This Is Us, Season 3 Episode 1
Posted by Shannon
Hello hello and welcome to Season Three! If you joined us for my recaps last year (in which case, thank you, good to have you back) you might remember that after last season’s finale, I was hoping for an all-new show. Liberated from the mystery of Jack, pushing ahead into a whole new future timeline, and armed with some vaguely ominous, more immediate flash-forwards, “Nine Bucks” had the chance to go in a bunch of different directions. The hour was spent doing a whole lot of set-up and ultimately, it reminded me that This Is Us will always have equal footing within two distinct camps of my heart and mind: shit I love and shit I hate. And dear reader, there was plenty of both to go around in this episode. So break out your Big Three Birthday party hats and let’s get to it!
Jack and Rebecca
After opening the episode with a famous football player for the Steelers named Harris who once was a part of a Very Important Goal (and I’m sorry but I just cannot bring myself to care about this guy or his play so please know that now), we settle back into the bar where Jack and Rebecca first meet. After Rebecca’s set, Jack sits down with her by the window and they get to know each other. Rebecca is adorably chatty, going on about her demo, her dream of signing with Joni Mitchell’s record label, and her judgemental mother, while Jack can barely bring himself to say his name. It all starts off a little weird, but they’re both nervous and overwhelmed and remember how he walked into this bar planning to rob it? I give the man a break on the whole awkward chatting thing at this stage – this is really not how he planned to spend his evening.
But when Rebecca asks if they can go somewhere else, presumably on a real date, where they can get some food and she won’t have to sit at the same bar she was just performing in, Jack makes a real weird call. He borrows four bucks off his partner in crime (“How much money you got?” “NONE, which is why we’re here in the first place!”) for a total of nine bucks and then he….takes her to a carnival. A CARNIVAL. WHY. I have so many questions here. Maybe he thought this would make for a cheaper evening, or maybe he thought it would be cute and light and fun. I truly don’t know. But after the admissions cost, plus one candy apple and hot chocolate, Jack is down to his last $2 before the night even really gets going.
Jack is the type to assume he must pay for everything to make a good impression, which, fine. Fair enough, it IS the 70’s. But while I was rewatching this episode, it jumped out at me that Jack insists on paying for her entry fee. Which then sets up a perfect storm. He’s painted himself into a panic corner. Rebecca fairly assumes that he wants to pay for everything, setting her up for that expectation, and Jack spends the entire time terrified that she’ll ask to spend more than he has. So of course he’s on edge. And that’s before she starts asking about his time in Vietnam, and if he has any siblings. It’s all just a disaster waiting to happen, and it doubles down when Rebecca tries to lighten the mood by playing a word game where they both pick their favorite thing at the same time. It’s cats versus dogs, and warring pizza toppings, and it’s all just painfully bad. Once the inevitable downpour begins (with Jack refusing to buy an umbrella), they’ve moved from an awkward date to a flat out terrible one.
Finally, Rebecca can’t take it anymore and very wisely asks to leave. Once they’re in the car, and Jack’s down to his very final chance, he tries to explain himself. Listen, this starts out well. It really does. He’s honest about his experience, he’s completely truthful about why he was so on edge the entire night, and he handles it all with the grace and corniness we’ve come to expect from Jack Pearson. I was charmed all the way up to “I like talking to you… a lot.” But it takes a turn with “you make me feel like home.” Jack Pearson, you have JUST MET THIS WOMAN. I’m not saying I don’t believe in love at first sight (at least in TV land), but I am saying that under no circumstances should anyone on a first date close with a line like “you make me feel like home.” Just. Please don’t do this.
And yet, we find ourselves here. After a legitimately adorable exchange about the whole cats and mushrooms debacle, Rebecca takes a cue from her girlfriends and shrugs her coat off in the car, setting Jack up to return it the next day so they can see each other again. When he does, armed with a lovely bouquet of flowers and a renewed sense of optimism, Jack arrives just in time to see some OTHER guy with a creepy stalker moustache and a bigger bouquet (subtle, show, subtle) arrive and give Rebecca a kiss. I don’t know who this guy is, but I’m sure I’m going to hate him.
