THE TIES THAT BIND (THIS IS US RECAP)
I felt close to them, yes, but I also felt a new sense of separation. My fatigues were starched; I had a neat haircut, and the clean sterile smell of the rear. They were still my buddies, at least on one level, but once you leave the boonies, the whole comrade business gets turned around. You become a civilian. You forfeit membership in the family, the blood fraternity, and no matter how hard you try, you can’t pretend to be a part of it.
That’s how I felt—like a civilian—and it made me sad. These guys had been my brothers. We’d loved one another.
-Tim O’Brien, The Things They Carried.
I’ve spent my whole life being transient. Former resident of over six countries and nine cities, student of about a dozen schools and institutions of higher education, friend of so many groups that can point to me as the one who is never there. Fuck, I’m the only one of my nuclear family to immigrate to the US, so even when it comes to my own flesh & blood, I function as more of a memory than as a presence. On my best days, I like to believe I’m a tried and true member of so many communities. On my worst, I struggle to believe I really belong anywhere since my ties to each of them are so thin, frayed, hanging lose.
On this week’s episode of This Is Us, this is the question that lingers above the Pearsons’ heads: what are the ties that bind us and how strong are they? Since the producers are still being coy about GIVING THE PEOPLE WHAT THEY WANT—aka Vietnam Jack or, at the very least, a cameo of his tush—they provided yet another filler episode meant to set up the season’s big mystery: Who was Jack before he became Jack?
I’m gonna start off with Randall because it is in his storyline that this question is best explored and also he is one of the few characters I even care about. He is now beaming, as the proud father of three adorable little girls, who are being well fed, kept safe, and receiving the kind of education that involves fancy iPads and Equestrian Arts. And therein lies the problem. His daughters, having grown up in this environment, are fully integrated into the school. Deja, with the kind of clarity an outsider’s eye can brings, points out something that should have been obvious to Randall. The school is super white. Vanilla white. Farmer’s Market white. Trump-rally white.
Randall, having had a very similar experience during his childhood, resolves to introduce Deja to some of the kids that live in the building he just bought. The next day, as the rest of the Pearson clan preps for Kevin’s big movie premiere, Randall and Deja go the neighborhood’s rec center so she can make friends. Randall, sensing a woman is reading and therefore must be interrupted despite the massive book in front of her face, strikes up a conversation. He notices a hole in the wall, a busted pipe, the general disarray of the community center and won’t stop bothering the woman with his nosy questions who just wants to get back to her murder mystery. She tells him that OF COURSE the community has asked the powers that be for funding, repairs, assistance to fix it up but the last time any politician listened to immigrant women of color was in…actually, I can’t remember the last time it happened. Has it happened? Someone tell me it’s happened at some point in history before I fall into another pit of despair.
Randall asks to speak to the manager, which is how you know a white woman has raised him. In this case, he’s on the search for the councilman who is supposed to be looking after this neighborhood. His quest takes him to City Hall and then to a barbershop where the councilman is getting all spruced up. Randall introduces himself as the landlord of a building and gives this man all his romantic dreams of how he’s going to turn the old building around and how he wants to turn the rec center into an Instaworthy space too. The Councilman is a New Jersey politician, though, and only allows this kind of dreaming from either Bruce Springsteen or Queen Latifah and Randall is neither. The Councilman’s entire personal history is intertwined with that of the neighborhood but did that stop him from shutting down his own father’s grocery store when it came time to do so? Nah. People will hate me for saying this but…POLITICIANS HAVE TO MAKE TERRIBLE DECISIONS AT ALL TIMES. Yes, even the ones that you like. Yes, even Bernie. I have no idea if this guy is a sleaze or simply a dude who’s playing the long game. For all I know him shutting down the store meant that he got more funding for a health center.
