This Is Us Season 6, Episode 6
“Our Little Island Girl: Part Two”
Posted by Shannon
I hate to admit it, but it’s very possible this is the last Beth Pearson-centric episode we’ll see on This Is Us. There’s a real sense of closure to her arc; everyone’s favorite little island girl who danced before she could walk has faced her demons, come out the other side, and centered herself in a place of true belonging. It’s a testament to the character and the writing that I don’t doubt for one minute that Beth Pearson will live a long, fascinating, joyful life outside the edges of the show. She is a fully realized person in her own right. But here we are, in the final season, and while I wish Beth’s last hoorah could have been hers alone, seeing Susan Kelechi Watson receive a co-writing credit is cause enough for celebration. What a beautiful gift.
Rebecca and Miguel
The 90s Pearson household has settled into a sort of post-Jack normalcy. It’s wild to see the original teenage Big Three entering, for all intents and purposes, adulthood: Kevin is already struggling with addiction, Randall’s focus is on Beth (but he’ll still be home for Thanksgiving, of course) and Kate is falling further into malaise. Each of the actors carry themselves with a different kind of focus towards the older versions of their characters, and while that’s nothing new in and of itself, it does feel like the focus has shifted. These aren’t kids anymore. They’ve seen some terrible shit, their lives are not easy, and they walk through these stories with the full weight of all of that history – and hints of teenage awkwardness just beneath the surface.
All of that to say, it’s a complicated household that Rebecca and Matt find themselves stumbling into post movie date. Miguel’s spending increasing amounts of time over there, and as I suggested in my previous recap, he’s definitely caught feelings for Rebecca. It’s a rough line for him to walk for so many reasons. But the promise Miguel made to Jack to keep an eye on the family still does seem to be top of mind for him. He’s kicking around with Sophie, Kevin and Kate, and he’s playing sous chef to Rebecca’s Emeril, and generally doing the best he can under the circumstances. Still. The man is not subtle and it’s becoming increasingly hard to believe that Rebecca wouldn’t catch on to what’s going on.
I had a hard time with Rebecca’s characterization here on the whole, for that and a variety of other reasons. First, and top of the list: I wish she had the opportunity to introduce the idea of Matt to the kids with full agency. It could very well be more realistic for things to happen this way: in a jumble of messy lives and unexpected arrival times, as Rebecca finds herself in a position where she suddenly has to introduce a man to her twins before she may have even had the chance to tell Kevin she was dating. (Obviously Kate would have told him already, but Rebecca deserved to have some control over that conversation, too.) And I struggle with her inviting Matt to Thanksgiving at all under those circumstances. But, as snarky as he is, Miguel’s got a point – there was no real other way out of that conversation than to invite Matt along.
Rebecca’s found herself in corner after corner with this guy, which does not bode well for the actual Thanksgiving celebration – which Miguel will attend with Marguerite after all. Prayer circle for the upcoming Thanksgiving, folks.
When last we heard about Beth’s career, it was a series of asides in the ongoing drama of Deja and Malik. But suffice it to say, Beth’s got a new gig – and it’s a big deal, merging her c-suite experience with the realities of a working dance studio. As the Head of New Student Recruitment and Development for the City Ballet of Philadelphia (A TITLE AND A HALF), Beth has gracefully strong-armed the Board of Directors into establishing a scholarship program and found herself in charge of selecting and welcoming the new recruits. These kids feel as out of place as she does in this big fancy dance complex; every one of them needs a map to get around. But while Beth may still be building up her confidence in this job, she still knows exactly what these kids need to hear. It’s the same thing she needed to hear as a young Black woman in a predominantly white space: “I want you to remember that you belong. Take up space… Repeat after me. I can. And I will.”
As soon as we meet Stacy, a young woman of color whose father wants her to be a lawyer and who’s “not as polished” as the rest of the selected ballet soloists, it’s clear where the plot is going. But knowing how the story will go doesn’t lessen its impact. Beth clearly sees herself in Stacy, clearly recognizes her own story as someone who’s “not the skinniest, or the most flexible [and doesn’t] even have the best feet.” Beth sees her own fire reflected in Stacy, and more than that: she sees the need for dancers from marginalized communities to be truly held up and encouraged.
If you’ll pardon me a quick, on-topic aside: this is an overarching problem in so much arts education, and I’m grateful that This Is Us found a way into the discussion. For too long, artistic spaces of all sorts – dance, visual art, classical music, literature, and everything in between – have been myopic and self-contained. They have remained overwhelmingly white and overwhelmingly wealthy. Artistic endeavors have been pigeonholed as something only those who are already privileged can explore. And it’s a detriment to all forms of art.
There are countless dancers, painters, performers of all kinds, who should be given a spotlight and a clear-eyed, encouraging mentor. That’s what Bethany deserved when she was studying; not to be dropped by her ballet teacher and cast aside as someone who could no longer contribute to the artform. As Beth proves in her adulthood, there are countless ways to have an impact on an artistic trade. They are not lesser; far from it. But after years of being told otherwise, it’s no wonder she couldn’t find her voice when a young Beth and Randall found themselves sharing a restaurant with Vincent. From his perspective, she was a failed dancer with a “bright mind” who had done all she could for ballet. Which couldn’t be farther from the truth. And which brings us to this.
As I said, of course we know Stacy is going to take a tumble on her pirouettes while soloing. The big question was how Beth would handle it and what would happen next. Even that isn’t really up for debate, but it was still a hell of a thing to watch her handle this with every single ounce of the grace, dedication, and empathy Beth Pearson is built from. THIS is what true mentorship and encouragement looks like.
