assure Jack that he doesn’t have to drink while they’re out, making it clear that Jack’s sobriety has lasted the decade since he decided to stop drinking). Instead, Jack invites Miguel to tag along to Rebecca’s show, certain that there will be some single women out, keeping busy during the holiday. (This single woman wouldn’t be caught dead out at a bar for a mellow jazz performance on Valentine’s Day, but what do I know.)

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Naturally, while their parents are trying to plan their way out of a crisis, the Big Three are in the throes of standard teenage drama. Randall is anxious about his Hamlet paper, which Kevin thinks can only be fixed by setting his brother up on a date, and Kate is quick to jump to Randall’s defense, but does so by outing that Kevin and Sophie have started having sex. Rebecca, of course, overhears all of this, and jumps to attention after hearing that her 16-year-old is sexually active.

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She and Jack sit down to talk to Kevin, making sure that above all else, he’s being safe and respectful. There’s no way to have this conversation that isn’t mortifying for all parties, but I do have to say that Jack does an exceptional job. His priorities are clear and on point, and he doesn’t linger or try to make Kevin feel ashamed of himself. However, he also doesn’t really have much of a chance to get beyond the basics before Randall, steadily spiraling into a panic attack, interrupts. The small signs that we know in adult Randall are all here – he’s breathless, shaky, and can’t quite form a cohesive argument while he tries to explain to his father that he hasn’t been able to formulate a topic for his Hamlet essay. Jack immediately calms him down, breathing with him, removing him from the basement and focusing his son by asking him to walk Jack through the life and times of the Prince of Denmark. It’s handled ably and quickly, but Rebecca sees all of this as proof positive that she cannot possibly go on tour right now.

Jack, once again, assures her that he has everything under control, and that she can’t miss touring with the band. But everything comes to a head when he and Miguel arrive at Rebecca’s show that evening. Jack doesn’t really focus during the whole performance; instead, he spends the entire time eyeing Ben, sizing him up and trying to decide if he and Rebecca are flirting on stage while they duet. Miguel isn’t concerned, assuring Jack that it’s a performance for the crowd, but Jack is having none of it. This is a side of Jack we haven’t really seen before; he’s cold, defensive, distracted and above everything else, painfully jealous.

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When Ben greets Jack after the performance, he certainly doesn’t help the situation. The two men are both varying degrees of passive aggressive, sizing each other up with every word and glance. Ben drops that he and Rebecca used to date in college, and all hell breaks loose right in Jack’s eyes. He moves from distraction and distance to severity and bitterness, even hints of rage. He ends the night abruptly, insisting that he and Rebecca cancel their traditional Valentine’s Day bacon cheeseburgers and go straight home instead.



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This is the first Real Fight we’ve seen Jack and Rebecca weather. Back in the beginning of the season, when Rebecca confronted him about his drinking, she was so clearly in the right that there wasn’t much nuance to the disagreement. But this argument has all the messiness and chaos of a fight with no real right or wrong. They both say things they shouldn’t say, things that will haunt their relationship from that moment on, and it says so much about their characters at the same time. Rebecca DOES feel like she’s sacrificed for Jack and the kids; how much she regrets that decision is unclear, and while I don’t doubt her love for her family for a SECOND, it’s easy to see how much joy performing has brought back into her eyes. She needs to have something that’s only hers, and that’s not too much to ask. However, the family has done nothing but support her new musical venture. Jack, on the other hand, knows those things to be true, but he spins out in every sense of the phrase. His constant perfection is exhausting, even though it’s not an act (and no one, certainly not Rebecca, would have thought of it as such). But no matter how genuine his drive to be a perfect father and husband is, it leaves him feeling entitled – entitled to Rebecca telling him every slight detail of her past, regardless of her feelings, and entitled to deny her the right to go out of the house to follow her dreams if he so chooses.

A fight this deep and biting can’t be sorted in the blink of an eye, and they don’t try to. Jack heads out to dinner, alone, and orders a drink. He downs it so quickly, and with such visible relief and anger, that any doubts viewers might have had about the severity of his addiction are immediately wiped away. This is a Jack we haven’t really seen before, and it’s not pretty.

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

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

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

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Jack/Rebecca


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

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



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



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

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


source: bigthree.tumblr.com
Kevin and Sloane



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

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

source: owenselliot.tumblr.com

Kate and Rebecca

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

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

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

 
source: thisisusedits.tumblr.com
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.

 
 
source: thisisusedits.tumblr.com
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.

