Can anyone really say it better than Beth Pearson does here when she is forced to explain why her sweet, kind husband is being a real dummy if he thinks Thanksgiving this year is going to be “rewarding and drama-free?” To quote Beth: “The Pearson epitaph will read: Lovely people, cried a lot, dramatic as hell Thanksgivings.” I mean, do you need anything more? It’s the perfect summation of both this family and this show. So, yes, Beth Pearson has the makings of an excellent TV recapper, and This Is Us is giving us several “dramatic as hell” Pearson Thanksgivings as a parting gift.
The least dramatic of the three feasts we’re privy to in “Taboo” occurs in the Jack-and-Rebecca-are-Engaged Era, when the husband-and-wife-to-be are hosting Rebecca’s parents at their apartment. It mostly reiterates things we already knew about Rebecca and Janet’s relationship — it’s complicated. Yes, Rebecca’s mom was exacting and critical, especially when it comes to both Rebecca’s cooking and eating skills, but also they were close at times. I don’t know why we need to rehash this relationship since we’ve already seen how terrible Janet is to Randall when they’re kids, but fine? We do learn that the Malones move from Pittsburgh to Connecticut around this time, so that explains their absence as the Big Three grows up and about a Thanksgiving sugar pie recipe with a secret ingredient that’s been passed down from mother to daughter for generations. At the very least, this whole storyline being set during Jack and Rebecca’s engagement period gives me hope that we’ll get to see mom and dad’s actual wedding day before this party’s over. Give us the flowy ’70s wedding of our dreams, please.
The most dramatic of our three Thanksgivings being celebrated today is undoubtedly the one we’ve been building up to in the section of our Pearson timeline when Jack is dead, Kevin and Sophie have split, and both Rebecca and Miguel are bringing their new significant others — Matt and Marguerite — to dinner to meet everyone. It’s so sad!! Did they even make it to pie? It becomes more and more obvious to everyone in attendance that there is something more than friendship going on between Rebecca and Miguel. They’re both making little passive-aggressive digs at Matt and Marguerite, and during a little game of Taboo, Rebecca’s clues are so specific to Miguel. The round ends with Rebecca excitedly exclaiming, “I love you, Miguel!” to celebrate their win. Everyone is uncomfortable. Also, I just think there are like 3,000 other ways to get someone to guess “lizard,” but that’s just me.
The obvious display of some underlying feelings is the beginning of the end of the evening. Kevin, drunk and miserable just a few days after his marriage fell apart, tells Miguel that Jack would be “turning over in his grave” if he saw what was going on between Miguel and Rebecca right now. Aside from the fact that Jack doesn’t actually have a grave, this is so cruel!! Yes, Kevin is taking out his feelings of guilt and disappointment in himself — disappointment he believes his father would share — on Miguel, but wow, this one stings!
The confrontation leads to Miguel finally gathering the courage to tell Rebecca that he’s moving to Houston. He got a job there, near his kids, a while ago and put it off to stay near Rebecca. But he’s clearly feeling things that he doesn’t want to be feeling — and the chat with Kevin didn’t help. This isn’t huge news to us since we’ve been waiting for Rebecca and Miguel to go their separate ways, knowing they don’t reconnect until 2008, but still, this is a devastating scene. Jon Huertas’s face as he chokes out, “I don’t know what else to do, you’re my favorite person,” is seared on my soul! I’m teary-eyed just thinking about it! He’s so heartbroken to leave her but doesn’t think there is anything else to do. Obviously, the marquee romance of this show is Jack and Rebecca, but man, Rebecca and Miguel are making a stealth play for the title the more we get to see their full story.
And “their story,” yes, includes how they ended up together in the first place, but also everything that’s happening between them in the present day. We already had a scene this season in which Rebecca laments how Miguel has been dealt a rough hand in regards to how their relationship is playing out. He, of course, tells her how much he loves her and how he’ll always be with her and that he doesn’t think of how things have worked out in that way. Here in the present-day storyline of “Taboo,” Miguel gets to show us that sentiment as he steadies Rebecca, stays at her side, and stands up for her when needed. What Miguel is doing for Rebecca isn’t the sexiest, sure, but holy hell, it is romantic.
This brings us to our third Thanksgiving of the episode, one that falls in between the other two as far as dramatics but definitely feels like the most important as far as events that will have ramifications for the rest of the season. Two major discussions take place during the Pearson retreat to the cabin.
