5 takeaways from a steamy episode of "This Is Us" (and also golf)
"This Is Us" may have just been a regular hour-long episode Tuesday night, but "The Club" sure felt like two very different hours of television awkwardly stitched together. One minute, everyone's all horned up talking about sex and watching the infamous final shot of "North By Northwest" with a knowing chuckle; the next, we're discussing racial blindspots and complicated father-son relationships on the racially-charged battleground of a country club golf course.
It was a lot.
But along with the bad, there was also a lot of good to take from "The Club" – so here are the five biggest takeaways from last night's episode, beyond the fact that you don't have to worry about Uncle Nicky stalking your Instagram anytime soon.
1. Freaking out about getting freaky
In the immortal words of acclaimed poets Cheryl James and Sandra Denton – more famously known as Salt-N-Pepa – let's talk about sex, baby. Or, in Toby and Kate's case, let's talk about (not having) sex (because of the) baby.
Indeed, as an early montage of flashbacks lays out, no one's getting laid in the Pearson-Damon household – and all that pent-up sexual frustration is getting to extend beyond the bedroom as a simple conversation about Toby getting rid of some old, now-oversized pants turns into a battleground. (Also: Did I see right that Toby's favorite pair of pants was a dress pants? Nobody's favorite pants are dress pants – and certainly not Toby's. This is possibly the least realistic thing to ever happen on this show.) Because they've apparently never seen "Blue Valentine," the two try to solve things by going to a neon-lit sex motel, but unsurprisingly, the only thing getting laid in their room that night is the train tunnel at the end of "North By Northwest" – their preferred failed sexy time showing of choice.
Thankfully, the two settle their rift. Toby tells Kate that she hurt him by saying he should keep the pants just in case he gains his weight back, and Kate responds by cutting up the pants to show she believes in him – or at least she cuts up A pair of pants. (RIP Innocent Pants.) And apparently, all that clothing destruction makes Toby and Kate want to take off their clothes too, and their dry spell is over. It's a fun enough lark of a storyline, but it's also pretty predictable and consistently feels like a sidebar rather than an essential plot line.
It's business time for most of the cast this episode. Jack and Rebecca start the episode waking up from a fun night during their early dating years (and would've gone for another round in a later flashback if Young Randall wasn't a ninja). An unseen Zoe (remember her?!) is having awesome sex with her new squeeze – at least according to Instagram – while traveling the globe, accepting awards for her new documentary. And as for her movie star ex, Kevin almost takes a chipper and eager redhead from the local gym back to his trailer until he gets blocked by Cassidy and ... oh no. OH NO!
2. Cassidy and Kevin, oh noooooooooo!
I had a bad feeling this was going to happen – a bad feeling that got even worse when a sweaty Cassidy helped out an even sweatier Kevin at the local gym in an episode that, from the first scene, announced that it was going to focus on a different form of heart-racing physical activity. Add a moment where Kevin and Cassidy talk about how having kids was a dealbreaker between him and Zoe, complete with Cassidy listening with rapt intrigue, and yep – doomed.
Even though Cassidy goes to talk to her husband and Kevin goes to hook-up with his new eager gym buddy, she eventually winds up at Kevin's trailer after her conversation with her husband goes awry – and Kevin chooses comforting her over a casual fling with a woman he clearly doesn't have THAT much interest in. After a conversation, Cassidy and Kevin share a passionate but quick kiss ... and seemed to go their separate ways. Phew, I thought, a sigh of relief ... that turned into a sigh of resignation as the show eventually cut back to the two, kissing some more and hooking up, not upset but not looking particularly pleased with themselves either.
To the show's credit, this isn't completely out of left field and emotionally it tracks – but siiiiiiiigh, do we really need another tortured romance storyline for Kevin? In a plot that has a ton of interesting dynamics, as well as great character and performer chemistry, Kevin and Cassidy having a secret troubled love affair seems like the least intriguing and most trite, predictable and melodramatically soapy route the show could've possibly taken. And if this gnaws away at Kevin and Nicky's screen time, it'll be even more frustrating.
