This Is Us Season 6, Episode 11
“Saturday in the Park”
Posted by Shannon
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You would think by now I’d know better than to try to predict ANYthing on this show. In my six years of recapping This Is Us, I have basically never made a plot prediction that came true. So don’t ask me why I bothered to spend the whole time assuming that the major crisis this hour would come from the Big Green Egg itself. It most certainly did not. What’s more, the setting of Rebecca and Miguel’s anniversary party didn’t even give us any glances at their wedding, which I ALSO thought was sure to happen. But of course, questions were still answered. We now know where Jack’s scar comes from, and have all but solidified the final nail in the coffin of Kate and Toby’s marriage. (And hopefully, before the season is out, we’ll get a sense of Rebecca and Miguel’s wedding. I need to know more about that doll!) There are a lot of moving pieces this hour, but the focus – fundamentally – is on the way the Big Three have always and will always come together to support each other in their times of need.
Jack and Rebecca
We begin close-ish to where we left off with Jack and Rebecca, as they celebrate their ten year anniversary. It’s all very cute and standard, with Rebecca getting extremely dressed up for a night on the town and Jack drugging the kids with turkey and mashed potatoes so they can return to a wild night at home. Everyone is very excitable, including the kids, who delay their bedtime with the sitter by at least a half hour despite Jack’s best tryptophan efforts. Even before Jack and Rebecca learn of the Big Three’s babysitter rebellion, the night goes off the rails. Rebecca drinks a few too many fancy cocktails, Jack gets agitated by the restaurant’s delays, and it’s clear very quickly that any whispered sexcapade promises Rebecca and Jack made to each other are doomed.
Sure enough, Joni the Babysitter phones Jack at the restaurant and puts a stop to the evening not more than an hour or two in. Their first night with a sitter was an unmitigated disaster; honestly, whoever that kid was, they never stood a chance. But she really doomed herself by calling Kate “Chatty Cathy” one too many times: Kevin would never abide such name calling, especially not when he sees Kate’s despondent reaction. One thing leads to another and somehow, the three manage to lock Joni in the bathroom, even going so far as to prop the door shut with a chair.
Projecting adult characteristics onto kids under ten is a dangerous business. There’s a really delicate line between assuming importance and impact and overly projecting gravity onto kids just generally misbehaving. But from what I understand of toddlers and sibling bonding, there’s something to Rebecca’s declaration that this was a seminal moment. Joni the Babysitter did hurt Kate’s feelings, and Kevin wouldn’t stand for it. Once the line was crossed, Randall wouldn’t let his brother go it alone, and Kate would never let the two of them take the rap for something they did in her name. So was Rebecca projecting? Maybe. But these kids have each other’s backs. Completely. And they always will.
Randall, Kevin and Madison
Randall and Kevin’s schtick is endearing as hell on video chat, but there’s really nothing like the two of them gallivanting around in person. So when Kate asked Randall to get Kevin out of the house a few hours early, I was immediately looking forward to whatever sweet yet important conversation they would find themselves in. These two brothers have gone through so much together, and they’ve both worked SO hard to have an honest, comfortable, secure relationship. Every aspect of that work has paid off in ways large and small. That, combined with the fact that Randall has been quietly but intentionally positioning himself as the one Kevin goes to when he’s having relationship drama, means his brother is the perfect person to handle Kevin’s spiral after he walks in on Elijah measuring Madison’s rings.
We, the viewing audience, have spent various parts of the last few seasons attempting to parse out Kevin’s romantic entanglements and suss out which way they’ll go. I’ve already abdicated myself from any manner of prediction or horse in said race, but I get the feeling that Randall has been right there with us the whole time. There was his commentary in the car when Kevin was driving to see Cassidy, and his reminder about that time Kevin dated Beth’s cousin, and now we have him as the voice of reason, literally slapping Kevin’s phone out of his hand when he tries to call Madison to – what, warn her? – about her own possible engagement. (“We should just keep driving until that thought leaves your mind.”)
