6 takeaways from the Pearsons' dramatic cabin trip on "This Is Us"
After three solo episodes, the Pearson clan are back together and headed into the woods – both emotionally and literally. A lot happened – both exactly how you predicted and also nothing like you expected (looking at you, Randall and Kevin's fight that never took place) – so with no further ado, let's dig into the six biggest takeaways from Tuesday night's new episode of "This Is Us." Well, seven takeaways if you include "Old Man Kevin turns out to be a silver fox."
1. A bad time at the cabin
I'll be honest: I spent most of "The Cabin" hating it.
After spending three episodes with each individual Pearson, empathizing with their emotional aches and pains, watching them evolve into their worst jerk-ish selves for no particular reason in a confined space was not what I hoped we were building toward. I was having a lot of flashbacks to last season's waiting room episode, which felt a little too forced in trying to draw conflict between everyone and as a result all too accurately recreated the feeling of being trapped in a room with annoying people. Trade a hospital waiting room for a cabin, and you've got three-fourths of this episode – and at least the former didn't have sentient toxic oil slick Marc!
From their first moments at the cabin, things are awkward and stiff – especially since they each have a secret, whether it's Randall and Kate hiding Rebecca's mental deterioration or Kevin hiding his hookup with Madison (which Tuesday night's episode confirmed it was no "This Is Us" trickery; they did it). Randall's still stressed about getting his security camera updates, Kate's worried about Toby taking care of Baby Jack and Kevin, well, is Kevin and more interested in what VHS tapes they've got to watch. (My vote: "Free Willy" over "White Fang.")
Then the stuff starts to hit the fan – and we're not talking about Kevin dropping off the 100 hottest celebrities list in the tabloids.
First Kevin's secret gets out as Madison leaves Kate several increasingly panicky and revealing voicemails, ending with her confessing to hooking up with her brother. As you'd expect, Kate's not thrilled – but that's not even the big secret. That's for later, as Kevin catches Randall talking about a trip to Los Angeles, and while Randall tries to dodge and weave around the truth, he and Kate eventually tell their brother what they've been hiding: Rebecca is suffering from mental deterioration. This would be bad enough, but then Randall keeps tossing in accidental (but no less painfully pointed) jabs while Kevin's trying to cope with this new information – and cope with having his mother's health withheld from him. Randall says that the symptoms were subtle – implying Kevin didn't care enough to notice – and that he doesn't need to worry about finding her a doctor because they already did, talking down to him and leaving him out of his mother's life.
That's the infuriating thing about this episode: Everyone's so insufferable and written primed to fight (Kevin has his share of tactless comments as well) when it's totally unnecessary. The drama table was already set well; the audience would relate to Kevin and Randall having a fight about their mother's health – and the previous episodes did a good job of empathizing with all sides so we'd understand why this would blow up into something. So why goose the drama and make them behave so needlessly annoying to each other too? It already sucks enough that we have to watch characters we like make questionable decisions and hurt other characters we like – why make them jerks too for no reason other than to add fuel to the fire? Sure, people aren't always at their best – but I just didn't buy a lot of their strange insensitivity this episode, especially given the topic of their slowly deteriorating mother.
And so, for much of Tuesday night, we were stuck in a cabin with some insincere, overly dramatic jerks – and that's before we even discuss Dark Universe Timothée Chalamet!
2. Update on Marc: Still sucks!
Yep, this greaseball is still here – and is still garbage. Perhaps even more so than before!
Sadly, Kate did indeed go back to Marc after he abandoned her on the side of the road. Their forgiveness is short-lived, though, as back at the cabin, Marc grabs one of Jack's old coffee mugs to drink out of and Kate asks if he can pick a different one since only her father drank out of that cup and it means a lot to her. Simple request, you'd think – but not for the world's most punchable man, who decides it'd be a real hoot to pretend to drop his girlfriend's dead father's mug before actually dropping it and shattering it into pieces. (The camera cuts away for the actual incident, but no matter whether it was an accident or on purpose, he was being a major league turd.) Kate understandably gets upset that one of her few surviving tokens of her father is now destroyed and yells at Marc, who politely responds by locking her out of the cabin in the freezing cold while she was getting firewood.
So yeah, between Marc in the past and the Big Three in the present being strangely indelicate toward each other, "The Cabin" was truly a banner episode for assholery.
Thankfully, the Pearsons arrive to Windex this oil slick for good. Rebecca, Randall and Kevin arrive to a freezing cabin and an even frostier Kate and Marc about to enjoy some breakfast. However, they soon discover the reason why the cabin's so cold: A window's been broken, and while Kate tries to cover for it at first, Randall does his best Hercule Pearson impression and adds up the evidence – no glass on the floor, Kate mysteriously wearing gloves – to deduce that Marc locked Kate out in the wintry cold long enough that she had to break into the cabin (cutting her hand in the process) to get back in and not freeze to death.
Now, if I wrote the show, the next 15 minutes would've just been Randall and Kevin satisfyingly and vigorously using Marc as a soccer ball. But instead, mature and responsible grownups write "This Is Us," so Rebecca sternly tells Marc to get out of her house and to never see her daughter again. And oh boy, you can tell he's THIS close to saying something sassy to Rebecca before he leaves – and if he had, America would've reached through their collective TV screens and beat him up as a united country. But he doesn't. Instead, he's just gone – and hopefully for good.
