This Is Us Season 1, Episode 9
Posted by Shannon
Much of the focus for This Is Us has been on the long-term reverberations of decisions made by parents and parent’s parents; it’s a generational exploration, significantly larger in scope than we typically find in a family dramedy. Of course that still plays a part of the story this week, but this episode shifts focus to narrow in on the significance that community and family hold on a daily basis. “The Trip” is all about the importance of holding each other up in the here and now. Generational impact is all well and good, but where would any of us be without the people in our lives who will always stand within eyeshot when you need their support, or be willing to sacrifice their emotional security for your own? And what becomes of us when we don’t allow loved ones into our internal struggles?
Jack and Rebecca start off this week by carting the Big Three to the grocery store. It’s a relatively uneventful errand with standard levels of chaos and confusion, which Randall uses to sneak away. Fresh from a science unit on inherited traits, Randall is armed with a new test in the search for his biological family: he’s taken to approaching any and all black adults he can find and asking if they can roll their tongues. His curiosity on the subject has made a natural progression from his subdued notebook to something more active; he’s even taken to making up stories to Yvette’s kids about who his birth father might be. The options he’s rattling off range from a cook to a famous basketball player to a mailman: all roles, Yvette points out, that Randall has seen filled by black men. He’s actively seeking out adult black males to look up to, and while he hasn’t got many options in their small town, it hasn’t stopped him from looking.
Interestingly, during Randall’s first year of private school, Jack and Rebecca have switched places in their parenting styles. While Rebecca was the one to see past Jack’s misgivings about taking Randall out of school for what they really were (fear about his own career and the path his work life had taken), the situations have reversed. This time, its Jack pushing Rebecca to consider making a change on behalf of their son’s emotional well-being by tracking down Randall’s birth parents. Even Jack’s gentlest prodding, and his loving concern that he doesn’t want Randall “sticking his tongue out at strangers when he’s 80” sends Rebecca into a fit of anxiety, which she promptly takes out on the dishes.
On Yvette’s recommendation, and knowing how vital the need for a more tangible connection to the black community is becoming for Randall, Jack signs him up for a martial arts class. The studio is a haven for Randall; it’s full of black men and boys, and the teacher, Ray, emanates strength, calm and focus. He promptly takes Randall over to a photo of Ron van Clief, a renowned black martial artist, and starts to explain the Black Dragon and his legacy. This is precisely the kind of exposure Randall desperately needs, and exactly what Jack knows he and Rebecca can’t offer. Hard as they might try, the two will never be able to draw from a black experience. The best they can do is actively put him in environments like the dojo, with people who can offer that level of guidance and identity.
Still, Jack can’t shake the feeling that the dojo alone isn’t enough. One hour a week won’t be enough exposure to the black community to truly give Randall a sense of self, and Jack again mentions to Rebecca that it might be worth searching for the birth parents. Jack’s initial sensitivity at Randall looking elsewhere for a father figure is nowhere to be seen. Instead, he’s willing to make his own life more difficult, emotionally and practically, if it means giving Randall a more comprehensive, “inherent understanding” of his identity. He even comes prepared with a PI recommendation to get the ball rolling. Rebecca, though, is painfully uncomfortable with this conversation, and only becomes more anxious the more Jack brings it up.
Of course we know Rebecca wouldn’t need a PI to track down William. When Randall first started asking questions, in the early days of his intense drive to find his birth parents, Rebecca once again found herself speaking to William without telling Jack; she knocks on William’s door, hoping he still lives there. And he does. (Rent control is a beautiful thing.) I’m not sure that Rebecca truly knows what she wants out of the meeting, but what she sees must have been a comfort and a horror all at the same time. William has already turned his life around; he’s been sober for over five years, he’s working at an instrument repair shop, he’s playing music in the back room during off hours, he’s attending Narcotics Anonymous. He’s more or less returned to the William we first met on the bus; writing often, living alone, and cautiously curious about how Kyle’s doing. His eyes lit up when Rebecca explained that they took his advice and changed his name; it was even more impactful to William that Randall’s namesake was Dudley Randall, after William’s favorite poet. The two share an uneasy but kind-hearted dialogue; Rebecca tells William all about Randall’s penchant for GI Joe’s, his skills at math and science, and his innate kindness.
