It goes without saying that death and trauma have lasting effects. We haven’t seen much of the first days after Jack’s passing, and while the ripples into his family have been a constant fixture of the show, we’re all still getting used to the context. “A Philadelphia Story” focuses in on the impacts of Jack’s death and how it stays with his family; both the immediate weeks and months after the fire, and the long years that have gone by in the modern timeline. It’s all a jumble of sadness and hope and recovery and stasis, bringing This is Us back with a standard-issue, well executed (and, as always, exceptionally acted) hour of processing.
It’s the immediate aftermath of the fire, and Rebecca has set up a temporary residence with the Big Three while they get their feet under them and try to find a more permanent second home. It’s only been a few months, and all four of the Pearsons are deep in mourning. Both of the twins are reacting by throwing themselves into addiction; Kevin is drunk, often in the middle of the day, while Kate is eating nothing but pop tarts. Rebecca is a shell of herself, grabbing two cups of coffee without thinking, hearing Jack’s voice in the back of her mind. Randall is mourning too – but he’s also the only one of the family to have a whisper of good news, in the form of a giant acceptance package from Howard. Kate can manage genuine excitement for her brother, at least until he mentions her outstanding application to Berklee, and Rebecca clings on to this piece of positivity and hope, bringing it along with her while she and the kids go to look at a potential new house.
The place only has three bedrooms, which Kate is sure won’t be an issue – after all, Randall will soon be off to college, maybe Kate as well, leaving her and Kevin back home. It’s a miserable idea for Kevin, even if he wasn’t in the middle of such a trauma, and it’s no wonder he snaps. Kate then follows her twin’s example and admits that she never sent the tape for her callback. It’s all horrible and sad, but I was touched by the clear, unbroken bond between Kevin and Kate. Both leap to the other’s defense, even when it’s misguided, and while a part of me worried for Randall – always the odd man out – I can’t help but be relieved that these two have each other.
Randall, though, is moving through all of this with the singular vision that comes from not quite fitting in. He knows that Rebecca isn’t supporting his siblings the way they need her to, and being the fiercely protective, emotional perfectionist that he is, he zeroes in and confronts her on the matter. It’s a brutal scene, and while he’s being honest as he states that Rebecca “lied, you said that you’d step up … but you lied,” he’s also being exceptionally cruel. A part of him knows it, even at 17, even in the depths of his trauma, and he apologizes before going to Yvette’s later that evening. But Rebecca won’t accept the apology, admitting that she’s failing, admitting that she can’t help it. “I know that isn’t fair to you guys, but I can’t seem to stop it.”
Mandy Moore has had some truly fantastic acting moments over the last two seasons, but for me, this week blew them all out of the water. Seeing her face, just a few months before Jack’s death immediately juxtaposed to a few months after, was honestly breathtaking. She is a searing picture of depression, of paralysis, of exhaustion, immediately next to her cheerful, loving, contented self before the fire. The flashbacks, in which Rebecca admits that she and Jack had looked at a new house a few months before his death, that she wonders what would have happened if they’d just moved, also explain the quiet lines she’s been muttering to herself all episode; she’s remembering the banter she’d had with Jack, as if it were yesterday and as if it were decades ago all at the same time. She pulls out of it for Randall’s sake, telling him to go celebrate his accomplishment, and falls right back into herself as soon as he closes the door. So is it any wonder, really, that he comes home that night and calls Howard to rescind his acceptance? Of course it’s not. There’s no way Randall could bring himself to leave the family – not right now. Not with Rebecca in this state, not with Kevin and Kate left to their own devices. He could never.
Randall and William
Deja has been a part of the family for a while, but after last week, things already feel a little bit more settled. Still, it’s Deja’s first week at a new school, and that’s never comfortable. Randall arrives ready to swoop the three girls up and take them out for froyo, but Tess and Annie both have places to be and groups to attend. Deja’s activity free, and while Randall certainly wants some company with his froyo, he’s also cautious to hear how Deja is fitting in. I love that Deja waits until a moment alone with Randall, without Tess and Annie or even Beth, before she brings up the fact that her new school is super white. Randall knows this feeling, obviously, and falls into a comfortable, jokey pattern with her on the subject. (“White people go to this school?!?”) While Randall overstepped their similarities last week, this is an experience that they can share, and he knows that Deja needs the same connection to people who look like her that he needed when he was her age. I can only imagine how sick of this drive Deja is getting, but knowing how much she misses her drill team and knowing that one of William’s old friends has a daughter about the same age, Randall takes her back to south Philly to meet Chi Chi and Sky.