3. Sticking the landing
The Marc storyline isn't the only one with a happy ending. In fact, though I spent most of the episode annoyed by characters being jerks, "The Cabin" somehow managed to stick the landing – and then some.
Back in the present, while Kevin goes outside to sulk about being left out of Rebecca's health conversations, Randall and Kate work on a puzzle of the family – except one piece is missing. Randall knows where to find it, though: a time capsule that the family buried back when they were kids. (Between this and "To All the Boys 2," big month for time capsules!) Together, they dig up the container and find that Kevin left a photo of him and Sophie, Kate left a game of grade-school MASH and Randall indeed left the missing puzzle piece because he was too stressed out to pick something so Kevin helped him in his time of need. It's the perfect invitation for Randall to open up about how he's anxious all the time, and that the time's come for him to actually seek help about it instead of trying to power through it by himself.
The Big Three weren't the only ones to leave items in the time capsule, though. Jack, in classic form, leaves behind a tape cassette with a previously unheard message, talking about how he drew an idea for a new house up by the cabin but threw it away – only for Rebecca to grab it out of the trash and put it in the time capsule herself as her memorable item. Hop into the far-away future, and Jack's dream house is now the fancy modern home that everyone is meeting at – complete with a now bearded and grey-foxed Kevin. Bet he's back on that top 100 sexiest stars list now, looking like some handsome distinguished Civil War general.
Is it a little cornball and tear-jerking? Sure. Is using the Cinematic Orchestra's "I Built a Home" a total cheat to get audiences to cry? A thousand percent. Was the ending totally effective and a lovely way to wash down what was otherwise a pretty unpleasant hour? Completely. I mean, the best way for this episode to end would still be a Pearson beatdown of Marc – but this comes in a close second.
4. Rebecca in the spotlight
The first three seasons of "This Is Us" honed in on Jack – sure, on some of his flaws, but mostly about how much of a first-ballot hall of fame father and husband he was when he was alive. So it's been really nice over the last few episodes to see the show share some of that shine with Rebecca and watch the show pay tribute to the Pearson matriarch as well, from the lovely relationship with Kate developed in "Hell of a Week: Part III" to now this week from her standing up against Marc (while not dissolving into much-deserved fisticuffs) to Jack's final message about how much she quietly cares and how much she is the vertebrae that holds together much of the family.
Jack was so much of the focus of "This Is Us" for the first three seasons, from his secrets to his death to his forgotten Vietnam past. Now it feels like Rebecca's time as the show's emotional forefront – and considering her cognitive impairment in the present, oh jeez, we're going to be crying a lot, aren't we?
5. Kevin and Randall: crisis averted ... for now
Every time the show seems like it's going to zag, it zigs instead. We've known this ever since literally the first episode – and yet here we are, in season four, and I'm still getting juked out of my jockstrap.
I was all ready for Kevin and Randall's big fight – the one that has the two brothers no longer on speaking terms in the near future – to be about Randall withholding the information about Rebecca's mental decline. So when Randall and Kate finally got around to telling Kevin about it on Tuesday night's episode, and the former couldn't stop throwing in his little emotional daggers, it seemed like we'd reached the big fight that would tear these two apart. But instead, thanks to the time capsule, the missing puzzle piece and Jack's final message, Randall and Jack hugged it out and moved on. Crisis averted ... at least for now.
So what's their future fight about? Maybe it's something else about Rebecca's treatment down the line, or maybe Kevin and Randall aren't as amicable as we thought. But no matter the case, this was a big swing-and-miss in the prediction department – so thanks, "This Is Us," for making me look like Charlie Brown going for a field goal.
6. I hate where I think Kate and Toby are going
You know what they say: If you don't succeed, try, try again! And sure, I botched that Kevin and Randall fight prediction, but here's a new one from last night's hour – and boy, do I hope I'm wrong on this one too.
While the Pearsons were off on a mostly not-fun-at-all cabin retreat, Toby was home with Baby Jack, trying to bond with his son. Instead, while nibbling on some breakfast, Baby Jack began to choke – though thanks to some vigorous CPR from Toby, he's all fine complete with a doctor's signature of approval. (Baby Jack may be fine, but what about the heart attack I just suffered?!) It seems like a happy one-off accident – one quickly put in the past since, after that, Toby finally finds a way to bond with Baby Jack by sharing his love of "Star Wars" with sound effects and storytelling – but nothing on this show is just a random one-off moment. Baby Jack almost suffocating is way too big of a thing to just be thrown in as some bonus drama in an episode that already had plenty.
So now I'm sitting here with a really bad feeling that Kate's going to come home from their cabin retreat and discover bruises on Baby Jack's back from Toby giving the infant the Heimlich – and she's going to think that Toby is hurting and abusing their child, and that's why their marriage officially falls apart.
Again: I REALLY look forward to being wrong on this – partly because, duh, we like Toby and Kate together but also because it's the worst kind of contrived plot conflict, blowing up a misunderstanding that should be an easy fix with one simple adult conversation but instead it infuriatingly becomes A Thing. Plus, sending Toby away right after finally finding his connection with Baby Jack is the kind of tear-tugging misery porn that I'm glad "This Is Us" moved away from over the past few seasons – and I don't need them to return to that storytelling approach! But I think they just might; combine thematically how much time we've spent recently on Kate's history in abusive relationships with how the "This Is Us" writers rarely waste a moment, and I think I'm about to hate where this is going. Here's to me hopefully swinging and missing on this as well!
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