This Is Us Season 6, Episode 5
“Heart and Soul”
Posted by Shannon
Here’s the thing about serious personal growth: it’s all fits and starts. It’s not that people can’t change, or can’t evolve, or can’t push themselves. We can and we do, every day. But it never happens all at once. It’s two steps forward and one step back. It’s a constant juggling of deep seeded emotional instincts mixing with our current nature. And as Rebecca says late in this hour, a lot of it is about timing. “Heart and Soul” balances all of this at once, navigating significant personal growth for many of our Pearsons along with the intrinsic struggle they carry right alongside that push to change. So many of these storylines are about standing on a precipice of some kind, and as we take one of our only pauses of the season, it’s an interesting moment to examine the chess pieces before they make the next big move. Several of these stories could go any which way. It’ll be, among other things, a matter of timing.
It’s an interesting result of the show’s format that, having spent so much time working through how Rebecca mourned and knowing that she’d remarry happily, we haven’t spent much time at all discussing HOW she began to move on. Rebecca’s first, tentative steps back out into the world of social engagement have mostly involved platonic nights with Miguel and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, plus once-monthly margaritas with work friends. Teen Kate has some points; it’s a sad state of affairs. So Miguel’s gentle push out the door comes just in time. Kind of.
In today’s hellscape of a dating scene, it’s almost sweet to remember when things like speed dating required an explanation. (“Fifteen dates? That is WAY worse than one.”) And Rebecca and Miguel both branching out together is a great plan on its face; it’d be too much for Rebecca to go alone. However. It’s clear that Miguel is already – consciously or unconsciously – starting to catch feelings. It may just be some strange mix of mourning and a sense of misapplied responsibility and a bit of When Harry Met Sally-esque male/female friendship challenges, and Miguel’s not crossing a line per se – but something inside him must know that he’s feeling a pull towards Rebecca, even this early on. As the episode wore on, I couldn’t help but find myself questioning his intentions at this invitation. It’s not that I think he was planning, or even hoping for, the night to end up as an excuse for them to go out after their respective fifteen dates were inevitably a bust. I really don’t. But I do question his subconscious motivations.
Before we get to the era of Rebecca and Miguel 2.0, Rebecca has countless layers of growth to push her way through. The parade of terrible speed dates that come before the arrival of Matt Dixon, Best Buy PTA Dad of yore, are evidence of that. Rebecca doesn’t owe anyone a socially acceptable, succinct way to discuss Jack’s death; still, she does have to figure out a way that lets HER be comfortable discussing it. (That said, Mandy Moore’s delivery of that whole supercut was magnificent and funny and heartbreaking all at once. She is truly nailing it this season!) Because Matt knows the whole story already, the barrier to entry is much lower – and now that another year or so has passed, Rebecca’s in a much better place to consider coffee dates and banter about the killers in Law & Order.
The vibes between these two are solid, sweet, and safe. Matt seems like the ideal first guy for Rebecca to go out with, in so many ways. He’s close but not too close; he knows her history, but wasn’t so present that he’s a reminder of anything that’s come before. And as is often the way with these things, the connection takes Rebecca completely by surprise. Which means she’s not really thinking about the implications of how she frames her coffee date to Kate when she bounds in the house nearly giddy with the relief of actually, finally, having a GOOD night.
It’s both no excuse and also completely understandable. Sure, Rebecca should have known better than to tell Kate so flippantly what she’d been doing. Anyone could see that fight coming a mile away, even without knowing Kate’s emotional state and connection to her father. But Rebecca has a right to make mistakes, and to be a human, and to let her guard down for two seconds without her only daughter calling her a slut. It all spins out so fast, and before Rebecca seems to really know what she’s doing, she slaps Kate across the face in response to the shaming.
Miguel is the perfect audience stand-in for Rebecca’s panicked, shocked phone call afterwards. He’s supportive and there for her, without really hiding the sadness in his voice at how the situation escalated. Rebecca’s mourning is showing up in so many ways; it’s in her reaction and short temper, it’s in her struggle to go out and in her momentary joy at maybe making a connection. As she says, the grief is so deep that it’s unavoidable – for her and for Kate. And the thing is, they both know it. Which is what makes their fights so brutal, and their forgiveness so understated.
Randall, Beth, Deja and Malik
We were promised significant repercussions from Deja and Malik’s weekend away, and whew. They were not joking. Malik’s offer to come make the Pearsons dinner is simultaneously very grown up and very adolescent; he knows he needs to apologize, and his relationship is strong enough with Randall and Beth for them to expect it, but the offer still rings out like something a teen suggests when they think they’re grown.
