Oh, Jack. Lovable Jack! In a few short episodes, it's become clear that our mustachioed dreamer is the heart of This Is Us. It's no surprise then, that the two standout scenes in this rather mediocre hour involve Jack and his sons.
I've been waiting for this show to grip me as hard and as earnestly as two of my favorite family dramas, Parenthood and Brothers & Sisters, but it has yet to do so. Whereas those two shows were about families functioning as whole units, This Is Us seems to tell the stories of individuals who just happen to be related to each other. That isn't necessarily a bad thing: Not all families are as up in each other's business as the Bravermans and the Walkers, and not all family dramas are looking to explore the same ideas. Unfortunately, This Is Us is just missing a particular kind of spark. I can't quite put my finger on it, but I think it lies within the present-day family dynamic.
I guess I'm asking for a big family dinner with all the living Pearsons sitting around the same table. There are laughs to be shared, secrets to be revealed, and tears to be spilled. Kate can even bring her urn! Until that happens, I'll be relying on Jack and his facial hair to make my robot heart feel things. Take, for instance, Jack coming to terms with the realization that little Randall is a gifted child and then sacrificing his own dreams to provide for his family. God, Jack, why did you have to die?
When The Big Three are in third grade, Randall's teachers tell Rebecca and Jack that their kid is testing off the charts but his grades are only average because he isn't being challenged. It's suggested they send him to a prestigious private school for nerds — excuse me, gifted kids. Jack is immediately against this idea for three reasons.
First, he doesn't think Randall should be separated from Kevin and Kate. It's understandable, but not a good enough reason on its own. Second, he gets a good look at Hanes Academy and is very worried about sending his black son to a very white school. Thankfully, Pool Lady Yvette talks some sense into the guy: Jack would be holding Randall back from an amazing opportunity because he's black and that is ridiculous. As for that third reason, Jack never wants to treat his three kids differently. It's a lovely notion, but upon further examination, Jack realizes that kind of thinking only does his kids a disservice. His three kids are all different from one another and those differences should be celebrated and explored.
This realization leads us to our first great scene of the hour. Jack brings Randall to his office and has the kid do some quick calculations for him. When Randall tries to hide his intelligence, Jack calls him out on it. Randall gets upset; he doesn't want to be different than Kevin and Kate because he's afraid they might hate him. Jack apologizes for ever making Randall feel afraid to be different, tells his son he loves him "as much as any human heart can," and gives America's collective tear ducts a workout.
To ensure his kids can take advantage of the best opportunities possible, Jack shelves his dream of opening his own construction company — Big Three Homes, le sigh — and continues on with his soul-crushing desk job. The sacrifice is worth it to Jack, who takes pride in teaching Randall how to tie his tie as he dons his uniform for his first day at private school. It's a simple moment that bonds the two together: Randall still thinks about his father's physical and sacrificial gesture as he puts on his own tie before work each morning.
Jack's imprint has been left on his other son, too. Since last week's episode revealed that Jack is no longer with us, This Is Us can finally tap into how losing a parent has long-lasting effects on the Pearson kids. In "Career Days," Kevin finally opens up about his dad and adds some more dimension to his character. Of course this moment is mixed into a ridiculous storyline that leads me to believe the show thinks we actually care about this Olivia Maine person. Newsflash: We don't.
Kevin is having trouble connecting to his character — I apologize for how pretentious that phrase is, but my job is to summarize! — so Olivia tricks him into attending a funeral to help tap into his character's grief. I wish I were making that up.
Kevin's rightly upset, but decides to stick around and winds up in a conversation with the deceased's widow. She's dealing with her own grief, figuring out how to put her husband into the past tense, but she's mostly concerned with her very angry teenage son. To comfort her, Kevin begins to talk about his own reaction to his father's death. As a kid, their thing was making model airplanes together. Kevin would pick the most complicated ones to ensure more time with his dad. When Jack died, he was so mad that he through out every model they made together. All he has left of Jack is his necklace, something he can't ever bring himself to take off.
It's an effective, emotional scene that not only sheds light on Kevin and Jack's relationship, but also adds to the overall Jack mystery. Was Kevin just a teenager when he lost his dad, too?
All we know for sure is that Kevin has finally tapped into his grief thanks to Olivia Maine's Inappropriate School of Method Acting. But wait! There's a second lesson: Olivia has sex with Kevin and then tells him they'll never do it again. It's apparently so Kevin can understand how his character feels about losing his wife. Olivia Maine is The Worst. My greatest wish for Kevin is that he quits acting and starts Big Three Homes construction company in honor of his father. At the very least, the guy deserves his very own Jack Pearson mustache.
This Is The Rest:
- Randall questioning his identity after meeting his biological father is an interesting topic and I hope This Is Us tackles it a little more thoroughly. Sure, it's entertaining to watch Randall embarrass Annie with a terrible song about crops during Career Day, but there is some real emotional heft to the underlying idea.
- The simple shot of adult Randall spinning in his office chair like Jack did earlier made me feel a lot of warm and fuzzy things.
- From the Beth and Randall 4Eva Files: Their chat about Randall's missed opportunity to be a world renowned saxophonist shows our favorite couple being playful, sexy, and supportive. I can't get enough.
- "Trading commodity futures based on long-term weather patterns is not boring."
- Kate has a new job! Yet again, it's initially tied into her weight: Her new boss, Marin (Jami Gertz) hires Kate to assist with her foundation because Kate has a great résumé … and maybe Kate could get through to Marin's overweight teen daughter. It sucks that this too is fat-related, but at the very least, it's nice to see Kate excel at her job.
- We get some insight into where Kate and Rebecca's relationship stands in the present timeline, and it's not great. Kate tells sullen teenager Jemma that she took a lot of her issues out on her skinny mother, and now they rarely talk. She regrets it. Let's get these ladies in a room together, please. Preferably one with a piano.
- Is it just me, or was it nice to have a reprieve from pushy Toby for a week? Is that Swoon Watch blasphemy?