GOD DAMMIT, THERE'S A SECRET SIBLING (THIS IS US RECAP)
But it was a strange boredom. It was a boredom with a twist, the kind of boredom that caused stomach disorders. – Tim O’Brien, The Things They Carried
It’s the mid-season finale, everyone, and much like the Fall of Saigon, it couldn’t have come soon enough. After a few alleviating excellent episodes, This Is Us has managed to squander all my good will by offering the surprise twist no one was asking for. Repeat after me: Secret Siblings never work. THEY NEVER WORK. Want to see your ratings fall into the abyss? Then introduce a secret sibling. Though this one wasn’t in the form I expected, the main issue remains: we’re grasping at straws here and the addition of a mystery Pearson is just another indication that this show is going to the Pits-burgh Good realm of hell.
I’ll start with the most straightforward subplot of them all. Kate’s ultrasounds are good and her results are normal. The doctor has also seen the baby’s sex and asks them if they want to know what it is but they opt for a surprise. The bad news is that Kate’s fletching career as an Adele impersonator is too risky. Since it involves spending a lot of time sitting down in her car, the doctor is worried that it will affect her blood pressure.
Kate talks this over with her BFF Skinny Bitch, who volunteers at a school to pay for the sins of BBQ Becky and every Karen that has called the police on POC going about their day. The school needs a new choir teacher. She’d be great. Kate probably would be great and she’s nailing the interview. Unfortunately, the principal can’t hire her unless she has a college degree.
Back at home, Kate tells Toby about the interview. She’s only 8 credits away from getting that degree. This prompt a discussion about how this whole pregnancy has been faced with fear, down to the fact that they don’t even want to know the baby’s sex because they’re afraid it will never come to fruition. Since we need at least one saccharine romantic gesture per episode, it’s up to Toby to take Kate to the nearest community college and convince her that the time for the college degree is now and they vow to spend the rest of the pregnancy with smiles plastered on their faces. They get a bakery to make them one of those gender reveal cakes and the blue food coloring indicates it’s a boy. Kate is growing a little penis inside her body.
Things are kind of tense on the homefront. It’s the night before Randall’s big debate but he hasn’t prepped at all. Beth reminds him he needs to do so even though she’s no longer officially part of the campaign. Tess is still being secretive, a combination of raging hormones and undisclosed sexuality. They also overhear Deja calling her mom, which worries them. They can’t focus on any of that right now though. They have establishment Democrats to slay.
Debate Day comes and Beth, ever the supportive spouse, pumps him up with a speech that was probably lifted word for word from Becoming. Over in her car, Rebecca is also trying to have an uplifting moment with Tessa but she’s coming off more Hillary than Michelle. All that prying about whether Tess has any issues she wants to talk about has made it obvious that Kate blabbed about her coming out to Rebecca. Mommy Pearson tries to soften the blow by saying Kate only told her because she wanted someone near to be by her side but Tess is not having it, freezing her out with the classic teen move of putting on her headphones.
The Debate begins and Randall screws up the moderator’s name, immediately losing the Latino vote. The Councilman sees an opportunity and uses that slip up to CRUSH HIS SPIRIT by once again reminding everyone that Randall is some quasi transplant who doesn’t even go here. I like this dude, to be honest. Can you imagine the burns he’d be giving Trump right now? I feel like him and Maxime Waters would have one of those fab friendships a la RBG and Scalia, but without the moral ambiguity. The Councilman doesn’t end there. He is relentless, launching truth bombs after truth bombs and washing it all down with a big sip of tea.
Randall doesn’t give up though and remembers what Hot KPop suggested: focus on the personal stories instead of the facts. He starts with his usual sob story, which the Councilman heckles to high heavens, but Randall manages to turn around his burns by saying that the 12th district is the urban equivalent of being the black adopted son of white parents. I think. Randall takes a seat on the stage’s stairs to show that he is of the people. He lists every single grievance ever mentioned in a town hall meeting and mentions how the Councilman did squat about them. He promises to fight side by side with them, including shoveling their god damn snow if need be, which, after the 13 inches of snow that got dumped all over my fair city, is the one issue I care about. He’s got my vote. The audience is clapping and chanting, “Take a chance!” and now I have the ABBA song stuck in my head which I know is inappropriate because ABBA is the whitest band ever and we’re talking about a black politician.
After the debate, Rebecca tries once again to connect with Tessa. She says the she is now an aching bag of bones because she kept every single pain and secret she had buried somewhere deep in her soul and it affected her body. Now does Tessa want to spend the rest of her life talking to a disinterested 12-year-old about her aging physical state? NO. This is why she needs to come out to her parents, as soon as she’s ready, which better be now cause sweeps are here and those ratings need to improve.
Randall is already working on his victory speech but Hot KPop has sobering news. Results from the most recent poll indicate that the Councilman is way ahead and there is no mathematical probability that Randall will win. The night just keeps getting worse from there. First, Deja asks to go see her mom in Delaware. Randall and Beth say yes though they know this might create emotional havoc on their lives. Then Tessa comes down and apologizes for being weird lately. She cries and says she’s been feeling uncomfortable around them because she’s been keeping secrets. Then she blurts out how she thinks she might like girls, not boys. The young actor here—I am definitely too lazy to look up her name—does actually deliver a super heartfelt and genuine performance and I hope she gets more roles from that tour de force. Randall and Beth say everything you want your parents to say but as soon as she leaves, the shock and fear of what that may entail comes crashing down.
