This Is Us Season 4, Episode 8
Posted by Shannon
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what kind of responsibility an older generation has to the younger. And no, it’s not because of the boomer vs millennial smackdown – I’m talking on a much smaller, person to person scale. There’s something ephemeral in any relationship that mirrors that of a parent, with or without a familial link. It’s aunts or uncles or family friends or a teacher who goes above and beyond the call of duty. It’s someone to call when you need advice, who’s been there before and should (in theory) know better. It’s being on the other side too, watching someone grow and make the same mistakes you made but maybe a little better. And because people are people, sometimes it all ends up a little toxic, or at the very least, complicated. This week’s episode is all about the space between those relationships – how we help each other, how we apologize, and how we try to grow.
Beth and Deja
All things considered, Malik and Deja are handling their new dating rules remarkably well. There’s some standard issue grumblings about how dates only qualify when you go somewhere alone, and an eye roll here and there, but on the whole they’re glad to spend the time together. They even keep a straight face when Beth insists they “pretend I’m not here but also remember I will be here the whole time.” Something is definitely up though, and frankly I was surprised they were so willing to go there with Beth within earshot rather than saving this for a phone call.
The whole setup was meant to be a classic bait and switch, except I never took the bait to begin with. And frankly how could ANYONE take that bait after hearing the way Malik spoke to Deja last week? This is a kid who repeatedly checked in on her comfort level during their Philly day, and has been nothing but respectful at every moment. There was just no way he was pushing her on anything malicious or inappropriate, despite the terrible-sounding “I don’t get why you can’t take no for an answer.” Beth, though, has every reason to doubt Malik’s intentions, so naturally she follows Deja to check in on her. And just as naturally, Deja doesn’t want to talk about it – she just asks Beth to get Malik out of the house.
And here we have the latest entry in an increasingly long list of reasons why I fucking love Malik. He’s proven, time and time again, that he is not afraid to have tough conversations with Beth and Randall, despite the fact that they’re Deja’s parents and he barely knows them. Malik is consistent and thoughtful and seemingly impossible to intimidate and his character is strong as hell. So after the tiniest bit of push back, he doesn’t shy away from telling Beth exactly what’s up: Deja wants to visit Shauna. It’s a visible shock to Beth; she practically deflates. She was so ready for the problem to be with Malik, or even with school, that it never occurred to her that the problem could be quite so close to home. In every moment of this scene, Malik is a dream of a teenage boy. His little spiral about Deja being mad at him was adorable. (“Malik, I need you to focus.”) And he TRIES to spare everyone’s feelings, while leading Beth to come to her own conclusions, but when it’s clear Beth can’t get there on her own, he goes hard. Beth and Randall have made all the time in the world for themselves, for their projects and for their lives – and they should. But they dropped the ball on this one. Again, Randall and Beth have fallen victim to the assumption that a good kid who seems fine doesn’t need much attention. They got “busy,” figuring that if it was so important to Deja, she’d bring it up again. They should have known better. As Beth insists later on with Deja, it IS a big deal. It’s a VERY big deal. They dropped the ball in a big way. The least they can do is accept Deja’s request to invite Shauna to Thanksgiving.
Well. That, and some unsupervised Malik time.
Randall and Rebecca
I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that, even prior to this episode, Randall and Rebecca’s parent/child relationship was already the most complicated out of any of the Big Three. Kate and Jack definitely give them a run for the money, but let’s not forget the entire first season when Randall had to work through the realization that his mother hid William from him for his entire life. Rebecca has always relied on Randall just a little too much through his childhood, and Randall was already prone to taking his familial responsibilities too seriously. I’m not blaming Rebecca, per say, for talking to her college age son about her mortgage and job hunting worries. I’m also not entirely blaming her for letting him help out with her resume. After all, resumes are, like, his jam. But I do blame her for not recognizing the kind of son she has in Randall. It’s easy for her to say Randall shouldn’t worry, that she’s the parent and she’ll take care of it all – but she should know her son better than this. She should know that not only will he not take that for an answer – he can’t.
