Beth and Randall are the best of us. They’re also the best of Us. See what I did there? Even when This Is Us is at its schmaltziest, we can always count on Beth and Randall to provide an affecting and authentic look at marriage. They’re loving, hilarious, flawed, beautiful angel people. Or, as Randall put it in last week’s episode, they are “perfectly imperfect.” As they navigate the tense waters of the adoption process, I can’t help but wonder: Can Beth and Randall adopt me?
Even when Beth and Randall are arguing, you know they love each other. It’s good to keep that in mind throughout “A Manny-Splendored Thing,” as the adoption conversation hits an unexpected bump in the road. Yes, Randall is having second thoughts. Beth is just as annoyed as you are.
As the entire Pearson clan heads to sunny Los Angeles for a very special taping of The Man-ny (even Kevin can’t believe he’s “returning to the scene of the crime”), Beth begins to question why her husband is dragging his feet on the paperwork they need to fill out to start the fostering process. Randall finds the questionnaire a little invasive: Why do they need to know if he feels sexually gratified by his partner? (For the record, Beth tells him she answered that question with “Generally, yes, except when I want a quickie and my husband needs too much romancing,” because Beth is an exceptional human being.) But as Beth finds out when she corners Randall in The Man-ny backlot, the real reason he’s avoiding the paperwork is because he’s scared. Now that they’ve decided to foster and eventually adopt an older child, it’s hit him that this child may come with some real baggage. Drug and alcohol abuse, physical and emotional abuse, some really intense stuff that Randall worries they might not be prepared to handle. Beth is not amused by Randall totally Randall-ing out. And anytime you use someone’s name as a verb, it’s usually a bad thing.
Beth has had enough of Randall overthinking things, thank you very much. Not only did he drag her across the country for a taping of show she does not particularly enjoy, but after months of begging her to get onboard with bringing a new child into their lives, he is backpedaling. Help comes to Beth from the person she least expected: Kevin.
Beth’s annoyance that Kevin Pearson is her brother-in-law is one of the best running jokes on This Is Us. Part of Beth’s wariness around Kevin is in part due to Randall and Kevin’s sometimes fraught relationship. Just as Toby announces to Rebecca that he is forever and always #TeamKate, Beth will always be #TeamRandall. But some of it, I’m sure, is just Beth being an authentic human who has no time for Kevin’s actor nonsense. Whatever the reason, it’s mainly enjoyable because you know Beth considers Kevin family — she may get annoyed with the guy and his dislike of blueberries, but she loves him, too. Susan Kelechi Watson walks that tightrope so well.
When Beth takes shelter from her infuriating husband in Kevin’s trailer, she ends up spilling her guts to the Man-ny himself. If there’s anyone who understands how infuriating Randall can get, it’s Kevin. He reminds Beth of things she mostly already knows: Randall doesn’t attempt anything without being sure he’ll succeed at it. He’s an extreme perfectionist. He also reminds Beth of the one time in Randall’s life where he did take a huge risk: When he called Beth (with secret assistance from Kevin) and asked her out, even though she was way out of his league. The whole story is very endearing, and honestly, if we don’t eventually get to see the Big Three in college and watch Randall and Beth’s first meeting, heads will roll. We need this.
Kevin’s story reminds Beth just how good she and Randall are together. And then, Beth reminds Randall of that fact with a big ol’ run-into-his-arms romantic kiss on the back lot. They can do this. It’s going to be okay. The whole thing is gorgeous and I’d like to stay here forever. But we can’t. Well, I guess you can if you have DVR, but we can’t here in this recap because believe it or not, some other things happen to other characters in this episode.
Let’s chat about Kate. She’s spiraling hard because her mother is in town. We know Kate and Rebecca’s relationship has always been strained, but this episode finally digs a little deeper: We see the genesis of this tension by visiting with Little Kate, who wants to sing in the school talent show, but is ultimately scared off by her overenthusiastic, intimidatingly talented mother. After a visit to the Teen Big Three era, we see that small seed of resentment has burrowed a hole in Kate’s heart, who has snide remarks on top of snide remarks for her mother, the queen. And, of course, we see how this resentment and intimidation is still very much an active part of Adult Kate’s life. She’s hypersensitive to anything her mother might say that could be construed as criticism.
Yes, Rebecca does make Kate’s first real singing gig (she’s filling in for the house band at a dive bar) a little too much about herself. But doesn’t the way Mandy Moore says, “Sound check?” break your heart a little? And yes, Rebecca watching Kate sing “Landslide” must bring back a huge wave of nostalgia for the woman, but you can also see that Rebecca is filled with immense pride watching her little girl — her little bug — up on that stage. Her post-show comment about Kate eventually learning how to sing through a crowd doesn’t seem malicious, just misplaced. It certainly doesn’t deserve Kate’s cut-to-the-core response about Rebecca’s failures. Only Chrissy Metz could be a dick to Mandy Moore and still come out likable.
Rebecca can’t really do much about Kate’s problem with her “existing,” and Kate’s issues with Rebecca are more about Kate’s insecurities anyway. Still, parents are easy targets for kids to lash out on when needed. Kate’s cutting words are extreme but understandable — or at the very least, human.
Though it’s hard to watch Kate tear down her mother, the episode does a decent job at revealing just how complicated Kate and Rebecca’s relationship issues are. Too complicated, of course, to resolve in one episode. Unfortunately, the whole thing ends with Rebecca declaring her approval for the uncompromisingly supportive Toby, which, like, come on Rebecca, you’re better than that. As a means of self-soothing, I’ll just go back to watching Rebecca watch Kate sing because Mandy Moore being proud of someone is nature’s medicine.
This Is the Rest
• A quick Jack update: We learn that the first time Rebecca asked him to kick his drinking problem, Jack did so through sheer will, boxing out the pain at the gym, and some sweet reminders that everything will be okay from Kate. This time, he vows to be more upfront about his alcoholism: He tells his daughter (and sons, but later and probably less emotionally stirring) and starts going to AA meetings.
• True Life: I can’t hear Milo Ventimiglia say “Katie girl” without tearing up. It doesn’t matter the context, Jack calls his daughter Katie girl and I am ruined.
• Sophie has become very endearing! Even when they were little kids, she has always inexplicably found Kevin hilarious. Apparently, he’s always been performing for her. Aw. But she also is willing and able to put Kevin in his place. When he goes on his “I must channel George Clooney returning to ER” rant ahead of his very embarrassing return to The Man-ny, she is quick to remind him that this is his least attractive quality. Bless you, Sophie.
• Was anyone else expecting weird tension between Sophie and the Pearsons? At least with Kate? Last season, the show was setting it up that way, but they were all pretty chummy on the set of The Man-ny.
• Can we all agree to stop putting grown men in giant baby diapers? They did it on Lost, it happened on This Is Us, enough. It is very off-putting and no one has asked for this. Not to my knowledge, anyway.
• Kevin should feel threatened by how good Randall is at his “Man-ny say what?!” catchphrase.
• Annie and Tess are the best packers in the family. I love them so much.
• Miguel is slowly winning me over with his enthusiasm for pigs in a blanket and sitcom tapings. Please pray for me in my time of need.