This IS Us Season 5, Episode 15
Posted by Shannon
Please humour me, folks, as I get a little meta and more than a little emo right up top. As I sat down to start on this recap, I realized that this was the first big, momentous Pearson family gathering we’ve had all season. I planned to write something about how the season has been remarkably coherent, given all the fits and starts and production delays, but that somehow the one thing they hadn’t yet done was give us a big family gathering. I remembered that there was no Thanksgiving episode, no birthday celebration. The birth of the New Big Three came close, but that was all delivered through screens and parking lots and solitude. So this episode, and the finale to follow, marked the first time all season we had more than a few Pearsons in one place at the same time. And I thought I’d write something simple, about how good it is to see them all together again, and what a relief it is that the production’s safety and vaccine rollouts means we can get back to these big Pearson parties again. Which is when it hit me.
For the last 14 months, whether they meant to or not, This Is Us has tracked the mood of this pandemic to a tee. From the unintentionally bittersweet New York centric episodes that closed out last season, to the tumultuous beginning in September, to the Black family members struggling to get their stories told, to now. It hasn’t been perfect. Sometimes it’s been too close to home, and sometimes it’s been too superficial, but they’ve done it. We’ve done it. And now, as things start to open up and families are reunited safely face to face, we can start to get back to some semblance of celebration. To bachelor and bachelorette parties. To weddings and movie theaters and marking time together. It’s bound to be a little rocky, this re-entry. It is for our Pearson clan, too. But just as we have been for the last year and change, we’re all in it together.
Our one non-wedding-related entry of the hour comes during one of the first summer breaks after Jack’s death, when Rebecca takes all the kids and their respective partners to the cabin for a little getaway. It acts as a backbone to the present day plot in two important ways: showcasing Beth and Rebecca’s decades-long relationship, and underlining the youthful, doomed marriage of Kevin and Sophie. Let’s start with the former.
Considering we’ve known Sophie for quite some time now, it’s interesting to note that we still don’t totally know how their marriage fell apart – or when. (Part of that may be logistical, as we wait for the kids in that age group to grow up just a little bit more before going into that particular storyline.) Still, we certainly have enough to go on, and their scenes in this hour reiterate those assumptions. Kevin is consistently cavalier about their time away, dismissing what was clearly a really hard time for Sophie, and choosing the cabin as the time and place to tell her that a singular pilot season was just the beginning of their long distance marriage. And this, kids, is why youthful marriages rarely work out. Kevin has every right to go where his career takes him right now, and to make that his priority – as does Sophie – but they came together so early that their priorities are taking them in opposite directions, and neither of them is quite mature enough to be able to articulate that challenge clearly. Instead, we get questions like “how is this marriage gonna work?” and answers no deeper than “I don’t know, Soph, it just will.” It’s no wonder Sophie needs a break from that, and she takes off upstairs, followed swiftly by Kate.
Meanwhile, Beth and Randall are preparing for their own few weeks apart, albeit in a much less dramatic fashion. Beth’s got a fantastic internship opportunity for her first semester, at an urban planning firm in Boston. Randall’s planning out meeting points and scheduling reunion weekends to alleviate long distance concerns of their own, but that’s not really what’s bothering Beth. It’s fear around the job itself that has her worried.
It’s a pity that Beth and Kevin took so long to find their own friend rhythm, because I was struck by how much the two of them are both faced with the same issues right now. Their first dreams deferred (dance for Beth, football for Kevin), surrounded in trauma and sadness and failure, leading them to throw themselves into a new dream with varying degrees of excitement. Kevin is clearly using acting as a way to hide from and process his grief, but Beth is frozen by the loss of her first professional love. (“I’m just not sure how much more failure I can take, you know?”) Rebecca is there to pick Beth back up, offering the pivotal voice of an adult who’s close enough to care deeply, but not too directly involved to be taken seriously. It’s exactly what both of them need at that moment.
While Sophie and Kate are upstairs and Beth and Rebecca sit in the kitchen, Kevin and Randall distract themselves with a movie their father loved – Jerry Maguire. Full disclosure time, folks: I have never seen Jerry Maguire. I know, I know. But for the purposes of this recap, I bring that up to say that I’m not exactly the most equipped to discuss all the ways Kevin does or does not mirror Jerry himself. But I do know that it’s a movie his dad loved. I know that he’s seeing himself reflected in that character, even at 19. (“Jerry Maguire’s the kind of guy who decides what he wants and he goes for it.”) And that viewing experience prompts Kevin to give a much better answer than “I don’t know, we just will” to Sophie, inspiring him to write a mission statement of his own, elaborating on their future together. It’s lots of dancing to the piano players at Italian restaurants and dreams fulfilled and happy endings. And it’s sweet, and it’s naive, and it’s not their future together. At least, not yet.
