This Is Us Season 2, Episode 14
“Super Bowl Sunday”
Posted by Shannon
I recently had a revelation about anniversaries. Having hit one myself – a five-year anniversary of a personal holiday tradition – I got to thinking about how we mark the passing of time. After five, ten, or twenty years, an anniversary starts to be more about the years you’ve lived in between than it is about the year you’re marking in the first place. How’ve you changed? How have you stayed the same? How do you remember the thing you’re marking, for good or ill? As our beloved Pearsons mark twenty years since the death of their patriarch, many of them are asking themselves the same questions. And while they process the years in between, we finally circle back to the beginning of the season, answering the last, lingering questions about Jack’s death. It’s the end and the beginning, the push of the future and the pull of the past, all wrapped up in one beautiful, turbulent, overwhelming painting.
Jack and Rebecca
Let it not be said that Jack and Rebecca Pearson can’t handle a crisis. The only processing time Jack is allowed sits between his eyes fluttering open and opening the door to the flames that have engulfed their home. As he wakes up Rebecca with a list of instructions (wet towels from their bathroom so he can get the kids, confirm and re-confirm that Kevin’s not in the basement) Jack is the picture of focus and clarity in the face of trauma. Randall’s bedroom is closest so he’s first one Jack grabs, practically throwing him into Rebecca’s arms. Neither of them so much as raise their voice to yell instructions, keeping their tones calm and zeroed in on the task at hand. All Jack allows himself, in case things go upside down while he tries to get Kate, is to demand that Randall drag his mother out if he has to. And, because it’s Jack, he also takes the next second to put his hand gently on his son’s face, looking straight into his eyes without hint of panic, to say a last “I love you” before diving out into the hallway to get Kate.
A word for the stuntmen and women, as well as the special effects people and ANYONE involved in the filming of this scene. The house fire felt claustrophobic, terrifying, completely and utterly real – it really felt like, when Jack and his screaming daughter faced down the flames from behind a mattress (again, he is SO GOOD IN A CRISIS), anything could happen. The danger was so tangible and overwhelming that I just kept writing “THIS IS HORRIFYING” over and over again in my notes. Somehow, they all make it back into Jack and Rebecca’s bedroom, then onto the roof, and then safely to the ground, lowered down one by one by a rope made of bedsheets.
Just as we all suspected, Jack, watching Kate’s face when she hears Louie barking, turns back into the house to rescue the dog. It’s the first moment that Rebecca breaks. She knows she was so close to getting her whole family out safely, and can’t imagine Jack coming back from this. But he does. With a face full of soot, holding both Louie and a pillowcase full of their most prized possessions under one arm, Jack makes it back to the rest of his family.
Listen. He didn’t have to do this. He very likely shouldn’t have. It was foolhardy, overly well intentioned, cocky, and completely filled with bravado. But goddamn it if that’s not Jack Pearson in a nutshell. The best of him and the worst of him, all in one. It’s the smoke inhalation, those extra few moments getting downstairs (which, HOW DID HE DO THAT), and however long he spent making his way through the house, grabbing mementos for each of his loved ones, that ultimately kills him. But for Jack, there was no other choice. He could not have lived with himself otherwise.
Before Jack and Rebecca go to the hospital to check out Jack’s burns, they drop Randall and Kate off at Miguel’s. Kate tries calling Sophie’s to get a hold of Kevin, only to find that the two snuck out to a party in the woods and aren’t home. (And damn if Milo’s wry, exhausted delivery of “I’m gonna kill him” wasn’t utter perfection.) Once they get to the hospital, with the kids safely under someone else’s watch, Jack and Rebecca finally let themselves feel the weight of what they’ve been through. They both apologize for not replacing the smoke alarm battery, both snort about the game. They laugh with each other, both deeply, completely themselves.
This Is Us doesn’t have a perfect track record. Personally, I couldn’t let myself hope that Jack’s last chronological story would be told without a misstep. But it really was. The entire sequence was a mercy; from Jack getting out of the house safely to his calm last moment with Rebecca. It’s a mercy, too, that Rebecca’s not in the room when Jack suffers a heart attack. That none of us have to see it, or hear her telling the kids what’s happened later on. Jack’s death is treated with grace and tact, honor and compassion. The only sign of his passing that Rebecca hears is Jack’s own voice, clearly ringing out “Bec?” from somewhere behind her, while she gets him a candy bar from the vending machine.
It haunts her later in life, but one of my favorite moments of the whole episode was Rebecca taking a bite of a candy bar. It was so profoundly human that in that moment, after making it through the unimaginable seemingly unscathed, she would dissociate at the doctor’s news. Rebecca simply becomes detached from reality. It’s not possible that what the doctor has told her is true. Not after everything they went through. And so of course she took a bite. It’s mindless and robotic and the most undeniably human moment of the entire hour.