William is moving through so much in this moment: sadness, nerves, gratitude, and regret, but he takes comfort in knowing that Randall is living a happy, healthy life. Rebecca stops short of telling William he can or should meet Randall; what she says, rather, is that Randall has been asking questions, that he wants to meet his father, and that’s why she’s there. William, still struggling with his separation from his child and seeing an opportunity, jumps on it. His response is a little manic, and immediately he switches into turn of phrase that both had avoided thus far: “My boy wants to meet me.” All of a sudden, William launches into a whirlwind, offering a tour of the instrument repair shop, music lessons, even sleepovers and poetry collections that William had written for his son. It’s too much, too quick and too horrifying for Rebecca – she sneaks out the front door while William is searching for his poems, not saying goodbye, and certainly not leaving any way for William to get in touch.
These are exactly the fears Rebecca had in her mind when speaking with Jack. She doesn’t see any potentially positive outcome from Randall meeting William. She’s terrified by every option – that William could fall back into drugs, leaving them to decide what to tell Randall – or, maybe even worse for Rebecca, there’s the fear that Randall’s birth family would be great. That they would love him just as much as the Pearsons, and that they would want him back. I’m no expert on adoption laws, so I’ll take Rebecca’s comments here to be truth; without a paper trail for the adoption, without the Hills having legally given Randall up, it would be feasible for William to make a case to take Randall back, away from Jack and Rebecca and the twins. And that risk, no matter how slight, is a non-starter for Rebecca. She won’t budge, no matter the cost to all of them: to her, for having to keep the secret from Jack and Randall, to William, denied contact with his son, and to Randall himself.
Jack, seeing how deeply Rebecca is set against a search for the birth family, continues taking Randall to the dojo. During Randall’s first formal class, Ray begins an initiation. He formally welcomes Randall into their community, acknowledging that while Randall’s life is generally positive, there will be ups and downs and challenges ahead. But at every turn, the community he’s built will hold him up, beginning with his father. The ceremony begins: Jack enters the formal dojo, and with Randall on his back, completes push up after push up, representing the support he will continue to give to his son. Ray prompts Jack to make a pledge, and Jack follows every “yes, sir” with a glance to Rebecca. He’s not just promising to Randall, and to Ray, and to the community at large that he will do anything and everything for his boy: he’s promising Rebecca, too. Even after Ray gives Jack the all clear to stop, Jack just keeps going. He goes, and goes, and goes, and for who knows how long; he only stops when he physically can’t continue, and by that time Rebecca has gone to his side.
It’s a powerful, phenomenally moving gesture, but it’s also completely necessary. Jack needed to prove to himself that he would push as hard as physically possible for his son to feel loved and supported, no matter the differences between them. He needed to show Rebecca that he would go as far as he could to make her feel comfortable and safe within their family unit. And of course, Randall needed to feel that support, and to see it made by his father in the community that they’ve joined together; both are outliers in a community of black men and their sons, but they are no less included in that community. Rebecca sees all of this as proof that she and Jack are all Randall ever truly need. Without knowing how William would have reacted to actually meeting Randall, without knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that their family unit would grow rather than shrink, she makes the call, writes the letter to William, and never contacts him again.
After her “seize the day” moment on the plane, Kate is holding steady to her decision to get gastric bypass surgery. While Kevin insists that she’s being too flippant about a dangerous procedure, Kate is never someone to take a decision like this lightly. She’s run the numbers (of course she has) and found that if her current weight loss rate stays steady, she’d be 106 by the time she reached her goal weight. Between this and the breakup with Toby, Kate is in the middle of one of those moments we all face from time to time: she’s thrown all the pieces of her life up in the air, mixed them up, and let them fall into a new order, hoping the new combination lets her feel more like herself.