It’s plain as day on Rebecca’s face when she leaves Randall alone within earshot of the hiring manager. She KNOWS Randall would pull something exactly like this. Of course Rebecca couldn’t really stop him from storming (nicely) into the hiring manager’s office and filling in the gaps that she deemed inappropriate for an interview. (“She’s not the type of person to tell you a sob story to try to get a job.”) But her face when Randall obviously leaves the manager’s office shouldn’t have been impressed and pleased. Rebecca isn’t the parent here just because she says she is. It means being one step ahead of Randall and stopping him when he couldn’t stop himself. And when she gets the job, under the requirement that Randall teach her accounting software over the weekend (and how exactly would that happen anyway? How’s he meant to access this stuff?), Rebecca is hit with a new wave of anxiety around the kind of entry level position she’s just had to take. Again. This is absolutely terrifying for Rebecca, and she has EVERY RIGHT to be going through these feelings. But it should be with a friend or confidant; not with her son.
But this is the relationship they’ve formed. It’s complicated and messy and occasionally dysfunctional, but still – these two are close, and they love each other, and one of them recently moved across the country for the first time in both their lives. It’s a huge adjustment for Randall not to have his mother in driving distance, and he CLEARLY misses her. He’s told his entire staff nothing but Rebecca Pearson stories; she’s practically a legend from the first time she walks in the door.
Which brings us to one of the most upsetting slow reveals of the season. As we’ve established, of all her children, Randall knows Rebecca the best – for better or worse. She can’t hide from him. It’s extremely unlike her not to paint a full portrait of LA for her son. It’s strange for her not to want to see the office first thing – instead, she focuses on using her phone to photograph every single angle. She doesn’t engage with Jae-won or his other staffers. She won’t engage with Randall. She just snaps pictures, nods, and fixates. And when that phone goes missing, the thing that’s keeping her tethered to her daily life, it’s full scale panic. Randall can’t ignore what’s going on here. He knows something is deeply wrong, and he tries to talk to her, and she refuses to engage. Which is just more evidence of the problem. With a few months distance from seeing his mother on the daily, and with symptoms that are impossible to ignore, and with the strongest baseline connection to Rebecca, it becomes obvious to Randall that she’s losing her memory. Whether this is alzheimers or dementia, Rebecca is sick.
Kevin and Nicky
Kevin has been sifting through his emotions about his parents for years. It’s sharpened in his sobriety, but one thing he hasn’t quite settled on before now was how he’s looking to Nicky to fill a familial void. It’s not quite paternalistic, but there’s something Kevin is looking for that he’s hoping to find within his uncle. It’s been noted consistently that Kevin was no one’s favorite kid. He’s wrestled with it in ways big and small, obvious and quiet. But Nicky gives him a new opportunity. It doesn’t hurt that these two have the most in common. Which makes Nicky’s response to Kevin and Cassidy sleeping together especially brutal. It’s hard to pick the most emotionally damaging line, but Nicky really comes out of the gates swinging with “Let me ask you something, out of curiosity. What’s wrong with you?” When he calls Kevin a “human wrecking ball,” it’s nothing Kevin hasn’t said to himself a million times – but hearing it from Nicky is unspeakably worse. It all leads to the deepest possible damage; Kevin seeing Jack within his brother as he stares Kevin straight in the eye and delivers a final “shame on you.” It’s a fucking nightmare. No amount of hand delivered coffee can make up for it. Not that Kevin was really going to wait around for an apology he doesn’t think he deserves, anyway.
No, instead Kevin’s saddled up at the neighborhood bar, picking fights with asshole locals. He might not have broken his sobriety but he has taken every inch of the opportunity to get punched in the face. By the time Nicky calls in Cassidy for reinforcements and they track Kevin down, he looks like he “went twelve rounds with Mike Tyson.” Which is less than ideal for Nicky’s singular character witness on the day of his hearing. It’s becoming increasingly rare for Kevin to act like a total idiot, which makes him forgetting about said hearing all the more dramatic. But it’s just another similarity between him and his uncle. Nicky gets cold and attacks people who love him; Kevin gets self obsessed and can’t see outside of his own crisis. Both reactions stem from a healthy dose of self loathing. And for all the adults in this particular storyline, we’re meant to think that sorry doesn’t quite cut it.
The thing is…that’s not quite fleshed out in the episode. I don’t disagree with Kevin’s theory, that sorry stops meaning anything after childhood. (“You grow up and it just doesn’t work anymore, does it.”) There are certainly no more easy fixes, no magic words. But a full hearted apology is not nothing. People can be forgiven. Cassidy and Kevin forgive each other, after it becomes clear they both kind of regret their night together. And they both mean it when they apologize for the difficulty that all of this has caused in their respective lives. I just can’t stomach the idea that it doesn’t mean anything. When Nicky finally does get to court, with Kevin’s injuries covered up by some carefully placed makeup, on a surface level he’s joining the argument against “sorry.” But he’s also proving my point.
