This Is Us Season 3, Episode 10
“The Last Seven Weeks”
Posted by Shannon
A fundamental truth about my media taste is that I am a massive sucker for a story told backwards. (Fiddling with time structures in general is a win for me, which is why This Is Us wormed its way into my heart so quickly. But I digress.) “The Last Seven Weeks” does exactly what it says on the tin: the second half of season three launches at Randall’s election night watch party and sets up some general points of chaos before flashing back seven weeks to track how we got there. Why is it that Kate can’t stop crying? Why are Kevin and Zoe falling apart at the seams? Not to mention the fact that tensions between Randall and Beth don’t appear to have settled since the last time we saw them. It’s all about the journey to election night (and isn’t it always?), so without further ado, let’s get to it.
Randall and Beth
Underestimating Randall Pearson is a rookie mistake. If he was going to push ahead in the campaign without Beth’s support, it would mean going full speed and working harder than anyone in his district had ever seen. Which is exactly what he manages to do. Seven weeks ago, after Beth woke Randall up from the couch to keep Annie from seeing them sleeping apart, he sets his mind to a campaign turnaround. It means late nights and early mornings, foot injuries and new shoes, and who knows how many nights spent in the Philadelphia office – all while Beth gets ready for the holidays on her own. She’s agreed to stay out of his way, but her active partnership in terms of his work is gone. The fallout from Randall pushing ahead in these circumstances is not great, but honestly, I was expecting worse. Yes, the effects all seem to settle on Beth’s shoulders, but she doesn’t banish him to the couch every night until the election. (And frankly, considering the fact that he’s actively broken his word to her, she’d be within her rights.) With the exception of one comment about how moody Tess has been lately (and oh, how I want it to be because she’s found Nirvana on spotify), the girls are all carrying on as usual without a major change in their daily lives.
But even if things are relatively stable at the homestead, Sol Brown is here to make sure that the Pearson family absence is felt on the campaign trail. Councilman Brown is pushing Randall’s buttons by appearing on the radio and commenting on how the rest of the Pearsons never seem to show up to church, but as with many of Sol’s jabs, I don’t see how this attack would go unanticipated. I continue to be concerned that Randall isn’t entirely thinking through his daily life if (cough cough, when) he wins the seat. Given the circumstances, he should have been prepared for Sol to run around trying to make him sound “like a family man without a family.”
Still, it directly results in one of the most pointed fights Randall and Beth have suffered through, culminating in Randall asking if Beth is really just upset because he has something he’s passionate about while she’s paralyzed after the loss of her job. This whole fight is just a bad look on ALL of them. (And that’s going to become a theme throughout this recap, so strap in now.) Randall is being weirdly aggressive, acting out after Beth appropriately schools him on the fact that he has no idea what the kids are getting for Christmas. That line about how he stayed at home for a year without complaint was problematic in about sixteen different ways. And yes, Beth is a little lost right now, but here’s a question – what the hell is happening with the apartment building they bought a year back? Is she the one maintaining the real estate side of their life? And if so, why isn’t she bringing that up at all?
The whole thing does seem to be a last straw for Randall, who is confronted with the ultimate political choice as he’s getting ready to head home on New Year’s Eve. (It’s a mystery to me what kind of city council race is held in JANUARY, but okay I guess.) Jae-won has dug up proper dirt on Solomon Brown, and it’s a big enough deal to take Sol down for good, just a few weeks before the election. Randall doesn’t seem like he can even take this in. He insists on leaving the office to get a blueberry pie for Beth, in an attempt to keep some semblance of normal in the house, with his opponent’s hidden drunk driving charge tucked into his briefcase.
While Randall has been working his way through campaign and family crises, he’s also kept half his mind in the past. Back to his last big road trip with Jack, decades ago, visiting Howard and swinging by the Vietnam memorial. I think it’s safe to say that, of all the Pearson family members, Randall got the most notable heart to heart with Jack right before his death. This trip afforded them the opportunity to talk, really talk, during an extremely fragile moment in Randall’s life. Randall was the type of kid to truly see and feel the potential impact of his college decisions. And of course, it wasn’t just about deciding on a major. He was also worried about balancing his family and work life, knowing and frankly fearing “what I get like when I get focused.” Jack is appropriately bemused by his 17 year old son concerning himself with such matters, and as he assures Randall that he’ll grow to be someone truly special, he also notes the importance of having someone around who really sees Randall for who he is. (“Someone who brings out all the good stuff in you, all the best stuff. Cause my god, son what a force you will be.”)