The Bachelorette Party
The last bachelorette party we had on This Is Us was all the way back in season two, when Madison arranged Kate’s Vegas extravaganza (and Toby’s, but more on that later). It was the flip side of a classic bachelorette party coin, leaning into the party vibe and going all-out, without the attendance of the mother in law to be. But now, in pandemic days, with everyone a few years older and with several more children in the picture, Madison herself has opted for a quiet celebration. None of her non-Pearson friends can (or would) fly out early, so it’s a family affair at Madison and Kevin’s house, with a few chill-but-21+ surprises arranged by Kate.
I am extremely charmed by the idea that Kate found a “Picasso and Prosecco” service to send over a handsome man for the women to paint in the nude, and I am even more charmed by the fact that the designated life model dated Madison. (“If I was a betting woman I’d say Madison has a history with the stripper.”) It’s equal parts awkward and sweet and ill-advised, and it’s exactly the right level of drama to keep things interesting. Plus it gives us the extremely cathartic moment when Madison outs the guy as a ghoster, leaving Rebecca to throw out “you’re horrible, Joe!” with a glass of prosecco in one hand and a paintbrush in the other. May we all be so lucky, honestly.
All that said, it’s also the first moment of a crack in the veneer with Madison and Kevin’s relationship, as Madison gives voice to her deeply held fear that it “took an accidental pregnancy” for Kevin to actually engage with her in any real way after they slept together. As Madison shared that while Kevin wasn’t “being a ghost to me,” he WAS pretty cold, distant, and overly polite, my own concerns took hold. Madison’s fears are absolutely valid and understandable, and the rest of the Pearson women settle her cold feet with sensitivity and consideration. But I’m seriously conflicted here. On the one hand, I’m team Kevin and Madison all the way. I think they’re genuinely good together. I think they bring out the best in each other, and that they’re great partners, and that their love will only grow over time. But I also have to admit that they might just not be ready. These two have come together in the upheaval of an unexpected pregnancy, TWINS, and a global pandemic. They’re still getting to know each other. And maybe – MAYBE – they’re not ready. Madison’s fears around Kevin’s commitment, as solid and reasonable as they are, should be addressed before they walk down the aisle together. She deserves that certainty.
And she doesn’t exactly find it in the newlywed game Kate set up. It’s a sweet arrangement, with Nicky reading out the questions and Kate pausing and playing the video, but there are a few moments of concern even before Madison plays and re-plays his pause at being asked about their future. Notably, those moments came not from Madison, but from Kate.
It’s been a long time since we’ve had a good Kate and Kevin twin scene. They shared a few moments in the kitchen after Toby’s freakout, but other than that, these two haven’t really dug in with each other in ages. But that doesn’t mean their bond has evaporated or lessened in any way. Kate knows her brother, and she knows her best friend, and she’s been down this road before. Don’t forget, Kate and Sophie were friends before Sophie and Kevin started dating. This is a pattern with Kate’s very few female friends. And the show has never explored the ways Sophie and Kate’s friendship evolved (or de-volved) during her and Kevin’s relationship. Watching Kate watch her brother think about his future with Madison, and watching her remember his mission statement to Sophie decades earlier, I was struck with the sadness that must linger in her own experience right now.
On some fundamental level, Kate must be concerned that her and Madison’s friendship would evaporate in the same way her and Sophie’s presumably did. And that must be TERRIFYING. I wish, too, that we got that kind of deep dive into Kate’s emotional life. It’s the kind of thing I have a hard time thinking would go unspoken with Randall or Kevin. I hate that I’m left to parse this out with looks and implications. But the looks and implications ARE there, and it leads Kate to ask Madison herself later on if she’s truly happy, and if she’s truly in love. And she is – Madison answers that she’s amazed and touched by the ways Kevin has shown up, and that she’s very much in love with him. But Kate still seems cautious – and later that night, Madison seems to have doubts herself.
I don’t know, folks. I hate the idea that we’re seeding a possible non-wedding next week. I’m conflicted and I’m not even sure what I want to have happen. But at least Madison’s fears aren’t hers alone.
The Bachelor Party
One private jet trip and a ton of fly fishing supplies later, and Kevin’s bachelor party is off and running. Just like Madison, his plan is a quiet one – a far cry from Toby’s own Vegas celebrations back in the day. These are chill, sentimental men, and they have chill, sentimental plans.
