What's wrong with Rebecca and four other takeaways from a new "This Is Us"
I'm concerned about "This Is Us." No, not because last night's episode, "Sorry," was a return to the show's very cluttered storytelling approach that I never find to be its finest work. It's because, after almost half a season of relatively cry-free TV, I think the show is setting up some real tear-duct-wringing, "why don't you just throw my poor sad heart against a wall, you monsters" material in the next few episodes – from Rebecca's mental health to Kate's sure-to-be-crappy boyfriend and the return of Deja's birth mother. Just when you thought it was safe to put the Kleenex away ...
So let's talk about all of that and more with these five takeaways from Tuesday night's new episode of "This Is Us" – just as soon as I finish finally putting this fitted sheet on the bed. (*corner pops off for the 473rd time, Matt flips the entire mattress over in frustration*)
1. Something's not right with Rebecca ...
It seems like eons ago, but remember at the end of the last season when we saw Rebecca in the future, in bed and sick, unable to recognize Randall? That she was the "her" everyone was talking ominously about during all of the flash-forwards? Well, it took several episodes, but it would appear the new season of "This Is Us" finally remembered that scene too, because Rebecca seems like she might be losing it a little bit.
While College Randall helps Rebecca get a job, in the present day, Councilman Randall is giving his mom a tour of his office – and Rebecca just can't stop taking photos on her phone. Literally. She will not stop until either she has the entire square footage in her photos or her battery dies trying. And people say millennials are the ones too attached to their phones. Randall's clearly a bit perturbed – only more so when their nice lunch of roast pork sandwiches (memo to self: stop at DiNic's during my next Philly visit) is interrupted by Rebecca realizing she's somehow lost her phone ... only to find it and share more photos on it. Sure, maybe that's all a little annoying – but also that seems fairly standard mom behavior as well, excitedly taking photos and sharing family images.
It's not until they get home, though, that Randall's causal annoyance turns into something more concerned, as he finds out that this isn't the first time she's lost her phone recently. In fact, she lost her old phone just a few days ago, causing Miguel to have to buy a new one. She calls them senior moments; Randall clearly thinks it might be something more. And the audience knows this is the start of what right now seems like Alzheimer's – a dreaded ailment for a show all about memories and their impact.
The only question right now: Does Rebecca know? Her new obsession with taking photos of EVERYTHING would seem like a major sign that she knows her memory is going and that she's trying to grab and retain as much as possible. Plus, her level of defensiveness about it afterward with Randall was completely unlike the Rebecca we've come to know and love, snapping at Randall that, "I'm still the parent and you're still the son" – a pretty brutal statement considering the mutual respect they've always had, not to mention the flashbacks to Young Randall helping Rebecca get the job with a nice speech. They've always had each other's backs in the Pearson clan; suddenly Rebecca seems unwilling to take the help. And sure, Randall maybe could've been more tactful ... but hmmm.
2. Kevin's storyline is ... still really good?
I expected the worst for Kevin's storyline after he hooked up with Cassidy two episodes ago. I dreaded this plot point's arrival the entire season, just waiting for their story to move away from a lovely and thoughtful look at addicts getting through their issues together and instead become another troubled romance for Kevin. And lo and behold, it happened. They slept together. Cue groans and sighs.
But here we are in "Sorry," and ... his storyline is still really great? In fact, it's the best part of the episode? Huh.
After Cassidy and Kevin go their separate ways, agreeing to forget their RV rendezvous, Kevin runs into Nicky – who must also watch the show like me, because he is also NOT A FAN of the two hooking up, berating Kevin for making Cassidy's life even more chaotic and confusing than it was before. Nicky goes overboard on the verbal beatdown – but that's not what Kevin even sees. In easily the show's most effective and spine-tingling creative choice, Kevin hears and sees his father yelling at him, telling him how disappointed he is and how much he's messed up. It's a jarring and chillingly effective moment that cuts deep into Kevin – and the audience, who knows how much his father was motivation for helping Nicky and knows how much of Jack is in Kevin, both the good (an unflappable desire to help and be there) and the bad (the alcoholism).
Unsurprisingly, Nicky's tirade sends Kevin out to the bar – though not for a drink, even if Kevin is clearly very tempted. Instead of indulging himself, however, Kevin's there to punish himself. So he makes fun of a stranger's overtly false but inoffensive story about getting in a fight with hockey champ Sidney Crosby over some spilled wine – and when that doesn't get him punched, he escalates matters to saying he could sleep with the woman's wife in record time if he wanted, even going so far as to put a crumpled-up bet on it. So yeah, he gets hit in the face a good bit, giving Kevin the punishment and pain he feels he deserves. Worst of all, he forgot Nicky's court hearing through it all – and now Nicky's character witness has a face like the frozen slab of beef Rocky Balboa used for practice. Cue another Nicky tirade – and cue another chilling edit to Jack doing it instead, devastating Kevin to the core.
