This Is Us
The two main story lines from “The Music and the Mirror” — the titular music and mirror, if you will — aren’t so much about moving plot forward as they are about giving us some surprisingly moving character development. When it comes to Beth’s story line (the mirror, in case you were wondering), by “moving” I mostly mean insanely romantic. I guess the emotional takeaway from watching Beth have to close down her dance school because of the pandemic was supposed to be one of sadness, but it’s hard to be that sad about Beth’s dance dreams dying for a second time because we’ve seen the future and we know that at some point Beth is running what looks to be a very successful, prestigious dance academy. So while it’s tough to see Beth mainlining dry Lucky Charms and feeling like a failure while trying to put on a brave face … it’s not that tough? You’re going to be fine, Beth. Trust us.
Instead, the story line works as a showcase for Beth and Randall’s relationship. These two! Dancing to K-Ci and JoJo! We are blessed! We all know that Randall can be a lot — it’s basically his defining characteristic — but in this episode, we see how he can dial it back for Beth; he knows how to be there for her in the way she really needs. Which, really, is simply just to be there.
We visit with Beth and Randall in college, where they’re celebrating their six-month anniversary. (Randall is all in on this, Beth doesn’t think a six-month anniversary is a real thing, that all tracks.) Randall surprises Beth with a night at the ballet and when she discovers this, she has the taxi turn immediately around. She’s not going to the ballet. She can’t. Back at the dorms, she explains how she spent the majority of her life trying to correct every mistake, to be a perfect dancer, but it was never enough and now she’s lost — “a dancer who doesn’t dance.”
In the present day, after closing down her short-lived dance studio, her second chance at keeping dance in her life, she’s feeling lost again. Within a week she sets up an informational interview with an urban planning firm as she thinks about fully letting go of this dance dream once and for all, but it doesn’t work out and she can admit she never wanted it anyway. She wants the thing she can’t have. Randall is worried about his wife in the worst way, but she doesn’t want to hear his optimistic suggestions for ways to save the studio. He can barely help himself, but a quick reminder from Deja that Beth doesn’t need a hero seems to do the trick. He goes to see his wife as she’s packing up the studio and instead of launching into a speech, he doesn’t say a thing, and instead, puts on K-Ci and JoJo’s “All My Life” and reaches out his hand to dance with her. It’s exactly what he did back on their six-month anniversary when young Randall could think of no other way to be there for Beth. The two hold each other as they dance in the dorm and again in the studio. It is swoony as hell.
The “music” part of “the music and the mirror” belongs to Kate and Rebecca, per usual. Friends, aside from her marriage being quietly on the verge of blowing up, Kate’s getting a lot of closure these days, and it only makes me increasingly worried about her well-being in the future. This episode feels like a biggie in that respect.
We check up on Kate and Rebecca in the late ’90s, post-Jack’s death and Kate’s abortion. Here, Rebecca has gotten Kate a job interview at her office, hoping her daughter will take it and start moving forward with her life. Only, Kate doesn’t end up going to the interview. She comes home that night and tells her mom that instead, she got a job at a diner. We’ve known that Kate would end up working at a diner for some time thanks to our 2008 flashback episode, but now we learn that it is the same diner where Kate and Jack have one of their very last conversations before he dies (the Superbowl of death is that very weekend). It’s a conversation in which, once again, Jack is beaming with pride for his daughter, so sure that she can achieve whatever she wants to; he is her biggest fan. Kate’s sitting at that diner, remembering that conversation, and is so deep inside her grief that she decides to give up on any dreams she had right there. At home, she has a devastating conversation with her mother about how Rebecca should “stop putting [herself] through” the perpetual cycle of getting her hopes up about Kate only to be disappointed over and over. If Rebecca wants to be proud of one of her children, she should focus on Randall. Even Kevin has more to offer her than Kate. Rebecca is heartbroken, but in no way acquiesces to her daughter asking her to give up on her like she’s given up on herself.
And Rebecca never does, as we’re reminded by the present-day Rebecca and Kate story line. The Pearson ladies head out together to go wedding dress shopping with Madison, and when Madison breaks down into tears because her father texts her to say he isn’t coming to the wedding, Rebecca swoops in, without hesitation, to tell Madison how special she is and that her dad’s a jackass. Kate watches on with awe at how wonderful her mother is and then tells her as much, admitting she wasn’t always an easy daughter and thanking Rebecca for loving her anyway. When Kate was growing up, she may have thought that it was Jack who was her biggest fan, but now as an adult she can see that it really was Rebecca all along. And to celebrate that, and somehow find a way to show gratitude for her mother’s support, she brings Rebecca to her choir practice at school and has the kids sing a new song they’ve been learning — Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi.” Please know that I was just bawling my face off during this moment but I will be blaming it on allergies.
Rebecca could not be prouder of her daughter than in this moment: She is beyond happy that Kate has found a job that is perfect for her in every way, one that is finally bringing her joy after all this time.
This Is the Rest
• Hey! There are finally repercussions for Kevin just walking off a movie set! After screening Foster’s film, Kevin realizes it is one of the worst movies ever made (Foster thinks it’s his greatest achievement) and calls for an emergency meeting with his agents; he needs to book his next gig before word gets out and his career is ruined. But there is a problem even without the garbage movie: Kevin has zero prospects because of his growing reputation — there was that Manny meltdown, the Back of an Egg walkout, and now the latest incident with Foster. Not a great sign!
• Meanwhile, not one person has mentioned Kevin pulling Josh Malina out of a burning car.
• While at his agency, Kevin catches none other than Zoe waiting to have a virtual meeting with her own agent. In their catch-up, she mentions how lovely it is that Kevin goes with the flow so much that whatever reality he’s presented with, he’s able to turn it into what he wanted all along. It applies to things like agreeing to watch The Great British Bake Off when he actually wants to watch Bridgerton, or, you know, deciding to marry Madison and make a go of it after knocking her up. Zoe means it as a compliment, Kevin is unsettled by its cutting accuracy.
• So, when is this Deja-Malika-Jennifer thing going to blow up in everyone’s faces? Poor Dej!
• As much as I love Deja’s story — her falling in love with Malik has been a bright spot — is any 14-year-old anywhere in the world as wise as she is? Just sitting there dispensing relationship advice to her parents? Let her be a kid!
• Toby has his dad come over to help him fix a leak that he stubbornly wants to fix himself instead of calling a plumber. Toby opens up a bit about how hard it’s been since being fired from a job he loved and that he isn’t into the stay-at-home-dad thing at all. After his dad helps fix the leak, he tells his son to keep an eye on it because “people only look for leaks where the water’s coming out, but it’s the pressure that will get you.” This Is Us might as well have put up a big, flashing METAPHOR graphic. We get it!! Things are going to get worse!!
• Oh, so Kate worked at a diner for years and we know the love of Adult Baby Jack’s life, Lucy, is also a diner waitress when they meet. It’s just This Is Us being so This Is Us.
• Toby explains why he doesn’t want to call any Pearsons for help with the leak: “I don’t have the bandwidth to sit around talking about my feelings and then crying about my feelings and then talking about crying about my feelings.” A very nice summary of this show and these recaps, to be honest.