I love Randall Pearson with my whole heart, flaws and all. But I was exhausted by the show forcing the Sherlock Season One debate of “can a good man be great / can a great man be good” onto him in this episode. Randall has always been both. Always. Even if his previous job wasn’t exactly tantamount to saving the world, he was a great dad and a good man all in one. There’s no reason to suspect that he would be any other kind of politician. He might end up being unintentionally careless – and as I’ve said, I suspect he will be – but Randall is too attuned to his need to balance his family and his career to really be in danger of turning into a gross, stereotypical politician. I’m not saying he’s not allowed to doubt himself: he absolutely is. And I loved the entire sequence with the Reverend in the diner. It’s so Randall to be exhausted and rambly and at a loss, and to open up way too much to essentially a stranger in a public place. And in pure Dr. K style, Reverend Hawley has exactly the right words that Randall needs to hear to push him to follow his instincts and throw Sol Brown’s paid off DUI in the trash. But still, the framing for this plotline felt off to me, and we could have gotten to the same destination without it.
Back home a few hours before midnight, armed with the Reverend’s blueberry pie, Randall apologizes to everyone in one fell swoop. Really, this sentiment was all Beth needed. Just the acknowledgement that he couldn’t do it without them, the awareness that they were a team – it’s pivotal to both Randall and Beth. Randall needed to allow himself a break. And Beth needed to see that Randall would be willing, at the end of the day, to ignore a call from Jae-won if he’s cuddled up with the girls. So the next morning, it’s immediately a different ballgame on both sides. Beth, after watching Randall adjust his priorities, has a change of heart and re-commits to the campaign efforts. Which. Listen, I get it. And I liked 90% of how this all played out. But she DID have a right to draw the lines that she drew, and while I acknowledge that she felt she had to formally apologize for not having his back, I think she was well within her rights not to do so.
By now, in the timeline of the episode, we’re fast approaching election day, and with Beth back on board emotionally with the campaign, she insists on the whole family showing up for church on New Year’s Day. And it’s a damn good thing they did. Reverend Hawley, who we’ve known to be a community leader to the district, takes a moment in his sermon to speak directly to the election, in no uncertain terms. He doesn’t endorse Randall, but he comes close. For anyone who’s been on the scene just a few months to win the Reverend’s trust is notable and impressive, and after the Reverend watched Randall throw away the manilla envelope of damning DUI evidence, he knows in his bones that Randall is “fundamentally decent.” The implications and the impact of this kind of support are vast. So while election night seems too close to call, and the final numbers don’t come in till midnight, the moment Reverend Hawley threw his support behind Randall, the results were as good as in.
Here. We. Go.
Kevin and Zoe
At the election night timestamp, things are not going well for our newest fave couple. Kevin is back to his old blowhard self, literally backing up to give Zoe space (what an exhausting move), while she’s spent the evening plying Beth with white wine and building a sky-high emotional wall. It’s not a good look for either of them. At this stage of the game, Zoe giving Kevin back a keychain emblazoned with the face of John Stamos could have meant pretty much anything – but definitely not anything good.
I had envisioned some sort of weird symbolic scenario wherein John Stamos represented them breaking up and some other Bob Saget keychain meant they’d run off and get married, but the whole thing was a lot more straightforward what I dreamed up. As soon as they got back from Vietnam, bags still packed and Kevin practically buzzing with Mad Men theories about where Nick Pearson has been hiding all these years, Zoe comments that his loft feels like home. Kevin is many things – temperamental, scattered, careless, kind – but perhaps above all, he’s a romantic. All of his relationships with women have involved sweeping emotional gestures, and in a quieter, more deep-seeded way than Toby. Kevin really doesn’t like to be alone, and he loves deeply and without hesitation. So of course he wants Zoe to move in. He’s completely in love with her, and he has the space, and as far as he’s concerned, that’s all they need. For Zoe, it means a whole host of other, deeper, concerns – but she voices none of them when he hands her the spare key (courtesy of John Stamos via Tess and Annie’s Full House obsession).
Kevin wisely decides that now is not the time to fill the rest of the family in on their newly discovered relative – not until he has more information to share. So it’s off to the Veterans Affairs office to try to track down Nicky’s discharge papers and get some answers. Nothing in the world of paperwork is that easy, and without evidence that Kevin is Nicky’s next of kin, they can’t get anything out of the VA without the help of some sort of elected official. Zoe conveniently dated one a while back, and offers to bring him into the fold to lend a hand.
This whole thing is so real and sooo painfully uncomfortable. Zoe didn’t just date this congressman; she was with him for two years, and they had plans to move in together before she pulled the plug on the relationship via email. (Oh, Zoe.) The three barely have time for a coffee before this guy has a mini-meltdown, annoyed that all they need is a letter to the VA. He basically storms out, but to everyone’s credit he does stop to shake Kevin’s hand and agree to send the letter and open up Nicky’s records. But that’s pretty much where everyone in this storyline temporarily ceases to behave like an adult. Zoe brushes off Kevin’s reaction, and it’s unclear if she’s embarrassed by her behavior, if she was unbothered and didn’t think it was a big deal, or if she just doesn’t want to talk about it. She vocalizes none of those things. And Kevin being Kevin, it’s just a matter of time until he melts down himself. The missteps abound. Kevin has insisted on Zoe’s help with his Vietnam exploration every step of the way, refusing to do anything on the subject without her, and then DOESN’T call her when the records arrive. When she does come home and wants to take a look, he snips at her for “hovering” before launching into a screaming match about how she hasn’t unpacked any of her belongings yet. Meanwhile, Zoe tries to pawn her reaction off onto him, insisting that she only said she’d move in to make him happy – a sentiment that she never once gave voice to in the moment. He didn’t push her to move in, but he sure as hell is pushing now, and she takes off to get some space – picking back up on election night, where the hour began.