But, Kate being Kate, she also perceives just how unsettled both her brothers are right now. Of course Randall’s crisis is impossible to miss, but after hearing Kevin rattle off the reasons he’s feeling overwhelmed too, Kate makes an executive decision to bring the three of them to the old family cabin for one last trip. After a lifetime spent navigating the rift between Randall and Kevin, Kate must be able to sense the change in their dynamic, and settles in with both of them to look through old family photos. While Randall can’t see through his emotions right now, he’s still affectionate with Kate, and she knows how to jokingly manage his existential breakdown. She even goes along with it when Kevin’s guests show up without warning.
While Kate is side-eyeing Olivia the whole time, she keeps her concerns to herself: that is, until Olivia and Asher announce over their snarky board game turn that they used to date. Kate snaps into protective sister mode before she can blink, and after she realizes just how far Kevin is willing to go to avoid a confrontation on the subject, she takes things into her own hands. For all their differences, both Olivia and Kate are very perceptive women, and they hit on some real moments of truth here; Olivia has done nothing but manipulate Kevin every step of the way, first for the sake of the play and then for her own, and her mocking tour of the cabin is clearly her own self-interest too. And of course Kate is terrified of the changes she’s making in her life not being enough to truly make a difference. But they both get some aspects wrong, as well; Olivia assumes that there’s nothing Kate wants to face besides the weight, and Kate assumes there are no genuine feelings from Olivia towards Kevin. It’s a mess, and Kate heads out into the woods to get some peace and quiet.
For all the right moves Kate makes on behalf of her brothers this week, she really falters in her behavior towards Toby. Kate has been on the east coast for less than a week, and the breakup is still incredibly raw. But that doesn’t stop her from reaching out twice in one day; first to snap a photo of the cabin and, when Toby doesn’t respond, she goes as far as to call him during her walk in the woods. He answers, cautiously, and lets her outline the chaos of the cabin, but it’s just a few moments until Toby takes a step back. If they’re still broken up (and they are) then it’s remarkably unfair for Kate to still call Toby with a problem, especially so quickly after their breakup. He does the right thing by hanging up and establishing a boundary for his own healing, but it leaves Kate feeling even more lonely. That is, until Kevin finds her to apologize for the way he behaved. Feeling unraveled by her argument with Olivia and lonely after Toby’s refusal to talk to her, Kate needs her brothers now, more than ever before. Of course she’s scared by the prospect of making these massive life changes, but the fear of not moving forward is even more intense. Kate needs her brothers there, by her side, to face it all.
From where Kevin sits, he has the weight of the world on his shoulders. From Randall and their mother’s confrontation to Kate’s surgery to he and Olivia’s kiss the day before, he’s feeling overwhelmed and doing his very best to juggle it all. While Kate sees the family cabin as an opportunity for the Big Three to get away, Kevin sees a chance to get some clarity with Olivia, and they’ve barely pulled into the driveway before he sends out an invitation. Kevin wasn’t expecting an entourage to appear with her, but an entourage he gets; Olivia is joined by their playwright, Sloane, and an unannounced third hipster named Asher.
Kevin’s change in personality at their arrival is immediate. After softening from his reconnection with Randall and Kate’s arrival on the east coast, it only takes a few moments of Olivia and Asher’s company for Kevin to become the worst version of himself. Almost as soon as they set foot in the cabin, Olivia and Asher find fault everywhere, mocking the board game collection and the cabin itself. When Kate calls them out on this disrespectful behavior, Kevin won’t hear a word against them, insisting that “these are my people now.” This overwhelming need to be liked by everyone around him, even at the expense of his closer loved ones, is the worst part of Kevin’s personality. While there’s no doubt that this came from his constant feeling of being second-best to Randall as a child, it’s troubling to see how quickly he’s willing to let his family fall second to his colleagues.