I’m not trying to infantilize Malik. The kid has been through so much, and he is functioning as a grown adult in Boston on his own with his daughter. But he IS still a teenager; he and Deja both are. Randall and Beth’s half hearted attempt at Worst Case Scenario devolves from its usual ridiculous release because the kids in question are walking that line. None of the scenarios are all that crazy, even Beth’s fear that they’ve eloped while the parents were sleeping. Beth’s right; they do need a new game.
Still, the kid tries. Malik makes his gnocchi and refills everyone’s water glass every five minutes and gives a good apology at the start of the meal. He’s respectful, clear, honest and genuine. But these kids are not subtle. It’s obvious they’re sitting on some other big plan, even without Tess suddenly asking questions about Beth’s new job “for the very first time ever” or Annie offering up knock knock jokes. (A word for Susan Kelechi Watson’s absolutely hilarious line reading of “Tess is showing unusual interest in things she is off the charts uninterested in and I ain’t heard a knock knock joke in this house for a clean seven years!” She is both panicked and perfectly comedically pitched. I missed the panicky Pearsons!)
The reveal of Deja and Malik’s actual plan does, in fact, match the temperature of the Worst Case Scenario game. Deja plans to finish up school within the month, move to Boston, and take a “gap year” in place of what would have been her senior year to live with her boyfriend and figure out their next steps. Okay, kids. Okay.
Listen. In my heart of hearts, I’m probably closer to Beth’s reaction than to Randall’s. These kids *are* kids, but they’re also not fools. They’ve both lived more life than most of their peers. The plan is a little inconsistent, but not unimaginable. (Logistically speaking though, why would Deja need to take the GED if she has enough AP classes to graduate? And what part does the very real Harvard Extension Program need to play in all this unless she was planning on taking pre-college courses for some as-yet undefined major? It all just smacks of throwing a bunch of academic spaghetti against the wall and seeing what sticks.) I do believe Malik and Deja when they say they hold each other accountable. These are not teenagers who would go swanning away from any semblance of responsibility, and to treat them as such is – as Beth says – dangerous.
But they ARE still kids. Deja’s barely 17, and starting over with her high school boyfriend several hours away from anyone else she knows a year before she should be going off to college isn’t a joke. And if we needed another reminder that these are teenagers we’re talking about, there’s the moment only Beth catches, when Malik full on rolls his eyes at Randall leaving the table. Kid. I love you, but that was a real bad look.
It’s a good thing for Randall that he didn’t catch that eye roll, because lord knows he makes enough of a mess of things already. Since he’d gone out on the front stoop to collect his thoughts, Randall finds himself smack in the middle of Malik’s exit path. Malik being who he is, and their relationship being what it is, of course he sits down to engage. What comes out of Randall’s mouth is equal parts totally fair and completely misguided. Deja DOES need to find her own path. She deserves agency in her own story, and in where she goes from here. She’s more than earned it, more than proven herself.
But for Randall to assume that Deja is getting somehow manipulated into this, and that it’s Malik’s responsibility to end the relationship because it’s what’s “best” for Deja, is some serious patriarchal bullshit. Deja’s making this decision with her eyes wide open. It very well could be a dumb decision! But it’s not one she’s making lightly, or in lieu of her own life path. And I’d posit that part of the reason she feels so safe and comfortable to take this kind of a risk is BECAUSE of the security that Randall and Beth have provided. She knows she’ll have a safe place to land if she needs it. For someone with her history, that’s no small thing.
For the fifteenth time in this particular plot line, Beth knows the score. She knows that Randall is playing at a dangerous game, and that everything they do and say in response needs to be carefully calculated – not emotional and rash. It’s down to them to be the adults in the room, in more ways than one.
Kevin, Cassidy and Nicky
Back in LA, Kevin’s trying to prepare for a weekend at the cabin and continuing to find himself distracted and unnerved by the Elijah of it all. He’s doing his damndest, though, giving the okay for Madison and Elijah to take the twins on their first zoo trip and willingly exchanging numbers with Elijah “just in case.” He’s also continuing to lean into his reconnection with Cassidy, whom he invites along to the cabin to keep him company with Nicky and his new girlfriend. (Much more on this momentarily.)
Maybe it’s the juxtaposition between this plotline and the rest of the hour, but it’s just so good and comforting to see a grown single woman who’s completely secure in who she is, what she wants, and where she is emotionally. Cassidy’s cards are all on the table, good, bad or ugly. She’s happy to tell Kevin that she’s spending the night organizing her kid’s Pokemon cards and “trying not to cry,” and her near-immediate questioning of if the cabin invite is “a sex thing” was a high water mark Cassidy moment in a whole episode of high water mark Cassidy moments. May we all steal the “it’ll change my packing and grooming” line for future endeavors.
