JACK HITS THE ROAD, WE GET A CAR (THIS IS US RECAP)
I’ve lived in the United States for half my life and it shows: I speak English like a native, share many of the same pop culture touchstones, and have a fondness for greasy buffalo wings dipped in ranch sauce.
There is however one area where I feel at my most foreign and, surprisingly, it does not involve Garth Brooks or my support of paid maternity leave. It has to do with cars. I don’t drive. I don’t even know how to drive. It was a subject that didn’t really pique my interest and I’ve made it a point to live in cities with a functional public transportation system. Whenever I mention this to any American, I might as well have told them that I survived the first decade of my life subsisting on dirt and with a toilet paper dress to call my own. They cannot, CANNOT believe it. They cup my chin in their hands, a single tear rolling down their cheeks, and in a hushed tone tell me, “I had no idea you went through such hardship.”
There is something about the car that is intimately caught up in the ethos of the American Dream. It is, after all, an industry that gave rise to some of our greatest metropolitan areas and put an entire region to work. It was a sign of progress and prosperity in the 20s and 30s, a symbol of rebellion and independence in the 50s and 60s, a marker of individual success and taste in the 70s and 80s. Teens see it as the first step towards independence, free spirits as their escape. In short, the car is perhaps one of the most potent symbols of bootstrappin’, maverick autonomy in the United States imaginary.
In the case of This Is Us, it is the vehicle (pun!) in which we examine our own self-reliance in the face of adversity. In a rare move for the show, we don’t get any updates on Old Rebecca or the Adult Pearsons. This is an episode that is based entirely in the past, or pasts of the past, by having at its center the memories the Pearsons created in their Jeep Wagoner, which I guess might mean something to people who know cars. I have no idea. Don’t ever tell me what the make of your car is. I only care if it’s blue, black or gray. It’s the only way I can identify them.
On to the very weepy episode!
Mommy and Daddy Pearson
Back in the 80s (early 90s? I don’t know anymore), Mommy Pearson, Daddy Pearson, and the Little Pearsons are in a car dealership looking for the kind of automobile that is practical, sturdy, and totally not sexy. Nothing screams “sensible” like having a gaggle of children to remind you why budgets and birth control are important. The kids take to the Jeep Wagoner like nobody’s business, which prompts Jack to sweet talk the dealer into giving him a good deal on the car. It’s a conversation we don’t see (yet), but serves to further mythologize Jack as a God. Even though we haven’t seen Milo’s buttocks since episode 1. You didn’t think I had forgotten about that NBC, did you???
We cut to another memory of the entire Pearson gang heading to their first concert. Their pick: Weird Al Yankovic, which is simply a delightful choice. Dude does not get enough credit and I’ve seen him being discounted in comedy circles in recent years as a hack. Listen, Weird Al played a concert, like a true professional, only minutes after finding out his parents passed away and put on a damn good show. I’d like to see any of the 1457 comedy bros pull that feat, given that they usually start whining about giving up every time they see a line-up with the word “diversity” on the poster. Anywho, in order to get to whatever amphitheater Weird Al has sold out, they have to cross a bridge. Rebecca freaks out whenever they have to drive over this bridge because of course she does. It’s the kind of strange fear that drives men like Jack WILD. She starts to panic when they have to inch slowly over it due to construction. Little Randall, aka The Cutest Randall, tries to distract her by telling her the appropriate name for her phobia. The other kids resort to singing a Weird Al song. Everyone’s happy BECAUSE THAT IS THE MAGIC OF WEIRD AL AND IT’S A HILL I’M PREPARED TO DIE ON. Look up “Amish Paradise” before you say another word about him.
Cut to another memory. It’s a snowy winter night and Jack and Rebecca are leaving the hospital. She hasn’t been feeling well and the doctors have ordered an MRI. Rebecca is freaking out even though this isn’t a bridge. Jack knows exactly what to do. He takes her to his favorite tree and reassures her that this is not the day she finds out bad news. This is the day she finds out she’s fine. He knows this because much like the Judeo-Christian God, he is ominous, omnipresent and sacrifices himself in order to repent for everyone’s sins. Rebecca asks why it’s his favorite tree. Jack answers that it’s because it is there that they find out she’s ok. In a nostalgic touch for the Gen-Xers, Jack gets a notice on his beeper. They call the hospital and of course everything is fine. Jack says she’s going to live forever, which is demonstrably false because she is not a member of my mom’s family who live to be an average of 104. That’s right, I’m here to ruin this show for you for an eternity, bitches! Jack knows he’ll be the first to go and he asks Rebecca that, when he does, she scatter his ashes outside.