No, Nicky doesn’t apologize for the act of throwing the chair through the window. But he shouldn’t. It changed his life, it changed Kevin’s, and maybe it changed Cassidy’s too. And still, Nicky DOES inherently apologize in his statement for the way he’s been speaking to Kevin. He expresses gratitude for his nephew being in his life, and for the support he’s received since being discovered by the Pearson kids. He gives a speech that was, for me, way more affecting than any of Jack Pearson’s speeches of late. He’s doing the work. Yes, it’s beyond apologies, but it’s born from them too.
All that’s left is Cassidy. I’ve done a 180 on her story arc, and it seems pretty clear that this will be Jennifer Morrison’s last episode on the show, but one thing I’ll never change my mind about is how fucking fantastic she is and has been. Cassidy is so dramatically unlike any of the Pearson clan. She’s distant and tricky and a little spikey. She’s scared and lonely and full of regrets, but she’s not inclined to dig into any of them. She’s flexible of spirit and has a perfectly edged sense of humor and acted as an excellent balance to Kevin. I wish I liked her husband more, but I respect her for wanting to make it work. Cassidy is absolutely willing to fall on her face by showing up to the diner where Matty and Ryan sit every week – she’s scared, but she’s doing it anyway. Even after signing divorce papers. And it certainly seems like they’re on a good track; at least, a hopeful one. It’s a sweet and loving goodbye between her and the Pearsons, and I hope, at the very least, that she and Nicky can stay friends. Although at least one of them is going to need to be better at picking up the phone.
To be honest, I strongly considered folding Kate into the ending bullets for the second time this season. I hated the thought of it, but there’s just not a lot going on here. Baby Jack is attempting and failing to eat solid food, he’s a few weeks behind on the development chart, Kate is getting anxious, and Toby really wants to be there the first time Jack eats. He’s been missing a few key developmental moments (at the very least he’s already missed Jack rolling over and sitting up) but Toby’s involved, and showing up, and trying. We’re not given the sense that Kate is particularly upset by any of this in terms of their relationship, but Toby is the type of dad who would absolutely hate missing anything. So when she knocked on Gregory’s door after he missed their morning walk (“bad mornings are worse for people who had massive strokes”) the outcome was obvious.
And that’s the thing that’s killing me about Kate’s storylines lately. It’s all so obvious. There are a few rare exceptions, but mostly those live in the teenage timeline. We still haven’t had a focused dive on Kate’s feelings around baby Jack, or how she feels about staying home, or if she wants to start work again after Jack hits a certain age – nothing. (Remember when she went back to school to get a degree so she could teach music? Where is THAT?) While the subject has been touched on, we really haven’t lingered on how far away Kate has felt from Toby this season. I have my theories about how this all might be going, and I don’t care for any of them, but regardless of the end result one thing is crystal clear. Kate has been continually shoved aside this season, and it’s a real pity.
Colors of the Painting
- Between Nicky and Shauna joining late in the game, Randall’s concern for Rebecca, and god knows what else, we’re set up for one hell of a fall finale next week. Buckle up.
- Teen Kate’s shitty boyfriend is becoming increasingly shittier, as evidenced by his snide, dismissive comments about 12 year old girls and the cinematic masterpiece Practical Magic – which, LEST WE FORGET was directed by our own dear Griffin Dunn.
- “He’s locked himself in the trailer since you morons slept together.”
- Mandy Moore’s delivery of “he bit her on her face with intent” though.
- “GOD he’s so good and so kind of also hot?” – a direct quote from my notes regarding Griffin Dunn. I don’t know what to tell you folks, but this is happening. The moment he started to remind me of Marc Maron it was all over.
- Justin Hartley is out here giving one of the best performances on the show and he does NOT get enough credit for it.
- If this is indeed the end of Cassidy’s storyline, then the thing I’ll miss the most is her singular jabs against Kevin’s good looks. Who else could pull off the line “there’s only so much I can do to fix a face like yours”??
- Bless and keep Beth Pearson.
What did you think of “Sorry”? Let us know in the comments!