WHY IS TOBY (THIS IS US RECAP)
I couldn’t decide, I couldn’t act, I couldn’t comport myself with even a pretense of human dignity. –Tim O’Brien. The Things They Carried.
Hidden explosive devices targeted at innocent victims. Violent extremist rhetoric meant to combat an imaginary Red Scare. A divided nation through and through.
That’s right, folks, we have left Vietnam again to go back to the hellscape of the Pearsons’ contemporary life in the US of A. How sad am I to be apart from Vietnam Jack of yesteryear aka last week? So sad that I self-medicated with a big dose of double screening while watching Tuesday’s episode of This Is Us. Fitting indeed, considering that this episode revolved around the very bad practice of trying to treat our pain away with everything BUT what the doctor ordered. How do we cope with trauma when we don’t have the tools to do so? How do we face realities that are reminiscent of nightmares? How do we numb ourselves to our emotional wounds when facing unimaginable hurts?
If you’re Little Toby you snuggle in bed and turn on a fan. That’s where we begin this week’s edition of the #1 rated Shlock & Awe our collective imagination—with an episode that centers on a character I find absolutely annoying. Here, take my phone away and pass the vodka.
Teen Kevin, Teen Randall, and Teen Kate
This isn’t how the episode begins but the little flashbacks to the Pearson Teens’ prom night does a very good job of highlighting what everyone’s drug of choice is. Teen Kevin is less of a little shit because he’s getting all the attention he craves in the school play. He also has a hot date for prom. Teen Randall is going with his Ginger Girlfriend and it’s there that they’re going to take pictures, much to the disappointment of Mommy Pearson. Kate isn’t going which is fine. I had fun at my two proms but I can’t say they were life-altering moments in my life, if only because I didn’t peak in high school.
Miguel stops over the house with a random piano and the look of an excited puppy that has totally killed a squirrel and is planning on leaving it at your doorstep out of pure loyalty. Teen Kate mentions it makes the place look smaller because she’s such a drip. Mommy Pearson is thankful but it’s nothing compared to how she bursts with joy when Miguel offers to fix the fridge. Nothing gets Mommy Pearson going like a man doing shit around the house and I can’t say I blame her.
The Pearson boys go to Ginger Girlfriend’s house. This is the first time Teen Randall is meeting her parents and I absolutely understand if we were all yelling at the screen, “beware of teacups! No talking to mom if she has a teacup in her hand!” Mom is fine though. The one he needs to be weary of is dad, who tries to act like a decent human being but his racism wins out. He can’t even bring himself to take pictures of his daughter’s black boyfriend. This probably would have been a more than appropriate time for Randall to fly off the handle and break off from this community that accepts him at arm’s length, but that wouldn’t be the Randall way. He wants to please and be liked. Instead, he leaves his date and heads to a diner.
It’s why he also doesn’t tell Miguel to bounce when Miguel catches him sneaking back into the house suspiciously early. Randall tells him about Ginger’s racist dad and for the first time ever, AND I MEAN EVER, we get a glimpse of Miguel as something other than this blank canvas of a Latino. First of all, el papi es Boricua. He came to the US at age 8, determined to not have an accent. But kids are little shits and before he could even say a single word, they started calling him Ricky Ricardo…and he went along with it, as if it didn’t bother him. That’s because Miguel’s drug of choice is to be as inoffensive as humanly possible, assimilate so much the only interesting thing about him thus far is his secret text thread with Beth. Randall is stronger than that, as Miguel says, but Randall cuts him off to go to bed cause no one is ready for second dad right now.
As for Teen Kate, she takes to the piano in the late hours of the night. She plays, hums some notes, and gives up. She starts to close the piano cover but Rebecca stops her and tells her of the times when she put music aside. For Rebecca, the piano makes the room bigger because it represented a potential escape. She hums a tune and asks Kate if she can sing that back to her. She can’t. Kate says one day she’ll be ready because the piano is where she can put her sadness.
