This Is Us Season 3, Episode 6
Posted by Shannon
For better or worse, the Pearsons are fighters. Each in their own way, sometimes misguided and sometimes valiant, but fighters nonetheless. “Kamshamnida” gives each member of the family an opportunity to dig deep and do a little fighting – and true to Pearson form, almost all of them don’t quite think it through. Still, they end the hour in stronger places than they began. And at only a third of the way through the season, we’ve already arrived at the flash forwards for two sets of characters.
Jack and Rebecca:
Our first fight is also our most literal; Jack has been sneaking off to the boxing gym and has recently upgraded from punching bags to punching “actual human beings.” When he comes home with a black eye, both boys are intrigued, but Rebecca is pissed. Despite Jack’s insistence the other fighters at his gym are harmless (“guys named Stewart don’t give you brain damage”), and more importantly, despite the fact that he clearly needs this outlet, he promises to stop. Right after he teaches Randall, of course. Credit where it’s due here; 12 year old Randall knows exactly what buttons to push to con his dad into this boxing lesson. All he needs is an honorable promise not to misuse his skills (“I won’t defend myself unless I really have to!”) and a made-up bully named Dylan and before we know it, Jack is bouncing around in Randall’s room with him, adjusting his skills and learning that his kid’s a southpaw.
When Rebecca comes home to find this impromptu practice session, she reacts accordingly. It’s not just that Jack made a promise and went back on it; it’s that she sees right through Randall’s reasoning. Knowing that “you can’t blindly follow the wishes of a 12 year old,” she calls the principal and quickly learns the truth about Randall’s non-existent bully. Faced with his son’s manipulation, Jack is shaken, and does what he should have done all along: he tells Rebecca why he really needs this outlet. At least, he tries. Jack is an addict with a horrific past, and both of those factors combine to create a man who really needs a way to manage the depths of his history. Part of those behaviors might even be coming from the same place; Jack has self-medicated with alcohol rather than face his past, and it’s possible that boxing allows him to do the same. Listen, neither coping mechanism is as good as a long overdue first therapy session would be, but at least the boxing is healthy, and it clearly settles his brain chemistry. He probably should have led with the fact that boxing “helps me with stuff, stuff I can’t think about, it quiets things,” but Rebecca still clues into the fact that she’s been a little too flippant about this particular habit. Later, after Rebecca gifts Jack with headgear and assures him that he should keep up the sport, he opens up even further, admitting that he and his brother used to box. Clearly, the sport is tied up in his memories of Nicky; but they’re happy memories, and Jack can safely linger in those parts of his history when he’s in the ring.
After confronting Randall, Jack admits that he went into that room furious and left wanting to hold him as tight as possible. And somehow, nothing is more Randall and Jack than that sentence. Randall is a sweet, thoughtful, pensive kid, and he would not ask for something unless he had a good reason. In this case, his reason is that Kevin “got DNA stuff from you that I didn’t,” which leads Kevin to be better at fighting and physically stronger all around. The thing is, Randall’s right. He doesn’t have Jack’s DNA. This scene brought back to mind his recent, grown-up freak out at being told he wouldn’t pass anything on of Jack’s. Randall has always been fixated with his genetics, understandably so, and he wants every possible chance to make up for what he sees as a net loss. Jack’s assurance that Randall is “my son son” calms him in the moment, but it doesn’t stop the pangs that Randall will feel his whole life.
Randall and Beth:
Randall’s entire campaign effort thus far has been remarkably ill-conceived. Basically, I’ve got some issues, folks. We’ll get to most of them later. But first I really want to know how Randall thought he could just roll up to one of the most notable Black churches in his district and NOT get called out by Solomon Brown. Councilman Brown does a number on him, making himself seem gracious while also underlining all the ways Randall is an outsider (“Randall is visiting us all the way from Alpine, New Jersey”… “so Randall, we welcome you to our humble neighborhood.”). But Randall keeps setting himself up for this shit. Showing up to this church without at LEAST Beth in tow makes him look completely disingenuous. When Kevin calls right after the service looking to pay him a visit, Randall knows the absolute last thing he needs is for his rich, white movie star brother to roll into town. But since Kevin knows “where your office is, and you know I don’t respect boundaries,” Randall folds and meets Kevin for a meal in Koreatown. Where he promptly learns that while his rich, white movie star brother is a net loss in the Black part of town, he’s also the star of the number one show in South Korea. Yes, indeed, The Manny is back and as problematic as ever.
