This Is Us
Dang, Randall Pearson is really good at this political stuff. You guys, in the span of one episode I’ve gone from total ambivalence toward Randall’s implausible foray into local Philadelphia politics to being all in. There isn’t even a District 12 in Philadelphia (the Philly City Council is made up of ten districts) and there’s no way someone from Alpine, NJ, would be running for this type of position let alone traveling this often to Philly, but Beth ends the night with, “Let’s win you an election,” and I clapped. Yes, let’s! I blame this drastic change of heart on the Korean grandmother who registers to vote for the first time in her life because she has faith in Randall and also enjoys his nice hands. I also appreciate strong, well-moisturized hands, so I stand with grandma. And Randall Pearson.
Randall heads down to Philadelphia for some campaigning, leaving Beth with the tiny ladies of the house who are all in a tizzy because their Girl Scout cookie sales are down. Apparently their heavy-hitters were at Beth’s old office and it is all very awkward once they point that out. Beth plasters a smile on her face and treks out into the wilds of suburban New Jersey to rectify the situation. Meanwhile, Randall attends a church service in an attempt to prove that he belongs in his Philadelphia district. Of course, Councilman Brown is also in attendance, and when he comes up to the lectern to do a reading, he makes sure to call Randall out. He seems every bit the gracious host, but he makes sure to note that this is Randall’s FIRST TIME here and that he’s from OUT OF TOWN. Randall knows exactly what this guy’s doing — and he is very good at it.
As Randall is figuring out how to salvage this second botched campaign-related event, he gets a call from Kevin. Kevin has become obsessed with learning the truth about Jack’s time in Vietnam, and is especially fixated on that photo Robinson gave him of the Vietnamese woman standing with Jack, wearing the necklace that now hangs around Kevin’s neck. He is so obsessed that when Zoe ditches him for her post-project self-pampering ritual at a fancy hotel, Kevin will pop on down to Philadelphia just to be able to talk to Randall about what’s going on. The Pearsons have never been bound by time or space, we know this.
To avoid being seen with his white movie-star brother — it would not play well in Randall’s mission to fit in with his potential constituents — he and Kevin meet at a small Korean restaurant. (Philly’s original K-town is in the Olney neighborhood, so this tracks.) Randall doesn’t think Kevin should be digging around a time of Jack’s life that their dad most definitely did not want them to know about. Kevin reminds him of a story from their childhood, when the two boys peeled all the wallpaper off the wall in the guest bedroom because they couldn’t even fathom there was something underneath it — that is how Kevin feels right now. He started peeling and he can’t stop. Eventually, Randall gets on board with Kevin’s mission. If anyone understands needing answers about your father, it’s Randall.
Kevin’s trip to Philly reveals something much more important to Randall at this moment in time: Koreans are obsessed with The Man-ny. In fact, Kevin points out as the waiter showers the Pearson brothers with free food, The Man-ny is the number-one show in South Korea. He’s a megastar there. Randall has an idea: According to the giant binders in his campaign headquarters, most residents in the Koreatown neighborhood aren’t registered to vote. If he can use The Actual Freaking Man-ny to get K-town on his side, it would be a huge advantage in his quest to oust Councilman Brown.
So Kevin dons a tight “Vote for Randall Pearson” T-shirt (“You know, sometimes my heart is so big I can’t even stand it,” he tells Randall), and he starts persuading the whole of a Korean outdoor market to get registered and vote for Randall. It’s all going so well until a young member of the community named Jae-won (a great Tim Jo) sees exactly what Randall is doing and calls him out for it. He’s never set foot in this neighborhood and if he happens to win, he probably wouldn’t ever come back. He doesn’t care about them. Randall stops him — Jae-won is right that Randall has never been here before, but he’s very wrong about the other thing. Randall does care, and he’d like to learn more about this neighborhood and what people need here. He gives a stirring impromptu speech that’s translated by Jae-won’s sister and everyone eats it up. Even Jae-won is moved. He visits Randall at HQ, tells him about his aforementioned fangirl grandmother and, with a background in politics, asks to be his campaign manager. I know we only met this guy, but I … might … love him?
Throughout the episode, we’ve been watching a flashback to the 12-year-old Big Three, in which they learn of Jack’s secret boxing habit thanks to a black eye. Randall invents a bully in order to get Jack to teach him how to box. But the real motivation behind it is that Randall sees Kevin inherited all this “toughness” from Jack and he wants in on it. Honestly, any time Jack has a one-on-one with a member of The Big Three, regardless of age, you can bet I’m crying, so this whole, “You are my son son,” conversation ruined me.
The takeaway, aside from the fact that Jack loves this kid so hard, is that Randall’s secret weapon isn’t a left hook, it’s his brain. They stop the boxing lessons, but continue to watch the sport together, and Jack teaches him about the strategy behind it — things like how sometimes when an opponent doesn’t want to show how hurt he is, he’ll take a tough blow and just smile. This little tidbit comes in handy when Randall goes to visit Councilman Brown and tells him the news about his new campaign manager. Randall’s sure to win Koreatown now. Brown smiles and Randall knows this whole day has ended in a win.
But the day isn’t over for our dear Randall Pearson. He goes home to celebrate with his wife, but he can see Beth is upset. We know that she’s had a pretty terrible day. The Girl Scout Cookie Adventure blew up and Beth ended up screaming at her daughters. We’ve never seen her like that! It takes a talk from Deja (“You live in this house awhile, you learn your way around a talk”) to remind Beth that she needs to tell Randall that she’s having a really hard time. He’s the best person to tell that kind of stuff to, Deja would know. That night, through tears, Beth tells her husband that she’s not okay. He’s upset that she didn’t tell him before, but has a plan: Why doesn’t she come work on his campaign? She’s the best teammate he’s ever had, and he’s going to need a good team to win this thing. She says yes. Hands in, Team Pearson!
This Is the Rest:
• Kevin really can’t stop peeling the wallpaper: He presents Zoe with an application for a visa to go to Vietnam with him. We already knew they’d end up there, but it’s exciting to see that flash-forward start to come together.
• Toby’s still struggling as he slowly gets back on his meds, and after a minor emergency with Audio (he eats a rock because, well, dogs), in which Kate is left to take care of everything, he worries that Kate will one day grow tired of him being a burden and leave him. Kate tells him she signed up for better or worse — she’s in this forever. As long as you don’t think about that flash-forward we saw a few weeks ago, this is all very nice.
• Kate keeps calling Rebecca for advice — look how far they’ve come! Sidebar: Is 38 really too old to be calling your mom for advice? Who made up this rule?!
• Milo Ventimiglia just keeps getting better and better as Jack. Watching him struggle to explain how boxing helps quiet his mind when there are things he’d rather not be reminded of tugged at the ol’ heartstrings. And the casual way he launches into a story about how he and Nicky used to box as kids even though it was so obviously a huge deal for him to be talking about his brother? COME ON. Watching Jack and Rebecca adorably box was just a bonus to that great scene.
• Deja’s description of how much Randall loves Beth is so accurate it’s chilling: “He loves you like he’s in a Disney movie or something, like he hears tiny forest animals singing or playing kazoos […] whenever you walk into a room.”