With the full power of her position behind her, Beth can finally go home and call Vincent up to tell him off. Does it defy logic that he’d still be working at the same place and in the office that very night? Sure. But I’m not going to fight them on it; not when it provides such a perfect take-down of emotionally abusive teachers who think it’s not their job to “coddle” the young talent they have been trusted with. Young artists and performers know exactly what they’ve signed up for. No one is harder on them than they are on themselves. And when young artists are genuinely supported, trusted, and cheered on? They can change the world.
Kevin and Kate
Meanwhile, the LA contingent is collectively falling farther into polite dysfunction. Kevin’s still living in Kate and Toby’s spare room, and his latest attempt at welcoming Madison and Elijah’s relationship comes in the form of structured, repeated brunches and overly generous invitations to the first taping of The Manny reboot. It’s all very awkward, and it’s made more tense by the obvious looks Madison, Kate and Elijah share at Kevin’s frequent mentions of Thanksgiving plans.
Kevin’s many things, but he’s not a fool, and while he’s making some weird life choices at the moment, I do believe he can trace the ripples his behavior is causing. For one thing, he’s certainly not missing those shared glances between Kate and Madison at his continuing mention of Thanksgiving. He may have even brought up the flights again on purpose; after all, the timing of him mentioning flight plans moments before a taping is weird enough on its own. When Madison folds and admits that she has no intention of going to the cabin for Thanksgiving with the twins, Kevin’s shaken and upset, but at his core? He’s not shocked. He MUST have known that this was coming.
Which is not to say he doesn’t get nasty. He does; the jab about Rebecca’s health and the twins was way out of line. But again, Kevin knows he’s not saying anything Madison hasn’t already thought of herself. He’s acting out and being selfish, but it’s in that tired, drawn-out way people act out when they know they’ve already lost the argument and don’t really have a leg to stand on. No, the real emotional punch of this storyline is the echo it triggers for Kate.
Back in the 90s storyline, when Kevin and Sophie returned for Thanksgiving, Kate and Sophie were still best friends. And while we’ve long suspected that their friendship break had something to do with Sophie and Kevin’s divorce, we get that confirmed in this episode. The whole thing was just so painfully late teens/early twenties! Kevin cheated while off in LA, because he’s a kid and he’s lonely and he’s grieving, and Sophie was devastated, and that’s the beginning of their youthful divorce. But in Kevin’s guilt and thoughtless chatter mid-apology, he also let slip that he’d told Kate about his affair. And it’s Kate not sharing that information with Sophie that marks the beginning of the end of their friendship.
Listen, as I said, it’s all very painfully late teens/early twenties. I don’t mean to condescend to these characters, who are having very real reactions to the things that are happening in their lives. It’s painfully believable, and appropriately naive. For Kevin to put his sister – who he KNOWS doesn’t have much of a social circle – in that position was completely self centered. (Kevin, babe, call Randall. Hell, maybe even tell your mother.) It’s very understandable for Kate to keep that secret, and while Sophie had every right to react the way she did, it’s naive of her to have thought that Kate would betray her twin’s confidence like that. It’s all a shambles of sadness and grief and youth, but it translates into Kate, twenty plus years later, refusing to cover for her brother’s bad relationship behavior again.
I love the trend, this episode, of giving the Big Important Speeches to Beth and Kate. Her rebuke of Kevin comes not just out of defensiveness for Madison, but of respect for their coparenting relationship – and out of the awareness and maturity her own path has granted her. (“You didn’t fall in love, you couldn’t say it, so you expect her to lug two babies on an airplane to go see your family? Come on, have a little more respect for the woman who’s raising your kids.”) And it’s pivotal that she points out that Elijah very well may be the first person who has truly fallen in love with Madison; and that “she should be allowed to experience that without feeling guilty.” It’s a banner speech, and yet another example of why this show is better when it involves stories with chosen family and friends, not just family relationships.
It’s a credit to Kevin (and to my suspicion that he knows much more of what’s going on than he cares to admit) that he apologizes to Madison that very evening, and that his reaction to Elijah’s very own speech is so steady. Again, this is a man with far more emotional intelligence than he lets on – and he does want Madison to be happy.
He wants his sister to be happy, too. Kevin is well aware of the marital trouble brewing between Kate and Toby; he couldn’t live in that house without feeling it. Kevin’s offer to move out and give Kate and Toby space was genuine, and maybe I’m giving him way more empathy credits than I should, but I wonder if that’s not also part of why he’s still in their guest room: to be around when the shit hits the fan. Toby can continue to imply that he’d prefer it if Kevin moved out all he wants – Kevin’s only going to take that request from his sister. His loyalty is always going to be to Kate. Without question.
Colors of the Painting
- “We were like, brine not?”
- I think she was trying to be supportive but it is WILD to me that Sophie would ask Rebecca so blatantly if she and Matt were going to “go the distance.” WILD.
- While Kevin and Toby’s friendship is faltering, Toby has shifted his bromance energy to Elijah. It’d be depressing if it wasn’t so endearing, particularly Chris Sullivan’s delivery of “Are these you?? I love you!” in response to Elijah’s blueberry muffins.
- I am under contract as your friendly neighborhood guitar nerd to inform you all that while Bradley Cooper did play a Gibson in A Star Is Born, and while Gibsons are great, they are *not* generally something to write home about, much less show off to your extended family at brunch. Sorry, Kev.
- “Are you gonna say something about my weight?”
“Do you want me to?”
“You gonna say something about my drinking?”
“Do you want me to?”
“No.” Oof, kids. Oof.
- Beth Pearson, we’ll love you forever.
What did you think of “Our Little Island Girl: Part Two”? Let us know in the comments.