THIS IS US HAS AN OEDIPUS COMPLEX (THIS IS US RECAP)
Ah, the new year. January brings with it the desire to change, to be better, to be a new you. It’s when we resolve to try a little harder, make more of an effort, be more intentional with our lives. And though our plans to finally drop those last 5 pounds or train for that triathlon sputters out and dies after one too many kale bites, we still hold on to that hope that maybe the next 12 months will be different. Sometimes, those miniscule changes actually lead to earthshaking evolutions. Which leads me to ask:
Has This Is Us turned into a good show by simply modifying one of its defining myths??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????
As you may remember, last time we saw the Pearsons there was a miscarriage, a tearful goodbye to Deja, and a Beyoncé Plant experiment. There was also Kevin and his infinite boozing and whining. In the mid-season finale, Kevin drives around drunk only to be surprised by the presence of Tessa, Randall’s daughter, in the backseat. The police arrested him for drunk driving because he’s a white rich man and therefore not subject to their brutality. Anywho, the season premiere begins a month after this incident, with the remaining family members traveling to visit Kevin in rehab for some old-fashioned group therapy. What I thought would end up being pure sentimentality though surprised me, since it dared to say what I’ve been ALL-CAPSing about for the past year: Maybe Jack, the alcoholic dad, wasn’t all that great and maybe it’s time to kill this idea of him, metaphorically speaking.=
I’m getting ahead of myself, though. Let’s dive into the first episode of 2018.
Mommy and Daddy Pearson
The few snippets we get of the Pearson’s weekend in the Poconos will probably sound mundane. Bear with me and keep these details in mind when we dig into the psychological shitstorm of today. It’s worth it.
It’s the era of Urkel and Little Randall is afraid that his new glasses will forever brand him as the Destroyer of Family Matters. #StillBitter. Mommy Pearson is worried. She’s worried Little Randall will get teased. She’s worried Little Kate is packing on the pounds in a way that will adversely affect her health. She’s worried that the spontaneous trip Jack plans to a cabin in the woods will create more work for her. It does. Milo may be charming and rocking the pornstache, but he is still a man and therefore creates tons of emotional labor for her. She accepts, though she knows it will result in endless packing, endless mounds of laundry, and endless scolding of the children. They pick up Little Kevin from football camp, the one kid that seems ok when left to his own devices.
Over in the cabin, Mommy continues to fret over Kate’s obsession with food. Jack says she’s big boned, which is exactly what I call my bulldog who is always one chew toy away from a heart attack. We are both desperately trying to shield our loved ones from the hurtful biases that plague those who are overweight. Little Kate is, of course, adorable but Mommy Pearson is worried about the larger implications of not keeping her emotional eating in check. Jack promises to help Little Kate move around more. For reasons I can’t fathom, he chooses football, a sport dominated by domestic abusers, DUI offenders and idiotic fans offended by people taking the knee. It is also a sport where athletes barely move so an endless litany of commercials can be shown on TV. Little Kate knows this instinctively and runs away in frustration. Little Kevin decides this is a good reason as any to throw a football at Little Randall’s head, which understandably infuriates Mommy Pearson.
Jack finds Little Kate sulking in the middle of the woods. Little Kate asks her dad if he thinks she’s fat and Jack, being the kind father he is, validates her appearance. I can’t blame the man for trying to make her feel better, and it is a sweet moment, but adults take note: THIS IS WHY YOU SHOULD COMPLIMENT LITTLE GIRLS ON OTHER THINGS BESIDES THEIR LOOKS. So they don’t spend a lifetime looking for another man to find them pretty. In this scenario, all roads lead to Toby and we’ve long ago established that Toby is The. Worst.
Back in the cabin, Little Randall can’t find his glasses and Rebecca suspects Kevin. He denies it, says he hates her, says everything sucks and runs off. Jack comes back from the ice cream parlor with Little Kate. Rebecca is losing the real Mommy Wars. Not the one that thinkpieces will have you believe are battled in some upper-middle class private country club. The ones that are unleashed in the home, where dad gets to be the fun parent while mom is seen as the nag who ruins everything. A dynamic that is later repeated throughout all institutions of power and turns women into “buzzkills.” See: every complaint about women saying they’re ruining fun workplace environments with their whole “please-don’t-jerk-off-into-a-potted-plant-while-I’m-working” request. Jack and Rebecca discuss it, in that laid-back way you do when you’re too tired to really change anything. They joke about how their kids will mention it in therapy one day. (Oh, they do.)