Over a glass of wine, Randall and Beth talk about the campaign. He is still holding on hope but Beth points out that there’s too much going on at home to focus on this. She wants him to drop out but Randall refuses despite having promised Beth that he would leave the race whenever she asked.
THIS IS NOT THE OBAMA THAT WHICH QUEEN BETH WAS PROMISED. She is so pissed that we see her relegating him to the couch. Will they stay together? Is it time to go to couple’s therapy? What will happen with the only semi-interesting marriage on TV?
Jack’s two weeks are running out and Nick is still far from banishing his demons. He’s even refusing to bond with soldiers, which I’ve been told by Tom Brokaw and all these other dinosaurs from the Greatest Generation that bonding is the only reason to go to war. Nick may have detoxed but he is still a ball of fury and anger, immune to every single inspirational speech Jack throws his way. Nick even punches Jack straight in the kisser but finally accepts his offer to go on a field trip once Jack reminds him that he only has 48 hours left with him.
Jack takes Nick to a lake, nature’s PowerPoint presentation of his key message: like the village across the lake, this war will too one day be a distant memory. All they need to do is finish the tour and go home. Nick says that his mission is to kill. Jack corrects him and says that his mission is to go home.
Nick wakes up in the middle of the night, drenched in a cold sweat from the detox. He can’t take it anymore and gets any drug he can find lying around. When day breaks, Jack finds him stoned on the dock, pretending to shoot locals with his hands. Jack, being Jack, insists he’ll get him cleaned again but here’s the thing about addicts. You can’t help them unless they want to be helped and Nick doesn’t want it. “I see it all again when I’m clean, “he tells Jack, “it” meaning the horrors of war. “I’m not gonna complete the mission.” He walks away and asks him not to follow.
As the sun sets, Jack asks his troop if they’ve seen his brother. No one has. We hear a loud explosion and see Jack jump into the lake, presumably to find his dead brother. EXCEPT THE WRITERS CAN’T LET A GOOD THING STAY THAT WAY.
Torrential downpours have prevented Kevin from fulfilling his pilgrimage to village where Jack served. He’s still hyper-focused on the woman with the necklace, believing it’s the real mystery behind Jack’s tour in Vietnam. The Friendly Hotel Worker announces the roads have finally cleared and offers to take them to the village in exchange for shirtless selfie, which is proof that capitalism is alive and well in communist Vietnam.
When they get to the village, the Friendly Hotel Worker leads them to a local man who is a bit of a local historian. The place looks like Village time has stood still, which only happens in Hollywood’s imagination. Seriously I’ve seen Kurt Cobain t-shirts and at least one flip phone in even the remotest areas of the highlands of Peru, there’s no way that Vietnamese village hasn’t changed since the 70s. Anyway, they have a nice lunch but the local historian doesn’t Jack or the woman. Because the This Is Us universe is populated by people who only speak in fables and metaphors, the local historian tells Kevin of his own dad who was also good at pretending, like Kevin. He never told them the reality of his job as a VC soldier, but said he was an explorer who made up fantastic tales of the far away places he was. Since minorities are put on this Earth precisely to shower white men with our ancestral wisdom so they may flourish, the local historian leaves him with this very deep thought: “Our fathers were enemies but they’re not so different. They both pretended to be ok for their children. Maybe it’s not the answer you’re looking for but maybe the answer to something bigger.”
Kevin still feels like the whole journey is for naught but Zoelange points out maybe this is not the end of his journey, but the middle. On cue, the Friendly Hotel Worker mentions that he was going to suggest something nice from Vietnam to place at his dead family’s altar but none of Kevin’s family members died in the war. Kevin reminds him that his uncle did. Friendly Hotel Worker then says that he looked him up in the national memorial database there’s no mention of a Nicholas Pearson. If he died, it wasn’t in the war.
THAT’S RIGHT THE SECRET SIBLING IS A LIVE NICK. We only see an outline of his body in a cabin that looks fit for a survivalist weirdo. A stack of mail indicates he’s alive and kicking and living way too close to Pittsburgh for this bullshit.
Also, remember how we were supposed to be wondering about some woman that the future Pearsons were all set to see? Yeah, me neither. They bring Future Randall and Future Tess up again. We also see Future Beth, looking glorious in her old age, and overseeing a ballet company so I don’t care if she and Randall stayed together when she’s so clearly living her best life. She’s the one that mentions they’re going to see Randall’s mother. Rebecca? Not so quick! It could be Mommy Pearson or it could be Future Kate, who maybe named her baby boy Randall, or it could be Future Deja, who names her own kid Randall or, for all I care, it’s Nick’s cousin’s love child. Nothing is too precious or too sacred here.
Praise be, this is over until January. Happy Holidays to me. Everyone read The Things They Carried.