Rebecca held it together through the fire destroying her home, and yes, of course she cries in shock after seeing that the doctor was not somehow mistaken or mixing her up with another person. But she doesn’t give herself much time to mourn. Faced with this new, unimaginable reality of her life – and the lives of her kids – she turns everything off. The only thing she lets herself feel is sheer force of will. Rebecca collects his belongings, signs some papers, and drives herself to Miguel’s, all with the deadened expression of a woman who knows she has no choice but to carry on. And if anyone in her path can’t do the same, they best take a walk around the block until they can.
Which brings us to the scene we know all too well. Kate, insisting she find Kevin so she can tell him what’s happened. Randall, weeping uncontrollably, holding Allison’s hand. And Rebecca driving to their old home, forcing herself to look at the reality of the situation. The only thing that calms her is her necklace, safely tucked away in Jack’s pillowcase.
Randall and Beth
Maybe one day I’ll be sick of Randall dancing his way through his kitchen, wearing a ridiculous apron and cooking something up for his girls. But today is certainly not that day. Because while “Kate wallows, Kevin avoids,” Randall always wants to remember his father with joy. After all, it was his Dad’s favorite day. And because it’s Randall, he tries to insist that his family spend the day doing the same. Beth, Tess, and Annie never knew Jack. They only know what the day means to their own patriarch. And so they (mostly) humor him while he throws a giant party for twenty girls who have little to no interest in the Super Bowl.
Annie’s main point of excitement for the weekend is her new lizard, Mr. McGiggles. He’s a colorful, sneaky little thing who escapes in the middle of the party, throwing all twenty girls into a panic. Randall’s best Dad voice kicks in while he yells for quiet, asking all the kids to get down on the floor and look for the lizard. Beth hears the phone ring and, in her infinite wisdom, declares “I’m gonna go into the kitchen and get that, and I’m never coming back.” Drunk on freedom and not watching where she’s going, Beth steps on Mr. McGiggles. “He ain’t gigglin’ now.”
For all her lizard-related carelessness, Beth knows Randall better than he knows himself. She kept a close eye on him all day, and so when he kicks off an impromptu memorial service for Mr. McGiggles, Beth’s spidey senses are on overdrive. As Randall begins his solemn speech in honor of Annie’s pet, he takes an inadvertent turn right into his own loss. “We didn’t know that we’d never see him again,” Randall says, flashing back to the last moment he saw his own father, driving away to Miguel’s those twenty years ago. Only a few lines into his speech on unexpected loss, Beth jumps up and saves him, distracting everyone with the promise of the Puppy Bowl Pregame Show. Her distraction doesn’t take for Tess, who runs off the first moment she possibly can. Tess has been acting strangely all day; she’s moped in corners, given both her parents uncharacteristic side eye, and didn’t comfort her sister much in her time of need. This is still the kid who hid in her uncle’s car just a few months ago, desperate to get out of the house, insisting that she was fine despite all evidence to the contrary. And, as it turns out, she’s also been taking the phone off the hook.
Randall assumes he’s overstepped somehow, apologizing and reminding Tess that “it’s a weird day for Daddy.” But that’s not what’s been bothering her. Just as Kevin said in rehab, Tess has been through more upheaval in the past year than she’s had in the whole of her young life. It’s not that she doesn’t love the people Randall has brought into her life; she does. But she misses her Dad. “It’s like you want a new life,” she admits, mystifying Randall. He collects himself, assuring her with a big speech that would make Jack proud. Tess is right, though. Randall has changed EVERYTHING about his life in a dramatically short amount of time. And it’s natural for his girls to feel that weight, too. Just like Jack, he’ll need to back up his comforting speech with actions. But somehow, I don’t think that’ll be a problem.
FUTURE TESS, FUTURE TESS, IT’S FUTURE TESS, Y’ALL.
As I’ve said to Kim approximately a million times since Super Bowl Sunday, I don’t know HOW I didn’t think of this. This show has proven time and time and time again that we should NEVER assume we know the year we’re watching at any given moment. And still, it just never occurred to me that we could jump ahead into Tess and Annie’s twenties, and theoretically, into the 50’s and 60’s of The Big Three themselves. It’s SO BRILLIANT and so obvious all at the same time. The little boy we saw earlier in the season, the adorable, sweet little face we all assumed would be Beth and Randall’s foster kid, goes to another loving family that has nothing to do with the Pearsons. His social worker, though? She’s heading out for her weekly dinner date with her Dad. Her proud, beaming Dad: Randall Pearson.
I need Kevin Pearson to stay on the east coast indefinitely. His time with Randall last season was vital to his personal growth, and now, staying with Rebecca and Miguel, he’s maybe the most centered we’ve ever seen him. Plus, Kevin brings out a side of Rebecca we’ve only ever see in the past with Jack: banter. Rebecca does not banter with Randall or Kate. But with Kevin, it’s all quips about getting drunk and sleeping with models, even while she explains her tradition of making Jack’s favorite meal every year. I know it’s stating the obvious, but banter is important. Laughter is important – especially for those of us who have a tendency to get stuck in their own heads. And while Rebecca has a quiet, calm happiness with Miguel, she doesn’t always laugh as much as she should. So Jack sends her a laugh every year to remember him by, and to get her out of her own head; and this year, he sends Kevin.