First, there is the infuriating mess between Kate and Toby. Toby is becoming more insufferable by the minute, and I cannot stress enough that I cannot wait until these two go their separate ways. They both seem miserable, they both seem to make each other miserable, and they are making me miserable. The tension we’ve seen between them so far this season is at an all-time high — ah, family holidays — and yes, sure, Toby is feeling sensitive and guilty about being away from his family so much, but that doesn’t give him license to be a grade-A dick to his wife. On Thanksgiving!! In front of her family!! Deal with your shit privately, Tobias. Instead, he starts harping on Kate about feeding Jack too much sugar and goes pretty quickly from passive-aggressive comments to aggressive ones about how since they both have weight issues, they should be hyper-aware of what they’re feeding Jack who shares their genes. Kate puts it bluntly: Toby’s afraid that Jack will get fat. Toby goes on about how Kate is overly sensitive about this stuff and that yes, he thinks “it would be insane to not acknowledge our genetics here.” All of this is over a small helping of sweet potato casserole, and all of it is said very loudly at the dinner table with everyone listening. Thank God for Kevin, the only one to step in on Kate’s behalf (how does Randall not tell Toby to cool it?). Later, Kate and Toby sort of talk it out but mostly come to the conclusion that things are bad between them right now. Kate talks about how much shame she’s had around food and eating her whole life and that while Toby’s greatest fear might be about his kids getting fat because he sucks, her greatest fear is that her kids would have to live with food having so much power over them, too. Let her kids eat! Their conversation gets cut short before it can go any further, so I’m holding out hope that eventually Kate will get much angrier with Toby — what an awful way to treat his wife. Where is that green egg thing sent to destroy this marriage once-and-for-all when you need it?!
The other major — and much less anger-inducing — discussion at this cabin is courtesy of Rebecca. She gathers her three kids and Miguel to talk about her future care. She tells them the one silver lining of her disease is that they all know it is coming so they can plan for it. That doesn’t make this whole thing any less heartbreaking. Oof, friends, this is easily one of the season’s best scenes. Mandy Moore! She is very good at her job!
Rebecca wants her kids to know that once things start to get bad, Miguel is the one who will be making decisions about her care. She needs them to agree to that audibly. He knows her, he’s her rock, and they’ve talked out all the scenarios. She knows her kids, especially her sons, are prone to disrespect her husband. It happened earlier that day: When Kevin takes everyone to the construction site for the new cabin, and Miguel starts asking about a guest house, Kevin gets annoyed and assumes Miguel just wants to bring buddies out here. Rebecca explains that Miguel was asking because they know eventually Rebecca will require full-time aids. Later, we get a mirror version of the earlier conversation between Miguel and Kevin — this time, Kevin apologizes and asks for Miguel’s help in making this cabin work for what Rebecca needs.
Rebecca has also decided that if Miguel is no longer around to make decisions for her, she wants Kate to step in. It’s quite clear that everyone thought this role would go to Randall, but Rebecca is adamant: It’s Kate. “It’s always been you,” she tells her daughter later when she asks why she would choose her. Kate is her daughter and her best friend, and even though their relationship has been rocky, they have a different kind of bond than the one Rebecca has with her sons. One we see forming back at that other Thanksgiving when Rebecca has just learned that Miguel is leaving and can’t stop crying in bed. Randall doesn’t know how to help her, but Kate does — she lays beside her mom and holds her. Kate is the only one Rebecca wants to confide in. It’s always been Kate.
Rebecca has one last item to go over with her kids, and it is “a demand” rather than a request. She tells them that no matter what happens, they are not allowed to “make [their] lives smaller” because of her. They need to live. “I’m your mother, and I’m sick, and I’m asking you to be fearless.” She knows it is a hard ask, but she makes them promise. It’s fine. It’s totally fine. It’s not like Rebecca’s crying, and her adult children are crying, and we’re all crying. What a ride the end of this series is going to be.
This Is The Rest
• Oh, don’t worry: Rebecca finally tells Kate the secret ingredient to her sugar pie, and we see Kate telling Hailey that one day she’ll learn it, too.
• Kevin trying and failing miserably to learn how to play “Anna Begins” on the guitar is a joy to watch. He’s so bad at it! I love that they made him so bad at it!
• Okay, fine, Uncle Nicky is in Topeka with his girlie but did they still have Thanksgiving Shrimp?? I need a hard confirmation on the Thanksgiving Shrimp.
• Remember when Rebecca had a sister in season one? I fear for her well-being!!
• The Pearson/Malone Thanksgiving may have been a bit pointless, but it was fun to see the Malone ladies make up after their big fight and immediately gang up on Jack. That boy can sweat a little!
• I can’t explain it, but that quick line Kevin tosses out about the pool where they used to go to closing hit me hard! We’ve been through so much at that pool!!
• Oooo, what’s going on with Malik and Deja? She notes that he hasn’t been texting her all Thanksgiving morning — has he taken Randall’s advice to let her go to heart?
• “What should I do first? Should I use the knife to stab Randall’s iPhone or slice Kevin’s guitar strings?”