This Is Us Season 2, Episode 16
Posted by Shannon
I love it when art imitates life. Just a few weeks ago, on our way to the annual Gallifrey One convention, myself, our fearless Head Over Feels leaders and a large contingent of our girl gang made a trek out to Las Vegas, Nevada. I love seeing new places and I especially love watching things filmed in places I’ve been, so I was overjoyed to see that the first post-Super Bowl episode of This Is Us would be set (mostly) in the very spot from which I’d just returned. It’s been a long, heavy few weeks, both in the world of This Is Us and in the real-life world. We could all use a little merriment, a little celebration, and a lot of glitter. “Vegas, Baby” delivers, focusing on two moments of celebration – Jack and Rebecca’s anniversary, and Toby and Kate’s bachelor and bachelorette parties. There’s still some darkness to the hour; it wouldn’t be the Pearsons without a dash of angst. But on the whole, this episode lets everyone settle and breathe. I, for one, am seriously grateful for it.
Jack and Rebecca
It’s not always easy being married to Jack Pearson. Sure, the guy knows his way around a grand gesture, but at some point being constantly shown up in your OWN grand gesture attempts would get pretty old. So it’s only natural that, after years of being unintentionally and lovingly one-upped by her husband, Rebecca just wants as year off. “No grand gestures, no gifts, no guilt.” Just for one year, they’ve both agreed to stand down on the whole gift-giving thing. Jack’s clearly a little sad about it, and Rebecca isn’t convinced that Patrick Swayze won’t somehow materialize out of thin air, but a deal is a deal. Unless and until the kids decide to join forces and throw them a party.
Kevin sets up a perfect loophole, asking if they can get in on that “special stuff to show mom that you love her or whatever” and Jack jumps right into it. Naturally, things get out of hand real fast. Kevin remembers that Rebecca once said she wanted to try cornish hens and becomes fixated on orchestrating the perfect meal (“Just get in the game, Dad!”) while Randall and Kate rush off to the library. Randall holds court there, because of course he does. As she watches her brother high five his library buddies and greet the staff, Kate’s visibly impressed. The two run off to their research station in the back. Consider this your reminder that libraries are cool, okay??
When you let eight year olds orchestrate an elaborate meal, it will all end in tears. That’s just a rule. Kevin is beside himself that the hens had to marinate for hours, delaying the meal. Kate insists that Jack wear a tux and Rebecca connect with her inner Vivian Ward, while Randall sends her to the basement for the seventh time to continue her hunt for the fancy china. A meltdown is imminent, and Kevin’s the one to provide it. He didn’t just want to celebrate his parents out of the goodness of his heart (and honestly, what eight year old would?). Sophie’s parents are getting a divorce, and he’s terrified that Jack and Rebecca are now heading down the same road.
The moment he’s comforted and assured that his parents’ marriage is safe, Kevin jumps ship, summoning Randall and Kate up to bed along with him. Jack and Rebecca are bemused by their kids abandoning the post, but more than that, Rebecca admits that she missed having their annual celebration. As they go upstairs to bed, it’s Randall and Kate to the rescue. All that library research paid off: Kate decorated a sparkle-light path up to the roof, while Randall figured out the appropriate time and place for his parents to watch a meteor shower. It’s a perfect, lovely celebration. In their modern timelines, all three of Jack’s kids are pretty great at grand gestures – and they weren’t half bad at it as kids, either.
Randall, Beth, Kate, Toby and Kevin
Having a big, fancy wedding means throwing big, fancy parties. Toby and Kate decided to go this route, and now they’re kind of stuck with it – neither of them particularly wanted to have a bachelor or bachelorette party, and they really don’t want to have them separately. (At least they’re the first to admit that they’re “wildly co-dependent.”) But, Madison is jumping at the chance to throw Kate a party and Toby not-so-secretly dreams of bonding with the brothers Pearson, and so here we are. And even if they’re technically separate parties, they’re still on the same weekend and in the same location. A few red flags go up even before they leave. We never hear much about Toby’s family, and what we have heard isn’t great. On top of his judgmental and hyper-religious mom, he also has a younger brother who can’t be bothered to show up to celebrate his impending nuptials. They both feel a little trapped with strangers; Kate would much rather celebrate with Randall than with Beth, and while I’m fully on board with Team Madison, they haven’t been friends for long. Still, they’re ready to make the best of things for a weekend, before rushing back home to Audio and avoiding human contact for at least a year.
