This Is Us
“And that, my friend, is what they call closure.” Okay, fine, that’s Rachel Green when she drunk-dials Ross to tell him she’s over him before tossing her date’s phone in an ice bucket (an iconic Friends moment, obviously). It is also, I imagine, the vibe Kate Pearson carries with her as she walks back to her car after telling off Marc, whom she tracked down 20 years after their horribly toxic relationship. Although Kate’s closure feels like real closure, whereas Rachel’s was, well — listen, that’s a discussion for another day. But wow! Kate Pearson is really making some moves, isn’t she?
We’re here because all the Pearsons are very damaged people, and in the beginning, it seemed as if Kate might be the one suffering the most. But when you look at her track record, she also might be the one doing the most to rectify her situation. She cried it out during that drumming aerobics class; that was A Moment. She finally scattered her dad’s ashes before her wedding, and that was huge for her. And now, here she is dealing with the emotional trauma she’s been keeping from literally everyone in her life.
Does it seem a little high maintenance for Kate and Toby to drive to San Diego after she figures out where Marc works via a mutual Facebook friend and Marc’s MySpace page (MySpace does, in fact, still exist; I checked for you) so she can tell him off? Sure, but which Pearson isn’t high maintenance? I mean, even Annie is out there trying to incorporate Little Women dialogue into everyday life. High maintenance is their way! But that’s what Kate feels compelled to do in order to finally be free from the pain she’s been carrying around. The woman is naming her demons and casting them out, and we must let her!
It is cathartic to watch as Kate finds that dirtbag, who’s still working at a record store and talking about how the band he manages is totally about to break big, and unloads on him. He, of course, admits their six-month relationship got intense at times but doesn’t really think about it much. That’s when Kate goes off: She was 18, he was 24; she was vulnerable and grieving, and he took advantage of that. “You held my self-esteem in your hands, and you decided to crush it,” she tells him. She let him have power over her for way too long, but now she has the love she deserves and is letting Marc go. You almost wish Kate would don a white skirt suit and sing a verse or two of “You Don’t Own Me,” but alas, This Is Us is not that kind of show.
The confrontation is extra cathartic because while it’s going on, we also watch 18-year-old Kate as she visits Marc before she has her abortion. You know, just so he can be a dick to her one last time. At least this time, she realizes he’s being a dick. She leaves without telling him she’s pregnant. After her abortion, there’s one moment when Kate could open up to Rebecca and tell her what’s going on, but we watch as she bottles it all up — the start of what will be decades of Kate burying her emotions. So yes, it is nice to see how good Kate feels after she sees Marc again in the present day and lets him go. It’s also nice to see her so moved by the fact that, instead of trying to solve her problems for her or treat her like a victim, Toby has simply been supportive. They are in a very good place, which means this is the point in my recap when I remind you all that we still have no idea where Kate is in our flash-forward, but we do know she and Toby are no longer together. Divorced? Dead? Who’s to say, but something must be brewing, right?
Kate Pearson isn’t the only member of the Big Three making some strides with emotional well-being. Were you about to guess Kevin? Because that’s hilarious. Kevin’s a disaster. No, we’re talking about Randall! Randall getting a therapist and then finally opening up about how alone he felt growing up as a Black man in a white family were some major steps forward in his healing process. (Although let’s never forget that he still hasn’t apologized for emotionally manipulating his mother into going into an Alzheimer’s trial she didn’t want to take part in. Randall’s always gonna Randall!) In this episode, however, we see some of that therapy paying off in a positive way.
Randall’s still in the “colleagues making fun of you with padded-pecs costumes” stage after his accidental striptease video — which, let’s be honest, would be a much bigger deal than we’re seeing here, especially after people found out the stripping councilman was related to the actual Manny. There’d be a shirtless-brothers magazine spread or something, and we would all eat it up because that’s the kind of content we deserve during a pandemic and you know it. Anyway, Jae-won removes his fake pecs — he’s a professional — in order to deliver a curious letter that came through their website from a man named Hai who lives in New Orleans and claims to know Randall’s birth mother, Laurel. Hai was with Laurel when she died … in May 2015.
It’s the date that really throws Randall. If Hai’s story is true, that means William’s story about how Randall’s mother died from an overdose right after he was born was all a lie. It’s a scenario Randall can’t handle. His first instinct is to ignore it, go for a run, and live in denial. The old Randall (different from Old Randall) would definitely have lived like this, letting the specter of his mother and the thought that William could have been lying haunt him until he had another sliding-down-the-wall-while-crying breakdown. But this is not the old Randall (also not the Old Randall). This is sort of new, in therapy Randall. He eventually calls his therapist. The good doctor (not The Good Doctor) reminds Randall why he spent so much of his life searching for his birth parents: Randall wanted to know where he came from, but also he wanted to feel connected to something bigger. Getting to know William helped Randall feel that way, so wouldn’t knowing his mother do the same? Dr. Vance tells Randall he’s already on the journey; he may as well fully commit.
And so Randall does. With Beth by his side, he calls Hai. Mercifully, Hai immediately puts Randall out of his misery by assuring him that the story William told Randall about Laurel was what William believed was the truth; he didn’t know Laurel was alive. This is an unbelievably huge relief for Randall, and you know that Sterling K. Brown Single Tear comes out. It’s effective every time. Now Randall can focus on learning more about his birth mother. Hai says he wishes he could show Randall “the places [Laurel] lived” and “the things she loved.” Randall and Beth exchange a look and, well, it seems like we’re headed to New Orleans.
This Is the Rest
• Kevin and Madison are having some issues. Apparently, they didn’t really think about how Kevin’s work has him gone for long stretches of time. He assumed Madison and their babies would come with him all the time, but that’s not the life Madison envisioned for them. She tells him to think over his role in their family while he’s in Vancouver for his film shoot. It seems really fast to be headed toward an ultimatum with this situation. Either Kevin has a career or a family? There’s no room for compromise?
• Hey, remember when Madison was weird and goofy and awkward? What happened to that character? There are no traces of her.
• The Madison situation reminds Kevin of what eventually ended his and Sophie’s relationship, and we learn that after a young, newly married Kevin — fresh off his acting showcase, if you need a timeline reminder — gets the attention of a talent manager who wants him to head to Los Angeles for pilot season, it’s Randall who warns him not to. Randall can’t fathom anything coming between him and Beth, and he doesn’t know how Kevin could leave Sophie. Kevin doesn’t take his advice, and, well, we all know how that worked out.
• In the present day, Kevin doesn’t want to make the same mistakes again — he wants Randall’s advice this time around. He tells his brother that he constantly thinks, What would Randall do? And honestly, Randall’s response to that sentiment moved me. “That’s a nice thing to say. That’s a nice thing to know,” Randall says, tearing up. These two ding-dongs start to make amends: Kevin acknowledges the awful things they yelled at each other not too long ago and says he’s sorry Randall felt so alone growing up. But they have a long way to go. I can’t wait until they can hug this out. Is that just the social distancing talking, or is it real emotion? Time will tell!
• Are Rebecca Pearson’s two favorite comedies Airplane! and Borat? Discuss!