This Is Us Season 2, Episode 6
Posted by Shannon
When my quarter life crisis hit, I had just moved to New York City, finally achieving a goal I’d had for the entirety of my young life. Sure, I made it to the town of my dreams, but that felt like it was the beginning and the end of my victory list. Imposter Syndrome ran rampant in my professional life, which was made up entirely of best guesses and lucky breaks, while my personal life was really nothing short of a disaster. Basically, it wasn’t going well. The thing is, everyone I know has a version of that story – and our fictional Pearson counterparts are no different. Kevin and Kate spend those hellacious years professionally and emotionally stalled, while Randall, crushed by the weight of his own expectations, is thrown into his first nervous breakdown. The Big Three just aren’t doing great here, and who can blame them? No matter what you call it (quarter life crisis for most, Saturn return for the astrologically minded), that stretch of years from the mid-twenties until the early thirties is weird and horrible. But at least they have each other.
Jack and Rebecca
Homegrown Halloweens are always the way to go, and from Rebecca behind the sewing kit to Randall’s hand-drawn map, the Pearson’s are doing it right. But that doesn’t mean it’s done early; Rebecca is finishing up the costumes the night before Halloween, and while the boys are happy as Michael Jackson and a hobo respectively, Kate wants to make a last-minute change from a veterinarian to Sandy from Grease. It’s all well and good in theory, but in practice, Jack and Rebecca’s favoritism is running rampant this Halloween. Jack immediately cedes to Kate’s request for a whole new costume on a moment’s notice, and Rebecca leaps to Randall’s defense when Kevin and Kate start questioning his map. Jack and Rebecca are decent but flawed parents (really, isn’t everyone) and my thinking here jumped right to Kevin. Is it any wonder that the child who was so clearly no one’s favorite grew up to be self-involved and emotionally cut off? And in yet another blow to their parenting skills – how do NONE of their children recognize Sonny and Cher?!? Shameful.
While Jack and Rebecca lack behavioral self-awareness, they at least recognize the favoritism in each other. Rebecca is worried for Kate, who she knows will have a “nothing but no’s” in her twenties, while Jack rightly points out that Randall is “too rigid, and it’s getting worse.” But neither one of them makes a change immediately. Kate gets her new Sandy costume, and Randall gets to split off from Kate and Kevin so he can stick to his strict full-size candy bar priorities. With the party split in two, Jack takes Kevin and Kate to the neighborhood haunted house, but soon Kate jumps ship as well. She’s hoping to go through the house with Billy, a kid from their class who’s “almost as popular” as Kevin. When Jack questions Kevin, he immediately divulges Kate’s crush, and while Jack thinks it’s ridiculous because Kate is only 10, Kevin worries that “it’s ridiculous because he’s Billy Palmer.” Jack follows them outside of the house, worried the whole time for Kate, hoping that she doesn’t emerge with a broken heart. Instead, she runs out holding Billy’s hand. Jack and Kate celebrate, but out of the corner of his eye, Jack watches Kevin dump his entire bag of candy into Billy’s pillow case. He’s not the only one who’s always looking out for her.
For her part, Rebecca is at least trying to address Jack’s concerns. Randall IS getting too rigid, and it’s not healthy for a 10 year old to be so completely opposed to any change in his plans. She sees an opening at the Larson’s house, which is right on Randall’s route and doesn’t have a line. Randall isn’t interested in improvising here, since the Larsons talk too much and give out licorice, (TRULY, who likes licorice, that stuff is awful) but Rebecca gently insists. When Randall returns in a huff, Rebecca is worried that he’s reacted badly to the spontaneity; instead, it’s a whole lot worse. The Larsons, unprompted and with truly astounding carelessness, had called Randall a “miracle,” opening to a conversation about their lost triplet. While Randall knew he was adopted, he didn’t know the circumstances; Rebecca and Jack had been planning to tell him the full story one day, but thanks to the thoughtlessness of suburban neighbors, Rebecca is stuck on a sidewalk telling Randall his history alone. She makes the best of it; Rebecca normalizes Kyle’s death in a healthy and thoughtful way, while making it clear to Randall that “yeah, you are a miracle, but you are not instead of anything.” For Randall, the pieces all begin to fall into place. He asks for his brother’s name, and realizes out loud that “Kyle’d probably look like you and Daddy.” It makes so much sense that Randall would become fixated on his origin story; in his 10 year old mind, it must have felt like everyone knew his whole past except for him.
Back at home, Rebecca’s clearly shaken. In a matter of moments, Jack knows that something’s off, and Rebecca tells him about the evening’s dramatic change of direction. Jack’s focus instantly lands on Rebecca’s emotional state. After all, she just had to re-live that trauma all by herself while navigating the shock of her story being told without her knowledge AND losing any semblance of control as to how her son learned a pivotal piece of his history. It’s a heavy lift in the best of circumstances, but Rebecca’s priority here was keeping Randall safe. Any flashbacks to that night from her own perspective had to wait. At least, until the birth of her first granddaughter.