Most of them have notable concerns before taking off, moreso than their bachelorette counterparts. Miguel is extremely anxious at leaving Rebecca for the first time in over a year. Toby’s still in the midst of an extended breakdown. And Kevin himself fields a call from Sophie the day before he leaves. Sophie, who recently changed her number because of some unknown “long story” (which cannot possibly be good and, considering the fact that she’s no longer wearing a wedding ring, may be divorce related) and saw the photos of Kevin and Madison on a magazine cover. These two have been on good enough terms for Sophie’s call to be innocent. She’s known Kevin for most of her life, and whether or not she really was betting on leaving a voicemail, it probably would have felt too strange for her not to call and congratulate him. But also… if he’d done the same, it would have been seen as a gesture of unknown motivations. I think the same can be said here. She clearly is going through something, and she clearly wants to take solace of some kind with Kevin, and that’s fair enough – but it’s right on the line.
The moment everyone arrives at the cabin, the skies open up, leaving them with nothing to do but watch old VHS tapes. (As Nicky says, “This is why you should always bring a puzzle!”) Naturally, they pick Jerry Maguire, and naturally, it’s just as seismic for Kevin now as it was when he was a teenager. But that’s thanks, this time, to his uncle being a bit of a thoughtless dick and suggesting that Kevin’s only marrying Madison because of the kids. I was glad to see Kevin stand up for himself here, and glad to see his continued willingness to call Nicky out when he’s being callous. Still, he goes in a little too hard, and it’s Randall who reminds his brother to take a breath.
It’s a little overtly perfect for Kevin to find his mission statement in this precise moment, but the find prompts him to open up to Randall about his nerves. (And how great is it to see these two, back to their usual, open hearted selves? So great.) Randall’s got the temperature of the situation immediately, and he takes advantage of Nicky’s “caveman-esque peace offering” to get all the guys together around the fire to talk about their feelings.
I am so endeared by this. I am so endeared by the fact that these men all trust each other and trust themselves enough to go in for a campfire round-robin and share their respective emotional issues. Because each of them need it! And they have for a long time. Toby finally opens up for real about just how awful his emotional state has been, sighing about how badly he needs a job and how detrimental this whole thing has been for his well being and sense of self. And, in an unnerving plot development that is likely setting us up for season six, he also drops the fact that he’s had one successful job prospect – in San Francisco. (Yikes.)
Nicky opens up too, explaining that Sally was his one romantic prospect and that aside from his relationship with her in his 20’s, he’s been alone. (“No second chances. No happy endings. I lost the girl, roll credits.”) Romantic anythings put him in a bad mood, and with the kind of self awareness only he could have after decades of solitude, he apologizes for acting out against Kevin in his own anger. Which leads us to the crux of the whole damn thing.
As Kevin starts to share about his love of Madison and his doubts about the way they got together, the only possible person at that campfire who could speak to the moment pipes up. Miguel, the second husband, who married his best friend’s widow, and lives in the face of a romance that was written in the stars every day of his life. Miguel’s thesis is a beautiful one, and one I think the entire show could take a note from: “Yes, there are some love stories that are written in the stars. There are other love stories that are written together… Two people the universe had no plans for, writing their story in the stars together. And that’s pretty fantastic, too.”
The parallels are obvious, but no less impactful. The show has set itself up to make a choice in the form of Kevin Pearson. They can double down and throw their weight behind a love written in the stars – presumably, Kevin and Sophie – or they can pivot and celebrate a different kind of love, of dedication and happenstance with Kevin and Madison. Kevin deleting Sophie’s number at the end of the episode implies the latter, but Madison’s anxieties suggest the former. It’s up in the air – and it’s all coming down to the finale.
Colors of the Painting
- A word for Beth’s absolutely fire bachelorette jumpsuit. This woman’s outfits are flawless.
- “That movie star brother of yours… all that fame, all those abs.”
- Oookay. Nicky googling Sally Brooks was sweet – it’s good to see him trying for some semblance of human connection – but Sally Brooks isn’t exactly a unique name, and getting a real hit would be a bridge too far plot-wise. Also, can Nicky get a romance going with someone NEW? Some lovely age-appropriate woman at his support group or something? This show has a real crutch with long lost loves and it’s more than a little lazy.
- “Your brother had, like, a spiritual experience watching Jerry Maguire.”
- I got my whole life with Mandy Moore’s delivery of “the latter” when Joe the Painting Stripper asked if they’d rather paint him in briefs or in the nude. Bless.
- “Jerry 2.0” was directed by none other than our own Milo Ventimiglia! It wasn’t his first foray into directing This Is Us (that came last season, with “Storybook Love”) but it’s a job very well done. Fingers crossed for a third entry in season six!
- “Good news, Rebecca’s fine, she’s just painting a naked man with the rest of the wives.”
- While Kate and Madison were Newlyweds-Game-ing, Rebecca and Beth had their own heart to heart around Beth’s career prospects. It was a beautiful, thoughtful scene, mirroring their conversation at the cabin when Beth was a teenager, and again – it gave both of them exactly what they needed.
- These two tho.
Will Kevin and Madison make it down the aisle? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.