BWW Recap: Kate is Pregnant and Toby is Depressed on THIS IS US
"This is Us" returned to formula this week with a bittersweet look into our characters' mental health, passions, and problems.
Before I get into anything, I just want to commend the show on its always exceptional use of music. The Adele song? The Beatles song? So, so effective and so, so good.
There are a few running themes in this episode that I'll focus on for the purposes of this recap: microaggressions, grief, and depression. But first, let's talk about Randall and Beth.
Our favorite couple starts the episode on a high note, in an adorable dialogue about their days to come. Beth's about to kill it at a job interview--she says gonna leave there with a six-figure offer. We believe her! Why wouldn't she? Who wouldn't want Beth working for them?
It's the same with Randall. He's heading down to Philadelphia for his very first day on the campaign trail. He's bought out a barbecue restaurant in his 12th district in order to communicate with the locals. It's sure to be a hit, as long as Randall doesn't cry. Who wouldn't want Randall as their city councilor?
The day doesn't really go as planned. Randall tries his best to connect to the locals, who, he comes to realize, unwaveringly support Councilor Sol Brown. It makes no sense to him. Brown has been ineffectual and lazy with their community! How can the people still pledge their ALLEGIANCE to him?
As it turns out, easily. After a messy stump speech ending in hurt feelings, Randall furiously wonders why the locals don't want change. That's when the proprietor of the barbecue joint calls him out, and tells him he should go back where he belongs.
We know Randall has problems with that question--it sets him off, and he blatantly asks the man why he supports Councilman Brown.
Brown apparently stepped in when a white landlord threatened to raise rent so high it would be impossible to keep the business open--he took the guy to a Phillies game and settled everything up. The man tells Randall that not only do he and his family owe Councilman Brown their vote, they owe him their lives.
Randall understands. Reconsiders. Regroups. I guess this is a reasonable obstacle, but it feels like "This is Us" has been giving Randall a whole lot of reasonable obstacles and reasons to rethink his approach lately. I hope they try something different next week.
Anyway, he and Beth get ready to leave Philadelphia--but, wait! How was Beth's job interview? He forgot to ask.
She smiles unconvincingly and says it was great, but they should wait to celebrate until the offer comes in. Randall's thrilled, and they get in their separate cars to drive back to New Jersey.
Which is when we flash back to Beth's interview, which seems to be going really well, until the interviewer asks about Beth's previous employment. It chokes her up in a way we've never seen Beth choke up before. Suddenly, she's crying, releasing the fear and sadness she feels about being let go from the job that raised her. It clearly was not Randall we had to worry about crying tonight. Also, give Susan Kelechi Watson an Emmy, for God's sake.
The story of the white, gentrifying landlord is only one of the racially charged Moments in tonight's episode, most of which have to do with interracial relationships. It's sometimes hard to remember that it was only in 1967 that the Supreme Court struck down racist laws banning interracial marriage--it's more historically recent than the KENNEDY assassination, or the Beatles, or the beginning of the Vietnam War. Legal or illegal, there are still way more people than you'd like to believe that disapprove of marriages that break down race lines, as is made clear in tonight's episode.
Kevin and Zoe are taking their first long road trip together, heading to see Robinson, Jack's army buddy (we met the young version of him in the previous episode and this older version of him two episodes ago). They stop at a rest stop for junky snacks (as one does on a road trip), and the woman at checkout does not acknowledge the two of them as a couple. She's CLIPPED and stern with Zoe throughout their entire interaction, clearly disapproving of her relationship with Kevin. Zoe can't think of anything else, and Kevin doesn't even notice.
Later, at the Robinson house, while Kevin is learning about Jack's history as a sergeant (not a mechanic), Zoe talks to the missus about her new relationship. Kevin didn't notice the moment at the market, she tells her, and he thought the SILK pillowcase Zoe was upset to have left at home was a moment of vanity. Zoe wonders how she's ever going to be able to explain what it means to be black to a "white male movie star" who reeks of unchecked privilege. Mrs. Robinson acknowledges that it sounds exhausting.
Ultimately, Zoe decides Kevin is "worth it." She tells him about the moment at the market, and explains that the SILK pillowcase makes sure her hair doesn't get dry overnight. I still think explaining the ins and outs of white privilege to Kevin wherever they may go sounds exhausting, but good for Zoe, I guess.
Also, Kevin finds out some important stuff about his dad, including the fact that his necklace once belonged to a Vietnamese woman Jack may or may not have been in love with. We'll find out in the weeks to come, I hope.
Microaggressive racism runs amok in the past, too. It's the 90s, and it's prom night for the Pearsons. Kevin is taking Sophie, Randall is taking Allison, and Kate will not be attending. Randall's tried to get her to come. We're not supposed to ask about it.
