This Is Us
It’s a sweltering day in the greater Pittsburgh area and the Pearsons are headed to the local pool. Thanks to Milo Ventimiglia’s sweet ’80s mustache (I’m into it), and a reference to his recent promise to stay sober, we know the Big Three are roughly eight years old in tonight’s episode. And just like the last time they were around this age, the story line is here mainly to serve present-day happenings, rather than stand on its own. Unlike the last time, however, Jack and Rebecca don’t have a lovely, heartbreaking talk-on-the-floor scene. The episode is lesser for it.
In between little Kate getting her first taste of bullying and little Kevin telling off his parents for repeatedly ignoring him (almost to the point of letting him drown!) while they make sure “Kate doesn’t eat too much and Randall isn’t too adopted,” we get another important glimpse into Rebecca’s insecurities about parenting Randall.
Jack and Rebecca are having a tough time keeping track of all three of their little chickens while attempting a relaxing day poolside. Seriously, that pool is the place of my nightmares. Children everywhere! No adherence to splashing etiquette! Lack of proper seating! I’ll take sweating while standing in front of my open refrigerator door at home, thank you very much. Mom and Dad are trying their best, though. Unfortunately, that doesn’t stop all three of their kids from running off at some point.
When it’s Randall’s turn, Rebecca finds him over in a corner of the pool deck, playing with a group of black kids. There’s an awkward interaction wherein Rebecca tries not to be offensive to one of the mothers, and the other mother tosses some shade about a white family adopting a black kid and refusing to introduce themselves to any of the black families in the neighborhood. Rebecca tries to assert her position as Randall’s mother and the other woman informs Rebecca that Randall has razor burn because he needs to be taken to a barber who knows his hair. Sure, it’s all a little uncomfortable, but both of these ladies are rocking some seriously great poolside outfits and that’s what really matters here.
Rebecca stews over the encounter for a bit, but when she sees Randall scratching at his neck again, she puts her pride aside and marches back over to see the other woman. (Friends, did we ever get a name for her?) She asks for the name of a barber for Randall, then she asks if maybe they could set up some play dates for their sons. She even asks if Randall actually needs sunblock or not. It’s a good scene for Mandy Moore, and this is a compelling relationship to set up. Since we get a quick glimpse of an old family photo up in Randall’s home that includes this woman, I think we’ll be seeing much more of our friend from the pool.
Speaking of Randall, This Is Us is finally tackling how being black while growing up in a white family has affected Randall. After William is confronted by the neighborhood security guard and Randall makes apologies to both the guard and his neighbors, he begins to feel judged by his biological father for not understanding what living in a black man’s world feels like. Randall attempts to explain that he lives in the same world as William, but he’s decided to let certain things go, otherwise he’d be angry all the time.
Later, Randall tells William that while he was out fighting for the integration of schools, Randall was a little boy in a very white neighborhood, and every time he met another black person he’d make a little tally mark in a notebook. Every time he met a black man, he’d wonder if that man could be his father. But William wasn’t actually judging Randall; instead, he apologizes to him for leaving. I’m assuming that by the time William says, “You are doing everything right, son,” everyone’s hearts have also shattered, right? Cool. Sterling K. Brown and Ron Cephas Jones have had some great scenes together, but this is the most powerful yet. Can they just find some miraculous cure for William? I don’t think I can survive losing him after moments like this.
The intimate father and son scene is interrupted by a knock at the door. It’s Kevin! Uncle Kevin is back in NYC and has already annoyed the hell out of some Broadway greats. He’s late for his first audition — he wanted to take the subway and then walk, like a real New Yorker — and promptly offends the playwright, his scene partner, and everyone within earshot of his ramblings about how he’s in New York “for the right reasons.” This isn’t The Bachelor, Kevin! He completely bombs his audition, but much to the chagrin of the lead actress, Tony Award–winning Olivia Maine, he still gets the part because the producers believe the Man-ny will sell tickets.
Kevin should be thrilled that he conquered Broadway so quickly, but he’s not. He tries to get a hold of Kate, the one person who always builds him up, but she’s too busy slogging through a terrible story line back in L.A. (More on that below.) Back at the pool, we learn that little Kevin craved attention and that he never felt good enough. Also, he was a terrible swimmer. Two out of the three have stuck with him as an adult. It’s why he ends up ditching his swanky hotel room for Randall’s house. He may immediately slip into the cocky older-brother role in front of Randall, but we all know he’s seeking some comfort from his family.
The episode itself ends on a similar note. It’s the end of a long, hot day at the pool. The cooler is drained, there are new tally marks in Randall’s book, Kate’s note has been washed away. It’s far from the relaxing day Jack promised. But there they are, all five of them huddled together, comforted in the arms of their family. Man, this show knows how to put a heartwarming button on an episode, doesn’t it?
This Is The Rest:
- Someone save Kate from this nonsense of a plot. She stalks Toby’s skinny ex-wife, Josie, importer of fine goods, and ends up interviewing for a job at Josie’s store. So kooky and endearing, right? Wrong. This is dumb. Is Kate dumb? I didn’t think she was supposed to be. If nothing else, it adds a little depth to Toby’s character and gives us a great Matt Lauer/Savannah Guthrie shout-out. So it isn’t a total wash.
- Little Randall is a whiz when it comes to the Rubik’s Cube. Please please please have a scene where Sterling K. Brown solves one very quickly. I won’t be able to curb my swooning.
- Little Kate’s Care Bears bikini is adorable.
- Is Olivia Maine going to be a love interest for Kevin? Snooze. I want someone a little less-predictable for Kevin. Maybe the playwright? Maybe a teacher at Tess and Annie’s school? Legit anyone but a snobby theater actress.
- “Now try on the damn slim-cut, flat-front chinos. I think they’ll look nice on you.” Okay, I know this scene wasn’t really about Randall and William buying pants, but I would totally watch multiple scenes about Randall and William buying pants.
- William loves The Man-ny and has an autograph book. This man is a mystery to me!
- Stop making me fall more and more in love with Jack! You’d think the gusto with which he attempts to snag chairs at the crowded pool would be enough for one episode, but no, he also has to go and give little Kate a magic T-shirt. When Kate tells him she wants his magic Daytona Beach shirt to turn her into a princess, he plays along but also makes sure she knows that her dad already thinks of her as a princess, no matter what she’s wearing. BRB, gotta go listen to “Everybody Hurts” on a loop until we find out where Jack is in the present-day story line.
- “Say it out loud: Daddy, I will never go to Daytona Beach.”