This Is Us Season 5, Episode 10
“I’ve Got This”
Posted by Shannon
Y’all, I am not gonna lie. This Is Us needed a shot in the arm. Don’t get me wrong, this season has been very solid – complicated, with lots of fits and starts, but well written and well constructed and occasionally really powerful – but all the best bits have been fleeting. They’ve been singular moments of release like Randall meeting Hai and learning about Laurel. They’ve been striking narrative touches like meeting the Ahmeds. But there haven’t been a lot of moments that have made me sit up and say, “oh, now THIS is an interesting place to steer the show for half a season.” Until now. You all know how I feel about Nicky Pearson, greatest of the elder Pearsons and my most beloved guest star, so obviously I’m thrilled at the prospect of finally spending more time with him. But adding in Phylicia Rashad for the foreseeable future is inspired. These two are the jolt of energy that will (hopefully) carry us through, shake things up, and set us down a more layered, generational path for the rest of the season. So let’s get into it.
Jack and Rebecca
For an hour with a whole lot of complicated dynamics, the Jack and Rebecca timeline is pretty straightforward. We’re still in early-infancy days, with sleepless nights and first bathtimes and baby balancing, when Jack is invited out to dinner with some unspecified executives at the construction agency. Miguel’s acting as his in, and he’s trying to help out his friend by potentially putting him in a space to angle for a promotion above and beyond foremanship. (“You’re a five-man” was so bad it circled back around to great.) It’s pretty standard schmoozing at said fancy dinner, with Jack telling sports stories about people I’ve never heard of (sorry if you’re a person who knows and or cares! I hope it was a good story for you!) and generally winning the respect of these nameless suit people. The last moment at the table is the one that sets up the rest of the episode, with some classic, terrible white man nonsense in the form of credit card roulette. (WHO DOES THIS!) While Miguel tries to get Jack out of it gracefully, this was a no-win, and of course Jack’s is the credit card the waitress picks to foot the $230 bill.
There are more complex explorations of money and socioeconomics later in the hour, but this single event sets us up well enough. That dinner was a parade of triggers for Jack, particularly around the memory of dinners with Rebecca’s family as compared to his own, and it’s natural that he felt like he needed to participate if he had any chance of elevating himself in the minds of these random suit men. Jack was out of place, both emotionally within himself and in the dynamics of the group, but he also had an ally with Miguel. And – as we’ll see echoed again later on – Jack’s stubbornness wouldn’t let him take that help.
At least he takes the help from Rebecca, who’s been quietly steering the Pearson family for decades with much less pomp and circumstance than what’s been awarded to Jack. It makes total sense for her to take over the finances, and it’s to Jack’s credit that he barely blinks when she asserts herself. This is the kind of quiet, uncelebrated emotional labor that keeps households functioning, and Rebecca Pearson has always delivered.
Randall and Beth
I was wondering how exactly Randall and Beth were able to fuck off for New Orleans for a stretch without any of the girls, and now we have our answer: Beth’s mother Carol came back to save the day, as only Phylicia Rashad could.
Mother / daughter relationships are complicated as hell, and while Kate and Rebecca’s has evened out, Beth and Carol still have a lot of work to do. Beth is on edge the entire time her mom’s around, feeling judged and stressed and anxious at every turn. It certainly doesn’t help that Deja, Tess, and Annie all hop to the moment Carol makes a request, while ignoring their mother. Listen, Beth is plenty authoritative in her own way, but her kids have spent the better part of a year ignoring the sound of her voice – it’s no wonder Mama C can swoop in and make the exact same demands Beth just made with greater success. But Beth just can’t see it. Especially not when Randall is spending the entire time hiding on his newly well-designed porch. (“The tension is thick, and the porch is not inside.”) Both of them are just waiting for Carol to take off, not necessarily seeing all the good she’s doing for the girls, and definitely not seeing the good it’s doing for herself. But more on that later.
In celebration of what was meant to be Carol’s big going away dinner (before she took advantage of Amtrak’s flexible change program) Beth pulled out all the stops for a fancy dinner. Malik joined in, too, but rather than hang out with Deja, he makes a beeline for Randall, insisting he has work things to talk about and brushing her under the rug. Randall’s thrilled at the opportunity to offer advice (“My daughters never come to me for advice, and I am so full of wonderful advice to share!”) and handles the shock exactly what it is Malik needs advice about with the utmost grace.