Randall and Beth
The year is 2008, and it’s just two months since Randall’s first nervous breakdown. While he fixates on installing a ceiling fan for the baby’s room, Beth is a week and a half past her due date, with an induction scheduled for the following day. Randall and Beth’s relationship is strained, to say the least. Their usual banter is nowhere to be seen. Instead, he nitpicks her Halloween candy purchase (“I wanted to be the house with the full size candy”) and insists on discussing crib death. At least Rebecca is on her way; Beth is visibly relieved at the prospect of some support in the house, not to mention some backup in handling Randall’s emotional state.
I can’t say enough about Beth and Rebecca’s relationship here. Like so many female bonds, mother-in-laws are often treated with an eyeroll, something to be dismissed or joked about. Instead, Beth sees Rebecca as a point of comfort, context, and as a trusted confidant. After Randall takes off to the hardware store to let them talk about him in peace (“You two are really loud whisperers”), Beth opens up about Randall’s recovery and the toll it’s taken on their relationship. Rather than being honest with each other, rather than hashing things out with their signature quick wit and honesty, Randall and Beth are tiptoeing around each other, scared that any wrong move could trigger another breakdown. Rebecca tells Beth that Randall is stronger than he seems, and while that might be true, Beth’s also got a point. Rebecca wasn’t there, she didn’t see Randall “blind, weeping, and a million miles away.” There’s no easy solution for either of them, but it’s a comfort for Beth to get this off her chest, and to hear Rebecca assure her that “you’re gonna believe him again.” Soon they switch gears, talking instead about the pregnancy and impending string of baby photos. While Beth assures Rebecca that she isn’t going to be one of those moms who Facebooks every moment of her child’s life, she can see that Rebecca is looking for connection, and agrees to help Rebecca set up a Facebook account.
Meanwhile, at the hardware store, Randall is staring intently at the ceiling fan section. When an associate comes over to check on him, Randall, with all of his walls broken down by sheer exhaustion, launches into the reality of his life and his recent past. Two months ago, he was doing research on the brain development of a fetus (because of course he was). When he discovered that dreaming starts at six months, everything started to crash down around him. Dreams aren’t scientific, they’re not planned, they can’t be prepared for. In essence, dreams represent everything that Randall is most afraid of. Work is one thing, and even his own dreams are another, but the universe of a whole other person’s hopes? It’s too much. It’s heartbreaking and perfect that this was the cause of his first breakdown, and he picked a truly patient and kind-hearted retail professional to open up to. Randall admits that he started talking to Garuda in equal parts because of his “ask me how I can help” badge and his turban (“Eastern wisdom?” “East Trenton.”), but Garuda more than humors him. As a father of five, Garuda knows Randall’s fears. And he knows that with the baby comes the answers. He won’t feel ready until he has no choice but to BE ready. With a final suggestion for the best ceiling fan on the market, Garuda tells Randall he’ll meet him at exchanges. But his time is up; Rebecca calls Randall’s cell with the news that Beth is in labor. Now.
Randall allows himself a few panic-blinks before taking off from the hardware store, making it home in record time. Sure enough, Garuda was right. The moment Randall really needed to come through, really needed to be the reliable, steady partner Beth knows him to be, he snaps back into reality. With his eyes locked on Beth the whole time, and his mother by his side, Randall delivers his first daughter right in his own living room.
When the chips are down, the Pearsons always come through. And as the matriarch of the family, Rebecca embodies that mindset. I was so proud of her during this delivery. And I was floored by how touched I was that she was a part of Tess’s birth. And of course, the show leans right in. This is Parenthood-esque manipulation at its BEST, and I am here for it. After the dust has settled (and after she breaks a ceramic in the living room) Rebecca finally breaks, too. It’s been eight years since Jack’s death, and she’s still very much in mourning. While she must have had similar feelings at Beth and Randall’s wedding, the birth of her first granddaughter is shadowed by the fact that her partner isn’t there to share the moment. Randall feels the loss too – of course he does – and while he and Beth had been planning to name their baby Jack or Jasmine, the girl name just isn’t sitting perfectly with him. Rebecca assures him that “it doesn’t have to be a J name, Randall,” and instead, they remember Jack with a joke, laughing about how he would have tried to take biological credit for the baby having so much hair.