Which brings us back to William Hill. Dear, darling William Hill, who I will truly never get enough of. “A Philadelphia Story” finds William a few years into his sobriety, meeting Chi Chi right after she’s arrived from Nigeria, pregnant, widowed, and not in the mood for any help. William being William, he slowly and steadily continues to offer support. When he hears Sky crying, he arrives at Chi Chi’s apartment not to complain about the crying (William would NEVER) but to claim that he’s made too much food and to offer her a meal. (This was around the time that I started yelling “WILLIAM HILL IS BETTER THAN YOU” at no one in particular. Again.) Chi Chi has been through three major life changes at once, winning a visa lottery from Nigeria, losing her husband, and having a child. It’s no wonder she has her walls up in this strange place with no firm sense of bearings. Just as she initially declined his offer to help her move in, she (initially) declines William’s offer to come to his celebration of sobriety at the community center. But she does ask if William wants to hold Sky for a while. Ron Cephas Jones is truly masterful in every moment on our television screens, but watching him hold this baby, inevitably thinking of Randall, and wondering where he was, gave us yet another exceptional moment of performance. For Chi Chi to assure William that he’s a natural with Sky, who at this point is busy pulling at his beard and getting her little fingers kissed, means the world to him. And it’s the beginning of a beautiful, decades-long friendship.
William knew the meaning of community. He knew that it’s often found family that offers the most pivotal support, or a spare meal, or even a push towards sobriety. And while he always fought for the improvement of the world around him both large and small, he also settled in, grateful and supported in the knowledge that “we have each other, we have this pace, and that’s not nothing.” Randall learned so much from William in the short time they had together. But he wasn’t able to see the day to day of his biological father’s life. Of course he wasn’t. And as a result, his instinct is still closer to the Jack Pearson of it all. He always wants to swoop in, to fix everything he possibly can, all at once. It’s how he ended up buying the building in the first place.
Randall does so much right. He does SO much good. Deja clicks right in with Sky, and she’s comfortable and happy at the community center. But Randall isn’t. He immediately zeroes in on he mattress on the wall, covering the hole from a busted pipe from an equally busted water heater. He just can’t stand to let these things exist in a community center that should be receiving support, one that should provide a safe place for the people in the neighborhood. And he’s right – these things should not be. Councilman Brown should fix them, he should stand by his word. It’s not right and it’s not just. But that also doesn’t mean that there isn’t beauty in the center as it is. It’s all so weighted for Randall, from the moment he walks into the community center, and certainly from the moment he finds Councilman Brown at the barbershop. While the Councilman is pleased to see a Black landlord, he also registers that Randall and his family don’t actually live in the place they’re managing, and he makes sure Randall knows his thinking. Randall is still an outsider to the community he’s trying to help.
Chi Chi, too, reminds him of this when Randall returns to the center – first to wait for the Councilman, who breaks his promise to come clean up the place, then to start fixing the lights himself. She knows what he’s trying to do, knows the place of kindness and care that it’s coming from. But she also knows that William and Randall were fundamentally different in a way that Randall hasn’t fully faced yet: “I look at you, Randall, and oh my goodness. I see so much of him in you, so clearly…. But we are not a we. You are not one of us.” It’s just another side to a struggle that Randall has faced his whole life, and Sterling K. Brown portrays it all with a staggering complexity befitting the situation.
Kevin, Kate and Toby
Meanwhile, Kate and Toby arrive from California, taking some time in the Lyft to gameplan before they get to Miguel and Rebecca’s house. Toby is in the midst of withdrawal from suddenly stopping his antidepressants; his knee is constantly tapping, his energy is fluctuating, he’s turned on at inappropriate moments. (That “You look like you’re in a Whitesnake video” line was pretty great, tbh.) Kate seems to buy it when Toby claims he’s just excited about their IVF attempts, even though that’s pretty out of character considering every single scene in which they’ve talked about IVF before now, and so she focuses on the game plan. Things with Rebecca have been improving, but it’s all still pretty new, and the last thing Kate wants is to have this particular fight with her family.