Malik and Deja are kids. It’s easy to forget, with Deja being so mature and thoughtful and Malik raising a child of his own and working as Randall’s right hand in City Hall. They’re kids with big problems – like so many teenagers. I’m grateful that Malik had someone to talk to about the quandary of Jennifer, Janelle’s mother, asking to come back into her life after granting full custody to Malik and his parents. I can’t imagine him having nowhere to go with this question, not feeling comfortable raising it with his family, knowing how against it they’ll be. But as Randall says, this isn’t simple, and every situation is different. We don’t know Jennifer, Janelle is an infant, and there are certainly many ways Randall’s advice could blow up in his face. But I have to believe he’s right. It’s what Malik wants, too. He knows the right thing to do – with caution and care – is to give Jennifer space to be with Janelle if that’s what she wants.
Back in the house, Beth has ironed the napkins and broken out the wedding china and ground the spices by hand – and absolutely no one gives a shit. Listen, I get this. We’re a year in here. Everyone is exhausted, every day is the same, and if I have to cook myself one more meal even without hand ground spices, I might just lose my mind. It’s no wonder these four teens (and one pre-teen) want no part of this awkwardly fancy experience. Everyone is over it, and no one has anything to report – even Randall, a literal city councilman, can barely string together a story about his new basil obsession. Asking everyone to put their phones in a bowl is admirable, but just getting through the damn day should be victory enough. And of course, it’s that phone bowl that causes the dinner meltdown. Not because of Randall with a city crisis, but because Malik gets a pass to check his phone in case it’s about Janelle (fair, but you shoulda seen this coming, Beth!). Naturally, that leads Tess to insist she be able to check her own phone in case Alex texts – and then the wheels come off, first when Deja catches on to Malik and Randall’s shared glances at the name “Jennifer,” and then when Tess admits to dating Alex.
I said earlier that I wished Beth could see all the good her mother is doing for her kids. She’s bonding with Annie over TV, she’s clearly got a strong bond with Tess. Hopefully she’s there for Deja, too, though we see less of that so far. But Tess, particularly, needs this energy in her life. Tess has consistently looked to adults in her family who are outside her parental units to give her support, to let her stretch her sexuality and identity, to take some of the pressure off Beth and Randall. And with Kevin across the country with twins of his own to handle, Tess has turned to Carol. It’s Carol she tells about her relationship with Alex, and Carol who can calmly correct Beth when she misgenders her daughter’s partner. (“We’ve used they singularly throughout history, really.”) Tess needs this relationship with Mama C, and it shouldn’t be seen as a threat or as a signifier that she trusts her parents any less. They’re just not who she needs right now.
Deja, though, absolutely needs Randall. And Randall ran this risk the moment he brought Malik into his office, certainly when he was taken into his daughter’s boyfriend’s confidence in such a real way. Deja wants Malik to have these opportunities, and to have the emotional outlet. But she’s justifiably freaked out that her boyfriend’s ex is about to be around a whole lot more than either of them anticipated – and she needed her dad to have that top of mind.
I loved this scene so much. I didn’t realize how much I missed the very specific bond that Randall and Deja have; we haven’t seen much of it this season, but it’s still just as strong as ever. Deja is steady, stable, and happy – and that doesn’t mean she needs him around any less. To the contrary. She needs his dedication and his love and his willingness to trash talk her boyfriend’s ex’s instagram just as much as she ever has. And I think he needed the reminder. First and always.
Which leads us to the first of my two mic drop moments in the hour. Listen, if you can get Phylicia Rashad to stick around, then you should – plot be damned. But there is absolutely storyline reasoning here, and I was THRILLED to get this development.
Beth Pearson has been focused on all the ways her mother’s presence put her on edge. She’s been (justifiably!) selfish about it, feeling every pointed look as a personal attack, feeling trapped and attacked in her own house. But she hadn’t thought about what daily life for her mother looked like before coming to watch the kids. We don’t talk enough about the ways those of us who live alone have struggled in the past year. It’s not to diminish the exhaustion of zoom school, or the tensions of never being able to get a moment’s peace under one roof with the same small unit of loved ones over and over again. No one is living it up, no one’s experience is without pain or trauma. But the pain that Carol speaks to – telling the time by the lives lived outside her window, the mundanity of a life without any possible surprises, because everything in your home is under your control – hit me hard. Carol knows she can be judgy, and she owns it, but this time has been a respite for her. She wanted to stay because of that respite, and because she thought she could be of help. And she can be. Now that Beth sees this opportunity for what it is, she jumps at it – and welcomes Carol into their home indefinitely.
Kevin, Madison, Kate and Toby
It’s here that we circle back to the Jack and Rebecca storyline and dig into a more complex socioeconomic situation than either of them could have imagined for their kids. From the start of the episode, Kate and Toby’s experience with a newborn is juxtaposed to Kevin and Madison’s. From one lens, it’s a poetic examination of the way this time is the same for every parent – chaotic moments of crying, mixed with calm opportunities to watch the TV of your choosing. (For Kevin, it’s Real Housewives of Potomac. For Toby, The Mandalorian. There are no wrong answers.) From the other, it’s a display of privilege – one house relatively tidy and supported with paid help, the other best equipped with a golf club as a rocking device to keep the baby quiet.