There’s a very sweet innocence to how much Kevin wants Kate and Olivia to get along, but there’s also a fundamentally misunderstanding of his twin; Kate’s true intentions were to say goodbye to the cabin as a family, and to spend time with her siblings, both of whom are having a hard time right now. By inviting Olivia and company, Kevin set them up for a blow out, and that’s exactly what he gets. Despite their argument, and his own sense of betrayal when Olivia and Asher admit their past, the cracks only start to show when the last outside party, Sloane, admits her true feelings about Olivia. Kevin goes to her to get more information on Olivia and Asher’s relationship, but what he gets instead is Sloane describing yet another horrible manipulation on the part of Olivia. Knowing Sloane had rented a car to get to the birth of her niece, she instead had the playwright drive the group to Kevin’s, in search of an “authentic cabin experience.” It’s just one more case of Olivia putting everyone else’s needs below her own, and Kevin’s eye start to open. The final shoe drops when Olivia and Asher, cuddled on the couch, are not-so-subtly mocking Kate’s childhood videos. It finally snaps into focus for Kevin, and, motivated by a defense for his sister, he calls the two out on their horrible behavior.
As always, once Kevin snaps to, he’s completely got the situation down; not only does he call the two out on their behavior towards Kate, but he identifies Olivia’s real motivations for bringing Ash, uninvited, to the family cabin. Having felt a genuine connection to Kevin, Olivia snapped and brought in all of her defenses. Kevin suddenly sees the manipulation that Olivia is willing to impart on everyone but herself, and the callous judgemental way she’s interacted with basically every other person she’s come in contact with. The irony here, of course, is that this kind of speech is exactly what Olivia prides herself on doing: calling people out on their shit, forcing them to face the cold, hard truths about themselves that are normally left to discussions between the closest of friends (or paid professionals in a therapist’s office). But it’s too much for Olivia to take herself, and she and Asher immediately flee the scene.
With Olivia out of the picture, Kevin heads out into the woods to check on Kate, who’s settled near the family tree. There’s no doubt that, when the chips are down, Kevin will always be there for his twin. And as always, he needs her just as much as she needs him.
All Randall can do right now is pace. He’s moved past the initial shock and trauma at learning that Rebecca had met William before and has entered the vengeful stage of his emotional journey. Up and down the bedroom he goes, thinking up new reasons why he’s livid and betrayed by his mother, recording them all on paper. When Beth and William are whispering in the hallway, Randall’s list of grievances is 22 points long, and he’s looking for new additions. While he’s angry at William as well, for lying during their first meeting, and even at Beth for not telling him immediately, Randall focuses on learning more about the deception. He demands the full story: specifically, when Rebecca and William met, and if Jack had ever been told. (The answer to the latter is no, and Randall runs off to add another bullet to his list.) He’s lashing out in every moment, and while he knows Beth and William have some degree of responsibility, he is bitterly angry at Rebecca. It’s everything William feared, and he’s tortured by the visible rift that has taken over Randall’s relationship with his mother. This is exactly what William wanted to avoid, and he’s heartbroken to see Randall, in all his kindness, determined to hurt Rebecca just as much as she’s hurt him.
On a mission to get more paper for his list, Randall heads downstairs to find Kate and Kevin chatting about the old family cabin, and learns about Kate’s plan to get them to make one last trip. But a change of scenery does nothing for Randall’s existential crisis, and while the twins settle in to look at old family photos, all Randall can see is his mother’s deception.
It was only a matter of time until Randall’s penchant for breakfast smoothies got him into trouble. He avoided dropping William’s chemo pill in his shake, but without Beth there to check him, Randall ends up drinking half of a rogue shake he finds in the refrigerator. It just happens to be filled with “world-expanding” mushrooms, brought to the cabin by Asher and left in the fridge without warning. Lured outside by a strange clicking noise, Randall finds himself in the middle of a hallucination. All of a sudden, there’s Jack, fixing up the broken gutter and starting a conversation with Randall.
