This Is Us Season 4, Episode 10
“Light and Shadows”
Posted by Shannon
Truth be told, I’m still not over the fact that “So Long, Marianne” happened. I don’t know if I ever will be. And yet, the show goes on. “Light and Shadows” brought us back from the holiday hiatus with a less potent but similarly relentless musical narrative. I guess if you have to follow “So Long, Marianne,” it should involve not one – not two – but three uniquely used songs, two of which happen to also mean a whole lot to me. The throughline in “Light and Shadows” is just that – hope and despair, happiness and trauma. So what better way to start it all off than with The Plastic Ono Band’s “Happy XMas (War is Over)”? Modern holiday shopping playlists would have you believing that the John Lennon & Yoko Ono classic is a simple, sweet, 70’s Christmas song. It’s not. It’s a spirit of protest, of nonviolent resistance, and its music video is ten minutes of John and Yoko making their case for peace, bookending vicious, often bloody images of children who were harmed or killed in war. For an episode taking place well after the show’s Vietnam arc, it sure sounds familiar.
We don’t go quite that far in “Light and Shadows.” But shit gets dark. There’s an undercurrent of loss and sadness and inevitability that courses through the episode. Basically, we have a lot to talk about. Let’s get into it.
Jack and Rebecca
We rejoin the young couple mere moments after Jack and Rebecca left her parents driveway in “The Club.” Jack’s still a little messy while Rebecca’s trying to figure out exactly what went down between her boyfriend and her dad. The air between them is tense, especially after Rebecca asks Jack to “take it easy on the G&T’s” at her father’s impending birthday party. Jack looks physically pained. All of his circumstances are conspiring against him and he’s drowning in his own self hatred; meanwhile all Rebecca can say is the guarantee that her father means well, without even suspecting that her dad might have gone too far. Jack, of course, won’t say a word against the guy – and he won’t let her keep offering her apartment as a respite from his own. The reminder his building manager gave was relatively gentle, but paying rent is non-negotiable and with no shifts to claim at the shop, he’s two weeks behind on the bills.
I’ll talk about Kevin shortly, but I do want to say how much I appreciate the writers folding Kevin’s memory of his parents – unfailingly romantic, in love from the word go, seemingly without struggle – against the backdrop of Jack deciding that there’s just no way he can swing this relationship after all and breaking up with Rebecca in a pizza place. The distance between a part time mechanic and a girl who “dines at country clubs” seemed insurmountable in a way that Jack’s children could never fathom decades later.
As for Rebecca, she never sees it coming. How could she, without any context to Jack’s decision or real comprehension of just how far that distance can feel from the other side when one has just a little too much pride for his own good? Her mother, though. She knows a whole lot more than she let on when she jumps in to comfort her daughter before the party begins. Rebecca’s mother Janet is no one’s favorite character, and lord knows she pulls some unforgivable shit ten or so years down the line. But people contain multitudes. Janet’s right to defend her own relationship style, honoring how reliable her husband is, admiring that he’s someone she can depend on to make her a Tom Collins during Mary Tyler Moore and pass her newspaper articles he knows she’ll love without saying a word. Theirs is a long standing, lived-in love, one that can sustain Janet going rogue and telling Rebecca what really happened between Jack and her father. The slow, quiet realization that THIS is why Jack broke up with her travels through Rebecca’s entire body. (And let’s give it up for Mandy Moore in that moment, honestly.) The next move HAS to be Rebecca’s, and so she takes off to the car shop to find Jack and make her own big romantic gesture.
It’s such a great speech, fam. It really is. Sparks literally go off behind them as they sweep into each other’s arms, and the kiss is great and the scene is great – it’s all light, and light and light – and closes with the shadow of a single tear in Rebecca’s future, as she remembers Jack echoing his love back to her for the first time and punctuating it with “and don’t you ever forget it.”
With eight months to go before his newly established wife-and-kid deadline, Kevin has hired a matchmaker to get the ball rolling. And ooooh, is the dating montage that follows a delight. There’s a PhD in molecular biology who’s “way too smart for me and my little bean facts,” there’s a lady who’s just plain racist. (How fucking charming was the grumpy face he made when she outed her prejudice? So fucking charming.) Basically, Kevin Pearson quickly learns what all of us folks dating in cities have long known to be true – matchmakers are a scam and dating is torture and the only way to not make yourself crazy is to turn everything off and let the universe take the wheel. But because Kevin is an extremely attractive white male movie star, the universe acts in approximately .2 seconds as he locks eyes with a gorgeous brunette across the coffee shop.
Kevin and Lizzie’s meet cute was so perfect that, in hindsight, everyone (including Kevin) should have seen that it was way too good to be true. Her pet is named after Adrienne Balboa of Rocky fame, she pokes fun at his fame by calling him Devon, their banter is natural and effortless and she responds perfectly to Kevin’s offer to “do the whole thing” with her mom on the phone after learning she’s a fan. Rewatching this scene, it was so obvious that Lizzie was trying to find an out by bringing up her quick return to Chicago. She tries to take off before he offers to sweep her around LA for a hopes and dreams tour, and he barely leaves her a second to decline. Obviously she could have – and should have – pulled the brakes way before they get to the Hollywood Bowl for a two-person John Legend show. But Kevin put on the full Jack Pearson, barely pausing for breath, and Lizzie couldn’t stop herself. His hopes are SO high and his heart SO open that he just can’t imagine that anything could get in the way of a perfect relationship.