3. We interrupt this sexy time for a discussion on race in America
While half the episode was preoccupied with bedroom larks, the other half dug into a complicated conversation between father and son about race – a tonal shift so stark that the show should've started with a warning to viewers about suffering possible whiplash.
It's a shame because, after you get your bearings from the wild transition between subplots, the latter storyline is really well done, focused on Jack and Young Randall taking to the local country club golf course – with Tiger Woods' ascendancy in the sport as the subtle national backdrop. There, Randall begins to grapple with his place in the world as a black man thanks to a supportive nudge from "Native Son" and Mr. Lawrence, the teacher who wrote him up for wearing sneakers earlier in the season. Jack naively tries to relate to his son, using his experience feeling out of place and condescended to amongst Rebecca's father and his friends on the links in the past – but that's not what Randall's grappling with at all. Feeling out of place at a country club because of economic class is not the same with feeling out of place at the club because your skin color is considered lesser – something Jack struggles to understand.
Jack then only makes things worse when he drops a "I don't see color," a popular well-intended statement that's now an excuse to ignore institutional racism, how the system keeps minority populations down and how people of color's experiences are not the same as the white population's day-to-day lives.
It's an excellent discussion on the nuances of race and one's blindspots, a chat that cuts Jack deep after Randall brings up how he let Randall easily quit the all-black dojo from season one – yes, because Randall wasn't interested in doing karate anymore, but also maybe because Jack and Rebecca were all-too-eager to bail from an unfamiliar black community. After all, Jack seems far more insistent on his son following through on learning golf than he was about following through on the dojo – which he seemed just fine with Randall quitting right away, according to Randall. Their brief tiff comes to happy end – Jack tells Randall that he'll lecture less and listen more, a great reaction – but it'll be interesting how this discussion continues next week as Jack invites Mr. Lawrence and his wife over for dinner, where more of these kinds of conversations are sure to break out.
4. Well played, Randall
From its first episode, "This Is Us" earned a reputation for putting a focus on big twists. That's calmed down as the show's evolved. Now the big twists tend to be more character-based and emotional – for instance, Tuesday night's nice final reveal.
Joining his fellow representatives on a round of golf in the hopes of making amends with the councilman he's neglected over the past few weeks – not to mention nudging his plan for a grocery store in his district's food desert – Randall feels out of place, both on the links as he slices balls into onlookers and divots out of green and off as his colleagues condescendingly chuckle and chat without him. Eventually, though, his miserable play earns the councilman's pity as he teaches Randall some basic swing advice. That pity evolves into a level of respect and fondness, though, as Randall ends up bonding with his colleagues and even getting an invitation for a sit-down with his once-grumbly cohort to discuss their separate political plans.
Cue M. Night Shyamalan again, though, because here's the twist: Randall never needed the councilman's help. As the final montage reveals, Randall's actually a great golfer, taught well by Jack that day and then happily honed over the years.
It's a clever and savvy little twist for Randall's present day subplot, as well as a sweet button to Jack and Randall's conversation in the past. His father may not have fully comprehended what life would be like for his black son, but he did know that Randall would need to know how to play the game – both the game of golf and the game of life, of using others condescension and assumptions against them, of finding a way through people's roadblocks. Oh Jack: Even when he fails, he's great.
5. Is Jack gonna punch Rebecca's dad?
Or, uh, maybe not, thanks to our hop back to the past to Jack and Rebecca's early courtship. Things left off tense between Jack and Rebecca's dad – and now after their day out on the golf course, there's definitely a non-zero chance that Jack straight-up punches his future father-in-law in the face.
Part of that is Rebecca's father's fault, who spends much of their day on the links condescending yet again to Jack, using the golf outing to nudge his fellow rich friends to toss Jack a cheap job and chiding his OK golf game before ending the day reiterating that he'll never be good enough for his daughter. Then again, Jack doesn't help things by turning to his friends gin and tonic (several times) in order to get through the day, enough that he's tripping over the sidewalk and getting in the Rebecca's dad's smug face, with only some good timing from Rebecca preventing a fight from breaking out.
Hopefully she's around next time they meet, too – and hopefully gin and tonic aren't.
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