This Is Us Season 1, Episode 12
“The Big Day”
Posted by Shannon
As we learned in “The Game Plan,” the thesis statement for This Is Us rests on the interconnectivity of our lives. Generational impacts, along with smaller, everyday decisions, conversations, and meetings, all converge to make up a painting of human interaction. This week’s episode tests that thesis in a new way, breaking format away from the Pearsons at large and focusing on the day The Big Three enter Jack and Rebecca’s lives. We even spend some time with the ancillary men who helped bring the family together: Dr. K, whom we all know and love already, and Joe, the firefighter who discovered baby Randall and brought him to the hospital.
Turns out, that red cigarette box from the pilot carried a lot more symbolism than we knew. For those of us who didn’t see the timeline switch coming (I certainly didn’t), Joe’s red cigarette box was the catalyst to the big reveal that Jack and Rebecca’s storyline was set in 1980, when smoking indoors at a hospital was just business as usual. For Joe himself, that box carried symbolism too: his marriage is deteriorating, and though he’s told his wife he quit smoking, he’s bought a new pack in secret. The purchase alone sent him to confession, asking the priest to save their marriage. It’s just a little miracle.
Joe and his wife Samantha met after they got into a fender bender, and while there must have been some good times in between, things are not going well in their home these days. Samantha is at her wit’s end, and is completely unmoved when Joe tells her what he asked of Father Williams. It’s unclear what got their relationship to this state, but it also doesn’t matter; Joe is moody and rash, Samantha is dismissive and frustrated, and their communication is non-existent. When Joe heads off to work at the fire station, it’s mere moments until he hears a baby crying outside. With young William hiding in the corner, watching to make sure someone came for his son, Joe picks up the baby and sees his miracle.
While the rest of the firehouse suggests bringing the baby to the precinct, Joe has other ideas, and takes the infant home to Samantha. She sees through this immediately: a baby won’t solve their problems or save their marriage. It would do exactly the opposite, especially with no time to decide on the adoption together. She insists that the baby be taken to the hospital, where Jack will ultimately find him and bring him home. And though the reality of adoption would have surely driven their marriage to an even more unstable place, the faith that Joe showed in their partnership might have been just the ticket. His gesture is a kind one, and while his confidence that they could make it work was misguided, it showed just how willing he was to continue fighting for their marriage. It’s enough to let Samantha re-set her emotional clock; the two start over, and Joe gets his miracle after all.
Joe and Samantha present a vignette of life in the community, and just like Jack and Rebecca, their timeline doesn’t matter. Their story could have just as easily been in the 60s, 90s, or present day. We’re meant to feel for the timelessness of their relationship, and I did, but the only real emotional connection for me here was what baby Randall came to represent. What would have become of him if Samantha had agreed to Joe’s initial plan? What would Randall have looked like without Jack’s steadfastness or Rebecca’s fierce protection? I’m not convinced that the show did this intentionally, but what kept me going through this storyline was not an emotional connection to Joe and Samantha. It was the constant debate of nature vs nurture, and its implications for baby Randall.
Back with the Pearsons, we first see Rebecca and Jack just after they’ve found out the babies are triplets. They’ve adjusted beautifully to the news. Rebecca is loving her pregnancy, and Jack is loving the excuse to dance to Stevie in the living room. Flash cut to just six weeks before the due date, and man, things have changed. Rebecca is physically and emotionally miserable; she can’t get up on her own, her hormones are in chaos, and she’s freaking out at the state of their new home. Six months between move-in and due date was ambitious to say the least, and while Jack got the house livable, it’s still covered in boxes. (I for one get anxious if I haven’t unpacked as soon as I get in the door from a trip, so I really felt for Rebecca here.)
Rebecca is in a state, and she just needs a day on her own, with some peace and quiet. Jack has been on a mission to get her out of the house – shoe shopping, or a double feature at the movies – but Rebecca is not having it, and kicks him out for the day. (“There are too many things in this house and I need you not to be one of them.”) Jack’s patience is running thin too, but he leaves her to it. Unfortunately, there was a reason behind his efforts to get her out of the house, besides his general standing as man of the year. It’s his birthday. Miguel had called to wish him well and offer a chance to get out of the house, and while Jack had turned him down at first, he ends up at the golf course after all.
Just a few moments after Jack drives away, desperate to learn how much longer she has until the triplets make their grand entrance, Rebecca checks the family calendar and realizes what she’s been missing. She’s beside herself, but with nothing in the kitchen and only one family car, she’s also low on options. After pulling together some fashionable DIY sandals using flip-flops and duct tape, she heads out to the only spot within walking distance: Liquor and More. (So where’s the more?)
Dear darling Teddy, the clerk at Liquor and More, tries his best to help Rebecca finagle a cake. Fancy ingredients are out of the question, but he helps her pull together a truly disgusting sounding cupcake using a banana muffin and some Twinkies. He at least has a small assortment of Steelers merch, and so the Terrible Towel from the pilot makes its entrance. Rebecca is determined to make the absolute best out of these circumstances; after all, she’s seen what’s out there. And what’s out there is Miguel and his HORRIBLE FRIENDS.
Seriously, they’re horrible. None of them actually like golf, they’re just at the course for “five blissful hours” without their wives and children. None of them can understand why Jack might want to spend his free days with Rebecca, or take the opportunity to have substantial time to support his family emotionally. And honestly, some point soon, we are going to need to see why Rebecca fell in love with Miguel. Miguel, who’s definition of fatherhood is acting a martyr and “buying yourself something, because your kids get everything else.” He’s not a BAD man, but he’s certainly not shown to be a good one, either. Miguel and his golfing buddies are bitter and miserable, and horrified that Jack, with his genuine affection and emotional clarity, is going to make them all look bad. Guess what, gents – Jack doesn’t need to be around to make you look bad. You’re doing it all on your own.