When she finally does pull the brakes, Kevin’s heartbreak is written all over his face. Lizzie’s not just in a relationship, she’s MARRIED, and she was playing a game she assumed was harmless until it very obviously wasn’t. My own callous heart dropped into my shoes when she asked “who gets to even meet their hall pass, much less have them be interested in you?” The whole thing is devastating because it’s so easy for her to assume Kevin’s heart would be teflon. That he couldn’t possibly be genuine. Except he is. And he got played. Badly. Kevin takes it on the chin and books it to his M. Night Shyamalan movie reshoots, convincing himself that this is it, and that he just won’t get a love story like the one his parents had. Except we know damn well he’s married and expecting in eight months, so that can’t possibly be the case.
Again. In hindsight, I should have seen this coming. Sophie is the obvious easy out writing wise – hell, I said it myself in my last recap that the only reason they finally broke up was his recovery and his refusal to have kids. Now, both of those obstacles have been overcome. And assuming Sophie’s second marriage didn’t take, this one seems like a done deal.
Kate and Toby:
It’s no secret that of all the season four storylines, I’ve had the hardest time with Kate and Toby. They’re not communicating with each other or their loved ones and as a result their character development has suffered. But this week, we finally dove head first into what the hell is actually going on with these two. They’re barely in the door from Thanksgiving before Toby calls Kate on her “dagger eyes” and asks what exactly is going on here. I’m grateful that Kate doesn’t hold onto the group chat thing for any longer than the cross country flight, and Toby continues to be the best version of himself as he apologizes for “Lady Kryptonite” (real name Kara) responding the way she did. He offers up his phone immediately in case she wants to read through it, apologizes for ranting inappropriately to his gym buddies, guarantees Kate that she has nothing to worry about, and reminds her that there were eight other people on that chat. For her part, Kate tries to take Beth’s words at Thanksgiving to heart and renews her support of Toby’s lifestyle. She looks up shake recipes on crossfit blogs and plans a Jimmy Buffet themed surprise party for his birthday, even going so far as to find and invite all the members of his crossfit group chat to attend.
This is such a classy move all around, and I love that Kate doesn’t have any ulterior motives – despite Kevin and Madison’s charmingly homicidal tendencies. Sure, she does want to get eyes on Kara and asks about her before Toby comes home for the party, but that wasn’t what this was about. Kate knows she hasn’t been supportive and she WANTS to be there for her husband. Except, as one of the crossfit buddies immediately spills, her husband has suddenly changed gyms and never said a word about it.
The minute Toby walks in the door, he knows there’s no hope of hiding whatever it is that’s caused him to switch gyms. And I’ll admit, for a moment I was worried that the writers had pulled his character back into Season One Toby. But that’s not at all the case. Yes, Kara tried to kiss him at the gym just days after he assured Kate she had nothing to worry about. And it wasn’t that he was interested in her or that he kissed her back. (“I dodged her head like Neo in the matrix!”) Toby was justifiably embarrassed that he had so deeply misread the situation and he couldn’t bear to come back to Kate with his tail between his legs. So he just switched gyms and hoped they never had to speak of it again. Was this perfect behavior? Not really, but it’s super understandable and very human. But it’s also not quite that simple. As Kate points out, Kara didn’t make up a connection out of thin air. Whether he realized it or not, Toby left himself wide open for everyone to assume that there was something lacking in his relationship. (“Did you ever think she got the wrong idea because you avoid being home with me?”) And finally – FINALLY – the characters come clean about what’s actually going on in their hearts and minds. Toby’s deeply depressed about Jack’s blindness, and because he knows it will break Kate’s heart to know the truth, he refused to be honest with his wife about how hard this all is for him for fear of disappointing her.
Honestly, everyone, I’m running out of ways to write this particular rampage – but buckle up, because here we go again. Toby has EVERY RIGHT to feel the way he feels. It doesn’t mean he loves his son any less, and while Kate’s horrified reaction is understandable, it’s also extremely callous. Toby needs to be talking about this in therapy. Hell, so does Kate! Remember when, mere MONTHS ago, she was devastated to realize that Jack will never watch football with them? And now she’s looking at Toby like he’s a monster for admitting that he’s heartbroken that he can’t show his son Star Wars? No wonder he never said anything. Raising their son will be hard and complicated and joyful and it will all be turned up to eleven and they BOTH need the support that only someone going through this can offer. I sincerely hope they still take advantage of that retreat Kate booked for Toby’s birthday, if for no other reason than there’s probably a support group they can and should be joining. GO TO THERAPY, PEARSONS, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD.
