This Is Us Season 1, Episode 13
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!”)
Once he’s at work, Randall finds himself in a meeting with Sanjay, a coworker who’s every bit as competitive and confident as Randall. Sanjay, though, has just been assigned an account that Randall had been eying. Knowing that he hasn’t been his usual professional self (after all, Randall was late to this very meeting), he’s desperate to prove that he’s still at the top of his game. Randall lands the opportunity to finish a proposal for the Alberta project, even talking himself into a deadline of the next morning. With the clock ticking and his professional ego in danger, Randall is rearing to go. Of course, William shows up at the office just before lunch, looking to convince his son to play hooky for the day.
William doesn’t just want to stand around and quote Christopher Marlowe; he’s got a whole day planned out, complete with clothes and sunglass shopping and the search for his perfect egg cream. Randall can’t turn William down completely, of course, but he spends most of the time edgy and disengaged. Randall stops short of hurrying William along, but even if he tried, William can’t be rushed; he’s a man with a mission, and his mission is to enjoy the day. Once he’s acquired his perfect outfit, complete with killer sunglasses, and the perfect egg cream, WIlliam has just one more ask left: to get behind the wheel of Randall’s fancy car.
William’s list of demands weren’t nearly as random as they seemed. It was all in an effort to get to this moment: with his perfect outfit, his favorite music, a cool car, and his favorite drink. Growing up in Memphis, William idolized the local record shop over, a man named Mo who had the talent to “look at you and tell what song you needed to hear,” and who would arrive to his shop every day doing just this. A young William, watching Mo live his best and coolest life, could only hope to do the same one day.
Now, with his son next to him, there’s one final missing piece. A city dweller through and through, William has never owned a car, much less learned how to drive. Even before he realized that his father was hoping that he would teach him how to drive, Randall’s walls had come down. Hearing about William’s time in Memphis, Randall’s priorities had completely shifted, and his concern for the proposal fallen away. The needs of a parent were once again more important than his own. With jazz blaring, Randall and William laugh and cruise their way through the parking lot, without a thought in their minds for any part of life that exists outside of that sporty car.
After Toby’s medical scare, Kate finds herself having second thoughts about the gastric bypass procedure. The gravity of the medical situation is sitting differently with her now, and her Doctor, hearing her second thoughts, suggests that she visit an “immersive weight loss facility” up in the Adirondacks instead of setting a surgery date. Kate decides to give it a shot, and Toby drives her up. My feelings on Toby are well documented, but their exchange in the car this week was actually lovely. He’s supportive and engaged, she’s determined and focused, and for once, the two bring out the best in each other. Even their obnoxious fiance talk didn’t annoy me. If we must keep Toby, let’s have more of this, please.
Once she’s at the facility, Kate’s excitement dwindles, and fast. It’s all horse stables, camping, hiking, and classes that focus on emotional causes rather than time on the treadmill. (“It feels like a cult. Or Whole Foods.”) This focus on doing the “deeper work” is exactly what Kate needs, and naturally, it’s the last thing she wants to do. Olivia had behaved horribly back at the cabin, but she’d also spoken to Kate’s biggest fears, and that’s the kind of work the facility is pushing her to do. Of course, Kate shuts down immediately, refusing to turn off her phone and snarking at every staff person she can find.
While most of the staff seems helpful and dedicated, the guy in charge of the stables is, in a word, horrific. His aggressive come-ons to Kate are disrespectful and dismissive; his insistence that “this is happening” is some patriarchal bullshit. This is the kind of guy who cannot imagine a world in which he doesn’t get what he wants, and yet, as viewers, we’re meant to believe that this man is a romantic challenge to her relationship. Kate clearly states that says she’s not interested, and he bulldozes her at every turn. It’s dangerous and alarming, not “sexy” or challenging. Please, for the love of all things holy, someone write Kate a romantic interest that she DESERVES.
