This Is Us Season 3, Episode 7
Posted by Shannon
I’m a solo traveller. Almost exclusively, when I head out of town it’s by myself, with a Rick Steves backpack and a vague outline for what I’m gonna do when I get where I’m going. Travelling alone means never staying somewhere longer than you want, and eating lots of quiet meals at an otherwise empty table, and never having to explain your potentially dangerous preference for trying some bat to your travel partner. Regardless of if you’re going it alone or with a companion, travelling to a new place invites self reflection. Indeed, two sets of Pearsons head off this week to a new corner of the world to explore both their personal identities and their new relationships, with mixed results.
Jack and Rebecca
When last we saw these two, they were washing dishes and dreaming of a road trip to Los Angeles. I feared they wouldn’t go, that something would keep Rebecca from following her dream. I was wrong; for their third official date, Jack and Rebecca pile into the car with some turkey sandwiches and head off for California. Is this a little insane? Sure. Is it unbelievable? Honestly no. People have been known to be reckless in the first days and weeks of a new romance. Sometimes, as they say, you just know. Sure, it could have gone terribly wrong, and it’s rather careless for Rebecca to drive thousands of miles away from home with a man she barely knows. But these two trust each other implicitly, and they’re both all-in. Besides, my elder-millennial vision of the 70’s is filled with people jumping in beat-up cars with other people they barely know and heading west, so I think it checks out. They each have just enough to motivate the trip, with Rebecca’s connection to a record label combined with the nagging feeling that Pittsburgh “just feels a little small,” combined with Jack’s mystery connection to some people out in Racida. Plus, it turns out road trips are a perfect place to fall in love.
It’s a joy to watch these two navigate the early days of their romance. They sparkle with chemistry, and I loved watching them slowly, cautiously, open up to each other to the tune of Dolly Parton’s “The Lonely Coming Down.” (Honestly the music is the best part of this show and I will continue to stand by that.) Jack learns that Rebecca is the type to cry openly and without embarrassment, which I love about her. Rebecca learns that Jack’s the polar opposite. We know this man to be completely connected to his feelings at all times, and certainly the feelings of those around him. But he isn’t one to cry. They dance, and tentatively make fun of each other’s sleeping habits, and finally, perfectly, fall into bed one night in a nondescript highway motel. And in another nondescript highway motel, Jack wakes up from a nightmare, refusing to talk about it when Rebecca gives a gentle but pointed nudge. (“Have you been having a lot of bad dreams since you got back from Vietnam?”)
In a blink, they’re at Nicole’s “occasional sweetheart’s” giant house, complete with a pool, a view, and a ton of strangers lounging around. Basically, it’s every scene from a movie set in LA in the 70’s ever. The whole scene screamed cliche, and while Rebecca maybe could have fit in here, Jack was out of place from the moment they pulled into the driveway. It’s just so completely not his scene. However, the thing I appreciated most about this sequence was that Rebecca finally had a friend to interact with. I continually think the matriarchs in This Is Us need more friends; people they love outside their home, who care about them and know their families but can also reflect reality back to them. Just think of how much Madison brought to Kate’s life. I’m sure Rebecca and Beth have friends, but we don’t see them. Ever. And this wasn’t a perfect example, either; it’s all about Jack, and while I’m assuming Nicole also would have asked how Rebecca was feeling before her big meeting at the record label, we don’t get to see it.
What we do see, is Jack’s PTSD in full force. A bottle of champagne cracks open, and Jack snaps right back to his time across the world. A portion of the episode is spent there, too, picking right back up where we left off, with Jack at Nicky’s detail, ready to play Superman. Nicky freaked out at the sight of him; first he’s concerned about Jack’s safety, and protective of him, even though it comes out off-kilter (“If you die out here, that’s not on me”). Then he snaps, laughing, chaos behind his eyes. Jack automatically assumes Nicky is on something, and maybe he is – but I’m not convinced. Nicky has been through god knows what. And now, out of nowhere, his big brother swoops in, with his intentions to save the day written all over his face. Of course he snaps, practically spitting “Jesus Christ, you know, it’s just a nickname, man” in Jack’s face. And again – who can blame him? Jack does exactly what Nicky assumes, making a grand gesture in the form of a big speech to Nicky’s staff sergeant all about how Nicky’s not cut out for this kind of thing (and christ, who was), in an attempt to get him to break protocol and allow both brothers to serve in the same detail for a while. He’s denied, at least for now, and told to hitch a ride back to his ‘ville.
What follows is a deeply complicated mini-road trip back to the security of the fishing village. Jack meets a man, Bao, who agrees to drive him most of the way for a price. On the way, he stops to hug his family and drop off cans – with the strong implication that those cans are being made into grenades. This is all just so dense and rife with complexities. Bao’s answer to Jack finally snapping and demanding to know if he’s VC is also the title of the episode – “Sometimes.” And to be honest, I’m not sure why that’s the title. It’s an affecting, complicated moment, and I’m sure there’s a list of socio-political implications that I’m not educated enough to speak on. But that complexity, that deep contradiction of the honor of defending your homeland and next to the horrific death toll, is lacking in the rest of the hour. I fear that ultimately, this will be a microcosm for the entire Vietnam plot – small, true, captivating moments that hint at the larger horrors of war but don’t actually say anything new, and worse, exploit the bloodshed for a surface level story.