It doesn’t help that Toby is in the throes of zoom interviews, forcing his way through a living hell to try to get a new job before his exit package runs out. (“This is like my 30th interview with no nibbles and it’s getting kinda difficult to give my all to a computer screen.”) And in one of the cruelest possible twists, the latest interviewer tells him he’s their top candidate, letting Toby have his hopes up for a half a day before shutting it down with an email rejection. Listen, I don’t care if this guy thought he was doing the right thing. I don’t even care if, from his perspective, Toby WAS his top candidate. You just don’t do this to people, not when livelihoods are on the line. A full ass monster. Anyway!
Our dear, sweet, innocent Kevin Pearson didn’t see any of this coming. In a way, it’s a shock that he hasn’t had to face the class differences between himself and his family members before now. Kevin’s been a movie star for long enough, you would think it’d come up. But he’s always been emotionally at a different place than his siblings. He’s always seen himself as “behind” in some way, reliant on them for support, and maybe that’s what’s kept this contrast at bay. He hadn’t been in a position to offer things like family compounds in Malibu. He hadn’t had his life together enough to offer help and have it seem condescending, because presumably, before now, he was offering help from a position of emotional loss. When Kate was working for Kevin back in season one (remember THAT?) he needed her more than she needed the job. That changes the emotional tenor of the conversation. Now, when he’s practically drowning in gifts from celebrities (and their managers), at the same time that Kate and Toby are hanging on by a thread – like SO MANY families – his privilege is undeniable.
And yet, I’m more on his side than anyone else’s during this whole sushi skirmish. Maybe it is naive – okay, it definitely IS naive – but Kevin sees his extended family as his ride or die family. He doesn’t see any lines there. The idea that Kate and Toby are one family, while Kevin and Madison are another, goes against everything Kevin has ever thought or felt in his whole life. Even though he ultimately knows it to be true in some sense, he also knows it’s not the full story. This is his twin, and his brother-in-law, and he loves them both just as much as he loves anyone else with the last name Pearson. Nothing else matters. So yes, he’s clueless in his offer. Even thoughtless in the phrasing of it. But Kevin means every word of what he says. They are his family.
Which is not to say I don’t also understand where Toby is coming from. Because like all exceptionally well done television fights, everyone is right and everyone is wrong. A big crux of the problem of Toby’s character in the early days was that he didn’t see or respect the bond that Kate and Kevin have as twins. He’s come so far in that, and now his character is so rarely threatened by Kevin that I had to remind myself that this one time, it was fair enough. Toby isn’t from a family that runs this tight. He’s not used to having that offer (as clunky as it was) be made genuinely, with no strings, no guilt, no ulterior motives. And Toby’s right – he’s got a career, with twenty years experience, and he shouldn’t need to lean on anyone else to prop that up. He deserves a position that’s worthy of his experience.
Kevin can be idealistic, even naive, but he’s not dumb. My heart broke for him when he reminded Toby that he’s just barely gotten over not talking to one brother, so he couldn’t bear not speaking to another. And while Toby and Kate leave with tension still in the air, it’s not an all-out fight. Not yet. Hopefully not ever. Because when Kate realizes the lengths Rebecca went to to keep the family finances together, she starts to take charge her own self, jumping at an opportunity to teach at Jack’s music school. It’s a perfect career move for a woman whose career has, all too often, fit the plot more than her character. After all, Rebecca’s right – Kate has come up against remarkable obstacles, time and time again, and soared over them.
And then, for the second and final mic drop of the episode, just when Kevin decides he’s content enough to enjoy some quiet family time with Madison and the twins, there’s a knock at the door with a very different idea.
Nicholas Pearson. Welcome back. I missed you SO MUCH.
Colors of the Painting
- The vision of Annie and her grandma watching NCIS every night is glorious and deserves to be celebrated.
- “If this does not work out, I will be spending a lot of time with you and your basil.”
- “Isaac and I will be happy for the company.”
- Phylicia Rashad’s delivery of “bellowing about his basil” has stuck with me ALL WEEK. What a fucking legend.
- “I will always one million percent be on your side.”
- “That’s not statistically possible, but thank you.”
- If season five only featured John Prine songs, I’d be good with it. This gem opens up the hour and it’s a classic:
Are you excited about the prospect of Mama C and Nicky sticking around for a while? Let us know in the comments.