We all know what Teen Kevin’s self-medication is: male entitlement and alcoholism. He ends up at Miguel’s apartment after getting too drunk at prom. Miguel calls Rebecca, who is basking in the glow of a newly fixed fridge. She thanks him for everything he does but in the flashback, we see that Miguel is just doing what Jack asked—to take care of them if something happens to him.
At the top of the episode, Beth and Randall are getting ready to take over the world as if they were the second coming of Barack and Michelle. Beth has a pantsuit so powerful it pretty much shattered Pansuit Nation into oblivion (thank god) and is ready to demand six figures in her upcoming job interview. Randall is getting dressed for the first official day of his campaign as councilman for 12th district. It’s not the district where he lives, but he is allowed to run on a technicality, which further proves my point that HE TOO IS RUNNING FOR MAYOR OF CHICAGO. Beth reminds him to not cry when he mentions Bio Dad, or his adoption, or Deja, or the one time he was moved by the magnetic power of the ocean. Randall promises not to and also reminds her that that he’ll drop out of the race if and and when Beth requests it.
I’m sure that will not be the case, but that’s for Future Ines to worry about.
The first event on the campaign trail is held at a rib joint with the hostile owners and a bunch of people who are only there for the free food. Much like every single corporate lunch I went to in my ad job, a lot of people are willing to sit down quietly while someone rambles on about their platform but that doesn’t mean they give a flying hoot what you have to say about the future. Such is the case for Randall. Confusing a humble neighborhood restaurant for the Moth Story Slam in the whitest neighborhood you can find in your local city, Randall tells them about his personal tragedies and how reconnecting with his estranged biological father led him to where he is today. That’s literally every single Moth story ever told, so now you don’t have to go to any of their shows. You’re welcome.
Randall almost won them over but made the fatal mistake of criticizing the current councilman who’s been there rep for the past 30 years. It does not go well. The neighborhood has been immune to the Indivisibility Guide passed around by all your pussy-hat wearing friends and Randall still doesn’t get that he’s not seen as part of the community. Full disclosure, I read that Indivisibility Guide because I do things like listen to NPR and have been sexually attracted to Malcolm Gladwell at least once, but I’m also not the type of Latina to go into Little Village and start acting like I know how to fix their neighborhood BECAUSE I HAVEN’T LIVED IT. Randall doesn’t have that kind of self-awareness yet.
After the end of the disastrous event, Randall is venting to Beth about how he doesn’t understand their reaction. “What’s that supposed to tell me?” Oh, Grandpa Ribs is about to show him exactly what they’ve been telling him. “Go back to where you belong,” Grandpa Ribs tells Randall. Randall gets all up in his face and asks him where that would happen to be because the great mystery of his life has always been that question. Randall inserting himself as a savior and overachiever is his favorite form of self-medication and this campaign screams Identity Crisis. They get in a bit of a back and forth but not before Grandpa Ribs pulls out a mic and an invisible stage to do his own Live Lit performance, except this one is a grassroots response to the gentrification powers of The Moth. Back in the day, Grandpa Ribs was going to get kicked out by a greedy landlord until the Councilman Brown intervened by taking the landlord out to some basketball game. Whatever transpired there doesn’t even matter. What matters is that Grandpa Ribs got to keep his restaurant and feels like he owes Councilman Brown his life.
And that, my friends, is actually a pretty good description of how politics works.
As they walk out, Beth tries to cheer him up. Randall realizes he has to find a different way to campaign against the Councilman and pulls the plug on his attack ad featuring Chance the Rapper. He finally asks her about her interview, to which Beth coyly avoids giving him a straight answer. In the flashback to the actual interview, we see that she’s the one who cried when trying to make a case for herself.