Kate’s heart wasn’t in the yoga, birdwatching or hiking, and she needed a push to take the experience seriously. (That push could have come from anywhere other than stable guy, but that’s how it happened, so, fine. I can’t change the plot, I can only yell about it.) As a retaliation against the idea that people can’t change, Kate goes back into gym class, determined to take the emotional work seriously. The instructor, shouting commands and mantras, asks the attendees to think about why they’re there, and what it is that they need to explore. And then it all comes apart. Finally letting her mind wander into the emotional trauma she’s survived, Kate flashes back to pivotal moments in her life; seeing her mom’s sweater size, being dismissed by her friends at the pool, her 10th birthday party, the loss of her father. We already know that Kate is the keeper of Jack’s ashes, so it makes sense that our first view of his death come through her memories. Kate sees flashes of the funeral, but they’re just that – flashes. Anything more focused would be too much. Even acknowledging the memory is too much, and Kate, overcome, lets out a scream of grief. This is the emotional work she has to face, and she finally has the tools to begin.
Kevin and Sloane are now living examples of why it’s never a good idea to date a coworker. After overhearing Kevin’s breakup talk to Olivia, complete with his less than romantic reasons for wanting to be with Sloane instead, she’s broken things off. Of course, she’s a consummate professional, so Sloane continues to show up to work, but she is not having Kevin’s attempts at small talk and movie recommendations. Distraught, Kevin calls Kate for support, but instead he finds himself babysitting Toby while Kate is in the Adirondacks.
Randall wasn’t one for Kevin’s fancy Manhattan tour, but Toby is a much more willing participant, and he’s thrilled to have the excuse to be shown around fancy rooftop bars by a television personality. Kevin, though, is in no mood. He’s completely fed up with his previous life. He had genuinely felt for both Sloane and Olivia, and once Kevin forms true emotional attachments, he can’t bounce back that quickly. With a roll of his eyes, Toby agrees to brainstorm some solutions to Kevin’s emotional state. After all, Toby is the “king of romantic gestures.” (UGH.) He gives a quick summary of some trademark nice guy nonsense – without Kevin’s good looks, he had to rely on “doing nice things for women so they like me.” (He can’t just be decent for decency’s sake, of course. But I digress.) Of course, this kind of gesture only works if Kevin has no doubts about the woman that he loves. Kevin was emotionally torn between Olivia and Sloane before, and while they’ve both left the picture, he’s no less confused, and can’t chose one person he wants to try to win back. Toby instructs Kevin to close his eyes, picture the love of his life, and formulate the sentences he’d want to say to her to win her back. “What are those sentences, and who are you saying them to?”
As soon as Kevin’s car pulled up to the apartment, I knew the woman behind the door wouldn’t be Olivia or Sloane. But I was not anticipating this – Sophie, all grown up, in nurses scrubs and looking confused as all hell as to why her ex-husband is standing outside her door professing his love 12 years after they ended their marriage. Kevin’s habitual one night stands and emotional reservations make so much more sense in context. After marrying the love of his life at a young age (and finding her when they were even younger), it all fell apart. What we know of his life since then has been successful, but unsatisfied. And it all came from turning 10 and falling in love with his sister’s best friend.
Colors of the Painting
- Rebecca’s arguments are sound, but I’m with Jack on the “our beautiful children need a beautiful dog” argument.
- Never forget that Sophie signed the mean girl note to Kate back at the pool. Kids grow up, and Kate would never have told Kevin about that note, but I for one am a little cautious about Sophie and Kate’s personal history.
- “I haven’t been this high since the 90’s.”
- Toby is wrong about many things, but his interpretation of the end of Notting Hill is not one of them.
- I would like an entire episode of Sterling K. Brown and Ron Cephas Jones wandering around Manhattan shopping for sunglasses, please and thank you.
What did you think of “Three Sentences”? Was goofy dad Jack Pearson too much for you? Were you as floored by the Sophie reveal as we were? Let us know in the comments.