And as for this? The lovely final sequence where Jack starts to see lights and shadow, and grabs at the pineapple string? His father is so overjoyed, and Kate looks crestfallen at his happiness. Frankly this sequence reminded me of the many mothers who struggle to connect with their babies until something small or big or medium-sized happens and then the dam bursts and they are able to bond. Toby is FINALLY able to feel a complete joy and connection with his son, and Kate’s face is radiating disappointment. If Kate were feeling this way and Toby was this let down by her, I’d be railing against him too. I just want them to be better. I know they can be
Randall, Rebecca and Miguel
Randall’s absolutely fixated on his mother’s possible illness, and I’m willing to bet that Rebecca’s directive that he not share this information with his siblings is doing a number on his mental health. He’s spent every waking moment from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Eve shaking down the top neurologists in the country, and finally, he’s snagged an appointment for Rebecca out in LA. Even as his kids celebrate and his wife tries to get him over for a New Year’s kiss, he’s on the phone with Miguel, totally checked out, finalizing plans to fly across the country and join them for Rebecca’s first appointment. (I did love that, finally, someone verbalized just how often this family is flying across the damn country for birthdays, doctor’s appointments, and everything in between.)
While Randall zeroes in on the plan and identifies every possible next step, Miguel is just out here trying to keep it together. Neither of them would dare speak a word in front of Rebecca, but both men are funnelling their own fear into their tense responses to each other. Miguel insists that she’s fine, focusing on Rebecca’s comfort and their DVR, keeping her distracted with thoughts of home. But of course he’s freaking out. How could he not be? And yet, with Randall pulling every possible string he can find to get Rebecca this appointment, Miguel finds it harder and harder to ignore the reality of the situation. A minor explosion between the two was inevitable. They’re both right (Randall always has to fly in to be the hero) and they’re both wrong (forgetting milk at the grocery store does not a memory diagnosis make) and ultimately they’re both just gonna lose from the stress.
As for Rebecca – she’s coming in and out of her own memories, paralyzed with fear herself, and yet insisting on keeping it together outwardly for her husband and her son. It’s all perfectly represented by Joni Mitchell’s classic “California,” the second installment of a song included in this episode purely to destroy me. Joni’s crystalline soprano floats in and out of Rebecca’s thoughts throughout her time in the hospital, phasing in gently and then cutting out as if a passerby abruptly lifted the needle of a record player whenever anyone interrupts her thinking. The loss of memory in a loved one hits close to the bone for countless Americans (myself included). Watching Rebecca continue to try to hold on to her favorite memories – Jack telling her he loves her, Rebecca rocking Randall as the sun rose every morning to the sounds of Joni Mitchell – is incredibly painful and frankly, I’m not looking forward to this continuing.
Once the Doctor comes back with next steps and the confirmation that something is, indeed, wrong, any lingering tension between Miguel and Randall evaporates. These are the only two people in her life whom Rebecca has allowed to know the truth; they have to stick together and support each other to make it through.
Which brings us to that final scene. Randall heads back home, seemingly on a red eye directly from the hospital, and checks in on his wife and daughters. All four of them are sleeping peacefully as the sun comes through the blinds, just as it did all those mornings Rebecca held Randall in his rocking chair. The entire sequence is dream like; that strange fuzziness that comes with daybreak and jetlag. It all joins together to create what was frankly one of the most chilling moments I’ve ever seen on television; Randall coming downstairs to get water, and finding an unknown man with a knife in his kitchen. The only sound either of them make is the creak of the floor.
Colors of the Painting
- Next week launches the second trilogy in This Is Us history, and it focuses on Randall – his deepest fears and the aforementioned terrifying stranger currently standing in his kitchen. No matter who this guy is and what he wants, he’s extremely upsetting and scary – but I’m not writing off the possibility that he’s a hallucination caused by Randall’s emotional trauma.
- I’m with Janet 85% of the time this episode, but I take issue with the sentence “If he is really your choice, this dark complicated man, make sure he gives you a great love story.” Alcoholism and a fucked up childhood does not automatically equate to dark and complicated. Jack’s complex, and I’m not diminishing what the character went through, but when I think Jack Pearson the words dark and complicated are not even close to front of mind.
- Has there ever been a more apt response to meeting Randall than “nice to finally meet the man behind the 47 emails?” No. No there has not been.
- Chrissy Metz’s entire delivery of “Kev hired a matchmaker” is sublime. The subtle eyeroll! The quiet “ugh!” All perfection, all the time.
- “IT solutions wait for no man.”
- Justin Hartley continues to give one of the most underrated performances on network TV. His FACE when Lizzie comes clean was just absolutely devastating. No one else could play it with such depth and complexity.
- What are friends for if not to suggest strangling your enemies with pineapple string lights? Never change, Madison. Never ever change.
- The dress/jumpsuit situation Rebecca wore to her father’s birthday party was an absolute stunner.
- The featured John Legend song is a new stunner that debuted in this episode, called “Conversations in the Dark.” It comes complete with a lovely, tear jerking video. Enjoy.
What did you think of “Light and Shadows”? Let us know in the comments.