It’s not Little Toby’s fault that he grows up to be Adult Toby, by far the most annoying character of all. But I really can’t bear to focus too much on Toby, even though he was the center of this very episode. This is all you’re going to get, though. Little Toby has been depressed forever and is the son of a woman who has also been depressed forever and a man who doesn’t understand why people are depressed forever. He turns to Rodney Dangerfield impersonations to cheer her up and I am in literal shock that this also didn’t somehow land him on a Harold Team at iO cause that was literally the shtick of 95% of the dudes in my improv classes. Toby’s dad is harsh and old school and tells him that adults will not put up with his BS. I don’t mind Toby’s depression, I mind his use of fedoras but I get what the dad is saying. The world is pretty shitty when it comes to mental illnesses. Adult Toby’s marriage ended after he went off his meds another time around and this too led him to another big depressive episode. The wonderful Wendy Malick swoops in to give him support and tell him “the joy in you is as much a part of you as the sadness.” He goes to therapy, shaves his Unabomber beard, heads to the weight loss program, meets Kate.
While Toby is going further and further into his downward spiral, Kate and Toby await the results of her IVF treatment. From those eight eggs, they have one shot. Their results are to be given that day at 4pm. Kate feels like she’s pregnant but has promised not to take a home pregnancy test because it would lead to emotional chaos. Toby is already a hot mess but he is keeping it all in to be Kate’s rock.
They then proceed to go about their day as usual, which in their case means giving TMI to an unsuspecting stranger. For Toby, it’s the pharmacist who can’t prescribe him his pills until he goes back to his psychiatrist. For Kate, it’s the guy who hired her to sing an Adele song who thinks she should go on The Voice but Kate doesn’t want to because staring at Adam Levin’s face for too long results in a 3% decrease of IQ points. Oh and she also mentions how her way of self-medicating is by shutting all music out and she has had a lot of reasons in her life to shut it out. When it’s time for the doctor’s call, Toby rushes in and finds Kate at the piano, singing but on the brink of tears. She’s pregnant. In relief, Toby cries over the sink and collapses into his depression that he’s been holding in for so long. Kate calls his doctor while Toby gets into bed with a fan.
Solange is sticking around longer than I thought so I actually know her name now. It’s Zoe. I kind of got used to Solange though so from now on she’s Zoelange. Anyway, Zoelange is dating maybe one of the most mayo white dudes in history and so it’s not a surprise that he’s completely oblivious to her existence as a black woman. On their way to Baltimore to visit Jack’s Best Bud from Vietnam, he doesn’t understand why she needs a special pillowcase and doesn’t even register when a store clerk treats her like crap because of her race.
All Kevin can think of is Best Bud. At his house, they look at old pics of Jack, shows him his medals. Kevin opens up about both his and Jack’s alcoholism and asks if it had anything to do with the war. Best Bud clarifies that Jack wasn’t a mechanic, like he had led Kevin to believe, but a sergeant that saved his life.
In the kitchen, Zoelange tells her about how Kevin is the first white man she’s dated and she’s already exhausted with the amount of stuff she’s going to have to explain to him if they stay together. Like microaggressions, the nuances of black hair, seasoning. Best Bud’s wife gives her the sage advice of figuring out whether she can handle it and if he’s worth it.
Kevin asks Best Bud about the other men in the photographs of the Vietnam War. Some have passed, others he simply didn’t know. Best Bud apologizes for not being much help but he claims that Jack never replied to his letters.
Back in hotel room, Kevin asks the concierge to get Zoelange a special silk pillowcase. This prompts her to give a Power Point presentation on how Kevin is super ignorant of this issue DESPITE HAVING A BLACK BROTHER, BLACK NIECES AND A BLACK SISTER-IN-LAW. In my experience with white dudes, this checks out. Zoelange takes the precious time out of her life to do this though because she thinks he might be worth it. (He’s not.)
The next morning, Best Bud is in the lobby of their hotel. He tells Kevin that Jack wanted everything from that war behind him but who’s to say he didn’t want Kevin to know his story. He hands him old letters and in an envelope is a pic with the Vietnam mom from last week’s episode. Who Jack is totally going to bang. So they can add another Pearson during sweeps.
Gimme another vodka shot. I’m gonna need to be super number to survive that ordeal.