Both of them handled this badly. But I have to say, the ways in which they handled things badly were extraordinarily true to life. Moving in with Kevin is not a small thing for Zoe. Her history means that a safe home is paramount, and that sharing that space with another human – especially a man – is frightening. The piece of mind that comes in knowing that her home is hers, and hers alone, is invaluable. It’s no wonder that Kevin, in all of his talk about “the rest of our lives,” missed this context. But again – he’s ultimately a good man with a good heart, and the moment Zoe even begins to mention the real reason why moving in is so triggering for her, he reframes and cedes the floor to whatever will make her the most comfortable. I love that, as they reconcile and decide to take this step together, he doesn’t go in for a kiss or crowd her too quickly. He honors her space, lets her make the first move to him, and quietly kisses her forehead. I really, really want these two to make it.
Kate and Toby
Now that Kate and Toby have settled into the reality of Kate’s pregnancy, they’re ready for the next stage: nesting. Both of them know that the office needs to be turned into a nursery, and they’re thrilled to take this step – until Kate casually insists that it means Toby must sell all of his toys.
HOOOO BOY. Okay. First of all, Kate was extremely blase about her demands to Toby, and I do not care for it. Kate can have a real cavalier streak to her when it comes to other people’s feelings and this was a prime example. (See also: the ease with which she said Randall couldn’t pass on anything of Jack’s.) It’s NEVER a good look. And while nerd-bro’s are often awful (deep breath whilst side eye-ing that Gabe dude), dismissing a thing that your loved one loves is pretty inexcusable in my book. Especially because Kate and Toby’s love language is pop culture; it’s jarring for her to be so dismissive of his action figures. Even after Toby explains that this particular original, complete set of 1977 Star Wars action figures – which he kept in a box marked DNS for Do Not Sell – were the only things that stayed with him through divorce, dorm rooms, and six apartments, she still comes within inches of reiterating that they’re “just toys.”
When Kate tracks down the awful white male geek she sold the figures to in a failed attempt to get them back, we start to get to the bottom of her disparaging remarks. It’s not that Kate doesn’t see value in Toby’s sentimental objects. It’s that she’s had to separate herself emotionally from objects like that holding any sentimental value at all. It was a natural coping mechanism stemming from the loss of her most sentimental objects in the house fire. So as much as it made me see red, in that context, the whole plotline is really measured and true.
Wrestling with attachment to childhood items is so complex. I’ve found, at least in my own life, that the things I miss the most are the things I don’t remember getting rid of. It’s that nagging feeling that a piece of you has been left behind without your having a say in its dismissal. It can weigh on the soul. And for some intangible reason, I think the loss of those objects, the ones that were imbued in childhood history, hit Kate the hardest. It’s no wonder, then, that she broke down when Toby managed to reconstruct her football stadium replica, complete with the ebayed, replacement Star Wars figurines as players. She’s speechless at having that one small part of her history back, built anew, ready to share with her firstborn. It’s not better or worse than it would have been if she still had the stadium Jack built her – but it is just as beautiful.
Colors of the Painting
- Susan Kelechi Watson was SO EXCEPTIONAL this hour. From her ever-so-gentle tears when she was talking about her dad and her shoe store meltdown to the perfect push forward she executed when Randall announces that he won – every moment she was onscreen was a masterclass, even more so than usual.
- Ron Cephas-Jones has been making the rounds on cast members’ Instagrams and saying how much he misses everyone, which opens the door for me to yell about how much I miss William and how overdue we are for a cameo. Bring back Ron Cephas-Jones, now and often.
- I found myself thinking a lot this episode about what Randall’s life would have looked like if he hadn’t called Howard that night and given up his spot. He would have gotten his original dream poli-sci degree but he wouldn’t have met Beth. He’d be a completely different Randall Pearson in so many ways, but at the same time, I wonder how much he’d also be exactly the same.
- DOES RANDALL WINNING MEAN WE GET TO KEEP JAE-WON BECAUSE I REALLY WANT US TO KEEP JAE-WON.
- All I could think about when Toby called Kevin for help in the form of a secret twin cure was the first season, when Toby would constantly act out against Kevin and Kate’s twin bond. On one hand, I love what this says about everyone’s character growth, and on the other hand, I love what it says about how much better the show is at writing for Toby.
- I am so, so hear for the Veterans Affairs administrator’s Game of Thrones expertise.
- Deja’s taste in men is Anderson Cooper. That’s it, that’s the whole bullet point.
What are your thoughts on “The Last Seven Weeks”? Let us know in the comments!