The twins give Randall a cursory check, but they’re assured of the safety of the shake, and leave him (sans car keys, at least) to stand outside and wear out his trip. Randall, deep in his hallucination, wastes no time and immediately launches into a discussion of the betrayal with Jack. Even dream Jack couldn’t believe it, and gives him a gentle “kiddo, that’s crazy” before transitioning into concern about his wife, knowing that “for her to keep a secret like that? That’d destroy her.” But Randall keeps at it, and insists that Rebecca has admitted as much to him. For the second time now, after first being tempted outside by a “clicking noise,” we hear the clangs along with Randall; Jack disappears to the sound of the three cabin locks turning over.
He reappears quickly and this time, Randall’s hallucination gives him the opportunity to confront a hard truth about his own childhood. Despite his parents efforts to give him everything, from school to the dojo to all the other small acts of support and love, Jack represents Randall’s fury that it still wasn’t enough for him. This is the cause of so much of Randall’s pain. His fear of abandonment, his fear of never being good enough to replace their child, and his deep-seated suspicion that he could never truly be wanted are both his worst nightmares and his life’s motivation. This is his perfectionism, writ large: it’s the feeling that the slightest misstep would lead to everything crashing down around him.
This conversation is exactly what Rebecca missed all those years ago at the dojo. Jack and Rebecca love Randall with everything they have, and more. They were amazing and supportive parents to him – and Randall knows it. He loves them for who they are. But he also knows that the void he felt all his life was real, too. And knowing that there was an opportunity for William to be there to fill even a bit of that void is too much for Randall to bear. Again, the locks click, and again Randall prompts himself to see a difficult truth.
The hallucination expands to include a vision of the whole Pearson family, happily playing board games in the cabin decades earlier. Faced with the woman who has caused him this pain, alongside a vision of his younger self, Randall digs his heels in and insists that he wants her to hurt “as much as I do.” He tries to launch into the diatribe he’s planned for Rebecca in the present, rattling off devastating points from his list: that her 13,215 days of lies led directly to William missing Randall’s valedictorian speech and being at the hospital for the birth of his children. He even envisioned William playing music at his wedding, and for Randall’s immediate emotional mind, Rebecca couldn’t care less.
Again the three locks clang, and, prompted by Jack, Randall faces another truth. Rebecca, alone, horrified, running from lock to lock to window to window trying to keep it all together, trying to keep out attackers from every possible angle. Faced with “three wildly different kids,” personal and marital struggles, and everything in between, Rebecca was doing the very best she could. It doesn’t mean perfection; nothing ever does.
After coming down from his trip, Randall goes to work in his father’s footsteps and fixes the gutter, rogue GI Joes and all, before the Big Three head back home from the cabin. With his siblings by his side, Randall first goes to confront Rebecca. But after facing her down in his hallucination, Randall doesn’t feel the need to read his painfully crafted list. Instead, he states the wisdom he found from his father: that keeping the secret must have been incredibly lonely. It’s not a clean fix, and it shouldn’t be; the two need time, and Randall needs to work through this new truth on his own. But his brother and sister are behind him all the way.
Colors of the Painting
- His time at the dojo has a speedy and subtle impact on little 9-year-old Randall, who was already breaking out his martial arts vocab to say thank you during the family board game.
- It’s just SO GOOD to have Kate and Kevin back together again. Chrissy Metz and Justin Hartley play off each other beautifully, and Kate brings the absolute best out of Kevin’s character.
- Sure, Asher insisted that the mushroom shake was safe, but it felt a little callous for Kevin and Kate to leave Randall out in the woods to trip by his lonesome.
- With Kevin and Sloane falling into bed together at the end of their time at the cabin, Kevin has found himself in the midst of a theatrical love triangle. Somehow I don’t think Olivia will be as patient with this as Kevin was with Ash.
- I’m all about Kate staying on the East Coast for a while (otherwise how can we even begin to dream about scenes with Chrissy Metz and Mandy Moore?) but what about the kickass job she landed back in LA?
- “It was a brexit!”
What are your thoughts on “The Trip”? Are you emotionally prepared for the midseason finale? Let us know in the comments!