This Is Us Season 5, Episode 9
Posted by Shannon
We’ve had an episode revolve around big moments in family cars before, all the way back in season two. Early 2018 feels like a lifetime ago for a whole bunch of real world reasons, but the landscape of This Is Us was equally removed from where we are now. “Twists” were the traditional move for the show, with diminishing returns, and the audience couldn’t really settle into the characters or their connections to each other. Jack Pearson had just died in the house fire. Nicky Pearson was a non-entity. We were still a few episodes away from the first flash forward. Kevin was in the throes of an opioid addiction. The Pearsons we find in “The Ride” are scattered around the timeline from “The Car,” and still, the characterization for each of them is true to form – and true to where they are in their own timelines. Thinking about those two episodes in tandem, I was struck by how much more self-assured the show feels now. How consistent, and relaxed the narrative is in its own style. The tension and character growth is still there, but with only a season and a half left in the plot, This Is Us is a stronger show for the confidence it has in its unique style. Let’s hope it can carry us home.
Jack and Rebecca
It’s been a long time since we’ve seen Jack and Rebecca at this stage of their lives. We’re talking very early days, just after the Big Three formed, and probably not even a week since they lost Kyle. This whole storyline felt like a bit of a raw nerve; Jack’s all bravado all the time about setting up the car seats, while Rebecca’s anxious, vulnerable and very concerned that she can’t turn from the front seat to check on the babies.
I’ve been speaking to this in the last few recaps, but I do want to really pause and underline the shift. Something has fundamentally changed with the way I experience Jack Pearson. It might not have come from a specific moment or plot but the switch is undeniable: it’s almost impossible for me to buy into Jack’s sincerity. His Big Speeches don’t have the same ring, his harder edges are impossible to ignore. The more we learn about him, the more we see of his every day behavior, Jack as a character has reformed into something less inspiring and more insipid.
Sure, everything about his behavior this hour is in character and has a fair, reasonable, emotional explanation. His outburst at the reckless driver who cut him off was extreme, but true to form. (And that guy was truly driving like a maniac!) His decision to gulp down a tiny bottle of whiskey to settle his nerves, and ask Rebecca to drive herself home, is a combination of addiction and very real baggage his father hoisted upon him. But Jack is also flat-out condescending to Rebecca in that car ride home. And he’s dismissive of her anxiety around the babies’ health and safety, which COULD be his own defense mechanism at losing Kyle, but frankly, comes off as callous. It’s a lot of sound and fury coming from Jack Pearson these days, and it’s getting harder and harder to accept at face value. Which made Rebecca comforting Jack while they wait in the driveway particularly tiresome.
Rebecca is so scared. She’s terrified of the memories flooding back to her of her mother’s depression after miscarrying – and we know from previous episodes that these two are about to spend the majority of the Big Three’s first year decidedly not talking about this loss. That trauma carries differently in Rebecca, as do the societal expectations. It’s not that Jack can’t be scared; he has just as much a right. But he pushes that fear out to Rebecca in ways she never pushes back to him. The world will be harsher on the implications of Rebecca’s mental health and its relationship to her parenting abilities than it will be on Jack’s. That’s just a fact. And I hate to see the characters – and the show – give Jack’s anxieties more air than her own.
Randall and Beth
At least one of Randall’s daughters was born as planned! After the emergency of Tess’s home birth, Beth gets to have Annie in relative ease. And what a baby Annie is. Everyone is obsessed with this child and her quiet, calm demeanor. It’s a vibe that’s reflected in her parents; Beth and Randall have this shit down to a science. From the car seat to the baby supplies, these two are operating at peak parental capacity. So naturally, as he takes Beth for her celebratory Snickers Blizzard, Randall starts daydreaming about having a third.
My dear sweet Randall Pearson. This is not the time. It’s so true to character for Randall to not be able to stop himself, for him to grab at the idea of growing his family now that he and Beth seemingly have it all under control. (And I suspect part of him always wanted three because of his own upbringing.) But it’s the assumption that Beth would go along with his push to “go for a boy” that really (and understandably!) irks her.
Of all the big speeches delivered to tiny babies in This Is Us lately, Randall’s monologue to Annie is my favorite. Because this is the monologue that’s felt most directly connected to the baby hearing it. Randall is actually engaging with Annie and the life she’ll live. He’s talking about her newborn identity and her role in his life, and what that will mean to both of them. He’s celebrating that she has his eyes and he’s speaking honestly about why that matters so much to him. He’s honoring what she and Tess (and later Deja) have given him – a tree of his own – while raising up the vitality of his parents and his siblings. Randall never diminishes them as a lesser family now that he shares genetics with some of his children. He does acknowledge the difference in what it means to his experience, but when he talks about the generations that will come after him, he’s coming from a place of familial inclusivity.
And that future generation is on its way.
Kevin and Madison
I have had Madison’s back since the beginning. I love this girl; I loved her when she was exclusively fluffy and cheerful, I loved her when she was Kate’s dedicated, loyal friend, and I sure as hell love her when she’s comparing her children to velociraptors and deftly handling paparazzi within the same hour. Madison is competent and sharp and level headed and used to handling shit on her own. I obviously love Kevin too – for so many reasons and in so many ways. But his ability to stay level headed and cool in a crisis is not on the list.