Once they’re settled in at the cabin, it becomes pretty clear that the real meet cute of the evening is Nicky and his newly official girlfriend Edie. I know I am extremely biased on the subject of Nicholas Pearson, but HOW CUTE ARE THEY. It’s so lovely to see Nicky teasing and flirting and setting Edie up for some classic Manny shit-talking. (“She hates it, she thinks it’s really dumb!”) Kevin’s right, his uncle is a closet lady killer.
Kevin sees what’s happening with Edie and Nicky, and he genuinely loves it. He’s endeared by her and happy for his uncle and completely rooting for them. And because Kevin is a deeply suggestable romantic, he takes those cues and places them directly on Cassidy.
This whole speech of hers is magnificent. Picking up perfectly from where Randall left off with his pre-departure advice to Kevin (“do me a favor, try not to propose, okay, you know how you get”), Cassidy gently calls him out on every single well-intentioned aspect of his misguided attachment to both her and a whole other swath of blondes in cities across the nation. Kevin’s response to that comment – “I’m not even sure I know what blonde you’re talking about, to be honest with you” – tells him everything he needs to know. And you can see it on his face, too. Kevin HAS been swooping into these women’s lives for years, making a mess, and bouncing on to the next. He is a “big, handsome wrecking ball,” and while his heart is good, the damage is very real.
Kevin has so much love in his heart. He does. He just doesn’t know where to put it, or what to do with it, or what he even truly wants. Kevin is so much like his father that he just wanders around making big romantic gestures at people before he really even knows why he’s doing it.
And until he figures that out, he needs to take a beat and leave ALL these women in peace.
Kate, Rebecca and Toby
It’s unclear if Kate and Rebecca’s fight from earlier in the episode is their lowest point; it’s certainly the worst we’ve seen of their 90’s timeline to date. So in light of that low point, it’s striking to see them now, twenty five or so years later, comfortably sharing responsibilities while Toby’s stuck hanging out on his boss’s “modest yacht.” That’s certainly the point, and it’s where Kate’s mind’s at all episode. She’s remembering those miserable years, those countless fights, but instead of celebrating how far they’ve come, it’s making her melancholy. That’s to be expected, given Rebecca’s health – but a tiny bit of foreshadowing in the shape of Kate telling Toby that she has to tell her mother something that night adds a whole other layer to the affair.
Kate, both as a young adult and a grown woman, has a terrible poker face. She wears every single emotion on her face at any given time. But Rebecca’s distracted; her afternoon at Kate’s school is beautiful, filled with piano and Lorde songs and her grandkids, and so she doesn’t catch the struggle in Kate’s face when she steps out into the hallway to talk to Toby. She doesn’t catch that there’s something serious Kate wants to discuss with her, something she’s dancing around and doesn’t know how to talk about.
Kate and Toby’s decision not to allow Rebecca to watch the kids by herself anymore is rough and complicated as hell. And it’s no wonder that this is what’s spun Kate out into a tailspin; she’s terrified that this decision will bring her maternal relationship right back to where it was a few short years ago. It’s that fear, I think, that causes Kate to fumble the declaration so completely. It comes out of nowhere, and she doesn’t give her mother any space to think or breathe. Rebecca’s reaction is completely natural and warranted. But the decision on its own is fair, too, especially given Jack’s condition. It’s the kind of miserable, sad move people have to make when faced with a debilitating disease.
But again, just as it was in their earlier plot, the moment of forgiveness is subtle, quiet, and understated. It’s more mature, too, on both their sides. Kate’s request that Rebecca teach Jack how to play piano is the kind of beautiful, full circle moment this show is based on, and it’s even more impactful considering we know how Jack Damon will spend his life.
At the piano.
Colors of the Painting
- “Coming down the home stretch, seemingly out of nowhere, bidding out all the local favorites, passing Sophie, passing Madison, passing Zoe, my African American cousin – can she do it!”
- I know this is old hat by now, but it must be said again: Hannah Zeile’s cadence and whole entire vibe as teen Kate is so eerily close to Chrissy Metz, I could still be convinced that there’s some sort of time travel involved.
- “One margarita, one Margarite” was so cringey and yet so endearing.
- Bubblegum ice cream is the best kind of ice cream. I stand proudly with Cassidy on this, and all things.
- One of my very favorite scenes in this episode was Deja, Tess and Annie gameplanning before their dinner with Malik and the parents. Annie is a FULL tween at this point and she has indeed “aged out of knock knock jokes.” Someone somewhere give this girl a plot all of her own.
- We’re continuing with the trend of cast members turning to the director’s chair, and this week it’s Chris Sullivan! Cheers to you, Sully, for a job well done.
What did you think of “Heart and Soul”? Let us know in the comments!