After all, Randall’s born witness to all of Kevin’s 41 years of “rash, romantic decisions that reverberate for decades,” and he is not about to let Kevin act on a feeling that he KNOWS his brother hasn’t actually thought through when he’s got the power to save him from himself. Because Randall’s right; Kevin’s answer to Madison wouldn’t be different today than it was on the day of their wedding. He loves her and their family; he’s not in love with her. They’re two very different things.
This scene with Madison is a natural succession to the one we got with Cassidy when they went for ice cream. But this time, thankfully, it’s not on Madison to talk Kevin back to himself. He’s come to it on his own, with the support and guidance of his brother and some solid time to think. He knows the right thing to do is to continue to pull back from Madison, to give her space and let her start the kind of life with Elijah that she finally let herself dream about. And it is the right thing to do. She’s happy, and she deserves it, and Elijah is as properly in love with her as she is with him. But she and Kevin ARE still a family, and they always will be. Releasing Madison from emergency contact duties is more symbolic than substantive, and the important thing was that he offered. That he meant it, and that he is starting to acknowledge the very real boundaries that must exist between the two of them, even while they remain family. Because they need to have those boundaries for it to work. As much as Kevin and Madison have flirted with an unhealthy post-breakup relationship, they’ve gotten themselves in a better, stronger place – for them and their twins.
Kate and Toby
Thanks to the flash forwards, we’ve known for a while that the big green egg would symbolize the last gasp of Kate and Toby’s relationship. And we knew that, at some point after the smoker arrived in their home, Jack would sustain an injury bad enough to keep a scar twenty plus years later. But, as is ever the case on This Is Us, the event itself isn’t really the important thing. It’s how we get there.
Kate and Toby’s downward spiral has hit a point of no return, and the episode opens on Jack’s childhood POV – seeing fuzzy lights and shapes go by, and hearing the sounds of his parents yelling at each other. The subject doesn’t really matter, although of course they’re yelling about the teaching job Kate has applied for and the non-move to San Francisco; what matters is that it’s constant. It’s all he’s hearing when Toby’s home, over and over, until and unless the family heads out together for the park. Then, the journey is filled with an extremely effective narration song, reminding Jack how to safely get himself to the park from their house. And even though Toby’s got plenty of snark to go around during the walk, once he’s there, even he relaxes. It was especially heartbreaking to hear him commenting on how much he missed Kate’s laugh, fresh off the vision of Old Toby saying much the same thing.
There’s JUST enough love here to give the illusion of hope. And both Kate and Toby are TRYING. With everything they have and for the sake of themselves and each other, they’re both trying to keep it light and easy, especially during Rebecca and Miguel’s 10-year wedding anniversary party preparations. Kevin’s even put an offer on a house and is on his way out of their guest room, but not before overhearing them fighting – just as Jack does – the night before. There aren’t enough “egg-niter” jokes in the world to erase the constancy of their arguments, though god knows Kevin tries every version he can think of in an effort to cheer up his twin.
I have to pause and talk about season one Toby before moving on. Season one Toby was often poorly written. He was emotionally abusive in ways that were sneaky and never properly examined; he was judgemental of Kate in ways the audience was expected to think were for her own good. It wasn’t quite character assassination, because we didn’t know the character yet, but looking back on it now that’s the term I’d use. And I stand by that assessment. Season six Toby has not reverted back to a previous, badly sketched version of his character. But there are hints of the way his “original” character treated Kate’s relationship with her siblings that are coming back to rear their ugly head during these fights. It’s delicate, because again, I don’t think we’re calling back to a version of Toby that was “real” or, at the very least, accurate to who he came to be. But in an alternative reality, where season one Toby was better written and we’d still seeded these resentments, they’d be paying off tenfold here. However, we do not live in that reality. Which means Toby’s bitter asides about why Kate would tell her twin about a fight that would have been physically impossible for him NOT to overhear just come off as frustrating echoes of an old version of his character that did no one any justice.
Once the ceiling leak springs, and the subsequent bedroom leak explodes, the anniversary party officially pivots into disaster. The first half is all vicious asides like “good thing I have such a high paying job that you resent so much” and accusations about why Toby never called a plumber even though he’s barely ever in this house and Rebecca – who, just weeks previously had been told she couldn’t watch her grandchildren alone anymore – insisting that she at the very least be “allowed” to put shoes on Jack in the middle of the chaos.
