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.
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.
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.
All this built-up pressure comes to a head during the football game between the two boy’s schools. The rest of the family is in the sidelines; Kate is playing water girl, and she sees the tensions building before even the boys realize what’s going to happen. Randall, angry, frustrated, and trying to make a name for himself on a new team, takes every opportunity to tackle Kevin. Twice, he keeps Kevin from completing a run, and it’s too much for them; after the second tackle, Kevin snaps, flips his brother back over, and the two begin to fight in the sidelines. They’re pulled apart by their coaches, and their parents and sister are rattled. We don’t see the real aftermath of the fight in their teen lives, but it’s clear that neither of them have moved past this rivalry.
As adults, their troubled relationship hasn’t evolved much past that high school brawl; the two are deeply competitive, and Beth calls Randall out on the fact that, despite living under the same roof for weeks, the two brothers never share a room on their own. Even when the two are out for their morning runs, it turns into an excuse to poke at each other – Kevin is thrilled with his six-mile run, and Randall immediately comments that he finished eight, and in record time. Even the office isn’t a respite for Randall. The two have dinner plans with their mother, and Kevin takes the opportunity to arrive at Randall’s office early, wandering over to the conference room where his brother is presenting. Neither of them come out of this sequence looking particularly good. Kevin certainly could have found his way to Randall’s office without making a scene and distracting the conference room; for his part, when Rebecca calls Randall to cancel their dinner, he literally bats Kevin away from the phone, refusing every opportunity for Kevin to say hello to their mother.
Kevin and Randall can’t find any reasonable excuses to back out of their dinner, so the two head out on their own. They end up at a place clearly chosen by Kevin, filled with a hip crowd that has a lot of love for the Manny and constantly stops him for selfies, leaving Randall confused in equal parts by Mario Lopez and long, family-style tables. The whole dinner is generally awkward, but it takes an especially bad turn when Kevin’s former costar appears, and Randall asks how the two know each other. Kevin’s stung. When Randall can’t even name his old television character and it becomes apparent that Randall really never watched the show, Kevin storms off in a huff.
The timing of this was really interesting to me; if Kevin had been paying attention to his brother’s life, he’d know that Randall had just been struggling with his own family not understanding what he was doing for a living. Kevin certainly can’t recite back Randall’s job title, but he has a fair point when he mentions how hurt he was that Randall never came to a taping, even during the initial stages of excitement over his show. As adults, neither of them really have the high ground. However, when the two spot a billboard for the new Manny, the real root of the problem here takes hold. It is a little cruel of Randall to laugh so openly, but Kevin throws away a comment that truly cuts to the ugliest core of his feelings: that he’s been “replaced by another black man.”
In Kevin’s mind, he’s spent his life falling second to their mother; in the effort to make sure Randall wasn’t “too adopted” or stick out for his race, Randall was treated as the favorite since childhood. And for Kevin, who knew that “in any other family, I’d be the star,” it was too much to bear. He spent his life taking that resentment out on Randall, despite the fact that Randall wasn’t ever TRYING to one-up his brother. That’s the part that Kevin was missing. In his own selfishness, Kevin assumed that Randall had the same motivations and desires that he had. But Randall never did. His only desire was to be loved and accepted by his brother, not to come first in the school football team, not to be the object of his parents affections, and certainly not to show Kevin up in any way. Randall finally opens up about his brother’s mistreatment, spitting out “You treated me like a dog.” His relief at finally speaking up is palpable, even though it lands the two of them wrestling in the streets of New York. In between their rolling around in the street and Seth Meyers trying to come to the rescue, Kevin finally says three words Randall has waited to hear for his entire life: “he’s my brother.”
Back at home, Randall outlines just how poorly Kevin treated him using the last, most damning evidence at his disposal. Just now, at 36, was the first time Kevin ever vocally claimed Randall as his brother. And Kevin, for his part, sees that’s terrible. As we’ve come to expect from Kevin, once he’s shown precisely how unfair he’s been, he does listen and adapt. Despite his sudden relocation into the basement, Kevin laughs it off, and invites his brother to stay down there for a little while, just to spend some time together. Randall’s wary, but he still jumps at the opportunity. This is all he’s wanted, after all.
After sharing some of my favorite smaller moments in the show thus far, these two finally get to spend some real time together. While most of their plot is general comic relief and some light character work, it’s not without depth and resonance, even before the final shoe drops. William has a particularly rough day at chemo, causing Beth to open up about her own family history. Her father was lost to cancer as well; his case tragically did not have a happy ending (“Endings rarely are.” William, my heart…). Beth did learn the uses of medical marijuana during that time in her father’s life, though, especially its uses in easing appetite issues. Turns out, William’s doctor had already suggested this as an option, and assured him that it wouldn’t have the same sort of drug triggers that would put his old addictions in danger.
Beth still has a stash from those old days, and she offers to cook the pair up some medicinal brownies while Kevin and Randall are out at dinner. They end up in the basement, giggling over a pan with ease and delight, and when Tess smells chocolate and wanders downstairs, Beth handles it as best she can and moves the girl along. The sequence isn’t just a relief for William; it’s a relief for Beth, who has had it with Kevin in her office (“You mean my bedroom?” “Do I tho?”) and is just happy to be able to complain about her brother-in-law’s intrusion in her life without worrying about hurting anyone’s feelings. I would have loved to have seen the glee with which the two decided to move Kevin’s stuff out of the office and into the basement; if I had to bet, I’d say it was even William’s suggestion.