I’m pretty sure the show wants us to believe he’s a sleaze-adjacent. After Randall pulls out the dead dadS (plural) card, and explains he’s desperately trying to make both proud, the councilman promises to visit the rec center that day. He never does. Tired of waiting, Randall changes a light bulb in the basketball court and declares himself the next Corey Booker. The woman, who we find out throughout the episode is a Nigerian immigrant named Chichi, is NOT impressed. She points out the thousand of other light bulbs missing up and down the street. And then she goes in for the kill, because she did not come all the way to America to be all Minnesota Nice about the smallest of efforts. Chichi, who was good friends with Randall’s Bio Dad, tells him there is so much in Randall that reminds her of him but that still doesn’t mean he’s one of them. Instead of trying to learn more about the community and hear their concerns, inform him of their own efforts, he came in as some sort of condescending outsider with a savior complex. Ouch.
More on Randall later but for now, let’s turn to…
Kevin & Kate
The Pearsons are abuzz because Kevin’s big Oscar-bait Vietnam film is premiering that weekend. Kevin is in bed with Solange, who is working on a weird documentary. We know it’s weird because there’s a French man involved and water supplies are a theme. Kevin wants to take Solange to the premiere but she feels it’s too soon and she has to fly to Chicago to work on her doc anyway. He offers her to take her to the airport but that still feels a bit too formal for her, who likes the chill vibe of their arrangement. ALERT, ALERT! A woman isn’t planning her imaginary wedding or selecting baby names with the man she’s casually sleeping with so this is a clear sign that she is damaged, at least in the land of network TV dramas which have yet to go through second wave feminism, much less the third, much less whatever wave of rage is going on now. This of course hurts Kevin’s fee-fees. That a woman could not want to be tied to him is perplexing, strange. Nothing has ever prepared him for such a predicament.
As for Kate, she is having IVF-induced hot flashes, blissfully unaware that Toby has stopped taking his meds. She has one request: to not talk about her fertility treatments with her mom and family. This intimate information is to be kept between them and the Lyft driver. That is some smooth product placement right there. It would have pissed me off but may she who has NOT spoken about their uterus with their Lyft driver cast their stone. Yeah, I thought so.
This being a TV show, there’s no way that the secret was going to be kept under wraps. Miguel, who shines as a Latino character for having no discernible personality, is fighting over yogurt with Toby when all the IVF paraphernalia falls out of the yogurt box. Worst AirbnB commercial ever. As they drive to Kevin’s house in NYC, the tension between Kate and Rebecca flare up. Mommy Pearson asks if they took into consideration all of the risks. Then she crosses the unspoken barrier between her and her daughter. She brings up Kate’s size. By the time Kevin opens the door, we are in the midst of yet another argument between mom and daughter.
This all leads to two main things. First, Kate says something super shitty, even for her. She flat out declares that she wants to get pregnant because “I’m the only one in the family who’s going to pass on a piece of dad.” Mull over that for a second. Her bio brother is accused, in that tiny sentence, of being too much of a fuck up to procreate, which is strange because if there’s anyone who can procreate like bunnies, it’s fucked up dudes. Seriously. Think about your cousin with six kids from three different mothers. Is he the golden child in your family? Even worse, think about what it means for Randall. The allegory about the Pearsons being reflective of this nation is so damn obvious, I’m not even going to spell it out for you.
Toby, in the midst of a high or a low or a manic spree, lashes out and tells everyone to shut up. This is the only time he has ever been right in this entire show. He steps out to clear his head while the rest of them make their way to opening night of Full Metal Jacket, Pretty Boy Version. But before we get to that let’s talk about….
Sad Mommy Pearson
In the flashback segments of this episode, we see the aftermath of Jack’s death. Not the immediate events, but that surreal time when you’re forced to start making practical decisions after the loss of a loved one. Rebecca is in that daze, looking for homes. Teen Randall comes into the kitchen, which perks Sad Mommy Pearson up. She hands him a big envelope from Howard University. We all know what the big envelope means and a bit of Rebecca’s fog is lifted. Teen Kate comes in and Rebecca reassures her that her Berkeley acceptance must be coming any time soon but we all know, at this point, that Teen Kate has probably failed to apply. Rebecca wants to go wake up Kevin to tell him as if he gives a shit. Teen Kevin is so bad, he’s probably kept a calendar of his bitchin’ summer in 1982. That’s how bad he is.