Still. I don’t doubt Jack’s experience, and I don’t doubt that he’s been deeply scarred by what he saw. Who can blame him for not wanting to “bring that part of my life into this?” But he has, in a way, brought that part of his life into California. His errand in Racida is to meet the parents of the man who died the night that Mr. Robinson lost his leg, to claim responsibility, and to tell them more about the night their son died. I know Jack’s an adult here. I know he’s 28, and not a child. But watching him apologize to these parents, nearly weeping as he states “I needed to come here and tell you that he was one of the good ones. And I’m sorry,” all I could think was that this was a war of children, young men, fighting for no reason, and being made to feel blame and horror and live with all of it for the rest of their lives.
Back at the record label, Rebecca gets her big break, and it leaves something to be desired. I’m so proud of her for going, and I’m SO proud of her for insisting that the manager be clear with her about what exactly “keep in touch” means. Part of me wishes she’d stuck it out in LA, fought for her dream. And I wonder if she would have if the circumstances had been different. But instead, as she sits back in Jack’s car, she sighs “it’s kinda nuts here, right?” knowing, at least on some level, that it’ll lead to them going home. Rebecca knows that Jack doesn’t want to stay in LA. He’s been so clear, from the moment they drove up to Nicole’s house, that this isn’t for him. And he’s had a hell of a day. Watching Jack finally let his wall come down, hearing Rebecca sing, and crying – for the man he lost in Vietnam, and for himself, and for losses we don’t even know about yet – was therapeutic, and a relief, and a masterful piece of acting.
Kevin and Zoe
On the other side of the world, Kevin and Zoe arrive safe and sound in Vietnam to follow in Jack’s footsteps. Kevin’s fiddly and nervous, wondering constantly what path his father took to the fishing village, talking too much, and asking way, way too many questions. Zoe has proven herself to be a private person, and while some of that has to do with relationship walls, some of it is also just how she likes to live her life. So when she asks not to be tagged on instagram, it could have gone either way. Kevin, knowing they’ve just embarked on a huge step for their relationship by taking this trip together in the first place, starts off in the right mindset by gently saying “I thought we graduated to tagging status.” But the moment she says she doesn’t want her dad to know where she is, he should have backed off. This is Zoe’s business, not his. Kevin’s naturally curious (which is fine) and allergic to emotional boundaries (which is very much not fine) so he spends pretty much the entire episode refusing to leave well enough alone.
At every step of the way, Kevin pushes. Maybe it’s because he’s looking for answers in his own life right now that he knows he might not find, and these answers feel more controllable – Jack’s necklace being sold as a mass produced tourist trinket isn’t a great first tip – or maybe it’s because he’s jetlagged and irritable – or maybe it’s just Kevin being the worst version of himself. But no matter what move Zoe makes to change the subject, he finds a path back around to asking about those eight years before she moved in with Beth. It’s insufferable and I wouldn’t blame her if she HAD faked food poisoning.
Kevin is so self obsessed that he can’t see when Zoe is physically unsteady. He rallies, at least for a while, after it’s clear she’s really sick. He brings her coconut water (or suntan lotion, who’s to say), and apologizes – SORT OF? – for pushing too hard. Kevin uses Jack’s mysteries as a baseline, claiming that his father’s reticence to share about his first 28 years of life clouded his own ability to respect his partner’s boundaries. He lands in the right place when he tells Zoe that it’s okay if she doesn’t want to talk about her past, and admits that while it’s not his preference, it’s certainly her right. Which leads us to Zoe telling Kevin the crux of her childhood trauma; her father’s sexual abuse.
I love Zoe’s side of this conversation. She holds her boundaries, clarifying that she isn’t sharing this because he asked her to. She’s clear-eyed and sharing her story only because she decided to do so; none of this is for Kevin’s benefit. Zoe is straightforward about the lines she’s drawn, and why, and at least Kevin doesn’t push her or ask her any other questions. But I truly hate his response. Strength has nothing to do with this.
Colors of the Painting
- While we’re on the subject of men being insufferable, the soldier who bought presumably Jack’s real necklace for a girl because “girls like shiny, right?” storms off in a tizzy when said girl has the gaul to cuddle up with another man. I just.
- “We were more of a beige family growing up.”
- Rebecca’s biggest, craziest dream is to open for Neil Young, which just confirms that we have exactly the same musical taste.
- I love that this Joni Mitchell heavy episode aired the week that the woman herself turned 75. Happy birthday, Joni. We love you.
What are your thoughts on “Sometimes”? Let us know in the comments!