Out in the garden, victorious after re-claiming Beth’s office, the two share a truly gorgeous conversation. Beth expresses the hopes and dreams of her childhood; after growing up in a home with 14 people and one bathroom (YIKES), all she ever wanted was to live a bohemian life in the city, with a studio, no kids, and no husband. But then she met Randall, and all her plans went out the window. I was struck with how similar this feels to Rebecca’s journey; both women had different ideas for where their lives would go, and both were open to the evolution that came along with falling in love with a man who was truly supportive of their dreams, even though it landed them in a different path. William, though, did lead that life. And while I was touched to hear that he doesn’t regret the time spent alone, he’s also happy to be welcomed into the hustle and bustle of the Pearson family home, though it’s making his goodbye even harder than he anticipated.
While they look up at the stars, pondering their journeys, our old poet friend Dudley Randall comes charging back onto the scene. William begins quoting some lines from those out of print books of poetry, and he’s legitimately shocked to hear Beth join in on the couplet. And this is where it all comes to a head. William sighs that of course, Randall would have the book because he gave it to Rebecca “all those years ago”, and while it takes Beth a beat, she pulls together the implications and demands an explanation. The secret is out, and Beth has a call to make. She hears William’s plea not to share the pact – it would destroy the closeness that Randall and Rebecca have, but Beth can’t in good conscience lie to her husband about what she now knows to be true. She’s stuck in an impossible position, and her and William both know it. When the boys get home, she heads upstairs, calls Beth, and paces. I’m not sure what I’d do in her case, but I know this secret can’t possibly stay quiet for long.
Remember last episode, when Kate got a job and a person to speak to that wasn’t Toby? Wasn’t that great? I miss it already. Instead, despite an initially exciting opening scene – Kate working out, feeling confident, planning out her meals – everything grinds to a halt at the meeting. After weeks of hard work, Kate has lost just 1.25 pounds, and she’s immediately dismayed at the results. Now. This is a legitimate emotional response; it’s so disheartening to feel like all that hard work and focus, all that effort to do the “Right Thing” and be healthy, has only resulted in a small change on the scale. So many of us have felt this frustration, and it’s confusing and horrible. But it’s also not the only thing that matters; her mentor gently reminds Kate that losing 1.25 pounds is something to be proud of, and that THIS is when things get really hard. The real signals of change are found in the montage before the weigh in; Kate looking HAPPY with how she’s taken control of her life, and inspiring herself to make the changes that she wants to make. She might even have been sleeping better, feeling better emotionally day to day, or any of the other small signals that become apparent when healthy life changes begin to take hold. But Kate can’t see that right now, and when Toby steps on the scale to discover that he’s lost 8 pounds, she completely shuts down.
It’s certainly not Toby’s fault that he’s having such easy, straightforward successes with his weight, and to his credit, he tries to keep the focus off him and on Kate in that moment. He knows this is ultimately more important to her than it is to him; it’s a kindness that he tries to skip out on the monthly goal photo, and that he downplays the rest of the group celebrating his successes. Kate tries to continue to be a supportive partner, and puts on a brave face, but she slips away during the photo and heads home early.
The real crux of the problem with Toby and Kate’s relationship isn’t that he stayed home to eat whatever he wanted for the day, and it’s not even that he agreed to order dessert when the two are on their date later on. It’s that, after she needed some time alone and snuck away after the meeting, Kate starts calling Toby over and over again and is totally convinced that he’s not answering because he’s angry at her early departure. He’s not actually angry; in fact, he’s not thinking about her at all. Instead, he’s focused on himself, and his own relief at feeling that he can once again behave however he likes.
Toby is entitled to his own journey here. He’s allowed to decide that at this point, he’s not interested in changing his patterns and he has every right to be happy and satisfied with his daily life. If he’s happy and healthy, then he shouldn’t feel obligated to make any significant lifestyle changes. He’s also right to say that dieting hasn’t brought out the best of his behavior patterns, and I would say that it’s possible that without that restriction, he’d be a more thoughtful and supportive partner. Except he immediately proves that he won’t be. Instead of seeing Kate’s reactions for what they are, the dismay of someone who feels like all their efforts have been wasted, he thinks that simply offering to eat well when the two of them are together will do the trick.
But for that to work, Kate would have to be fully ok with knowing that Toby is going to run off and break the diet whenever they’re not together. And she’s clearly not ok with it. Kate can’t bear the thought that Toby would hide his eating patterns from her but she also shouldn’t have to sit with her partner while he enjoys a dessert that she’s clearly tortured by. Kate’s idea that she’ll “just have to handle it” isn’t fair or kind to herself, and it’s setting her up to resent him. None of this is sustainable; not for Kate’s physical or mental health, and not for the foundation of their relationship. Kate, frustrated, broken down, and at a loss, breaks her diet at the gas station, alone.
Colors of the Painting
- Miguel is doing NOTHING to help my opinion of him. His behavior at the office with Heather was skeezy and gross, and I’m having a really hard time understanding what Rebecca could see in him down the line.
- Teen Randall’s jersey number was 36 – which is the same number birthday Jack and the Big Three were celebrating in the pilot. What can I say, LOST trained me well on the whole “plot repetition in numbers” thing.
- Even though they spent this week in different plot lines, Randall and Beth continue to prove they’re the greatest couple in town by coming in with a tie for the best food-related one liners: “These are work brownies,” and “You are the mayor of free shrimp.” Let nothing come between these two.
- Shout out to the young woman playing 15 year old Kate – she absolutely NAILS Chrissy Metz’s speech patterns.
- I love that the show isn’t shying away from opportunities to get Mandy Moore to sing, and I’m still hoping that after Kate and Rebecca work on their relationship, we get a reconciliation duet.
What did you think of “The Best Washing Machine in the World”? Let us know in the comments!