Mommy Pearson apologizes to Little Kevin for accusing him of being a shithead. Little Kevin is distant as usual. He wakes up during a thunderstorm to find Little Randall’s glasses underneath his bed. When he goes to his parents’ room to let them know, he finds the other four Pearsons all snuggled in bed. Kevin makes a little cot for himself on the floor and is later joined by Rebecca, in a very cute, snuggly moment.
All the Adult Pearsons
Let me begin this section by saying that nothing has inspired me more than Beth in the first 10 minutes of this episode. NOTHING. Not Oprah launching her 2020 presidential run at the Golden Globes, not Meghan Markle being cheered on by her beloved subjects, not even Mariah Carey asking for hot tea during her New Year’s Eve performance. All child’s play as far as I’m concerned. Beth, Queen of My Heart, spends the opening scenes dragging Kevin, Randall, and the whole lot of them.
First off, she refers to Kevin by his legal name, “Your Jackass Brother.” Appropriate term for any dude who drives off drunk with your daughter. She is pissed and trying to hold it together. Randall is sticking by him, though. His tactic: to breathe deep and say “I’m here for you Kev” every time he starts to get angry. It leads to this delightful interaction that I will forever cherish in these dark times:
Beth: “That’s some white-people level repression.”
Randall: “I was raised by white people."
Beth: “EVERYBODY KNOWS.”
Insert all the laughing emoji here and multiply them times infinity. You know what’s even funnier? I went on Twitter to see how people were reacting and, almost to the last Russian Bot, the white folks were applauding Randall for his restraint while every single POC was passing around a collection bucket for Beth’s insightful preaching. I don’t know what the Latino equivalent of Beth’s reaction would be, but it sure as hell wouldn’t be deep breathing and platitudes. It would involve at least one chancleta and 5 people yelling over each other at once.
Maybe Miguel could chime in, since he’s been brought out from whatever fictional pasture the writers have put him in lately. He’s there to visit Kevin with Rebecca, as are Kate and Toby. Toby is very disturbed because he found a bucket of fried chicken in the trash and looked at it with the same fear that one looks at a heroin-filled injection. He’s dealing with his own white-people level repression and is not mentioning it to Kate at all.
Beth dubs Kevin “Mr. Rehab” seeing as he comes springing up to them like this was a spa retreat. He may very well be. I think that’s what rich people rehab is like, a luxurious vacation where you drink smoothies and get a facial. Kevin introduces his family to his therapist, Scandal’s Sally Langston. This gave me hope. If anyone can get through to Kevin, it’s the murderous Vice President of a Shonda Rhymes show. She sends off The Others—Beth, Toby, and Miguel—and Beth has the presence of mind to whisper “Hurry up, before they change their mind.”
Anyone ready for a Beth spin-off, where we follow her younger years in college? CAUSE I AM. Note to self: start working on spec script.
Back in therapy, Kevin apologizes to Kate for being a dick while she was dealing with her miscarriage. Kate apologizes for not paying attention to him, cause that is the cause of most white dude’s psychological pain. Kevin apologizes to Randall who keeps saying “I’m here for you.” Kevin apologizes to Mommy Pearson, who only wants him to be happy. I almost dozed off with how boring and unrealistic this was. I should have known better. For Sally Langston is in the house. She calls Kevin out on his BS and then dares to utter the unspeakable: Jack was not perfect and it’s time to unravel that.
Oh my god, is This Is Us finally breaking free from the white patriarchal supremacy we are all trying to break free from? Are we seeing Oedipus Rex, in an overly-sentimental, metaphorical form? See, the thing about the Oedipus Complex is that everyone focuses on the gross incestuous part, where the kids desire to have sexy times with the mom. What they fail to forget is that it also involves having lots of murderous thoughts about your father, and how you feel the need to abolish him psychologically in order to become an adult. One of my many issues with This Is Us is the fact that they treat Jack’s alcoholism as if it were this minor blemish on the family’s history, instead of the life-sucking force it actually is.