Rebecca, back from the store after making Jack a birthday cupcake, sits down in the nursery to talk to the triplets. And what a talk they have. Mandy Moore gives an absolutely stunning monologue, and she cuts to the core of her fears. Anyone could tell that Jack will be an amazing dad, and she knows the kids will be “huge fans.” But Rebecca is deeply scared of her own identity as a mother. She’s anxious, impatient, and frightened that the kids won’t connect with her. Rebecca’s fragility is beautiful, but personally, I’m torn in my emotional reactions to this monologue. On one hand, I understand it completely; this is the Rebecca that Randall saw in the cabin, fighting back tears and locking every door three times. She’s ferocious and protective and willing to fight any demons, even those that come from her own mind. It’s natural for her to have these worries, and I LOVE that we get to see it. But on the other, I fear that we’re meant to see this as the “real” reason that Rebecca was undecided about having kids. That her complex feelings surrounding motherhood were rooted in the feeling that she wouldn’t be good enough. Not to say that it can’t also be a reason; but her indecision had previously been rooted in wanting to preserve her life as it was, and that’s a story we so rarely get to see told. I’m wary of it being rewritten to focus on Rebecca’s perceived shortcomings rather than her life choices.
Jack had promised Miguel and his golf buddies that he’d buy himself a present. And he did; armed with a new video camera, Jack comes home and listens to Rebecca’s talk with the triplets. He’s taped her the whole time (without sound), and the two are vulnerable and emotional after the days they’ve had. Jack forgives Rebecca for forgetting his birthday without a second thought, and continues to cement his status as man of the year by laughing with unadulterated joy at the Terrible Towel and asking that she still do her sexy birthday dance. After all, birthday tradition doesn’t care if her lingerie will fit. He’s so excited, so happy to be home with her, and so purely overjoyed at their celebration.
And here we begin to fold directly into the pilot; Jack’s got his towel, Rebecca’s bra is on over her shirt, and her water breaks. While most of the delivery sequence is repeated, we see a little more of Jack and Rebecca mourning the loss of their third baby, and a little more of their decision to adopt Randall. Kevin, Kate and Randall sit this week out, but we do get a little glance of their 9-year-old selves at the end of the episode. Another family tradition has been born; every Father’s Day, Jack sits down with his family to watch the video of Rebecca on their birthday. His annual Father’s Day celebration is yet another moment that he dedicates to his whole family, rather than him alone.
When he’s not at the hospital, our beloved Dr. K. is busy being a doting grandfather. One set of grandkids is due to visit, and Dr. K spends his morning futzing around the house, getting ready to welcome them with sugary cereal. His son Peter and daughter-in-law Alli are visiting too, and while they mean well enough, they’re also pushy as hell. Peter in particular can’t stop inquiring after Dr. K’s personal life. Subtlety isn’t this guy’s strong suit, and Dr. K is visibly annoyed at his son’s efforts to get him into a romantic relationship.
Dr. K is surrounded with memories of his late wife. Her things are all over the house: clothes are in the closet, prescriptions are in the bathroom, even her perfume is still set out. His wife has died only 14 months earlier, though, and while I would understand it if Peter’s main concern was opening up the house, I struggled with the fact that his focus seemed to be pretty exclusively on his father moving on by dating. Grief is different for everyone, and after 53 years of marriage, 14 months seems like barely any time for him to process her loss. It’s no wonder he’s still wearing his ring and can’t quite bring himself to have dinner with a lady friend, regardless of how charming their interactions were.
His grief is palpable, and after a confrontation with his son, Dr. K heads out to the cemetery to speak directly to his wife. This was a heartbreaking performance from Gerald McRaney; he is wracked with his loss, and can’t see a path forward without her, much less with someone else. I couldn’t help but see this as a bookend to Jack. Dr. K’s devotion to Caroline is so similar to Jack’s; both men have defined themselves by their family, and despite his children’s efforts, the loss of his wife has left Dr. K anchorless. It’s no wonder he sees himself so clearly in Jack at the hospital. He recognizes that same dedication, that same willingness to love with his whole heart, that same emotional openness that he’s had in his own marriage. Dr. K delivers the twins and comforts Jack through the initial shock of losing their third, and he offers his own story to meet their loss. He does so without expectation, but hearing that Jack and Rebecca plan to adopt the abandoned baby finally opens a path forward in his own grief.
Once home, Dr. K begins the process of clearing out his wife’s things. He still talks with her at the breakfast table, as he should. His memories of his wife won’t be diminished by his own recovery. Ready to begin moving into the next chapter of his life on his own terms, Dr. K ends the episode by taking his lady friend up on her offer for dinner.
Colors of the Painting
- Jack and Rebecca’s baby name list has some stellar musician-inspired selections, including Stevie, Jimi, Nina, Carly, and Joni. (Interestingly, the names Kate, Kevin and Kyle are nowhere to be seen.)
- Rebecca’s cupcake resourcefulness reminded me of Jack’s Pilgrim Rick days, and while she won’t be recreating the banana muffin with twinkie icing anytime soon, I love how seriously the Pearsons take their family traditions.
- When Dr. K’s daughter-in-law praised Ordinary People because “it was really moving to see Mary play such a complicated mother,” my meta-loving heart squealed with glee.
- Speaking of meta movie references, I’m sure Dr. K’s son has many lovely qualities, but pointing out that there’s a twist in Empire Strikes Back is not one of them. PSA: Hinting at twists just makes people look for them the whole time, and that’s not nearly as fun.
- And now, for this week’s installment of “I’m just gonna leave this here” …
What were your thoughts on “The Big Day”? Did you like how they broke with format and set an entire episode in the past? How horrible IS Miguel? Let us know in the comments!