Ooooookay. Here we go. I am conflicted as all hell about this storyline. While Randall’s new campaign manager Jae-won gives voice to my biggest issues, it doesn’t stop me from being phenomenally disappointed in our dear candidate from New Jersey. Randall had all the information he needed before now to learn about the needs of the Korean population in his district. He has all the maps, has all the data, knows that 50% of the Korean community in his district aren’t registered to vote. He could have made a measured, thoughtful effort to bridge the divide and speak to the needs of that community. Instead, he carts his famous brother into town in a tight shirt without a second thought. Yes, Jae-won confronts him and calls him out. (“Dude, you are SO transparent.”) But it doesn’t take a poli-sci degree to see what Randall is doing. He’s got a good heart, but he’s leaning into cheap politics, doing whatever he thinks will get him into office without stopping to ask what people need. It’s cocky and it’s careless and I don’t like it.
After Jae-won calls out Randall, he launches into an impromptu campaign speech, promising that “if you talk to me, I’ll listen,” and ending with the Korean word for thank you – which he learned moments ago from Kevin. Randall gets a crowd, and thanks to Jae-won’s “kickass sister,” he’s even translated in real time. They register 200 new voters, and Randall makes more of a name for himself in one afternoon in Koreatown than he has for weeks in William’s old neighborhood. When Kevin leaves, Jae-won finds Randall alone in his office and offers himself up as campaign manager. But not before giving voice to just how effective Randall’s speech was by telling the story of his Grandmother – a woman who’s never voted before but just spent “the last few hours talking about the black man with the nice hands.” So, again I say. Randall’s got a good heart, and I know he wants to make life better for everyone in his district. But the weight of Jae-won’s Grandmother, who internalized the belief “that no politician cares what an old woman from the south of Seol wants,” hit me hard. Sure, in theory, Randall cares. Before meeting them, he’d have cared abstractly about Jae-won and his family. But he didn’t make the effort. Hell, he didn’t make ANY effort. He didn’t know what he was getting into. Not even a little bit. And for any community to trust him without him putting the work in FIRST just seems dangerous. It’s…not a great look.
Back in New Jersey, Beth is making a desperate attempt to make up for Tess and Annie’s lagging Girl Scout cookie sales. None of them are used to this. The girls used to make their sales quotient easily at Beth’s office, and they don’t know how to broach the subject gracefully. (Nor should they, honestly, at their age.) Beth TRIES. She makes posters, pulls things together as quickly as she can, and gets all three girls out to a busy store – where a table has already been claimed. The whole thing is just a mess. The only place they can set up shop is nearly abandoned, and the only customer they get for hours is a kindly older man who wants to pay with a credit card, which would have been just fine if Beth hadn’t forgotten to bring the swiper. It’s completely understandable when she loses it at the girls, especially after Tess taunts that Beth just isn’t as good as “Riley’s mom.” Tess and Annie are both exceptionally well behaved as a general rule, but Tess is making her way steadily to her teens and these kinds of outbursts are right on cue. Not to mention the fact that her mom has been burying every single outburst of her own, large and small alike.
It was fascinating, upon rewatch, to keep an eye on Deja’s face while Beth yelled. Tess and Annie are shocked, clearly not used to this behavior from their mom. And Deja’s not use to it from Beth either, but she’s got a lot more life under her belt than her sisters. Her expression was thoughtful, curious, knowing. You can practically see her putting the pieces together in her mind. It made so much sense for Deja to come into Beth’s room later, reminding her that Deja has seen her mother lose jobs before, and that she knows how hard it is. All Beth wants to do is apologize, and she ultimately does, but that’s not what Deja is there for. She’s there to remind Beth to talk to her husband, who “loves you like he’s in a Disney movie or something, like he hears tiny forest animals singing or playing kazoos or something.”