The Others understand this. They’re dealing with family drama the way the good lord intended, by hiding out in a dive bar. They bond by bitching about the family of their significant others, a legit strategy if I ever heard one. They specifically mention how they can’t critique Daddy Pearson without one of the Big Three turning to threats of violence. This is why the Myth of Perfect Jack needs to be destroyed.
Back in therapy, all hell breaks loose. Kevin, being the snowflake he is, says he grew up feeling ignored and like he wasn’t good enough. Hence, his destructive impulses. Is there a better allegory of our troubled times? What if this was the Paradise Lost of the Trump Era? A family drama as the microcosm of our dark political present? We are all beholden to the whims of the man children in power, after all.
Kevin does say one truth: they are a family of addicts. Kevin even implies that Kate may be a food addict. Kate does not want to hear it. Sally asks Rebecca if she ever talked honestly about his disease to her children. She says she didn’t, to preserve their loving memories of their father. She mentions how the other two kids were deprived of special moments with their father, but tellingly does not include Kevin in that list. Kevin starts up his whining again and begins to critique Mommy Pearson. Randall will not have it and lists every single way that Kevin has been fortunate. “THE ONLY THING YOU ARE ADDICTED TO IS ATTENTION,” Randall says. Mic drop. Kevin accuses Randall of the same thing, making Randall get up and motion to leave. Mommy goes after him and Kevin accuses her of playing favorites. Kevin pushes and pushes, until Mommy says that Randall was easier because he wasn’t moody (like Kate) or aloof (like Kevin) and was by her side when Jack died. It’s all very heavy.
In a dive bar somewhere, The Others are having the time of their life. Playing darts, getting buzzed, talking about cheese fries. This triggers Kevin into revealing Kate’s fried chicken problem and making a complicated Star Wars metaphor about how they’re all Chewbaccas instead of Lukes. I won’t get into it because I don’t have time for 40-something trolls to find me on the internet and wish my death for getting a Star Wars reference wrong. Miguel remembers he can speak and does so to say, “I married my best friend’s wife.” He then continues by mentioning his irrelevancy and how he’s ok with that. He too uses an even more complicated Star Wars metaphor, which results in him calling the Pearsons light sabers. The only important thing about all this is that Toby, in his only likeable moment to date, turns to Beth to ask, “How drunk is Miguel?”
Back in the Swiss spa that is rehab, Kate, Kevin, and Randall powwow outside. Randall wishes there had been an objective recording of their childhood, to diffuse all this tension. A tad too self-referential. This Is Us. I will not allow it. He then says something that I think is very true and that I’ve experienced with all my siblings: “I think everyone sees their childhood with different lenses.” Randall, the better person, then says that he’s not there to crap on Kevin and wishes he could have been a better brother to him back in therapy. Kevin apologizes again about Tessa. Like most sibling tiffs, this one is forgotten within seconds.
Kate confesses to Toby about fried chicken abuse and wonders if her issues with food are more substantial than she initially thought. Can the writers stop using her weight as a writing crutch? Guess not.
Kevin finds his mom in the most lavish, beautiful rehab room I’ve ever seen. Not that I’ve seen many. Mostly the ones on Celebrity Rehab. Rebecca tells him how he waltzed right into kindergarten and marveled at her brave little boy. She admits that she didn’t think she had to worry about him and that she was wrong to assume so. Kevin finally admits that he didn’t have an unhappy childhood, but Mommy Pearson says “it wasn’t as good as I thought.” It’s ok Rebecca. Part of childhood is having your heart crushed a million times so you can be prepared for the dull pain of adulthood. In a poignant moment, she tells Kevin how she knows they had special moments together, she can feel it in her bones, even though she’s clearly drawing a blank. We viewers know what it is though. It involves a thunderstorm, some glasses, and a little cot on the floor.
Reasons to Lust After Milo
He’s rocking khakis, flannel, a pornstache, and all the body positivity a girl could want.
Attempts at Emotional Manipulation
- Mommy Pearson breaking down over her preferential treatment of Randall
- Kate asking Jack about her looks
- Kevin feeling left out during the thunderstorm
Deep Quote of the Week
It bears repeating so I’ll copy paste this again:
Beth: “That’s some white-people level repression.”
Randall: “I was raised by white people. “
Beth: “EVERYBODY KNOWS.”
May 2018 be the year you stop with the white-people level repression and begin speaking your truth. With or without a murderous vice president looking over your shoulder.