MUCH LIKE THE 2016 ELECTION, THIS EPISODE WAS A SHIT SHOW (THIS IS US RECAP)
As we approach the Trumpversary, I’d like to think the nation has been bitch slapped back into reality. While before, some (mainly white, straight, male, upper middle-class folks) had this misguided sense that the politics and the personal did not miss, we are hopefully hyperaware by now that there is no way of extricating yourself from institutional power. At best, you can negotiate your own self-determination within the framework, at worst all you can do is pray to survive it. This is a very, very, very serious subject matter that requires careful meditation, intellectual honesty and query, and a desire to act. It should not be tampered with in a way that only skims the surface for easy platitudes.
But that is exactly what This Is Us did.
After a Halloween-themed episode that was close to redeeming themselves in my critical eyes, this damn show decides to confront INSTITUTIONS and POWERS without even a basic freshman reading of Foucault. Guys, it was a hoooot mess. Hold me close, while I go through all the major gag-worthy moments.
Mommy Pearson and Daddy Pearson
Despite what so many childhood fairy tales may have indicated, you actually can’t pick an abandoned baby out of a shoe box and decide to give it a home. At the very least, the writers of this show are aware of that much. That’s why we get a quick montage of the case worker’s frequent visits to the Pearson’s home when Mommy and Daddy were still breastfeeding the little lads. The Case Worker love them. They are a couple with perfectly symmetrical faces and a pleasant demeanor. There is nothing to fear. Though they still have to make their case in front of a judge, the case worker assures them it will be a formality. Who would say no to a couple of well-meaning white allies?
A black judge, that’s who.
A cold, icy feeling washed over me as I wrote those word. I feel the putrid presence of Richard Spencer’s spirt lurking over me. I should not have been forced to write that sentence but I am here merely as a witness to this bullshit.
The Pearsons decide to talk to the judge before their court date. I don’t know why. Probably cause like most pretty white people, they’ve been them that they can get whatever they want through sheer will and determination. It is at their office that the judge tells them how he really feels. This guy has round-rim glasses and a bowtie, so you know his hesitation to give a black baby to a white family comes from a lifetime of deep reflection and at least five phone conversations with Henry Louis Gates Jr. The judge isn’t trying to be a big old meanie or the ONE example of reverse racism. He brings up some very strong points. There are certain tools the Pearsons cannot give Baby Randall because they have never had to experience them and never will. The judge is looking out for the baby’s survival while the Pearsons will probably teach Baby Randall to call the police if he needs help. The judges tell Mommy and Daddy that his mind is pretty much made up but since he is a man of that follows procedures—in case the bowtie wasn’t enough of an indication--, he’s going to keep their court date. Though there was an attempt to present the judge in a nuanced way, the showrunners have to realize they’re only setting up the audience to root against him, right? That does not sit well with me at all.
Another thing that doesn’t sit well with me? That a guy who clearly went to UPenn for Undergrad and then Harvard law is somehow swayed by a cheesy letter and some photo collages from Rebecca. Photoshop had not yet been invented and the photographer they hired for their family portrait was having a hard time balancing the different skin tones of each member of the Pearson family. Rebecca painstakingly cut Baby Randall out from the pics where he looked dashing and taped them to the photos where everyone else looked great. Boom! All concerns on interethnic adoption have been magically airbrushed out of existence! The judge decides to recuse himself from the case. Don’t worry though; this show has more black judges than an entire season of SVU. The black lady judge is cool with this set up and the formality the Pearsons expected finally comes through.
I…I don’t even know what to say about this.
Awww Shit, Randall’s Biological Dad Is Back
That is not the only time we see the forces of the state shaping our personal story! Nope. Guess who’s back? Will. The character that refuses to die, despite his very drawn out death scene last season. This time around, we see him as a young man. He is standing before a judge after getting arrested for drugs. Will is a poet and his statement in front of the judge has the cadence of some terrible spoken word at the college café. His mom is gone. His girl is gone. His son is gone. He describes himself as “the most disappointed man in the world.”
His words kick the judge in the emotional nuts. He tracks down Will in jail and ask that they talk in private. Unlike the other judge from Mommy and Daddy Pearson’s flashback, this one is white and awash in guilt. Though they never flat out say it, cause it would scare your aunt in Kansas City, the judge hints at how terrible it is to use minimum-sentence laws against all these black folks. He doesn’t feel like he ever gets to be the White Savior in any of the stories of the people he incarcerates. Until now. He tells Randall, he’ll help him rebuild his life as long as he always opts for the right choice. And thus, we have the hands of the white man rescuing the poor soul of a minority.
We don’t see Will screwing up in any way after that. The episode springs forward to Will as an old man, receiving a diagnosis of terminal cancer. He decides to get some crack and honestly, why the hell not? Do you know how many friends I have who have told me they’ll try all the drugs as soon as they’re old enough to not care anymore? Too many to count and they all look more like the judge than they look like Will. Of course, we’re supposed to feel terrible. Like life has defeated him for good. However, right as Will is about to chase the dragon, Randall shows up like a deux ex machina and saves him from relapsing.
I fall into a deep REM state every time Kevin appears on screen, but I will do my very best to care a tad about the least interesting person in the whole entire NBC universe. It doesn’t help that his ex-wife/current-girlfriend is the second least interesting person in the whole entire NBC universe. Both are so bland, you’re going to serve them to your cousin from New Hampshire this upcoming Thanksgiving.
