HIT PAUSE: WHAT IS GOING ON WITH THIS IS US??? (THIS IS US RECAP)
I interrupt your regularly scheduled recap to ask a question that has been nagging at my brain, tugging at my heart, nay, weighing on my soul:
WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON WITH SEASON 3 OF THIS IS US?
Real talk here. I can’t be the only one that has been turning to the #1 rated trashfest in our decaying world as if it were a chore. Long gone are the days when an episode would be just thoughtful enough to bring some shallow reflection to my day, the kind that is usually best displayed on driftwood décor bought drunk on Etsy or a poster in the dorm room of a particularly sheltered freshman. “Why life is measured by the moments that take our breath away; Toby’s ridiculous hat when he proposes to Kate proves it!” Listen, we have about 12 years before the Earth melts into dark matter and about 6 before Trump gives Kanye complete access to the red button and about 2 before we put some tide pods up our butthole because a stranger on Snapchat dared us to. Shit is dark. The success of This Is Us hinges on two things: our collective existential despair and their willingness to feed our void with some fantasy world where cosmic coincidences lead us to true love, inner healing, and a philosophical exploration on the metaphorical significance of a crockpot.
In these last three episodes, This Is Us has failed their side of the bargain.
Nothing is happening. Nothing of real interest anyway. Kevin is still skating by on his good looks and his unbearable whiteness of being and I care very little about his relationship with Solange because we all KNOW she can do better. Kate’s storyline has been circling so long on traditional signifiers of womanhood that it feels like I’m mindlessly reading an endless thread of a Facebook post from that annoying girl from high school who is now trying to make it as a mommy blogger. Thank god for Randall, because with Randall comes Beth, who is so perfect that not even Oprah dare tarnish her after she broke a solemn vow made in her name. But even Randall, who we could count on to bring some gravitas to what is basically a bunch of pretty privileged people whining, is starting to feel trite. Of course all of this back-and-forth between his home life and Bio Dad’s old building was going to result in him running for Mayor of Chicago, like everyone else is doing these days. I legit don’t care that he lives in New Jersey, I expect to see his face on the ballot right below Chicago Party Aunt.
The flashbacks, which had been used deftly to advance plot and dig deeper into each character, are now fillers to satisfy whatever feral fan base is sending angry letters to the studio and whatever exec is demanding Emmys, more Emmys, like a Leviathan hell bent on devouring all his subjects. The introduction of Rebecca’s old boyfriend was absolutely pointless. We already know who’s going to end up with who, so there was zero tension in all those segments, unless you count the stress I suffered every time I saw her old boyfriend’s slimy stick-on mustache. The only will they or won’t they question I had is whether those fake hairs were going to stick or not. And look, we all love Ron Cephas Jones. He elevates every single dribble on those scripts with finesse and grace. But his character has been dead longer than my soul has and I simply don’t need to see him pop up every now and then so This Is Us can continue to claim it is award-winning for all eternity. I think my breaking point was Kate’s near-death dream sequence, where the other Kates throw Teen Kate under the bus as a symbol of trauma. We’ve all been traumatized in our teens! Doesn’t mean we want to stay behind in some ice cream shop, nursing a weird dad-fixation! Plus, didn’t she already let go of Jack at her wedding? And when she went to weight-loss camp? If Kate were an actual human being, we could make the argument that trauma remains, is resurfaces, it can be a cyclical monster. She’s not, though, she’s a fictional character and if she isn’t evolving then she deserves what Teen Kate wants.
Which brings me to Jack. I’ve been chanting and chanting “Vietnam Jack!” the whole summer because I have a lifelong love affair with Vietnam War movies after seeing the first 45 minutes of Full Metal Jacket at an inappropriately young age. It’s not the only reason why I want to see Milo in uniform though. We have a pretty thorough understanding of Jack as a husband and father, but have very little clue as to what made him into the kind of son that stands up for his abused mom or what horrors he witnessed that drove him to the bottle anyway. We were promised Vietnam Jack but it takes us three years and a cameo from Terry Gross asking the obvious—AS SHE IS WONT TO DO and I say this as a Terry Gross fan—to finally get these damn kids to realize, “oh right, my dad’s a veteran. Maybe we should explore that.”
I put This Is Us in the same category as pumpkin spice lattes, personal wedding vows, and Lauren Conrad’s fall collection at Target. (I don’t know if that’s a thing but it should be a thing.) They attack every fiber of my intellect but god damn it, sometimes I want to stop analyzing why everything is “problematic” and enjoy one superficial, simplistic, flimsy, two-dimensional, insubstantial, fleeting semblance of human emotion that isn’t on the negative spectrum.
Bring me back old This Is Us. At the very least, show us screenshots of Beth and Miguel’s secret text chain where they apparently talk shit about everyone else. Yes, this was alluded to in this week’s episode AND IT GAVE ME LIFE.
Before I go, here’s all you need to know to catch up:
Kevin decides to look for his dad’s old army buddies after Terry Gross interviewed him and made him feel things.
Randall decides to run for councilman after he flies across the country to apologize to Kate, who then says he has so much of Jack in him, and since Jack is a superhero, Randall decides to become…a politician? Wait, that can’t be right.
Kate has her IVF procedure, falls into a long sleep, has some dumb near-death dream sequence and then comes back to life. Eight eggs were successfully harvested.
Rebecca rejects old boyfriend’s invitation to move to New York and instead hunts Jack down and asks him to go to LA with her. Actually, if you want to watch any part of this episode, I suggest the last ten minutes. Man doing dishes without being told. Woman giving the middle finger to her ex’s agenda to follow her own heart. An impromptu road trip between two people who have just met. It was basically a play-by-play of my wildest erotic fantasies and felt like maybe the writing team had found its magic again.