This Is Us Season 5, Episode 8
“In the Room”
Posted by Shannon
The more I think about what This Is Us did this week, the more I love it. The more I’m struck and moved by it. The more I find within it. And after days of ruminating and re-watching, I feel very comfortable saying this: finding and introducing us to Nasir Ahmed and Esther Pariente-Ahmed is objectively my favorite thing this show has ever done.
We didn’t know who this mystery couple would be for most of the episode. All we knew for sure was that Esther, a student from Argentina, and Nasir, a student from India, met outside of an international college kid mixer in New Mexico in 1963 and fell in love. We knew he had his nose in books, but that when he pulled himself out of them he was passionate about his profession. We knew Esther was outspoken and open and more than willing to call her husband out on his shit while also forcing him to voice precisely why his work was so important. We tried to figure out how they might fit into the narrative of the Pearson’s, because that’s what we’ve been trained to do. And then, after an hour of seeing the Pearson clan do exactly what so many of us have had to do for nearly a year – mark seismic shifts in our lives and in the lives of our most precious loved ones from the other side of a computer screen – we learn what exactly it was Nasir Ahmed was doing. He was making this technology we’re all relying on possible.
If you’re anything like me, you’re pretty damn tired of zooms. Of not being able to be in the room – in any room. But goddamn if it isn’t better than nothing. Goddamn if it isn’t a miracle in and of itself, and one that many of us have taken for granted. The fact that we can spend a weekend reuniting with loved ones from across the world on a video call, that those of us who are able to work remotely can call in and keep doing our jobs, that we can be there for a friend in crisis even if we can’t get on a plane, is all thanks to Nasir and Esther. None of us knew their names. And now I, for one, will never forget them.
Rebecca Pearson has lived so much life in this cabin. All of them have, but something about seeing Rebecca with both Jack and Miguel at very different moments in her life, remembering her history and making a new one simultaneously, hit differently in this episode.
First, there’s the romantic cabin getaway she talks Jack into when the kids are just irritated teenagers who have no interest in a trip with their folks. It’s a quiet weekend, one of a hundred like it, that strikes closer to the heart knowing that Jack’s time would end within the decade. His characterization leans into this knowledge just a bit too much; it works, ultimately, for Jack to opine about his teens not wanting to hang out with him anymore, because he has always been this sentimental, and because we (mostly) love him for it. But it’s at Rebecca’s expense, and that piece doesn’t work quite as well. I winced when Jack told Rebecca he was upset because she’d been “ripping on the kids all day.” In light of last week’s episode, and the impossible bar Jack Pearson set for everyone in his family, it even felt a little cruel. Rebecca’s allowed to be frustrated by her kids, by Kevin and Randall constantly bickering and Kate reciting plots of 90210. They’re teenagers. They’re supposed to annoy their parents, and their parents are supposed to annoy them, and each side gets to bitch about the other with their compatriots as long as they keep it respectful and relatively chill. Them’s the rules.
I know I’ve been hard on Jack lately. I do. I can’t tell if it’s something in his portrayal this season, or something in the way the other characters are finally coming to grips with the imperfections of their patriarch – beyond the ones that were out of his control. But for this hour especially, comparing himself and Rebecca to their parents – their emotionally and, in Jack’s case, physically abusive parents – defies logic. It comes out of nowhere and is completely unfair to both of them. Rebecca is so shaken she starts blow-drying the kid’s art projects; which at least, is pretty true to form. As is the subsequent lovely painting metaphor, which recognizes that the structure of the family will continue to change. They’ll grow and shift and move. But the core of them all will remain, scars and all.
Decades later, in that same cabin with Miguel, juggling phone calls, text messages and facetimes, Rebecca can’t tear her eyes away from that painting. And again – it’s down to the impossible standard Jack’s set for his family. Rebecca is doing all she possibly can for her kids. She and Miguel booked Kevin’s flight home remotely, for fucks’s sake. And with two separate births happening at once, it’s not like she could stay on the phone with one of her children for the whole venture. There’s nothing more that Rebecca could possibly be doing other than playing Battleship and keeping her eyes on her phone and drinking Miguel’s questionable anisette cocktail. I hate that she can’t give herself a break.
Speaking of Miguel, he handles this whole situation with grace and humor and exactly the right touch. Miguel has an impossible balancing act to strike, on this and basically every other Pearson family occasion. It’s been touched on before, and because of those implications my assumption was always that he and Rebecca had talked through the delicacies of their relationship in the early days of their reconnection. To some extent, they MUST have. But Rebecca implies differently here: “we never talk about this… how you have to bear Jack’s death differently, for yourself, and for me, and our marriage.” Between that aside and the realization that we know very little about Rebecca and Miguel’s courtship (tell me more about this honeymoon in Puerto Rico?!) I’m betting the two of them will be a focus either later this season or early next. And honestly, it’s overdue. Until then, though, Miguel’s with Rebecca at every step – and for every single video call.
Madison, Kevin and Randall
This is the part of the episode that picks right up where the previous left off – with Randall and Beth in the car, video calling Madison, who’s alone in the hospital while Kevin tries his damndest to get back to LA. It’s been an hour or two, tops, since we last saw these three but something about the dynamic still feels different. There’s a point in relationships where you really click into the fact that there’s no going back and that these people will be in your life forever. Sometimes, you don’t see it until after it’s happened, but it’s undeniable and so, so special. Madison knows in her heart that, no matter how many times she tells Randall and Beth they can hang up, they won’t. Randall’s going to stay right there waiting for the arrival of these “unfairly gorgeous babies,” no matter what.