Beth hasn’t been talking to Randall. Not really. And it’s not just because she wants to keep playing bass, holding down their jazz unit as she always does. Beth has not wanted to be on the receiving end of a patented Pearson speech. She just wants to be left alone, to process her job loss, to move on. Which is all well and good, except she isn’t doing the emotional work she needs to do. She’s sending out job applications, but she’s not processing the fact that she’s not hearing back, and she doesn’t know what to do next. Randall sees an opportunity to bring Beth along with him yet again, hiring her onto the campaign. It’s buying William’s building 2.0, and again, I’m conflicted. Beth needs something that’s just hers, but she also just needs something to DO every day. So with the promise that this is not a pity job, and a reminder of the power of these two when they put their mind to something, she signs on to the Pearson campaign.
Kevin and Zoe:
Just back from Baltimore, Kevin is obsessing over the photograph of Jack in Vietnam and can’t stop fiddling with the necklace around his neck. He’s fixating, but without any leads from Mr. Robinson, he’s got nothing to direct that energy towards. So instead of doing something productive, he spends his time making noises at Zoe, who just wants to celebrate finishing her documentary in peace. Her traditional celebration of a night in a fancy hotel, all to herself with a bath and some room service, sounds fantastic. And while Kevin can’t fathom her wanting to do this alone, she holds steady, insisting that “I can’t have your obsession with that photo raining all over my 800-thread-count-sheet-parade.” Kevin being Kevin, he storms Randall’s campaign office instead, desperate for a human to talk to.
Kevin’s spiraling, insisting that the woman in the photograph was Jack’s secret first love. (“Is it love or is it years of poverty and occupation by foreign governments?”) Randall doesn’t have a ton of ground to stand on when he asks Kevin to steer clear of their father’s history. And frankly, I was surprised that Kevin had to do any convincing at all. But for all of his determination at finding William, Randall is a private man, and he remembers how little Jack ever wanted to talk about this time in his life. Still, Kevin wins the day, reminding Randall of a time they peeled all the wallpaper off the guest room, fascinated by the fact that there was something underneath the print. He’s started peeling the wallpaper back on Jack’s history, and he can’t stop.
Oh, Kevin. It’s been a while since you’ve annoyed me as much as you did with this. I really can’t overstate how frustrated I was that Kevin interrupted Zoe’s SINGLE NIGHT of celebration. She’s worked her ass off on this documentary, and she deserved her solitary tradition. Whether or not she’s willing to admit it, Zoe is clearly in love with Kevin and so she lets him in, but I will happily rampage on her behalf. None of this needed to happen that very moment! It’s not like Kevin chartered a flight to Vietnam that evening. Kevin does need Zoe to pull this off; there’s no way he could investigate his father’s history without a skilled documentarian there to help him out. Still, he easily could have taken a breath, gone home, and asked Zoe in the morning. But, as he declares earlier in the episode, Kevin has no sense of boundaries, and so, here we are. These dear Pearson boys are trying my patience this week.
Kate and Toby:
Kate opens the episode by launching a phone tree montage that was maybe the highlight of the whole hour. In a string of back and forths, Kate first calls her mom and then Madison to tell them to good news about her pregnancy before broaching the subject of Toby’s current mental state. He’s been back on his meds for two weeks, but perhaps because of the dramatic and unhealthy way Toby cut himself off, it’s taking a while to get him back to a solid equilibrium. The jarring cut between life outside of their bedroom – bright, chaotic, joyful, celebratory – to the world Toby’s created for himself beyond their bedroom door was a really powerful sign of how depression makes those suffering feel so utterly disconnected. Toby’s state of being right now is dark, quiet, lethargic. Audio is slung over his legs, acting almost as an emotional support animal, barely making a whimper. Kate’s attempt to use Audio to get Toby out of bed is well intentioned, but she just can’t break through.