And thank god for that moment of quiet, and not just because it gave the tiny child playing Jack the opportunity to be ABSOLUTELY FUCKING ADORABLE for a whole sequence. Even as a toddler, Jack Damon is so clearly a Pearson. He is radiating empathy as he asks his grandmother if she’s sad, and as he shares that “mommy and daddy are mad a lot.” This kid already has an emotional intelligence that is through the roof, and it’s no question where he gets it.
As for the accident itself – the whole thing is masterfully done. Every step leads perfectly to the next like a disastrous and inescapable puzzle. There’s an inevitability to Toby not waiting to hear the click of Jack’s safety gate, and to Kate’s own level of responsibility – not in teaching Jack how to open the door, but in leaving it unlocked in her own moment of distraction and upheaval. (After all, Kate teaching Jack to be independent is what saved the day — without that park song, there’s no way he would have made it there in one piece.) It’s no one’s fault, and yet they both carry at least some responsibility.
In keeping with the theme of the season, it’s Rebecca Pearson who saves the day. Rebecca’s the one who figures out where Jack’s gone, who takes off running to find him and scoops him up just after he takes the tumble on uneven ground that results in the scar on his hairline. And in keeping with her character, Kate handles the crisis resolution with grace and compassion, never flinching from Jack’s cries the way Toby can’t seem to stifle. Which leads us to the moment it all really goes to hell.
The fight Kate and Toby have on their front lawn is not the same fight they’ve been having all year. It’s not about a willingness to move or to put family ahead of their own desires. It’s about all the shit they haven’t said to each other since Jack was born. It’s the natural evolution of the fight they had in San Fransisco about money; this is a fundamental disagreement about the best way to prepare their child for the world. Toby thinks she’s being naive, disengaged from reality – Kate knows she’s teaching their son “dignity, confidence, self-respect… now, so he can get it in his soul, in his self so he knows that he’s not broken.” And there’s a nasty level of dismissiveness that Toby wields; he’s dismissive of the skills she’s gained, the work she’s done with the community around and of her oldest son. It’s that dismissiveness that Kevin and Randall pick up on when they come home from Madison’s. That’s what makes them rally around Kate; that, and the deep, sibling defensiveness that they’ve had in them since they were kids.
Maybe it’s because her brothers are here that Kate can really let herself go. We saw it when Randall first arrived, and she finally cried. We see it again as they all reunite in the backyard, under the vestiges of Rebecca and Miguel’s uncelebrated anniversary. With her brothers by her side, and perhaps sensing her mother watching in the background, Kate can finally bring herself to say the thing we’ve known was coming all season.
“I dunno if Toby and I are gonna make it.”
Colors of the Painting
- No truer words.
- I get why we had to keep a Thanksgiving episode out of step with the airdates, but that means the show’s timeline is now completely wonky. Did everyone fly to be together AGAIN in between their Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations? Or did everyone do their own holidays separately and come together afterwards – maybe January – for Miguel and Rebecca’s anniversary? Time has lost all meaning, and yet, I must know.
- “Our dynamic is super weird and it’s wildly uncomfortable.”
- Randall and Kevin calling Kate “Katie-Girl” in moments of crisis or comfort will break me forever.
- WHERE do I find Madison’s spectacularly gorgeous and comfy looking robe/ duster/ thing??
- “Well, this party blew.”
“Glad you came out for it?”
“How’d it go with Madison?”
“Uh, you know, we eloped!”
“Good for you.”
- I loved seeing Beth bring Toby a cocktail Miguel made, in an effort to cheer him up and offer commiseration. There’s rarely space for the trio of Miguel, Beth and Toby to find time together alone, but the show still occasionally does pay homage to their bond in these kinds of small ways and it always pays off.
- Time for my semi-annual shout out to Siddhartha Khosla who, in scoring the scene where Jack takes off, cut the music a beat before Rebecca finally stopped gasping for breath after finding her grandson. The work this season has been exceptional, as always, and I can’t wait to see who scoops him up next.
- Drunk Rebecca was a whole entire mood.
What did you think of “Saturday in the Park”? Let us know in the comments!