Once she arrives at the nursery, Rebecca welcomes Tess to the world, and walks her through the outline of their lives. Middles are hard; no one knows that more than Rebecca. Beginnings, though, have a magic and a history to them, all at the same time. After all, Tess “began a long time ago,” with another gorgeous baby in another nursery, that time with Jack behind the glass, watching the bond begin between a mother and son. And sometimes, a beginning gets snuck into a middle, and the cycle begins again. Once she’s back home, getting all set up on Facebook by posting a picture of her new granddaughter (named after, of course, Garuda’s suggested ceiling fan), Rebecca gets a message to her inbox. It’s Miguel, checking in to see how she is. And she’s good.
Kevin and Kate
Kevin and Kate’s 20s are not particularly kind to them. Kevin, relatively new to LA, is spending his days washing hair and boring his customers to tears by complaining about his inability to get an audition that doesn’t end in him being compared to Tom Cruise. At least Kevin’s roommate, Zeke (HI CHARLEY KOONTZ, I HEAR YOU WERE ON COMMUNITY, IT’S GOOD TO SEE YOU HERE), has been covering the rent. Zeke’s an actor too, and he’s overwhelmingly supportive of Kevin. After Zeke gets cast in what’s very likely his big break, rather than leaving Kevin in the dust, he brings his roommate along to party, hoping to help make a connection. And how does Kevin repay Zeke? By following the director to the men’s room, cornering him, asking about casting and – when none of that works – questioning Zeke’s ability to perform in the movie. After all, Zeke is a character actor, not nearly “all-American” or “handsome” enough for the role. To be clear, this is sleazy and horrible and might be Kevin’s most irredeemably selfish moment. The director doesn’t take kindly to it either. He lets Kevin fully dig his own grave before absolutely decimating him, calling Kevin out as an “actor, waiter, talent-optional” and assuring him that he’ll never be cast in one of his projects. Ever. “Not even carrying a tray.”
Back on the East coast, Kate’s waiting tables by day and attending classes by night. She’s got a favorite customer, though; Kate knows Steve’s schedule and his favorite order by heart, and when he mentions his plans to go out to a bar later that night, Kate sees her opportunity. Dressed as “a girl taking a chance,” Kate arrives at his neighborhood bar for Halloween. I love her taking this shot, but something felt off from the beginning – when Steve’s friends notice her, they exchange meaningful glances, and he pretty much immediately asks if they can go somewhere “quieter.” They land in Kate’s apartment and hook up, and while the initial giggles are cute, the guy makes moves to leave pretty much immediately. Kate’s got an optimistic streak, but that doesn’t make her dumb. She worked out that Steve was married ages ago, but she’s just deeply tired – “tired of waiting for things to feel right” – and I for one can definitely relate to that. But hopping into bed with a married dude doesn’t seem like an emotionally safe way to work through those feelings, and sure enough, this hasn’t helped her the way she hoped.
But taking Steve home means she was there to get Rebecca’s call. Hearing that Randall and Beth had their baby immediately throws Kate into action. She calls Kevin, who hops on a plane (having been properly told off by Zeke, he certainly has no obligations in LA at the moment) and in a blink, the two of them are at Randall’s side, ready to meet their first niece. It’s all hugs and new baby excitement for a while, but when they’re alone, Kevin and Kate split a bottle of wine and start to commiserate. It doesn’t take long for both of them to admit that they’re each a mess. Kevin hasn’t had an audition in a year, Kate’s “new guy” is married and she’s regularly driving to the old house, staring at where the Pearson family home used to be. Kevin and Kate are still very much in mourning; especially Kate. These two need each other right now. And they need new projects, something to shake them out of their quarter life crisis malaise. For Kevin, it’s joining an improv troupe. For Kate, it’s finally leaving town and heading out to California to get a fresh start. And hey, they both still have five years to catch up to their brother and get their shit together.
Colors of the Painting
- Using the Obama ‘08 campaign as a timestamp was real effective and real upsetting at the same time. I miss you, Barack, come back to us. (And character wise, it makes sense for Kevin to be the only one of the Big Three not paying attention to politics, but don’t think I’m not judging him because I most definitely am.)
- The soundtrack for This Is Us is reliably great but between the “I Got You Babe” and “Jesus, Etc.” covers, this episode really killed it.
- Speaking of music, Rebecca’s Halloween costume meant two fantastic, blink-and-you-missed-’em Cher shout outs: “I’ll be the one with the devoted fan base!” and “What’s Sonny without Cher?” “I think it’s the other way around.”
- Also, the moonwalk.
- Miguel is living in Houston when he reaches out to Rebecca on Facebook, which means they reconnected long-distance. Why is Miguel in Houston to begin with? Did he promptly move back when he and Rebecca got together? That little line opens up a whole host of questions.
- Sterling K. Brown coming through with the SINGLE TEAR again after he hears Garuda talking about his family. Give that man more awards right the hell now.
What are your thoughts on “The 20s”? Let us know in the comments!