 
 
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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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“I need you to talk me down.” – This Is Us Recap – The Game Plan

source: bigthree.tumblr.com

source: bigthree.tumblr.com

This Is Us Season 1, Episode 5
“The Game Plan”
Posted by Shannon

There certainly are some massive themes rolling around this week’s episode. In both timelines, women had the opportunity to gorgeously articulate their feelings on motherhood and its impact on their sense of self. Also in both timelines, we discovered that two of the Pearson men have a penchant for making large-scale life plan changes in their minds without telling their wives until highly inopportune moments. Jack’s modern day fate, however clearly hinted at in earlier episodes, was finally revealed. Mandy Moore had an excuse to sing. And to wrap it all up, the show delivered its thesis statement, in the form of a stunning closing monologue from Justin Hartley. There’s a huge amount to process here, so let’s get right to it.

Jack/Rebecca

source: thisisusedits.tumblr.com

source: thisisusedits.tumblr.com

It’s pre-Big Three days for Jack and Rebecca, and we see the outline of their courtship through the lens of something deeply instrumental to all the Pearsons: Steelers fandom. Initially, Jack’s the only fan. Rebecca notices herself falling too close for comfort into the patterns of her mother; she’s watching Jack watch football, lacking an attachment to the game but more importantly, feeling separated from something that’s clearly important to her partner. What’s a woman to do? Insist that he teach her so she can be involved herself, of course. This throw-away moment actually highlights one of the very greatest things about Rebecca as a character; she’s tenacious, she cares deeply about every aspect of those she loves, and she jumps into the unknown with both feet. She more than matches Jack’s levels of personal investment and excitement for all things Steelers and Terry Bradshaw, and a few football seasons down the line, the two wake up on Superbowl Sunday ready for some shots.


source: thisisdefinitelyus.tumblr.com

Rebecca is living her best life; at 29, she’s singing at the local bar, she’s deeply in love with her partner, and she loves the freedom that their lifestyle affords. She listens to Miguel and Shelley’s childrearing horror stories and is happy to dismiss them. We get the impression that, until recently, Jack was taking part in these dismissals too – but twice in the episode, he looks at Rebecca while she declares that she never wants kids, and the sadness in his eyes is palpable. Earlier on in their relationship, the two of them were on the same page about children not being a priority; but at this point, Jack clearly has some other ideas brewing in his mind. Despite the setting, despite the company, despite a living, breathing stereotype of a misogynistic sports fan screaming at them every chance he gets, Jack prods Rebecca to have another discussion about children right here and now. It’s for all intents and purposes a terrible idea, but he just won’t let it go, and Rebecca finally dives in.

 
source: thisisusedits.tumblr.com

I loved this so much. I loved her exhaustion at having to defend not being ready for kids at 29, I loved her owning her confusion about her feelings down the line, I loved how frankly she declared that she never wanted to be the kind of woman whose only priority was having children. It was messy and complicated and contradictory and so, so real. I have nothing but respect for ANY choice that a woman makes with her life and her body; if you want to have kids at 29, or 25, or 38, or never, go forth and live the life you want to live. But we so rarely get these conversations on-screen in ANY real way, and every single thing that came out of Rebecca’s mouth hit me right in the heart. I have felt and questioned and pondered all of those things; so many of us have. And to give Rebecca the freedom to explore that, at a sports bar of all places? It was a hell of a thing to see.

The fight jumps a level when Jack gets into an altercation with the misogynistic, shouty fan (I gasped when Jack punched him out without flinching for a second) and Rebecca was onto something when she implied that Jack maybe wasn’t in a state to be having a family right now either. Of course we know the drinking problem that’s to come, and it’s hard not to point to this moment as an example of questionable decision-making on Jack’s part.  But ultimately, and with the help of another well-placed question from Miguel, Jack comes outside to apologize to Rebecca for making such a scene and for forcing her into the conversation when she wasn’t ready. The most important thing in both their lives is each other; it’s a steady bedrock, upon which the two begin to move into the next phase of their lives.


source: leave-me-hypnotized.tumblr.com

Randall/Beth

source: thisisusedits.tumblr.com

source: thisisusedits.tumblr.com

This man needs a vacation, and he needs one now. The stress of handling his biological father’s health, plus his brother essentially moving in without warning, plus his everyday stress, leads Randall to wander the kitchen in a fog first thing in the morning, almost throwing a chemo pill in with his breakfast shake. I was immediately reminded of Beth’s warning early on in the season; Randall will push and push for everyone’s well being, with no thought for himself, until he breaks. Beth is there to make sure none of the men in her home do anything too careless, and catches him just in time. While Kevin is basically a guest in the house, William has truly become family; that change is particularly on display when Beth carefully instructs William on the order of his morning ritual – “toast, pills, shoes.” He’s become folded into their home, and while his health is certainly cause for stress, William’s living there is just adding another layer of love and support to their family unit.

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