HAPPY 38TH BIRTHDAY, BIG THREE (THIS IS US RECAP)
“I tried to think of something decent to say, something meaningful and right, but nothing came to me.”
"–Tim O’Brien, The Things They Carried
For my birthday this year, I got on a plane to Mexico where I spent ten days gorging myself on fantastic great food and living out my most obnoxious writer fantasies by working on my novel in a remote beach town. The year before, I could only muster grabbing shots of malort with my friend Bobby as the weather hovered around 12 C. Sorry, as a citizen of the world, I refuse to do Fahrenheit. Why do I bring this up? Because not all birthdays can be winners—as the season opener of This Is Us cannot so proudly attest.
It’s hard to live up to the kind of birthday where you cry on your bathroom floor (Kate), have a meltdown on national TV (Kevin), and confront your estranged bisexual, recovering addict, biological father. I get that. On their 38th birthday, though, the triplets are, I don’t know. Subdued. Am I the only one who felt this way? Was the drama of Kavanaugh’s hearings such that it overwhelmed everything else? (Yes.) Did my Facebook feed provide more popcorn-worthy moments this crappy week than any scene in this episode? (Also yes.)
Maybe 38 is the year where everyone in the series makes mature decisions that have the slightest ripple effects on our exhausted hearts. Hahahahaha, kidding, let’s see what these fictional characters are up to because I can’t hear about another 80s kegger without yelling into a pillow.
Everyone on the This Is Us writing team read this heartbreaking article about obesity and decided that it was ripe for adaptation. Kate is still trying to spawn with Toby for reasons that my mind can’t possibly fathom but she’s having a hard time finding a doctor that will treat her, in general, and treat her with any hints of kindness and humanity in particular. After getting Toby’s sperm count checked, the couple is back in another specialist’s office. Toby’s little swimmers have decreased thanks to his meds and Kate is very much aware of the risks of trying IV with her POCS and weight. Doesn’t matter. The specialist is here to embody every single dismissive doctor women have confronted throughout their lives and she tells Kate, in no uncertain terms, that NO SINGLE HUMAN BEING ON GOD’S GREEN EARTH will help her out.
Because Kate has been conditioned to only show her anger to authority figures when a sex criminal is nominated to the Supreme Court—and only then in the most measured of tones—she thanks the specialist politely and goes to the birthday brunch that Madison has organized for her. She blows out a candle and then spills her guts because no one can bring a party down faster than this lady. She tells everyone that she wished for a baby but it wasn’t going to happen. “I’ve been trapped in this body for so long. Trapped,” she says. “When is the universe gonna give me a damn break?”
Fear no more, Kate! Though for the rest of us, our birthdays are merely the result of our parents doing the nasty, for the Pearsons it comes with all sorts of mystical connotations. Like, they’re legit surprised that Chani Nicholas hasn’t written a New Moon meditation solely devoted to their day of birth. And even though Kate and Toby both admit to themselves that IVF is terrifying and costly and exhausting and commit to giving it their middle finger, the universe has other plans. Kate gets a call from the specialist who wants them to come back in. I guess Kate just gave that conversation the middle finger.
The specialist gives one of those This Is Us monologues about the miracle of life and her Hippocratic oath and other things that make you go hmmmm. They decide to move forward with IVF. They? Excuse me, my bad. She decided to go forward and Toby stands there quietly and does the Toby-est thing in the world: He throws his meds down the toilet because there can only be one child in this relationship and it’s certainly not going to be the fertilized egg they’ll implant in Kate’s uterus.
Adult Randall and Adult Kevin
It’s been a busy summer for the Pearson brothers. Randall has been busy taking Deja to therapy, making sure she’s getting her exercise, witnessing her mom give up her parental rights. Kevin, on the other hand, has been committing lots of sinful acts with Beth’s cousin, whose name I can never ever remember, so I’m going to keep calling her Solange. Sinful acts against whom, you may wonder. Glad you asked. It’s against Beth who, in all her goddess powers, knows for sure that Kevin and her cousin are “knocking boots”, an expression that only she can pull off and that is infinitely better than “boofing”.
Solange has been staying with them while working on a documentary and boning Kevin during her free time. Beth is not having it. She is very much expecting Randall to tell his brother to “to get off of Beth’s cousin before I kill you in the face!” Honestly, this is the appropriate response whenever we see a woman having sexy times with a guy as straight and as white and as cis as Kevin. Sorry, I don’t make the rules. Randall asks Beth to swear on Oprah that she won’t say anything to ruin their birthday celebration, which has the same powers as the unbreakable vow in the Harry Potter universe. After pulling out their wands and mumbling some incantations, Randall leaves with Deja but Beth stays behind with some healing crystals, trying her damn best to keep her mouth shut, and not betray Oprah. She asks to channel the poised energy of Beyoncé but it’s not powerful enough.
As soon as Kevin arrives at their doorstep, Beth’s wrath over the situation spilleth over. She and Solange have a yelling match about it while Kevin sits outside with the other children. I think this is supposed to be played for laughs but I simply can’t deal with the infantilizing of men anymore so I sat in stony silence instead as I watched this scene. It takes an entire afternoon for Beth to calm down and be able to talk to Kevin. She begins by saying, “Everything about the way you look says people should hate you but everybody loves you.” Speak for yourself, Beth.
Beth it turns out is more worried about Solange’s effect on Kevin. She claims that because of Solange’s complicated background, she will break him and spit him out. To which I laugh and laugh and laugh because the idea of a woman of color being any sort of threat to a white dude is so beyond my realm of experience.