Logistically, this was always going to present a challenge, especially if Kate and Toby are staying on the east coast for a while. But it’s just a matter of moments before Miguel, on the hunt for a snack, finds Kate’s injections stowed away in the fridge. What follows is a standard, awful example of everyone else in the world thinking they can speak to a woman’s own decision about what she does with her body. Miguel tries to keep things positive, bringing up the family Rebecca knows who also underwent IVF and had “the cute little twins with the weird names,” but now that it’s out in the open Kate just wants this to be done. She knows Rebecca is clamping down on her opinions, and rather than have them sneak out when she doesn’t expect it, Kate demands the bandaid be ripped off.
And so Rebecca launches in, reciting every danger she can remember and underlining that Kate’s weight makes things even worse. The whole thing spirals out quickly and when they arrive at Kevin’s place, Rebecca and Kate are in the middle of actively fighting. Miguel mostly keeps quiet, but does get in one pointed remark that “your mother knows everything there is to know about IVF because of Eloise and Plaza,” while Toby is on edge from the moment he arrives. (I love him opening the door with “Kevin Pearson, brace yourself” – it’s such a perfect example of their dynamic as brother-in-laws.) The real turning point, though, comes from Kate herself, when she walks into a particularly careless and inconsiderate comment about how “I’m the only one in the family that’s gonna carry on a piece of Dad.”
This…. is real bad. On a ton of levels, some of which we’ll get to in a minute. It’s rare for Kate to be so emotionally clueless, at least when it comes to her brothers. And it plays right into the conversation Kevin had with the family in rehab last season, while also triggers Kevin’s feelings about Jack not being there during such a pivotal moment in his life. But more immediately, it spurs Toby finally snapping, “It’s not about you, Rebecca… it’s not about any of you, this is about me and Kate.” I honestly have no problem with anything that Toby says during his spiral. He and Kate have been told the risks, over and over again, by medical professionals. It’s natural for Rebecca to want to say something herself, but it really isn’t anyone’s business but theirs. Still, this kind of an outburst isn’t like him, and Toby immediately apologizes, excusing himself to get some space.
Kate and Kevin clear the air with relative ease, but the tension between Rebecca and Kate sticks until they’re in the lobby of the premiere. Toby’s still nowhere to be found, and it’s time for Kate’s injection. Rebecca was out of line earlier in the evening, but she’s not a cruel person, and she’s certainly not one to hold her beliefs or her fears over her kids. Kate’s shocked when Rebecca offers to do the injection herself, but it’s right in character for Rebecca. All she’s ever wanted was to be close with Kate, to get a that deeper part of their connection back. She wants so desperately to be a good mom to her daughter. And ironically, it’s what held her back from saying anything when Kate focused her mourning on food all those years ago. The scene with teen Kate and Rebecca on the couch, in a rare moment of honesty at that time in their lives, was completely heartbreaking. Rebecca was right; they’d had a terrible few months. But I don’t know that Kate was being hard on herself when she brought up the 25 pounds she’d gained. It felt like she was stating a fact, challenging her mother to say something, rather than sharing a moment of guilt. It all comes down to the communication breakdown between Kate and Rebecca; they never quite understand each other, can never quite meet the other where she stands.
Oh, Kevin Pearson. It’s been a while since he’s been as callous, as flippant, as self absorbed, as he is in this scene. Kate should have known better than to ever say this, and Kevin should have known better than to ever repeat it. Knowing how much it impacted him, and knowing how seriously Randall takes his family legacy, it was cruel, even on a good day. Which, Randall certainly did not have. His glance at Kate, sitting comfortably with Toby after he convinced her that his earlier outburst was just jetlag, implies that she’s going to bear the brunt of this reaction – but it’s just as much on Kevin for repeating her words, knowing what they meant to him just a few hours ago. Randall being Randall, I can’t imagine he’ll sit on this for long.
Colors of the Painting
- Niles Fitch is a phenomenal teenage Randall in every scene, but the overwhelmed-with-joy expression that he makes when he opened the acceptance letter to Howard just CHANNELLED Sterling K. Brown. These kids are amazing.
- For all my fellow American Gods fans out there – how great is it to see Yetide Badaki!
- This is why Randall is the best Pearson, sorry not sorry.
- It was such a great touch to have Chi Chi reading Binti.
- Tess. Sweetie.
- I truly loved Miguel and Toby’s weird little entry dance.
What are your thoughts on “A Philadelphia Story”? Let us know in the comments!