Later in the day, the family goes to visit available houses. The perky real estate agent mentions how there are only three rooms. Rebecca reassures her it will be no problem. Teen Randall is off to college, Teen Kate probably will be too and Teen Kevin will be sulking in the shadows. Of course, this unleashes the real truth about her children. Teen Kate admits she never sent the call back tape and any encouragement of being able to apply anyway is met with a definitive “I’m done.” Sad Mommy Pearson and the real estate agent are too uncomfortable with angst to deal with the situation at hand and move on to the garden. Teen Randall and Teen Kate, though, are too aware of how awful everything is and realize Teen Kevin is hammered.
This is too much for Teen Randall. While Rebecca is having imaginary conversations with Jack in the garden, he confronts her. Teen Kate is overeating hard and Teen Kevin is overdrinking bad and she’s doing zilch to stop it. He accuses her of lying. She promised to take care of them and instead she keeps mumbling about pesto and basil to the ghost of Milo Ventimiglia. What does Rebecca do? She puts on a pussy hat, changes her Facebook profile pic, and refuses to engage with the real problem.
The Teens disperse. Teen Kevin stumbles drunk onto the football field to relive his glory days and then stumbles into the high school’s auditorium and probably a career. I assume this is how all good-looking men get jobs. Teen Kate sits on the couch and reveals the weight gain to her mom, who tries to be supportive by letting her know it’s ok, she’s been through a lot. Teen Randall heads out to celebrate at his friend’s place. Back in Season 1, Rebecca befriended an African-American woman who pretty much helped her raise a black boy. This family throws a party for Randall, who looks longingly at the married couple. You can see he yearns for it. Whether it’s a future family of his own, his parents loving past, a community that understands where he’s coming from. He’s yearning for ties, which is why he rescinds his acceptance to Howard. He feels he needs to stay close to his family.
As for Rebecca, she’s haunted by how bound she is to her house. We learn that a few months before the fire, Jack tried to convince her to buy a new home. She refused because she loved their house, she wanted to stay there forever. Jack, being Jack, let it go. This decision of course, the projection of intangible love on a tangible object like a house, ends up being fatal. Refusing to break her ties with the house, now all Rebecca is left with is a past.
Fancy Movie Premiere
The whole Pearson gang reunites on the red carpet. Kevin tells Kate he’s all mopey because Jack never saw him act and he hopes this movie proves he’s worthy of his dad’s ghost admiration. Then he goes on to tell Mario Lopez that he’s a single man. Solange sees this interview in Insta stories and changes her chill vibe. She requests Kevin be at the airport to pick her up on time. I seriously don’t understand how this is supposed to make her some sort of She Devil. This is legit part of the Ines Bellina dating playbook.
Wait, am I a She Devil?
Anywho, Toby is nowhere to be found and Kate is upset. He’s supposed to give her her daily fertility shot. Much to Kate’s surprise, Rebecca offers to do it. With a needle in her hand, Mommy Pearson tries to explain her initial hesitation. The idea of anything putting Kate in harm’s way is paralyzing to her, especially after losing Jack. She then stabs Kate in the thigh.
Toby finally shows up and apologizes. Before they take their seats, Kate asks him why he’s acting erratic. Toby waves it away, says something about jetlag and then they go off on their merry way.
As the lights dim, Randall tells Beth about his day. He mentions how it was a complicated one, it’s always complicated for him. He never knows if he’s fitting in, if he’s trying too hard, if he’s an outsider or an insider. He never knows what are the ties that bind him to a certain community but we’ve never really felt that this is how he feels about his family. We are meant to believe that he is secure in his status as a Pearson. This all goes to trash when Kevin gives Randall a brief overview of the family drama that went down that day, including Kate’s comment.
Randall looks at her in disbelief. Could his sister really see him as an other, as someone who’s not one of their own? Look around you, Randall. I think it’s fair to say she could.
Oh yeah, there was also a whole thing about Bio Dad and his friendship with Chichi but honestly this has gone on way too long the actor already gave an Emmy-winning performance. Just know it involved a life-changing moment with a baby.