While Beth is playing schoolmarm to Kevin and Solange’s romance, Randall is trying to have a moment with Deja. Poor Randall, he still can’t get it through his head that you can’t force emotional instances, they either happened or they don’t. In this case, he takes Deja to Bio Dad’s building and tells her about his journey as an adopted kid. This of course leads to the big proposal of this season, when Randall asks Deja if they can formally adopt her.
Deja may only be tween but she’s nobody’s fool. She points out all the reasons that her situation is starkly different from that of Randall. Randall has had one family his whole life. Deja had a mom that gave her up. Randall had two dads. Deja has one dad that never wanted her. Randall is a wizard. She’s a muggle. After what I can only presume was a pretty awkward ride home, Randall apologizes for how overwrought the whole exercise was.
Deja sneaks out with her backpack and heads to the bike store where her deadbeat dad works. She confronts him as if she were a lost character in Waiting to Exhale. Seriously, I’m saving her little speech in my back pocket for the next time I run into any man who has done me wrong. With a steely look, a lighter in her hand, and a car outside just waiting to be set on fire, she tells her deadbeat dad, “You don’t have to pretend like you don’t know who I am. You don’t have to pretend like you do, I really don’t care. I just came here to say, I’m going to do something really great with my life and you’re going to miss it.” She does all this before asking him for only one thing in his forsaken life before she disappears forever.
Deja comes back just as the party is about to start and confesses she snuck out. Randall starts to lecture her, but he can’t help but break out into a smile when he sees she came back with a gift for him. At the dinner table, she present him with a pair of Nikes because this is their darnest attempt to letting viewers in Red States know where they stand without hurting their rating. Deja also tells him that they can sign the papers to adopt her.
Young Jack and Rebecca
Throughout this whole summer, producers have teased that this is the season where we get Vietnam Jack. They’ve mentioned the importance of the war to the story arc, to our understanding of Jack’s character. Dudes, they’ve hired Tim-Freaking-O’Brien as a consultant to make sure that this dark period in American and Vietnamese history is depicted with care. This is literally one of the few reasons I haven’t given up on the whole show, because my love for war dramas rivals that of your Baby Boomer Dad. But before we get to the steamy jungle scenes, we need to slog through Post-Vietnam Jack and Rebecca’s first date.
Their romance starts the way most of my romances in college began: by complaining about how our parents don’t understand that we don’t want the corporate life! (Hangs head back and laughs uproariously.) Rebecca has a demo, she’s driven, she identifies as a singer. Since she is a woman with aspirations, a man will derail her.
That man is Jack. Oh, he is one smitten kitten. He is so smitten, he’s cancelling his plans to commit a crime and instead runs to his buddy Miguel (at least, I think it’s Miguel, listen peeps I don’t have time to fact-check everything), to declare. “I MET THE GIRL.” I’m sorry, every single time a man has stated that I am THE girl, he has either been a bona fide creep or a bonafide manipulator so excuse me while I feel all sorts of skeeves. Then the white dude pulls the meager resources of a Latino to take a white woman out on a date and if that isn’t a metaphor for our current political system, I don’t know what is.
Jack and Rebecca go to the carnival and he starts burning through money the way I burn through a Crate & Barrel sale. What turns out like a sweet, spontaneous, quasi-date soon goes south. Rebecca is all the memes about putting your foot in your mouth during a first date. She asks about Vietnam, clearly a touchy subject. She asks him about his brother, he’s dead. They do a cutesy “do you like A or B” game and they never agree on the same answer. It starts to pour and Jack refuses to buy an umbrella as a way to hide the fact that he is as broke as a Trump Casino.
Back in the car, Rebecca is polite because women are conditioned to be so in case their date is actually a rage-filled douchebag who will not take rejection lightly. Jack is at least decent enough to explain why he couldn’t afford the umbrella. He gives her more info on his finances than a certain 2016 political candidate. He’s having a hard time since his return from Vietnam. Talking about it or his brother makes him sad and angry, which is totally to be expected after you’ve gone through something traumatic. “But I like talking to you,” he says. “A lot. You make me feel like I’m home and I’ve never really felt like that before.” WHICH, GIRLFRIEND, IS A LOT TO TAKE IN but I’d be lying if those phrases haven’t had a spellbinding effect in most of my dating life. It’s the kind of thing that only a super attractive, broken young man can get away with and Rebecca is in her twenties so this all checks out.
Rebecca tells him the date has been awful but it is a truth universally acknowledged that a terrible date can be salvaged simply by sheer sexual attraction alone. The way he looks at her makes her all hot and bothered so she kisses him. This goes back to an undeniable truth. People will keep dating a person they want to bang the person no matter how many red flags said person presents.
The next day, Jack is about to pull into Rebecca’s house to return the scarf she conveniently forgot in his car. But when Rebecca opens the door, instead of Jack, we see the human version of Pepe Le Pew standing on her stoop. Jack pulls up just as she leans in to kiss Pepe. By the way, is this supposed to make us fear for the couple? Cause, uh, we already know they end up together. Can someone please take remedial Creative Writing 101 over there?
Oh shit, future Randall is back on the scene with Tess! If the first two seasons were occupied with the mystery of Jack’s death, I predict that this year’s big question is who is the “she” that everyone keeps referring to in the future. We know Tess is not ready to see her. We know Future Toby isn’t sure if he’s wanted there. We know Randall is the one wrangling the family to get them to her.
The biggest mystery of all, though, is will we care?