When we last saw Randall and Beth, Deja had appeared in their front lawn. I admit, I was so thrilled to see her and so overwhelmed by the appearance of Future!Tess that I hadn’t stopped to think about WHY Deja would have just shown up like that. There’s just no way the reason was positive. And sure enough, she’d appeared out of dire necessity, with nowhere else to go. Her mom hasn’t been able to pay the gas bill and the heat’s been turned off for weeks. Deja’s not even there to get the heat back on – not really. Her main concern is that Miss Linda will come by for a house visit soon and find her mom unfit. If Beth and Randall can foot the bill in cash, then Deja can get her mom to accept the money by pretending she’d saved it up from her allowance. Randall is LIVID. This is exactly what he was worried about when Linda approved Shauna’s custody. But, his priority is Deja, and so he puts away his glare of death before she turns her head back to him. Deja turns down a recurring payment and is even hesitant to let Randall drop her back off, but Randall insists that she call them immediately next time – no waiting for the heat to be turned off.
A few weeks later, Beth and Randall are packing up for their trip to Vegas, and it’s been radio silence from Deja. But Randall can’t shake his worry. He told Deja to call him immediately if she needed ANYthing, and he meant it – which also means his main priority now is making sure his phone doesn’t go off without an immediate response. He can’t bring himself to be excited for the trip, and is constantly worried that Deja might show up while they’re across the country. But Beth? She needs this break. She needs it desperately. She’s been working herself to the bone, taking care of the kids, managing “a TENEMENT” (her delivery on that, tho) and is long overdue for a getaway. These two love Vegas (and what I wouldn’t give to see a flashback of THAT trip) and Beth couldn’t care less that they’re pity invites. For all his distraction, Randall does see that his wife is in dire need of a vacay, and he finally comes around, delivering his Rain Man impression and everything.
Once they get to Vegas, Beth is living her very best life. She’s hanging out of limo skylights, giggling constantly and has half a mind to “go take ecstacy and see the magician that got ate by a lion.” But Randall is right back in his anxiety, checking his phone and ignoring his wife’s joy. All he wants to do is call Deja and check in, and when Beth calls him on it, all hell breaks loose. The second Randall called Beth detached, he’d lit the fuse. Following up with calling her the “head” and him the “heart” just doubled down on what was sure to be a slow-burn monster of a fight. Both of them change their body language immediately. Beth completely shuts down, while Randall tries to backtrack but knows he can’t. It’s on – the damage is done.
This is Kevin’s first real test of sobriety. And honestly, a bachelor party in Las Vegas is a hell of a first real test. Remember, he’s been staying at his mom’s, safely tucked away on the East Coast without any real threats intruding on his daily life. Now, he’s staring down a minbar of 27 liquor bottles and coming face to face with his new reputation as the “Rehab Manny who got drunk and ran his daughter over with a car.” The fact that he’s there at all says so much about his love for Kate and Toby. And it doesn’t go unnoticed; Toby thanks him the moment they sit down to dinner. Kevin holds strong, telling jokes about Randall’s bachelor party and making friends with Toby’s crew – until he notices his costar from the Ron Howard movie walking over to the bar and chases her down for a chat. Word has clearly got around that Kevin’s been in recovery (“Hollywood! Where everyone’s a mess.”) but he’s been clinging to the release of 0400 as “a beacon of light at the end of a very long, very dark year.” Except his main costar has been cut entirely from the film. Kevin hasn’t heard a word from the producers, and he’s shook. Under normal circumstances, I’d never believe that one of his costars would be told with such formality without anyone also telling HIM. But again. He’s been completely out of commission. It feels very possible that the message would have been lost in an office somewhere, with an agent who didn’t want to bother him or just didn’t want to make the extra effort. The temptations are, suddenly, too real. Kevin looks claustrophobic and surrounded, and he immediately asks one of Toby’s friends to pass along his regrets.