Thankfully, things do improve for Kevin. While putting some coverup over his black eye, Cassidy reminds Kevin that she messed up her marriage and life long before she met Kevin, much less slept with him. Then Nicky drops a sweet and heartfelt speech at the hearing about how he doesn't feel bad about throwing the chair through the VA window (uhh, bad approach, Nicky!) because, thanks to that low moment, he got sober and met a community of people that support him and give him something to live for. And when Nicky gives Kevin some final kind words, Kevin instead sees his father's approval. It's sweet and smartly done, really mining into Kevin's character in just under an hour and doing so in some really beautiful and unexpected ways.
As a bonus, Cassidy goes off at the end to try to reunite with her family while Kevin and Nicky go their separate way to L.A. – the right ending for these three characters, rather than trying to stretch a crappy hidden tortured romance into a multi-episode arc. So congrats to "This Is Us" for turning what could've been the worst plot turn into the best part of this episode.
Oh, one last thing: In only slightly related news, we learned in the opening sequence that Little Kid Kevin bit his librarian with explicit purpose and intent, so I'm going to need to learn more about that as soon as possible, please and thank you.
3. More awkwardness for Deja and Malik
Please, haven't they had enough?! After last week's tense dinner episode, Deja and Malik get served a heaping helping of leftover awkwardness in "Sorry" as their date at the Pearson house gets a chaperone with Beth. And Beth isn't like a regular mom; she's a COOL mom, constantly pulling away some snacks she's made from Malik like he's a cat playing with a toy and hanging around in the kitchen while the two young romantics hang in the living room ... which is essentially the same room. OPEN CONCEPTS! (*shakes fist at sky*)
In case it wasn't uncomfortable enough to have mom playing chaperone on a date mere feet away, Beth eventually overhears an argument where Deja says she doesn't want to be pushed or forced into doing anything – so obviously Beth goes into mom mode and gets on the defensive over what sounds like some sleazy, handsy behavior from Malik. But it's not – quite the opposite. Instead, Malik was trying to encourage Deja to see her birth mother, something she's wanted to do but hasn't in a long time because she doesn't want to make Randall and Beth feel like they're not doing a good job and giving her what she needs. Thankfully, they all talk it out – Malik explaining the situation to Beth, Beth talking to Deja about reuniting with her mom, Deja and Malik sorting out their micro-fight – and Beth even gives the cute couple 30 seconds of unsupervised time. Dawww.
She also allows Deja to invite her birthmother over for Thanksgiving dinner at the Pearsons. Surely that won't lead to a third straight week of painful awkwardness! GIVE THESE POOR KIDS A BREAK!
4. Kate's storyline this week is a little trash
If I got a quarter for every time I said "Well, Kate's storyline got the short end of the stick this week," I'd have ... well, I'd have some significant amount of money. (I was promised there would be no math.)
In fairness, save for Kevin, just about every storyline this week felt a little rushed or crammed in this week as "Sorry" was another one of those unfortunate "hit every character or else" episodes that shortchanges each character and doesn't do any of the plots any favors. But more so than anyone else, Kate got the short shrift yet again. This week, her plot follows Toby wanting to be there for Baby Jack's first solid food – but then, while helping out Gregory next door, the neighbor feeds him some avocado without knowing the significance ... and without Toby being there. When Toby gets home, he then feeds Baby jack some avocado thinking it's a big life moment, but it's not and Kate's all sad trying to act like it is. And ... that's about it!
The D-level plot feels very light, sitcom-y and unnecessary for an episode already juggling a lot. Every time the show cut to Kate and Gregory, my brain had totally forgotten about this storyline. Plus, I'm not a parent so feel free to correct me on this ... but is baby's first solid food REALLY the most significant event? First steps? For sure. First words? Of course. First semi-mushy food? Ehhhh ... not the most compelling and emotionally wrought of scenarios.
Here's to Kate and Toby finally having something to do soon outside of mild parental kerfuffles.
5. Kate's boyfriend is almost certainly trash
While Kate didn't get much to do this week, we did get at least one quick glimpse into her teen relationship with Marc the music store boyfriend – a relationship that seems to get ugly judging by the way Kate and Rebecca sternly talked about it when they found their photo in that old piano bench three episodes back.
They only have maybe 15 seconds on screen, but in those 15 seconds, Marc slimily belittles a peppy Kate by saying that they're not going to see "Practical Magic" because "we're not 12-year-old girls." GET THAT NICOLE KIDMAN/SANDRA BULLOCK SLANDER OUT YOUR MOUTH, FOR ONE, MARC! Wait until he finds out that "Practical Magic" was directed by Griffin Dunne, aka Uncle Nicky. THROW A CHAIR AT HIM!
It's just one line, but it's an ugly bit of condescension that doesn't bode well for these two lovebirds – nor does the fact that Kate notably passes on getting lunch in favor of just a banana. Things are lining up as I predicted: It would seem Marc is emotionally abusive to Kate, belittling her into what could be an eating disorder. And while Randall seems to be catching on to Marc being a crap human, asking what his sister sees in him after they leave for the movies, Rebecca says she's happy if Kate's happy. I think we're going to see over the next few episodes that Kate's nowhere near as happy as she thinks ...
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