This Is Us Season 3, Episode 3
Posted by Shannon
There certainly was a lot happening this week. “Katie Girls” isn’t so much a throughline episode – instead, the hour is busy making a whole lot of plot happen. Each of the Pearsons dig into their upcoming character arcs, finding their ways to the flash forwards; there’s Jack’s time in Vietnam and Kevin’s exploration of his dad’s history, Kate and Toby taking another step in their IVF treatment, and our dear Randall and Beth facing new, unanticipated bumps along the road. I’m starting to see the plots ahead for at least the first half of the season, and while so far it’s nothing revolutionary, it’s certainly interesting.
Jack and Rebecca
It’s been made crystal clear that Rebecca is nothing like her mom. She makes Rebecca neurotic and intimidated, and their relationship is strained with a lack of both connection and understanding. We begin the episode by digging a little deeper into that history and seeing exactly what Rebecca was watching at home year after year. It’s basically the most stereotypical Norman Rockwell painting come to life, with her mom keeping up her lipstick and pearls, ready for the patriarch to come home and expect a meal immediately upon arrival. And god forbid he ever make a move to clean up after dinner. This just is not the life Rebecca sees for herself, and at 16, she makes a stand by storming out of home ec (REMEMBER HOME EC? I do. I was also shit in that class.) and instead taking up a saw and getting to work over on the boy’s side of the room, where they’re building things. Because of course they are. It’s there she meets Alan, a sweet dude with a nice smile who’s immediately taken in. Now, he’s all grown up and standing outside Rebecca’s door with a giant bouquet of flowers and slightly creepy moustache, hoping to reconcile after their breakup three years ago.
On the other side of town, Jack is home with his monster of a father. This guy is a picture of vile, abusive masculinity, and now that Jack’s back from Vietnam, he wants no part of it. Seeing his dad throw a sandwich on the floor and demand his mother hop to and make another was just the straw breaking the camel’s back, and the two immediately enter into an awful sort of face-off. Obviously Jack and his mom both need to get the hell out of here, but I still hated that this showdown happened literally over his mother. She has zero agency in this moment, moving from listening to her husband’s commands to listening to her son’s. The paralysis of spousal abuse is so real, and I really don’t mean to diminish that – but I would have been happier with her having even a modicum of control over where she lives, or when they leave, or really anything.
Meanwhile, Rebecca and Alan are catching up with Alan’s parents. It’s a seemingly weird choice, for him to pick her up and immediately go back to his house, but it’s quickly made clear that Mrs. Phillips was a serious role model to Rebecca growing up. She has much the same spirit; a polar opposite to Rebecca’s mom, Mrs. Phillips was proud as hell of Rebecca when she turned down Alan’s offer to move to London, congratulating her for wanting to “follow her own path and not follow some guy halfway around the world.” Still, though, Alan hasn’t quite learned his lesson. He doesn’t even make it to the end of the meal before asking Rebecca to move to New York with him, a city with soul where he happens to have an in at the Village Voice who can help her break into the music industry. Rebecca isn’t looking to follow a man anywhere, but she IS looking to get out of Philly, and the opportunity seems too good to pass up. Although, obviously we know she does.
This was such a fine line, and I’m mostly happy with how the show portrays her choice. When confronted with Jack and his mom in the grocery store, picking up a coffee cake to bring along to Cheryl’s house, Rebecca can’t escape her own doubts. She DOES have a dream. And she likes Alan fine – I’m sure she even loves him. Not to mention the fact that Alan’s life path is much more in line with what she’s got in her head, while Jack’s is very, very different. Not bad, not dumb, but different. If it weren’t for the knowledge that Jack would, later in their lives, mock Rebecca for her dream, I would maybe feel easier about her making this call. And obviously we know Jack is a good man. But as she says to Mrs. Phillips later in the evening, right now she barely knows Jack. She’s spent “all of four hours” with the man. Rebecca is nothing without her passions, and that includes her following her heart and committing to Jack at the end of the hour. Seeing the distinction between how he lives his life, as a partner in a home rather than a patriarch, makes a world of difference.
If I sound conflicted about this whole thing it’s because I am. I love that Jack and Rebecca are a team. I love that Jack and Alan both are distinct shades away from the kind of standard-issue misogyny that Rebecca spends her whole life pushing away from. I love that Mrs. Phillips had no qualms about telling Rebecca to follow her heart, regardless of how it would impact her son. And I love that Mrs. Phillips was there at all – that Rebecca had someone to talk to, someone to look up to, a badass scientist who followed her own dream. But I could not shake the feeling that Rebecca was silencing a part of herself here. If she and Jack actually do get out to LA, then I’d feel a lot better – but something tells me they’re just not gonna get out there. And that ultimately, Rebecca has given something up – something she knows she wants.