They are so desperately trying to give them some sort of damage. Kevin is still in the throes of his boozing, pill-popping habits. He is supposed to be flying out to New York to visit Wallflower. And yet, when Wallflower calls him to confirm, Kevin tells her he may need to push his travel date again. Wallflower is a woman who lives in Manhattan that has pretty red hair and is the kind of person who lists “hanging out with family and friends” as a hobby. She has been ghosted before and is aware of the telltale signs. In fact, in a bold move, she points out how much of a Classic Fuqboy Kevin has been: relentlessly pursuing her only to disappear when so he can go on a bender because of his fragile little feelings.
Kevin knows he’s done wrong. He goes to the jewelry store to buy Wallflower a ring, gets three instead because he can’t even make a simply choice. He’s rich, pick the one with the highest resale value for heaven’s sake! Also, buying your way out of a scolding is futile if you’re still swallowing Oxy in the bathroom buddy. That’s not how this works. He tries to surprise Wallflower by heading straight to the hospital where she works and ends up falling asleep. He dreams about the shitty father he would be as an addict. It involves soft hues and ignoring his kids.
Kevin shows up at Wallflower’s doorstep about to pull some major bullshit. He babbles on about how he can’t be the husband she wants, the father his non-existent children will need, the lay her lady bits desire, the pretty face her Instagram account can hashtag. He’s going on and about how he can only be a disappointment as if straight women everywhere were expecting something different. Guys, we already know we’re better than you. If I had a freaking nickel for every time some pretty boy showed up at my step to tell me how they’re not good for me, well I wouldn’t be writing these recaps from my scrappy apartment in Chicago. I’d be doing it in my Italian villa.
After last week’s freak out, Kate decides it’s time to start telling her loved ones about the big news. First up, Kevin. She and Toby announce the pregnancy by wearing matching t-shirts and looking like they’ve already turned away from any sort of fashion sense they may have enjoyed before. This is why Luluroe succeeds even though it’s a pyramid scheme. I don’t know when parents in the US decided they had a right to look like a freaking hamper exploded on them but that’s a topic for another day.
It’s on to telling Toby’s mom. Or it should be. Toby, man baby that he is, can’t bring himself to do it. His mom is Uber Catholic and she’ll be upset. Um, ok. It makes me wonder if the liberatti in Hollywood actually know any Catholics. Bastard children are how the church continues its expansion despite our secular age. Catholic parents will freak out if their teenager has a baby, because who the fuck wouldn’t and there is a big chance they might put a stain on the family name by auditioning for Teen Mom. But at 37? Seriously? Catholic parents could care less. They’ll tell you to start planning the baptism and that’s about as bad as it gets.
It does give the writes the perfect excuse to have Toby and Kate plan a shotgun wedding, though. They go to the county clerk’s office to get their license. They list all the things that make weddings terribly unnecessary, but fail to list all the things that make marriages absolutely horrible. This does not sit well with Toby. In deep despair, he starts talking to Jack’s ashes. Who the hell really does this? Maybe you go into some imaginary tailspin in your brain. You don’t actually talk out loud to a jar on the mantel. There has to be some way to communicate that Kate is actually all about the wedding industrial complex, so this is it. After some rumination with an inanimate object, Toby decides to tells his mom and propose to Kate. He does so by writing out the question in a series of hoodies. Fair. It’s what her future holds: a schlubfest of hoodie love.
Randall is more angsty than usual because he has to take Deja to see her jailed mom. Deja is used to The System in ways that makes Randall very uneasy. I get it. Cops are everywhere. You know who they’re going to believe if shit goes down and it’s the dude who has a Blue Lives Matter bumper sticker on his Honda.
After waiting forever, the case worker tells them that Deja’s mom has decided to opt out of her visiting hours. This is where Randall, the Mansplainer, emerges. First, he projects all his frustrations on the case worker who is doing her goddamn job. She gives him the biggest sob story ever heard about a little deaf girl who can’t get adopted. Then, Randall sets up his own private visit with Deja’s mom. Deja’s mom is donning a black eye after getting jumped. She, understandably, did not want her daughter to see her that. What does Randall do? Make her feel like crap by pulling Old School Cosby sermon about personal accountability. Uh, if you’re repeating the hypocritical moralizing of a serial rapist, you’re doing it wrong. Mom shuts him up by saying that toxic masculinity put her in there and I believe it. Ok, she may have blamed an ex-boyfriend, but my point still stands. Deja’s Mom, who did not go to private school but sounds way smarter than Randall in this particular moment, tells him that the only reason he’s on the other side of that Plexiglas is luck. Preach.
At least Randall knows it’s in his best interest to listen to smart, black women and lets Deja’s mom call her on the phone.
Reason to Lust After Milo
He still looks better as a jar on the mantelpiece than Toby ever will.
Attempts at Emotional Manipulation
- Oh dear lord, all the voiceover monologues.
- Technically the proposal, but I think marriage is a sham so….
- Will’s forlorn face in every single take
Deep Quote of the Week
“And don't get it twisted sis. I wake up every morning next to a headscarf and coconut oil. I'm married to a black queen. Not that it's any of your business.” –Randall. I didn’t have much to say about Beth so this is a fitting tribute in its place.