Another memory, only days before his death: Jack asks everyone not to make plans cause he has a surprise. One presumes it’s the Bruce Springsteen tickets Rebecca found earlier in the episode, right before Jack’s funeral.
We return back to the day they brought the Jeep Wagoner home. We finally get to hear Jack’s speech to the dealer. Jack tells him that the Pearsons need a sturdy car that can sustain their scrapes, stains, kicks. A car that can sustain their history. He can’t afford it, he’s man enough to admit that. As a family man, though, he has one hope for his family. All he wants for them is to be ok. Since late capitalism has all poisoned our minds into believing that happiness comes in the form of material goods produced by exploited labor for the benefit of the wealthy, Jack believes the car will provide that. Jack sees his family ok in that car.
Teen Randall and Teen Kevin
We turn now to the Pearson brothers' treasured car memory with their father. Jack is teaching Teen Randall how to drive, an exercise that is terrifying to the overly-cautious teen. Teen Kevin is in the backseat, being the total jerk he is. He makes fun of Randall’s driving, his virginity, his general being. Teen Randall begins to fight back. Their bickering almost gets them killed by a semi. I think it’s a semi. Dudes, if I can’t tell the difference between a Honda and a Toyota, I sure as hell don’t know the models for trucks. It’s a big ass truck. Jack, in angry dad mode, throws both of them out because the black man always pays for the transgressions of the white man. He tells them they can walk home.
When they finally make it back, they find their dad tinkering around in the Jeep’s hood. They apologize, in the hopes that they won’t get a sermon from their dad. NOPE. Jack is basically a Bible in this episode, spitting out parables and fables as if he were some hyped-up Corinthian about to win the next Poetry Slam. Jack tells them that he doesn’t get their rivalry. He was best friends with his brother, Nicky, who we find out died in Vietnam. Thank god. I would not have withstood another whodunit involving a kitchen appliance. We don’t usually hear much of Jack’s past and neither do his kids. He reveals a little more this time around. He and his brother had to watch out for each other because they couldn’t turn to their drunk dad or useless mom for comfort. Jack tells them that there will come a time when the Pearson brothers won’t be able to rely on Rebecca and Jack. They’ll have to learn how to rely on each other.
Jack finds Teen Kate waiting for the city bus on what is clearly a school day. Why is Teen Kate skipping school? Alanis Morissette, that’s why. She’s in Pittsburgh, signing autographs, and Teen Kate has too much angst to stay away from Alanis. Jack tells her to get in the car but, instead of taking her to school, he takes her to the record store. Jack doesn’t get Alanis because he’s a dad and their appreciation for anything beyond 1985 dies every time they pass on their genes. Teen Kate does a very nice analysis of how Bruce and Alanis are actually similar artists. Where is this cool Kate? Why do we get perpetual pouting Adult Kate? Did Teen Kate die in the fire? Cause every time Adult Kate comes onscreen I let out a big sigh of “uggghhhhhhhhhh, how are you going to ruin your own day now?” Teen Kate writes her own songs. That’s how cool she is. Jack thinks she should give music a try. Teen Kate is the kind of teen that can rattle statistics on failure off the top of her head. Teen Kate and I would be friends, is all I’m saying. Jack though scoffs at them with the confidence of a mediocre white man. He reminds her that she’s her own person, the kind of person that gets what she has her heart set on.
Sad Pearson Family
We’re now in the more recent past, the past where Jack no longer exists. Sad Rebecca is heading to the funeral and she is moody. Can’t fault her for that. I’d be piiisssed if I had to bury the love of my life AND deal with three teenagers on the same day. They’re all moody. Sad Teen Kate is done with the dog, DONE. Sad Teen Kevin can’t figure out his tie because he’s never had to learn a useful skill in his life. Little Randall learned that shit at age 7 and Sad Teen Randall is even offering to help, but Kevin says no because asking for a help is a sign of weakness and this is how toxic masculinity happens.