Randall and Beth
Randall Pearson is not one to shy away from conflict. Most of the time, it’s a good – if slightly exasperating – trait. But confronting Kate about her decision to begin IVF is not his shining moment. Far from it. Randall loses the high ground almost immediately, poking at Kate’s choices, minimizing her agency, belittling her for not going with adoption, and generally making the entire thing about himself. Kate shouldn’t have said what she said the way that she said it, but he’s overreacting in a serious way. Not only that, it’s judgmental and weirdly misogynistic of Randall to ignore the ease with which he and Beth got pregnant. I’m not really sure what Randall was acting out against here. Yes, he’s come immediately from challenging the Councilman, and he’s in the middle of an identity crisis flare up. Perhaps it’s a similar place of fear that Rebecca was reacting from when she first found out. But this was still way out of line.
Beth has seen this pattern of behavior before, and calls him out on it as soon as they get home. (“I love you, boo, but you overstepped.”) She knows how this goes – Randall struggles to apologize to his siblings as a general rule, thanks to his status as the emotional rock of the family, and once he does apologize he always goes above and beyond. Beth didn’t need anyone to tell her this, but it still gives us the reveal of the Other Big Three text chain, wherein Beth, Miguel and Toby share gifs and “talk about how messed up you all are.” Bless. I love everything about this sequence, and I especially love the subtle nod to Beth and Kate’s recently re-established relationship. That Kate doesn’t think twice to pick up the phone when Beth calls, even though she’d been ignoring Randall, says a lot about the ease with which these two are communicating. Randall’s attempt at an apology is awkward at best (“at Kevin’s premiere some regrettable utterances were uttered”) and Kate doesn’t want to hear a word of it. She needs normalcy right now, and Randall’s efforts to make peace are not helping. But naturally, her brother flying across the country for the surgery will make things better.
Picking up and flying to LA at a moment’s notice is not out of character for Randall these days. Hell, it’s flat-out expected. He’s been acting from his heart to the extreme ever since William died, and all the while, Beth has held it down at home. She’s kept the steady job, she’s been the voice of reason, she’s finessed and finagled and improved every idea her husband’s had. So in hindsight, I should have seen this sort of thing coming. After twelve successful years at the same agency, and with a piercing, ever-so-subtle implication that she hasn’t been as productive at work lately, Beth loses her job thanks to corporate bureaucracy. It’s painful and awful and comes completely out of left field. Once she’s home, fixing herself a drink and letting the shock settle in, Beth remembers a conversation she had with William the night after Randall’s most recent breakdown.
It would have been one of the first real heart to hearts Beth and William had, based on the timeline, and it’s a whopper. William Hill had a piercing eye, and I mean that in the most compassionate and loving way possible. He could always see the crux of any situation, was always the most emotionally intelligent in the room. And he saw that Beth was playing a specific role in their marriage – months before it got to be as extreme as it is now. Because it’s William Hill, light of my life and man of my heart, he explains the dynamic using the perfect metaphor of a jazz quartet. He insists that, one day, when she knows she needs it, Beth must pass that root position back to Randall, letting her take the solo for a while, letting her declare her own needs. And so Beth promises that she “won’t just sit there silently fiddling with your wedding ring like you’re trying to remind yourself why you got married in the first place.”
Randall finally calls home to check in after Kate’s surgery, but he doesn’t find out about Beth. No, instead, he reaches Deja, who’s beside herself with panic, landing Randall on the first flight back home. He goes straight to the hospital, where Sky, Chi Chi’s daughter, is recovering from getting jumped. She’s got a broken arm and is pretty banged up, with her mother waiting next to her bedside. It’s factually brutal to know that Chi Chi and Sky would have discussed exactly what to do if she was mugged, and it’s so in line for Sky to have refused to give up her phone. Randall can’t bear any of it. All he can hear in his mind, I’m sure, is the callousness of Councilman Brown, who over a week later still hasn’t shown up to fix the streetlights, and has been googling Randall’s employment history instead of doing a damn thing to fix up the neighborhood. Randall sees red, promising that he’ll make a difference, that he’ll do something. He’s still in the middle of his latest identity crisis, still trying to accept his emotional connection to both Jack and William, and he doesn’t even notice Beth’s depth of expression before launching into a monologue. But Beth made a promise to William Hill, and by god she keeps it.
Kevin’s come a long way from The Manny. Hill 300 is on the road to becoming a serious hit, and after seeing his family’s reactions, Kevin starts to let himself believe that his performance might really be solid. Between that and Zoe letting him pick her up from the airport with “baller flowers” (“I regretted it the moment that I said it”), he’s having a damn fine few days. Still, he’s got weeks of press to get through, and the last stretch is a sit down with some NPR personality named Terry Gross. Zoe is the type of girl for whom an NPR name drop is the very best kind (and I love her for it), so she tags along, fangirling all the way.