And there’s no one better to talk Madison through all this! There really isn’t. As frustrated as I was by Madison’s reticence to call Kate – and as much as I WISH all these people had more friends – Randall is the best and most calming force available. He’s got just the right amount of distance, he’s in a good place himself, he’s been through it all before anyway; and Beth is there to divert him from his single misstep. (No one wants to hear your city council stories right now, Randall, I promise.) Bringing out a ridiculous story about Kevin as a teen, drunkenly singing “MMM-Bop” whilst dancing naked on his bed and insisting the brothers start up a band, was just right. And it gets us to the best possible moment for Kevin’s grand entrance.
Of course he made it, folks. Of course he did. I’m still pretty eye-rollie at the hard time he gave the TSA agent last week, but I did appreciate the show specifying that he had to plead his case to the head of security. And honestly, maybe even more than him being there for Madison, I’m moved by the fact that he got to see exactly how much Randall has his family’s back. Just like that ephemeral moment when you realize someone will be a part of your life forever, there’s that moment when a fight – even a horrific one like Randall and Kevin’s – just doesn’t matter anymore. For Randall to be basically hung up on when he calls to make amends, and to respond to that by calling Madison so he can support both her and Kevin, and for Kevin to SEE that with his own eyes? It’s an automatic reset. They can handle just about anything from there. Thank god.
They still have a lot to move through. There’s so much emotional and mental space to cover, and it will be hard and complicated and touchy. And I sincerely hope that the show doesn’t shy away from Kevin coming to terms with Randall’s experience as a Black man in this family. It’s pivotal to see that dialogue, particularly given how close Kevin and Tess are. It may take time, and it may be hard. But they can do it. And they need to.
Kate and Toby
In (presumably) another hospital in another part of town, Kate and Ellie have hunkered down to wait for Ellie to be induced. It’s already been “a breezy eight hours,” with very little to keep either of them busy except to clarify and re-clarify for all the nurse shifts that Ellie doesn’t want to hold the baby and that Kate is the mom. (“I’m just a temporary landlord with an eviction notice.”) Listen I know I was literally JUST yelling that I want all these people to have more friends. And I do! I do. Under different circumstances, Kate and Ellie could be wonderful friends for each other. Maybe – if they’re both comfortable – they still will be. But this whole sequence is tough and hard and complicated! Ellie has had Kate’s back through this entire process, and Kate Ellie’s, but there are still moments when they cannot give the other what they might need. (Remember Kate dropping a name in an ultrasound way, way too early?) When the moment comes and the baby arrives, Ellie changes her mind and asks to hold her. And then asks for a moment alone. Yes, it’s hard. Yes, Kate’s scared. But under different circumstances, I don’t know that Kate would have even been the one in the room to SEE that quick change of heart.
What follows is a whole lot of big speeches for a tiny baby. Ellie tells her face to face that this is the best decision she could be making, and says her goodbyes. Kate’s waiting in the next room to be there when she’s ready to give her own welcome to the world. And to tell the baby her name.
Which brings us back around to the parking lot, where Toby’s been anxiously awaiting individualized news of the birth and trying to figure out middle names; in exchange for his exile out of the hospital, Kate’s left her veto power at the door. (Highlights from the list include Rhonda, Maxine, Roxy, Foggy and – of course – Fogelman. Weird flex, my friend.) Because we’re living in a hellscape, Toby’s not the only one hanging out in the parking lot waiting for news. He’d originally been parked – and settled in very nicely, I might add – at spot 157, which belongs to a scared, cranky older gentleman who insists he move immediately.
This was one of those things I really should have seen coming, but still took my breath away a little when it happened. Toby packs up and moves because the man is waiting for news on his wife, who’s on a ventilator with COVID, who has refused to let him come up lest he get sick himself, and who’s lucky number is 157. It’s just fucking brutal. And it’s happening every day. And it has been for almost a year.
It’s become overused, that old Mr. Rogers quote to look for helpers in a crisis. Because we’ve had so many crises, so many horrific moments of human suffering, that we have to keep telling each other over and over again to find hope in each other. But we HAVE to keep doing it. We have to hold to the kindness in each other, keep supporting each other and giving each other grace. If all we have is two scared, anxious men in a parking lot, telling each other stories about their partners and learning about the Austrian New Year pig obsession (can confirm, btw) and getting each other through, then that’s something. That’s beautiful.
Because of Nasir Ahmed, Toby can meet his new daughter Hailey Rose Damon in the parking lot. Hailey can meet Nick and Frankie and form the newborn Big Three. Our Big Three can call each other and hold up phones in their babies faces and make Nick Cage jokes. Rebecca can see her new grandchildren from a cabin across the country. The connective tissue of our emotional lives can bear this out. We can be there for each other. Because of Nasir Ahmed.
Colors of the Painting
- It is a special kind of hell when you’re on a road trip and the fast food joint of your choosing forgets the special sauce. I see you, Beth Pearson.
- “A cocktail might save my life.”
“How would a cocktail really compare to Girl Talk, a game of truth or dare?”
“Or your life, a cocktail might save your life.
- I don’t know when Randall decided to start calling Madison M-Cat but I really hope it sticks.
- John Martyn’s cover of Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright” was tailor made for This Is Us and frankly, I’m surprised they haven’t used it before now.
- What, did you think I wasn’t going to talk about Kevin Pearson naming his son after Nicky?! My very favorite elder Pearson getting his own namesake was a MOMENT, folks. It’s so perfect. Kevin is Nicky’s favorite, and given everything that Kevin’s had to endure – and everything Nicky’s had to survive – that means so fucking much for both of them. Plus it gives us this beautiful moment from Griffin Dunn, who I have SORELY missed this year. Bring him back to me now, please.
- Langhorne Slim & Jill Andrews stunning track “Sea of Love” is the backing to that birth montage. I leave you with their equally stunning music video.
Were you excited to meet the new Big Three? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.