Kate’s instincts this week are repeatedly to call Rebecca. And I hate that she gives herself such a hard time about that later in the hour, because this level of support is still so new for them that I just wanted her to revel in it. Rebecca’s happy to talk Kate down, offering advice and recommending that Kate be patient with Toby rather than push him out the door for his own good. I love, too, that Rebecca pointedly reminds Kate to take care of herself first. This is such a key part of being in a relationship with a person facing mental illness; it’s essentially putting your own oxygen mask on before helping others. We’re no good to each other if we’re not taking care of ourselves, and right now, Kate is taking care of herself by calling her mom.
Her reaction is the same when Audio eats a rock at the dog park and has to make an emergency trip to the vet – Rebecca is her first call from the waiting room. Toby’s basically out of commission, and he thinks he’s snapping at Kate more than he is. It broke my heart that Kate jumped to apologize to Toby when he made even the slightest sigh at her for Audio getting away for a minute. He’s clearly spiraling and thinks his reactions are disproportionately worse than they actually are – and Kate is so on edge that she’s jumping to assure him that everything is fine, apologizing for things completely out of her control. It’s the kind of tense, tiptoeing-around-glass relationship that can go off the edge, and fast. Toby’s got experience with that kind of a spiral, and he’s living in fear that Kate will react the same way his first wife did. So in desperation, he drags himself off the couch, into the shower, trying with all his might to collect himself. When Kate comes home with Audio, thanks to her mom’s advice, she’s amazed and thrilled to see Toby’s up and dressed. But it’s taken absolutely everything he has and he’s got nothing left. (“I tried my very hardest today, and I’m sorry.”)
Even though she ends up taking the opposite advise to what she’s given, Kate is every bit her mother’s daughter. She looks identical to Rebecca when she puts her shoulders back and declares, “I think you should go on a walk with us.” It could be Toby’s residual fear that Kate will ultimately get sick of this part of himself, or that he had more in him in that moment than he thought he did, but he takes a deep breath and heads out into the open air. Once they’re at the dog park, Kate channels both her parents, insisting – KNOWING – that “the things that I’ve been through have made me tough as hell.” Sure, her first instinct is to ask for support. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. And Kate’s got a fighter in her, too. She’s got her dad’s knack for romantic speeches, and both of her parents’ loyalty, and her mother’s spirit, and she’s not going anywhere anytime soon.
Let’s just… not think about how Toby wasn’t wearing a wedding ring in his latest flash forward.
Colors of the Painting:
- The way Rebecca’s eyes never once left Jack as he was talking about his brother was so telling. She has the face of a woman watching an animal in the woods, wanting to observe every move but not to frighten it away. Rebecca must know Jack’s history with Nick, but it’s safe to assume that these little life moments like their boxing practice all those years ago are rarely mentioned.
- “These muscles aren’t just for show. Actually that’s not true at all, they’re mostly just for show.”
- It’s all well and good for young Randall to want to learn how to box, but whatever happened to his martial arts lessons from season one? Considering that dojo gave us one of the most iconic scenes for Jack and Randall, not to mention Randall’s character motivations in this episode, I’m a little mystified at why he’d have stopped going.
- “I got a campaign manager, and a new love of bibimbap.”
- “Me and my nice hands are happy to have you on board.”
- Welcome to This Is Us, Tim Jo. You’re fine as hell and you’ll fit right in ‘round these parts.
- From what we can tell of the phone montage, Kate calls her mom, then Randall, and leaves RANDALL to call Kevin, before Kevin calls Kate. Thinking back to the pilot and most of the first season, this phone tree would have looked a whole lot different, and her connection to her family aside from her twin is an interesting way to chart Kate’s character growth.
The end card for this week’s episode directed viewers to Everytown for Gun Safety, in solidarity with the victims of the anti-Semitic attack on the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. If you are able, please support the surviving families by visiting their official gofundme and making a donation, or by visiting everytown.org to stand against gun violence. And please, don’t forget to vote this Tuesday.
Featured Image Source: NBC