This Is Us
Has everyone recovered from their Thanksgiving eat-a-thons? With all the talk of being grateful over the past few days, I’d like to say that I’m very thankful for the last few episodes of This Is Us. I was worried our beloved Pearsons just didn’t have that special X factor to keep my heart nice and toasty for the long haul, but one thing has become very clear: This show works best when family members interact in the present-day timeline. With the promise of much more of that coming up, thanks to Kevin asking Kate to stay on the East Coast for her surgery and Randall’s relationship with Rebecca becoming a central conflict, I’m feeling very hopeful for the back half of the season.
The latest installment of This Is Us is full of present-day shenanigans: The Big Three are together for the first time, there’s lots of Kevin-and-Kate scenes, and of course, a drug-fueled trip puts adult Randall and Jack face-to-face. Yes, friends, that title “The Trip” isn’t just about the Big Three heading up to the family cabin for one last hurrah before Rebecca sells the place. It’s also a nod to Randall’s mushroom-induced afternoon of self-discovery and enlightenment. That’s right, our Hot Nerd trips hard.
Is Randall accidentally drinking a large amount of that mushroom milkshake a bit of a stretch on the believability scale? Definitely. The thing doesn’t seem appetizing and Randall doesn’t seem like the type of guy who would chug something suspicious-looking. But that little contrivance means Sterling K. Brown and Milo Ventimiglia get to share the same scene, and that is a blessing no one should question.
Our Randall does not have your typical trip: His hallucination is intense, emotional, and very moving. He’s still in shock over learning that his mother — the person he trusts most — has been lying to him about his birth father his entire life. She robbed him of a relationship with William and a whole slew of other things. (The list is at 22 and counting.)
Randall is understandably destroyed, so he takes all of that anger, slugs back some ‘shrooms (courtesy of Olivia Maine’s pretentious artist friend), and runs into his dead dad Jack repairing the roof of the cabin. The ensuing conversation is revelatory in more ways than one: Randall admits that his perfectionism and relentless drive come from a deep-rooted fear of being unwanted. He spent his entire life believing that his birth parents didn’t want him and that he was a replacement for the baby Jack and Rebecca lost. Hallucination Jack tells Randall that he has it all wrong. If only we could all have Milo Ventimiglia take our face in his hands and lovingly tell us that from the moment he first saw us, we were his. That we were not a choice, we are a fact. I mean, come on. A speech like that could save lives.
The flashback story to the late ‘80s proves Hallucination Jack’s point further. Jack and Rebecca discover that 9-year-old Randall is going all over town asking people to roll their tongues, knowing it’s an inherited trait that might lead him to his birth parents. Jack wants to do all he can to help his son fill the void he’s feeling, while Rebecca is adamant that she and Jack are Randall’s parents, end of story. (It’s worth noting that she has already met William.) Both Jack and Rebecca obviously love Randall as much as humanly possible, but they have very different ways of dealing with it. Jack might be most upset by Randall’s search for his identity: When Yvette tells him Randall is missing a black male influence, Jack’s face reads heartbreak and determination all at once.
So that’s how we end up at the dojo. You guys, if you thought crying during a washing-machine montage was bad, just wait until you’re weeping over dojo scenes.
Yvette recommends they sign Randall up for martial arts classes at a dojo run by a very nice man named Ray. The class is full of young black boys around Randall’s age, all of whom are joined by their fathers. Ray hopes one of these kids will be the next Ron van Clief, sure, but mainly he wants to build a sense of community. He wants the boys to know that these men are here to lift them up — sometimes quite literally. To initiate Randall into the class, there’s a lovely ritual that starts with Jack doing pushups with Randall on his back, to show that his father will always hold him up, even when it is hard. After a while, Ray tells Jack to stop, but Jack keeps going. BECAUSE JACK IS THE BEST OF US.
It’s also because he promises his very scared wife that they would always be enough for Randall. If Jack’s feelings for Randall lead him to push harder and provide the best for his son, Rebecca’s overwhelming love for Randall makes her hold him closer. She’s afraid of losing him. She’s especially afraid because she went to see William again, and after nine years, he’s doing much better. He’s five years sober, he has a full-time job, and boy does he get excited when Rebecca mentions that Randall wants to meet his birth parents. A little too excited for Rebecca’s taste. She runs away with a renewed sense of urgency in keeping this secret from well, everybody, leaving William to cry all over his book of original poems for Randall.
Worried that William might still have some parental rights and inspired by Jack literally lifting their son up, Rebecca writes the letter to William that Randall will find 36 years later. She can’t let them meet because Randall has “an extraordinary father who gives him everything he needs.”
Back in the present day, Hallucination Jack attempts to convince Randall that Rebecca had good intentions, even though she made poor choices. He urges Randall to look closer at his mother. When Randall looks through the cabin window, he sees Rebecca alone and scared in the dark, trying to lock all the doors and windows before something horrible gets inside. As Hallucination Jack explains, she did everything she could to keep them safe. She only wanted to protect her family. Hallucination Jack is so wise.
Finally out of his trip, Randall fixes the cabin roof for his dad and goes to see Rebecca. Of course, it’s not the warm reconciliation she’s hoping for — but the woman did lie to him for his entire life. Instead, Randall simply tells her that he knows keeping that secret must have been lonely. That’s really all he can offer her right now. He’ll see her at Christmas.
Holidays with the family are so fun, right?
This Is the Rest:
- Kevin also has some drama go down in the woods: He invites Olivia to the cabin, who comes for a “real cabin experience” and also brings her ex-boyfriend-ish artist Ash, the aforementioned maker of ‘shroom shakes. The two engage in both a snugglefest and a snarkfest in front of Kevin. When Kevin’s had enough, he dresses them both down in a fantastic speech that ends with him calling Olivia an empty human shell. Kevin’s the best.
- Kate hates Olivia, of course, but Olivia does seem to read Kate just right. Olivia tells Kate that she’s jealous of Kevin for being able to change, and that Kate’s terrified that she could lose all this weight and still be the same person.
- Toby’s still answering calls from Kate like a sad sack. In other news: When they eventually meet, will Toby and Randall be best friends? Mull it over.
- Things that made my heart grow three sizes: Kate telling Kevin that she needs her brothers to get through the tough road ahead, and Kevin assuring her that they’ll be there for her.
- Playwright Sloane is delightful, yes?
- “The guy is wearing suspenders over a thermal. What is that?” Kate gets it.
- As steamy as Rebecca and Jack’s “I can roll my tongue” make-out sesh was, I was immediately consumed by sadness because Jack is no longer with us. Again, WHY?