A Terry Gross interview is never superficial, and Kevin’s not really used to facing thoughtful, incisive questions about his process. He handles things well, accepting Terry’s compliments with grace and acknowledging the work he’s done. But he’s doing promotion for a war film. It was only a matter of time until someone did some digging and started asking questions about his father’s military history. He faces question after question about Jack’s experience, not knowing a single answer. Terry kindly points out to Kevin that many veterans didn’t care to discuss these things, but Kevin knows that wasn’t entirely the case here. Jack rarely offered up information about his history, sure. But he also would never lie to his kids if they had a question. And Kevin remembers all those years ago as a child, when he stumbled into what might well have been a snap of PTSD from his father. Jack did offer to answer any questions he might have had. Granted, Kevin was tiny. He wouldn’t have known what to ask, and he wasn’t an emotionally inquisitive kid like his siblings. Kevin never made an effort to speak about his father’s history again. But he knows he had a chance, knows that Jack would have been honest with him if he’d asked.
And he knows Zoe would have asked every possible question she’d have thought of. Kevin’s serious relationships always inspire him to dig deeper; artistically, emotionally, and in this case, intellectually. So he digs up an old box that Rebecca gave him and sets up a Homeland-style investigation board, hoping to find some answers to his myriad of questions. Zoe knows her way around this kind of research, and she knows how shaken Kevin was after the interview. Almost immediately, they dig up an email address for one of Jack’s fellow soldiers and get in touch, taking the first concrete step towards uncovering Jack’s history.
Now that Kate and Toby are back in LA, they’re jumping in to the first major surgery of their IVF treatment. And Kate is freaking out. Everyone around her is jumping to worst case scenarios, and it’s more than she can take. Kate was pretty smooth during Toby’s health scare, but this is completely different. Her nerves, right before the anesthesia hit, lead her to demand that Toby move on if the worst happen, that he marries someone new – Sharon from accounting and Madison aside. (“I will just find myself a committed, semi-happy relationship with someone less cool than you.”) My change of heart with regards to Toby is now in full swing, and I love how he handles himself during this hospital stay. I love that he’s texting updates to Randall and Kevin, I love that he rolls with Kate’s beside freakout, and more than anything, I love that it takes him a full beat to register that he’s face to face with Randall in the waiting room before he exclaims “Did you just fly across the country for this??”
But Toby and Randall are not the stars of this sequence. It’s Kate’s turn to follow suite and hallucinate her father while under the influence of a variety of intensive drugs. First, though, she starts off back at the hospital where she was born. She registers herself, Kevin, and Randall, before noticing an empty space where “Pearson-Damon” should be. And then, naturally, she’s confronted by the teen version of herself, being generally awful and demanding that she should not be having a baby.
Full disclosure, I studied way too much Literary Psychoanalytic Theory in college. This kind of shit is my catnip. But honestly, I felt like this whole sequence was just not digging as deep as it could have. It’s all exactly as you’d expect – Kate confronts her teenage self, in the depths of mourning and misery, saying “you really shouldn’t eat those” and getting the response “yeah well my dad just died, so, I don’t care.” Teen Kate does bring up a solid point, reminding us that mere months ago, Kate was terrified to bring a dog into her home. But Kate is relatively self aware, and insists that “you’re just saying this stuff because you’re scared. Or I’m scared, or we’re scared.” And that’s the thing – Kate is too self-aware for this to be groundbreaking. She knows herself, and she knows her own history, and none of this was revolutionary to her. It felt gimmicky and expected, and that’s saying a lot about a scene that breaks all sense of time and place. The strongest connection was with Kate and her teen self, but she stops short of forgiving her past self, which could have had real, emotional implications for her in the present.
The egg retrieval is a success, and once Kate clears the anesthesia, she’s awake and healthy and glad to hear that Toby and Sharon got an annulment. And, of course, she’s faced with her loving and dramatic brother, who’s just flown across the country to say he’s sorry.
Colors of the Painting
- This deleted scene has made the rounds and honestly I need to petition Randall calling Toby Tobias in every episode ever.
— Sterling K Brown (@SterlingKBrown) October 10, 2018
- “Ready to talk kitchen co-ops? Cuz I am ready to co-operate.”
- I don’t completely buy that, in all her research,Terry Gross wouldn’t have found out that Kevin’s father had died. There’s no way that fire didn’t hit a newspaper.
- “Oh my god, Miguel is so on point.”
- I love each of the Big Three’s reactions to Kevin’s first big movie credits: Randall cries just as much as he thought he would, Kate leans over to share a proud glance with her twin. But I especially love that it’s Beth who leans over and declares “Kev, you’re a freakin’ movie star!” More Beth and Kevin scenes, always.
- “Terry Gross is not a man, Kevin. She is a goddess.”
- I completely adored the scene in the hospital waiting room with Randall and Toby admitting their anxiety and depression to each other. There is a real power in two grown men opening up to each other about anxiety and depression on network TV with this level of honesty and integrity. More of this, please.
What did you think of “Katie Girls”? Let us know in the comments!