Over at the Bachelorette party, the Pearson women are DONE UP and ON POINT. Everyone looks spectacular and Madison has done her due diligence by providing “I <3 Toby Dick” shirts. It’s clear, though, that Kate and Beth don’t really know what to do with each other. Kate’s shocked to see Beth downing vodka from the bottle (listen, she’s had a day) and Beth is polite but looks vaguely uncomfortable from the moment she walks in the door. But, they’re all headed over to the Magic Mike live show, so the night is bound to be stellar. Until, of course, Randall crashes the party. He’d left Toby’s Bachelor party just after Kevin, having finally received a call from Deja. On the surface, Deja seemed fine; she said she was calling to chat about Bill Nye and didn’t voice anything openly to Randall. But there were some weird, long pauses, filled with strange ambient noises, and Randall’s “parental bells rang hard.”
I’m not sure what Randall expected Beth to do in this moment, honestly. I get his fear and anxiety; I do. And I understand him feeling like he needed to tell Beth the second he got off the phone with Deja. But she’s out celebrating his sister, and they’re BOTH thousands of miles away from home. There was nothing that either of them could do in that moment that they couldn’t have done the next morning. And I’m a little surprised at Randall for not seeing what was really going on with Beth. There’s no way that woman doesn’t care. There’s just no way. But compartmentalizing, needing to turn off, ignoring her real, deep-seeded feelings for the sake of her daughters and herself? THAT’S Beth Pearson. And he completely disregards all of that, charges into his sister’s party and picks a fight. Of COURSE it goes off the rails. Randall comes one word away from telling Beth she’s heartless, Kate jumps in, Beth screams at both of them, and the whole thing goes to hell.
Kate has a bad habit of letting the worst possible thing fly out of her mouth at the worst possible moment. And in this particular case, she’s been hiding her feelings for years. When Kevin and Randall were barely speaking, Kate was always the go-between. And when Kevin took off for the West Coast, Kate and Randall were the pairing that stayed at home, “eating hot pockets and watching mom pretend to be okay.” On top of all that, she’s been on the other side of the country from her brother, feeling, presumably, a little torn between him and her twin. Now. From what we’ve seen, Randall has always been there for Kate. But these are feelings that have been hiding out in her head, working away at her, and ultimately, keeping Kate far away from her sister-in-law. It must seem impossible to Beth, who sees the same wall built up on the other side. From where she sits, Randall’s focus is always his siblings. It’s the Pearson No-Fly Zone, come to life. The result has been that these two women, who COULD truly connect and love each other, have instead spent years on opposite sides of an invisible barrier, mostly ignoring and very occasionally glaring at each other.
But before that particular wall can come down, Randall and Kate need a few words. Randall assures Kate that he and Beth will be fine; they have a blow up about this size every few years, and it’s nothing they can’t handle. But Beth DID want Randall to find Kate and make sure she’s okay. (Like he wouldn’t have done this anyway.) Kate has needed to say all of this to Randall for years; so much of it only exists in her head. And the moment she gets it out of her system, she can see that she’s been missing out on a real friendship with Beth. With the excuse that “Madison is drunk-snoring in my room,” Kate knocks on Beth’s door as soon as she gets back to the hotel. And what follows is honestly one of my top-5 scenes out of the entire run. It’s so easy for shows to pit women against each other. So easy to fall into the boring, destructive trap of “strong female characters” who have no vulnerability, and who are only rewarded for portraying masculinity. While This Is Us has never really gone down that road, they also haven’t blown the whole thing open before. But that’s exactly what they do here. Kate admits that she’s seen Beth as “flawless,” that she’s intimidated by her perception of “strong women” and that she throws up walls to protect herself, running to make friends with men instead, falling into the toxic trap of acting like one of the guys. And we can SEE, first-hand, how destructive that’s been for her. Just look at how much joy Madison has brought into her life, in just a short amount of time. Kate is doing real work here, and I’m so proud of her for continuing to challenge her perceptions and expand her world.