But Kevin’s on a continuing mission to “try to remain the only family member that doesn’t get intensely sad” today, so he declines his mother’s invitation to join her for her annual lasagna. Instead, he does just about everything he can think of to keep himself away from both a relapse AND from memories of Jack; he meditates, throws a ball around, goes through old boxes of stuff. But it’s a fool’s errand. Kevin has to face Jack for real, and digging his Dad’s six month coin out of a box just underscores the point.
Kate might have missed the full picture of what kicked off Kevin’s addiction, but that doesn’t mean she was wrong. Kevin has spent the better part of the last twenty years completely shut off to this part of his history. And he had to face it. After Jack’s death, all signs point to him taking off to LA almost immediately, and we know he barely came back until his post-Manny breakdown. So of course he hasn’t seen Jack’s tree since he left. He’s thrown everything he could into ignoring his father’s memory, ignoring the last conversation they ever had. If Kevin could get out of his own way, he’d know that so many of his assumptions are wrong. In his heart, Kevin should know better than to think Jack would be disappointed in him. But he has to get out his worst fears before he can begin to see that truth.
It’s a good sign, then, that the moment it’s all out of his system, Kevin goes right for a joke. He seems lighter already. He even leans in and calls his Mom immediately, even though he’ll see her back at home. Rebecca doesn’t need any new closure; she’s steady on her feet. She knows, though, that Kevin does. And so she shares her own anxieties and memories, suspecting that Kevin needed an extra push towards closure. Rebecca’s rewarded with Jack’s laugh – delivered by their Number One.
Of course he saved the tape. Wrapped up in that pillowcase, with scrapbooks and Rebecca’s necklace, was the video Jack took of his Katie-girl singing for her audition. And now, twenty years later, Kate has brought out the VHS for her annual “catharsis jugular”: every year on Super Bowl Sunday, she watches the video on a loop, staring at her father’s image and working her way through a box of tissues. At least this year, she has Audio cuddled up next to her.
For his part, Toby promises to let her “cathart,” especially after accidentally stepping in it by asking why she doesn’t sing the song from her video anymore. (“This is the day that my house burned down and my father died.” “Got it. I will shush now.”) It all goes to hell when the VCR starts making that horrible, unmistakable sound of eating a videotape alive. I worked in a video store all through high school, and I know that sound WELL. I can also assure you all that Toby did everything right. The only way to make a save like that is to immediately open up the top of the VCR, ease the tape out, and splice the damage. Which is exactly what Toby’s guy manages to do. And since technology has evolved since my days in the back of a video store with VHS repair kits, they also have the added benefit of being able to upload the whole thing into the cloud for safekeeping. THANK GOD.
Toby’s been doing so well lately, guys. And he keeps it together for this episode too, even though he tries a little too hard to get Kate to make new memories. Once they’re back at home, with her video safely uploaded and the VHS back where it belongs, Kate begins to open up. She carries SO much of the family tragedy on herself. And it’s not just the self-imposed responsibility of Jack going back inside for Louie. It’s that she constantly insists she’s the weakest of the family, that the rest are “built of stronger stuff than I was.” While Kate uses the moment to thank Toby, to assure him that Jack would have loved him and to tell him that “you know that you changed my life and that you saved my life” she also, in the same breath, ignores all the work SHE’S done over this past year. Growth and strength can’t come from an outside sources alone. Kate moved mountains for herself, and still, it’s impossible for her to see. But for today, at least, she can spend the second half of Super Bowl Sunday with a lighter heart, dancing in front of the TV.
Colors of the Painting
- Jordan isn’t the next foster kid for Beth and Randall, but that doesn’t mean they’re out of the game. Deja, calling from in front of their house at the end of the night, is back under the Pearson roof. I, for one, hope she’s here to stay.
- I scream about the casting department of This Is Us on the regular, but honestly they outdid themselves with Future Tess. When I rewatched this episode, it became SO obvious that the social worker was Tess. The storytelling possibilities of jumping twenty years into the future are endless, but I’m almost more excited to see the casting department play around with a whole new generation.
- The performances this week were all next-level, and Mandy Moore better collect a pile of awards this year – but I HAVE to shout out Justin Hartley for acting his entire heart out underneath that tree.
- While this episode kept to the high ground in every possible way, the same can’t be said for Verizon, who took out a first responder ad complete with voice overs from families who lost their homes in fires. That’s tacky as hell, Verizon. I see you.
- And finally, let’s leave on a high note with two of my favorite jokes of the episode:
Beth Pearson, ladies and gentleman.
Kevin trying to meditate, tho.
What did you think of “Super Bowl Sunday”? Let us know in the comments.