And really, who can blame the man? I’d have lost my ability to stay level headed too, if I had to juggle insensitive passersby taking my picture without consent and fully evil paparazzi following my car with two tiny newborns, days after witnessing a burning vehicle. It’s no wonder the man can’t sleep, that he’s too discombobulated and anxious to keep his head on straight. Given all of that, Kevin flying off the handle was way more permissible to me than Jack’s. And, again I say, it helps that Madison was there to be competent and sharp and level headed.
Kevin was set up for a crash after all this. Again, think about everything he’s been through in the last two weeks – from his movie work to the race home to the early birth of his twin children to immediately being put on display. The man is under a microscope 24/7, and in crisis situation after crisis situation. He needs actual rest, not just a fifteen minute car nap.
But, that very same fifteen minute car nap gives us a beautiful narrative moment. After drifting off in the car ride home, Kevin dreams that Jack has comforted his gently crying twins and put them back to bed. Some of the issues I’ve had with Jack lately melted away for the length of this dream. (Unfortunately, some still lingered: just because you want something, doesn’t mean you give up your right to say it’s hard!) Most notably though, it gave Jack the opportunity to take himself off the pedestal upon which Kevin has insisted he reside. Jack’s right – they’ve both “wasted a lot of time being quietly terrified.” This paternal fear is a cycle. Whether it’s fear of making the same mistakes, or a dedication to making the very opposite ones – it does the same damage and holds the same hostages. Kevin needed to at least start to release this expectation. And I, for one, needed to hear Jack say he understands it wasn’t a healthy way to parent. Plus he prompted this.
This proposal had everything it needed. It felt cozy, lived in, honest, and true. It was a beautiful moment of dedication from Kevin, and it’s what Madison deserved. I love both these kids, and I love them together.
Kate and Toby
Our fourth and final infant car ride home finds Kate, Toby and Ellie navigating newfound tensions with baby Hailey in tow. It’s not all sadness and strain; Ellie gets in a fantastic crack about sneaking in “Zuh Comet ” as Hailey’s middle name, and Toby’s airport style intro sign was perfection. But where we really get into trouble is Kate’s refusal to take her own advice. She KNOWS Ellie is in a really complex mourning period right now; she’s the only one who’s witnessed the shift. Kate clearly sees it happening and tracks Ellie’s potential change of heart well enough to warn Toby about it. But with her own mental state all over the place, and a healthy dose of anxiety around losing her friend, Kate just can’t keep her nerves in check. She pokes and prods about a million different future plans, finally prompting Ellie to snap and say what she’s likely been considering since she was at the hospital: she doesn’t want an open adoption after all. It’s too painful – for now, at least – for her to be involved.
friendship, but she’s just spent the last few years finally, deeply understanding all the pain that Randall’s personal experience with adoption put him through. Obviously, being a transracial adoptee brought additional weight and complexity to Randall’s experience. But Kate’s attuned to a very real pain that Randall felt around his unknown origins, and the last thing she wanted was to set up another child for that kind of hurt.
And yet, Toby’s right. The crux of the difference is that they will always give Hailey a full scope of what they know, and share the information as appropriate – not hide away poetry or pretend not to know her birth family. Plus, it means this tiny baby is going to have an uncle who knows exactly how she’s feeling in a whole bunch of ways. As much as Kate was indeed “flapped” this hour, she pulls it together real fast. And she takes the news of Toby’s layoff in stride. I, for one, am nervous about what this could mean on a whole bunch of levels – not the least of which is Toby’s mental health during times of crisis. But for now, they’ve got each other’s backs. All four of them.
Colors of the Painting
- The casting department so outdid themselves with adult Deja that I knew it was her from the moment we laid eyes on her. Same with adult Annie, honestly.
- There’s been a lot of hoopla about who might be in the white car at the end of the episode. Kate’s the most notable outlier for the future timeline, but Miguel’s also a question mark, along with Kate and Toby’s kids. However, from the quick view of Kevin’s son we’ve already had, we’re not far enough into the future for Jack Damon to be the same age as when we met him giving concerts and being a pop star – especially not with Hailey the same age as Frannie and Nick. What I’m saying is, these children cannot drive themselves, so it’s gotta be at LEAST Kate or Miguel.
- “This is why sometimes Jordan had to do it all by his damn self.”
- Not gonna lie, I would kill for a Dairy Queen blizzard right about now.
- “Aggro Liam Neeson Movie Kevin is not you ast your best.”
- Upon filming of this episode, Mandy Moore herself was EXTREMELY pregnant. She’s said that made the episode more poignant for her, and it certainly comes through in her performance.
- “She looks like she could start laughing or crying at any moment. That is all you, baby.”
- I was never much of a Bread fan, but Rebecca’s right; this song is perfect for the final moments of the hour. Enjoy.
- Last but not least, a HUGE congratulations to our own Jon Huertas, also known as Miguel, for his directorial debut!
What are your thoughts on “The Ride”? Let us know in the comments.