I’ve been yelling about how Kate needed female friends for months, but Beth was lacking, too. Just like Kate, Beth needs someone to open up to, someone to be safe and comfortable around who isn’t a kid, or an employee, or a tenant, or her husband. She hasn’t been able to let herself be honest about how much she misses Deja, about how attached she was to her. It’s a relief (but a heartbreaking one) for Beth to wonder aloud, “Is she okay, is she cold, is she stressed? Does her Science teacher know how smart she is?” Finally, with their walls down and nothing to lose, Beth and Kate really see each other. I hope this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
Back at Toby’s Bachelor party, things also took a turn. After Kevin and Randall bailed, Toby tried to make the best of it, gathering his group and heading to the club – where they promptly got turned away for wearing sneakers. The whole thing is such a bust, and Kate’s revelation to Randall that “it’s just that… his friends were the fillers” just makes it all feel heavy and sad. But these Pearson boys were well-trained. They know it’s on them to make a grand gesture on behalf of their new brother in law, and they don’t disappoint. The two show up at Toby’s door and swoop him off for what’s honestly the Bachelor party of Toby’s dreams – a long walk to talk about their feelings, ending in a tour of old, seedy Vegas.
I love that both Kevin and Randall open up immediately to Toby here. And I love that these two are able to have this conversation at all; they’ve really come so far together. Kevin can identify and speak about his fears – that he’ll be unceremoniously cut from the one thing that’s been keeping him going – while Randall knows he’s put too much pressure on Beth to continually be the realist, and he doesn’t shy away from admitting that in front of Kevin. Meanwhile, Toby is just sitting back, continually astonished by the brothers Pearson. They really are the brothers of his dreams; of COURSE he’s intimidated by them. Ten years his junior, his own brother (who sounds like a REAL dick, by the way) wants nothing to do with him. Toby has wanted this kind of connection for his whole life, and he sees a real chance with Kevin and Randall. So he jumps on a grand gesture of his own; admitting his feelings to them and promptly launching into personalized pep talks. Toby insists that Kevin call Ron Howard out on his “Pretty Woman-sized mistake,” asking why he got cut out and standing up for himself, before turning to Randall (“Now, Randy. Can I call you Randy?”) and demanding that he stop second guessing himself, that he acknowledge his own strength.
Toby was spot on. When Kevin calls Ron Howard (a bold move, but one he needed to take for himself) and informs him that he made a mistake by cutting Kevin out of the movie, he’s rewarded in kind. Ron hasn’t cut him out – just the opposite. He’s removed the romance subplot, letting the rest of Kevin’s performance shine. (Remember how none of us had any idea what that movie was supposed to be ABOUT? Turns out, neither did Ron Howard.) Ron even thinks the film could be an awards contender, and preps Kevin to get himself a tux. Kevin, for his part, faced and beat his biggest challenge yet – all 27 bottles remain in the minibar, untouched.
We end back on the East coast, with Randall apologizing to Beth for continually putting her in the position to be the realist. Beth knows they couldn’t have done anything to help Deja until returning home, but now that they’re there, she’s on the case. (Honestly. Never underestimate Beth Pearson. Just don’t do it.) Before they even get back to the house, Beth honors Randall’s parental spidey senses and asks the car to swing them by Deja and Shauna’s apartment complex. Once there, a neighbor gives them troubling news – Deja and Shauna don’t live there anymore. Randall and Beth leave the apartment, only to find Deja asleep in the backseat of her mom’s car.
Colors of the Painting
- All of the bowling outfits were spectacular, but Rebecca’s eye makeup and earring combo was truly a thing of beauty. Behold:
- “Never hurts to have a couple big-ass hens.”
- Please note the tiny connections this episode made between childhood Kate and Toby: both get a direct reference to Pretty Woman. Their shared media experiences are really important to their relationship, and I love how subtle and sweet this link was.
- “I married you for your heart. And also your abs, but mostly your heart.” Beth Pearson, MVP.
- Randall’s packing strategy is to arrange his clothes in piles organized by size, color and materials because of course it is.
- “No boys allowed, strip or split.”
- Madison continues her campaign to become my favorite supporting character, nicknaming Toby “Toblerone” and “Toby Bryant.”
- “I didn’t expect to see you getting your freak on with Magic Mike.”
- “His name is Anton, actually.”
- “Carrie Bradshaw? That girl is timeless. And so are her favorite cocktails.”
- In the Big Three/SATC diagram, Randall’s a Miranda, Kevin’s a Samantha, Kate is a Carrie and Rebecca’s a Charlotte. Duh.
What did you think of “Vegas, Baby”? Let us know in the comments!