Randall, Beth, Deja and Kevin
The best of the Pearson crew has had a challenging few months. I admit, I was worried about how Randall would react to Deja smashing his car window in at Kate’s wedding. I shouldn’t have been: we spend exactly the right amount of time on that point, with Randall and Beth finding Deja in the immediate aftermath, weepily apologizing and wandering off. They respond with all the right things; they get Deja into therapy, give her space, and take advantage of Zoe’s documentary to give her a friendly third party in the house. We also see a bit more of the court hearing, and it’s even more brutal than anticipated. I can’t begin to imagine how Deja would feel hearing her mother permanently give up all legal rights; there’s just no way Randall and Beth could make a difference in that moment. Still, Deja has been living with the Pearsons for at least a half a year if not longer, and they have to make a legal move to adopt her sooner rather than later. But Randall is Jack Pearson’s son, and so he has a whole emotional plan laid out to speak with Deja about the next step for their family.
Meanwhile, Beth is busy being the absolute greatest. She has known Zoe her entire life, and she knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that something is going on between her and Kevin. “They are knocking boots. It’s an expression from the 90’s, it means they are having sex.” Beth insists that Randall handle this whole situation before the family gathers for a birthday party (with Kevin’s newly requested gluten free cake), which leads Randall to prompt Beth to “swear on Oprah” that she won’t interfere on his birthday. She agrees – but “even Gayle lets Oprah down sometimes.”
The thing is, Kevin and Zoe are ADORABLE. One of my favorite things about Kevin’s romantic escapades is how much he’s clearly attracted to smart, competent women, and he loves everything about Zoe’s work. He’s not even bothered by the prospect of Beth finding out that they’ve hooked up – and frankly, given the last year of their relationship, he would have every right to want to avoid any future conflicts with Beth at this particular moment. Zoe, though, wants to avoid it all costs, insisting that if Kevin comes to his birthday party, they’ll be found out. Beth is a secret bloodhound, after all. (“Meaning she sniffs out secrets like a bloodhound or she is secretly a bloodhound?”) Of course Zoe’s right regarding Beth’s killer instincts on the matter – it’s not even a full 60 seconds before she calls them out.
Beth just has to get a little protective lecturing out of her system. I loved everything about this sequence. I could just see a vision of the house Beth grew up in, as she’s told us before; a house filled with women who have strong opinions, strong voices, who aren’t afraid to use them, and who love each other more than anything in the world. She and Zoe have had versions of this bantery yelling match their entire lives. They both know they can take it. And Kevin proves Beth’s later points exactly while he sits on the stairs in between Tess and Annie, telling them about his secret plans to invite Zoe to his premiere (“Sort of like the prom!). He is a wonderful uncle, and he’s a good dude, and he knows when he has to stand up and take it himself. (“Well, I’m gonna go check that out. Okay? I’m gonna brave that one.”) Again I’ll say – I loved everything about this entire sequence. More Kevin and Beth scenes, please. Really just more Beth and everyone.
Somewhere an hour or so away from the house, Randall and Deja have arrived at their destination – William’s old building. Once they get out of the car, he launches into a lovely, misguided speech, telling Deja all about finding William, and living with his identity as an adopted child. Randall thinks he’s drawing a clear line to their experience, and that if he can just give Deja what he always wished he’d had – a choice in the matter – then she’ll have an easier go of it than he did. The thing is, this isn’t a real choice. Say she doesn’t want to be adopted – then what? She has to go back into the foster system, and wait it out until she’s 18? No way. He’s giving her the illusion of control, and it’s kind in theory, but in practice Randall has just underlined that he still doesn’t understand her life experience. Deja calls him out, graciously, kindly, but firmly, proving again that she is a truly exceptional teen. As soon as they get back home, Randall apologizes, knowing that he should never have compared their situations. And when he admits to having “kinda memorized my speech,” Deja is clearly amused in spite of herself. They have a wonderful relationship, and the core of it hasn’t changed, even as she’s very understandably spent the last several months pulling back.
Randall’s speech being what it was, it’s telling that a line in his apology is what really motivates Deja’s next move. Armed with the knowledge that this family really does think she’s exceptional, she sneaks out of the window, makes her way back to her old neighborhood, and goes to the sporting goods store her biological Dad works in. He doesn’t say a word, and she doesn’t want or need him to. She’s there for two reasons alone – to say her piece (“I’m gonna do something really great with my life, and you’re gonna miss it.”) and to ask for one single favor.