Service doesn’t start for another hour but Sad Rebecca wanted to get there before the urn did. They sit in what is surely the warmest, most spring-like winter Pennsylvania has ever had. At the funeral, Nefarious Miguel gives his eulogy though deep down inside he is cackling with glee over the success of his evil Claudius-like plan. Sad Teen Randall also gives a speech where he expresses how he wishes one day to have the kind of love his parents had. Sad Rebecca will not let that urn out of her sight.
Back at the reception, Sad Teen Kevin notices that Sad Teen Randall is wearing Jack’s old watch. Sad Teen Kevin yells at Randall for trying to act like the man of the house when the entire Republican Party knows that a real man would not have let Jack back in. Sad Teen Randall sips some tea and calmly points out that Sad Teen Kevin was never there anyway. Sad Teen Kate steps into womanhood by putting a stop to this dick-swinging exercise that is only making thing worse for everyone.
Sad Teen Kate hides out in the car, thinking of the fire. On the night that Jack died, she had asked Rebecca to explain again how Jack died. Rebecca gives her the scientific explanation. Sad Teen Kate is too smart to take it at face value. If he died because he inhaled too much smoke and they were fine, then it stands to reason that Jack died because he was exposed to it longer. The reason he was exposed to it longer was because he rescued the dog. With that she rejects the dog, her innocence, and any sense of humor she may have had.
Back at the funeral Sad Rebecca is staring out at the horizon when Doctor Colonel Sanders appears. That’s my name for the folksy Southern doctor who delivered the Pearsons. Doctor Colonel Sanders tells her that Jack used to show up to his practice all the time seeking advice. Each visit was charged by BlueCross BlueShield to be $45097.97 with an 85% co-pay and a rebate for the cup of water he used to clear his throat. Rebecca breaks down. She can’t raise the kids alone, she’s not fearless like Jack. Doctor Colonel Sanders tells her that Jack wasn’t fearless. Jack was scared shitless all the time. He was scared of everything: wife, children, their happiness. And he tells her that everything he can do, Rebecca can do better. ALONE. Sad Rebecca finds her feminist empowerment through a man that wouldn’t be out of place in a Mississippi ball held by the Daughters of the Confederacy but hey. We do what we can with what we’ve got. Lots of lemonade metaphors are thrown in.
Sad Rebecca gathers up the kids, the urn and tells them it’s time to go. She drives to Jack’s favorite tree and starts revealing a whole lot of TMI. Like her fears of having children. Awkward. She reminisces about Jack being the worst at movies because he figured out all the plot points because Jack is a god and these kids might as well have been the product of the Immaculate Conception. Sad Rebecca tells her Sad Teen Sons to stop bickering over who gets to be the man of the house. It’s a matriarchy now, mofos, so you better start wearing your This Is What a Feminist Looks Like t-shirt. She tells Sad Teen Kate that Jack’s death wasn’t her fault. It was Jack’s dumb choice to make and she was going to spend the rest of her life convincing her of that if she had to. Famous last words. They scatter his ashes around the tree and into the wind. Sad Teen Kate asks to keep some of it. Sad
Rebecca surprises them with Bruce Springsteen tickets and they all decide to go. A sweet little touch, if my frigid heart allows it. Sad Rebecca asks to be left alone for a few minutes and Mandy Moore brings her A-game again. She is determined to party with Sterling K. Brown next year and surpass her greatest performance to date: pretending to be happy by Ryan Adams’ side. Sad Rebecca whispers to Jack that they’re going to be ok. They’ll be ok.
The have a car.
Reasons to Lust After Milo
I always like him when he’s telling Teen Kevin why he’s the worst.
Attempts at Emotional Manipulation
Again, we have an entire hour of titillating melodramatic emotional porn. My top moment is for sure Sad Rebecca’s little speech at the end.
Deep Quote of the Week
“Please don’t tell me I’m gonna die on my way to a ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic concert.” –Rebecca. I may not agree with her assessment of Weird Al but I agree with the sentiment. It’s a reminder that all live our truths for we can’t say when our time on this green Earth will be up.
This Is Us is taking a much-needed break, THANK GOD. I need a nap after all this duress. However, it’s coming back on February 27th with the promise of Vietnam-era Jack! BUTTS, BUTTS, I WANT MORE BUTTS.