We are most definitely embarking on a “be careful what you wish for” situation with This Is Us. We wanted to see what life was like for the Pearsons in the direct aftermath of Jack’s death, but I am here to report that I’ve seen what that life is like and holy hell, is it depressing. Of course, the young family would be intensely grieving over the death of their patriarch just months after the fire — they’re still intensely grieving it in the present day — but more than sad, life for the Pearson’s post-Jack is bleak. Throughout the entire late-’90s story line in “A Philadelphia Story,” I couldn’t help but think about how upset Jack would be to see his family like this. Can’t someone get these people a moving and sentimental speech or something? Anyone?
From what we see in this episode, Randall is the one who keeps the family together. Kate’s eating her feelings, Kevin is drunk all the time, Rebecca is walking around like a zombie, and Randall is the only one who seems to notice any of it. After a particularly horrifying display of how broken his family is during a tour of a new house — Rebecca’s hearing Jack in her head and responding aloud, Kate announces that she never sent her callback tape to Berklee — Randall has some harsh words for his mother. She promised them that she would take care of them, of everything, and she lied. It’s a gut punch, especially coming from Rebecca’s rock, especially when you recognize it is being said by a child to his parent.
Later, he tries to apologize, but Rebecca only wants to explain. She is exhausted. Getting out of bed every day is such a challenge, that she has nothing left. She is riddled with guilt — Jack had taken her to a house just months before the fire, and now she wonders where they’d be if she had just let him buy it. She’s trying her best to just hang on. It’s a lot for a teenager to take in (it’s a lot for me to take in, hold me!), but seeing his mother unable to really function is the last straw. There’s no way he can go to Howard and just leave these people like this—he calls the admissions office and retracts his acceptance. We know Randall meets Beth at Howard, so he does end up there, but this gesture at such a young age reinforces the Randall we’ve already come to love.
It’s interesting that as we are clearly seeing Randall taking ownership of his role within the Pearson family, in the present-day timeline he’s being reminded of the issue that’s plagued him for his entire life: He never feels like he truly fits in anywhere.
He realizes that Deja isn’t completely comfortable in her very white new school. Although he does not agree with her objection to a “club for milk enthusiasts,” he decides to take her to the rec center near William’s building and introduce her to some people there, most especially a girl named Sky, who is around her age. At the rec center, Randall sits with Sky’s mother, Chichi (Yetide Badaki), whom we also discover was very close with William (more on that later!), and notices how run down the rec center is. He’s going to do something about it. It’s time to Randall Pearson this place!
His first step is to go to Councilman Brown and ask for help. The councilman likes Randall, and promises to send a maintenance crew over to get started on repairs — but he never does. So Randall takes it upon himself to clean up what he can. But he doesn’t get the response he was hoping for. Randall tells Chichi that “we” deserve better than this. Chichi is quick to remind Randall that they are not a “we.” She loved William (who doesn’t?) and sees so much of him in Randall (tears), but Randall is not one of them (hey!). He spent the whole day at the rec center, and instead of getting to know the people there, he simply looked around for problems to fix. Sometimes, don’t you wish you could pull a TV character aside for a chat? I so badly want to tap on Chichi’s shoulder and be like, “Oh, lady, you have no idea.”
This hits Randall hard. When he meets the Pearson clan at Kevin’s Hill 400 premiere, Beth can tell something’s off. He explains that he feels like he’s always either “trying to hard or not trying hard enough,” depending on who he is with and what they want from him. He still has yet to find a place where he fits in. It is such a heartbreaking moment that I gasped.
You’d think Randall couldn’t feel any worse in that moment, but then you probably forgot what show you’re watching. Before the movie starts, Kevin fills him in on the events of the day: Kate and Rebecca had it out over the dangers of Kate going through IVF at her weight, but Kate wants to risk it because she’s the only one in the family who can pass on a piece of their dad and — well, Randall doesn’t hear anything else Kevin has to say because that right there rips his heart open. Obviously, Kate meant what she said in a biological manner, but she doesn’t even realize how that statement might sound to Randall, as if Jack isn’t a part of him at all. If you’re keeping score, that’s the second hurtful rejection Randall has to face that day. Randall has to internalize whatever he’s feeling because the movie is about to begin. This is just the beginning of exploring that story line, but you guys, I cannot wait for some hardcore Big Three internal drama. Have at it, Pearson kids!
Can we chat about William for a second? I mean, the theme of this entire recap is Things That Make Us Sad, so why not, right? We flash back to 14 or so years prior (how old is Sky?) to see a younger-looking William meeting a pregnant Chichi at his apartment building for the first time. She’s hesitant to let him in, but eventually he wins her over as only William can do. He invites her to the rec center, where he has his NA meetings, and introduces her and her newborn to his family. The family he’s created for himself. He knows Chichi is all alone — her husband died before they emigrated from Nigeria — and wants to give her this gift. No wonder she tells Randall that she loved his father so much, that she misses him. Doesn’t just seeing Ron Cephas Jones make your heart heavy? In a show full of characters meant to make you sad, does he make you the saddest?
This Is the Rest
• Hey, remember when Rebecca and Kate made nicey-nice at Kate’s wedding? Yeah, that’s all over once Rebecca finds out Kate is trying IVF. She once helped a friend with a daughter going through it, so obviously, Rebecca knows everything. She most certainly knows how dangerous it is for someone of Kate’s size — and there it is, Kate’s weight has always been a trigger for their fraught relationship. Don’t they get tired of talking about it?
• Thankfully, Rebecca does have a moment to explain herself. As she ends up being the one to give Kate her hormone injection, she tells Kate that after Jack died, she didn’t think she’d ever recover — and if something were to happen to Kate, well, she knows she wouldn’t. She’s hard on her, but Rebecca loves her bug!
• The withdrawal symptoms from Toby quitting his antidepressants have started to kick in. He’s super-horny, his leg won’t stop shaking, and he’s yelling at Pearsons. This downward spiral should be super-fun to watch.
• Kudos to the eagle-eyed commenter who noticed that in the flash-forward we saw last week, Old Toby is not wearing his wedding ring. The mystery continues!
• After Randall finds out he’s been accepted to Howard, he and Rebecca celebrate until she says, “I’m going to wake up Kevin and tell him the news.” I’m sorry, has this woman ever met Kevin?
• Ms. Yvette and her son are back! Although watching Randall look at Yvette and her husband dancing and be reminded of his own parents stomped right on my heart, I was happy to see her again. Is she still alive? Are they friends with her? Tell me things about Yvette, show!
• Is Miguel my favorite person on this show right now? Between the suit-and-tie slide, the sarcasm in his “Rebecca knows everything about IVF” moment, and the disdain with which he says “Eloise and Plaza,” Miguel is becoming a regular ol’ Beth.
• Zoe is finally getting serious about Kevin. GIVE ME A DOUBLE DATE WITH THEM AND BETH AND RANDALL OR GIVE ME DEATH.
• Tess is in a “Taylor Swift Appreciation” club at school. I need more time to process that.
• “I have two dead fathers that I’m constantly trying to make proud.” Whyyyyyy.