As if this kid didn’t have strong enough character, when she’s back at the house she just walks in through the front door and admits that she’d snuck out. And again, Randall and Beth show the perfect, measured response. They are prepared to launch into “we have rules in this house” right up until the moment Deja pulls a wrapped box out of her backpack. The TURN on Sterling K. Brown’s face should be enough to get him another Emmy post haste. He’s adorable and forgiving and loving and charmed and genuinely excited all at once. But it’s not to be outdone by the expression on his face when Deja, after he unwraps her gift of new, fancy running shoes care of her biological father, says she’s okay with them signing the adoption papers. With that, we have the next generation of a Pearson family of five.
Kate and Toby
I fear we’re in for a rough season for Kate and Toby. After the wedding, they started to actively try to get pregnant again – but month after month, test after test, it just wasn’t happening. The first trip to their doctor on the matter brings back some potentially troubling results: Kate has PCOS, a hormonal disease that might also be the cause of her weight, and Toby has a low sperm count due to his six years on antidepressants. They take their case to an IVF specialist, Dr. Jasper, who denies them swiftly and cooly. The risks for Kate to undergo elective procedures are just too high.
Okay, we have to talk about Dr. Jasper because I have a lot of problems with this entire thing. First off, she’s got no bedside manner to speak of in the first interaction. Secondly, it is irresponsible, dangerous, and frankly disturbing that a MEDICAL PROFESSIONAL did not CLEARLY state that Toby should under no circumstances go off his antidepressants. Especially after his response of “It’s also possible that they’re preventing me from crying all the time.” She is a DOCTOR, and she should clock that cue. Antidepressants are not always elective, chemical imbalances are real, and while Toby has the right to make the decision he ultimately makes at the end of the episode, it was DEEPLY troubling for the Doctor in the room to not explicitly state that going off his meds would be dangerous and ill advised. I do not trust Dr. Jasper, not one bit. Not from that moment, and certainly not from her changing her mind at the end of the episode, with a dramatic switch in persona to match.
Which brings me to Kate. Kate, who understandably is exhausted and worn down and feels like she can never catch a break. However, this isn’t an excuse to have launch into a dramatic speech in the middle of her birthday brunch. These Pearsons and their dramatic speeches, honestly. I can’t imagine what she’s feeling, but I also just don’t see what this did that scene-wise that a quiet moment alone with Madison wouldn’t have accomplished with a lot more consideration. And honestly I think Kate is ignoring Toby’s real reaction in the kitchen later that day. He’s scared, and he clearly doesn’t feel comfortable going ahead with IVF given all the risks. But Kate is being blind to that right now, and there are going to be real, possibly dire consequences.
Colors of the Painting
- One final thing on the football topic: when Rebecca says she doesn’t know what game Jack is talking about and he makes that snide “she’s new to America” comment (THERE IS SO MUCH WRONG WITH THAT), he seems to have forgotten that the game was on while she was literally performing. C’mon, Jack.
- I’ll never get over beautiful brotherly moments with Kevin and Randall, and watching them blow out their birthday candles together was a lot for me.
- I know we’ve heard clips of it before, but it was SO GOOD to hear Mandy Moore singing “Moonshadow,” full-voice. Yes girl. Yes.
- We do get one significant moment in the future timeline – Randall calls Toby, who’s clearly alone, and asks if he’s going to come meet them at whatever terrible place they’re going. He agrees, and Randall insists that “she wants you to be there, Toby.” I still don’t feel good about whoever the “she” is in this scenario, but at least we’re speaking in the present tense.
- Randall Pearson in a birthday hat though.
- Honestly, uncle of the year.
- This is not the last we’ve seen of Deja’s biological father. Note Shauna’s wording to the Judge; she doesn’t say he’s agreed, but that he wouldn’t object.
- Why is William’s old building all boarded up? Are Randall and Beth gutting the place to make it more liveable? If so, where are all the tenants? Still in that weird hotel? Will we ever make our way back to this particular plot point?
- “I can’t believe you know how to use the word schtick.”
What are your thoughts on the season three premiere? Let us know in the comments.