They pick up Sophie and head to Allison's house. Her mom makes a big show of hugging Randall--Allison comes down the stairs, looking beautiful and ready to Prom. That's when Dad comes out to take the ceremonial photo. He sees Randall and is immediately turned away--he literally says, "I can't do this," and causes a whole scene because sweet, sweet Randall wants to take his girlfriend, who happens to be white, to prom. The couple never makes it there, and Kevin gets in the limo and starts to drink.
Randall goes home, where he finds Miguel. Miguel! He's been sticking around this whole episode--he brought the Pearsons a piano! He's fixing their refrigerator! Now, he's outside, ready to console the miserable Randall.
He tells a story about moving to America from Puerto Rico when he was just a kid, and trying for months and months to get rid of his accent before he started school. Regardless, he walked in on the first day and the kids called him "Ricky Ricardo"--who was CUBAN, he adds. Instead of fighting back, Miguel entered rooms saying "Lucy, I'm home!" for months. It was easy for him to let the racist kids walk all over him, and he contends that Randall is stronger than he ever was--but Randall rejects this near-fatherly advice and heads to bed.
We find out that Jack asked Miguel to make sure his family was taken care of if, God forbid, something ever would happen to him. Miguel clearly took his promise to his best friend seriously.
Which brings us to "grief." Miguel's got a lot of it. So do all of the Pearsons, but Kate and Rebecca are feeling it most clearly in the past.
They sit by their new piano, missing Jack. Rebecca tells Kate that music has always been a wide open door for her, something that she can count on when she can count on nothing else, even her own happiness. She tries to get Kate to sing with her--Cyndi Lauper's "All Through the Night"--but Kate says she can't. Not yet.
Present-Kate is dealing with the same problem. After doing a gig as an "Adele-o-gram" (brilliant), the guy that hired her tells her she ought to be on THE VOICE or something because she's amazing (not that Kate is NOT amazing, but I am a singer and I, too, am tired of hearing this from people who are not singers). Kate tells him she would have more seriously pursued a music career if sad things didn't keep happening to her--when sad things happen, she shuts down, and she can't use her voice. He tells her he hopes it stays happy for a while.
We're all hoping for the same thing. It's finally time to find out whether or not Kate is gonna get pregnant from one of their eight eggs, turned three successful fertilizations, turned one embryo. We have our fingers crossed and our breath held, especially when we're watching what Toby is dealing with.
We'll move on to "depression" here, something several characters this week--Beth, Rebecca, Kate--deal with, but none more than our Toby, the titular Toby of this episode.
Oh, Toby. Fan favorite, big love, hilarious Toby. Toby suffers from clinical depression, and we know present-him has gone off his meds, causing horrible physical side effects.
But then we have past Toby, our first glimpse of baby Toby, who may very well be the cutest kid in the world. We find out his mom has been suffering from some kind of mental illness that his father can't comprehend or deal with in a healthy way. Young Toby lies in bed with a fan pointed to his face, biting his nails to the end, as he listens to his parents fight.
We see him a little older, with his mom and baby brother in a clothing store. Toby's mom is so earth-shatteringly sad that she can't make it through a shopping trip without bursting into tears--presumably, at this point, she's dealing with postpartum depression on top of whatever her clinical diagnosis is. To cheer her up, little Toby does a Rodney Dangerfield impression--and it works wonders. His mom cracks a smile and gives him a hug. This is the Toby we know and love, THE ONE who does for others before he ever does for himself, THE ONE who makes people laugh when they can't even smile.
And then we see him in the aftermath of his divorce, which evidently came about as a result of his depression. Josie leaving clearly doesn't help--next we find Toby in bed, alone, staring at the ceiling, when his mom comes into THE ROOM and opens the windows.
She tells him to get up, and he says he can't. She tells him he can, because she did, "with the help of a little boy who did impressions." And then she says something vital.
"The joy in you is as much a part of you as this sadness."
This one hit real close to home for me. As a fellow sufferer, I know what it means to feel paralyzingly sad and forget what it means to feel happiness or joy. Toby's mom strikes a nerve here because she isn't trying to demean or negate the sadness. It's real. It's present. But it's not forever. A person with depression is not all sadness--no one is. The sadness exists, but so do endless other facets and complications. A person is not one thing--they are a collection of things.
This speaks to Toby, who gets out of bed. Gets back on his meds. Goes to therapy and Overeaters Anonymous. Meets Kate. Feels good.
Goes off his meds to have a baby. Suffers immeasurably.
Toby gets home to find out that, yes, it's true, it worked, he's going to be a parent (YES!!!), and can't bring himself to celebrate. He's too sad--the withdrawal symptoms have become too much. He tells Kate what's been going on, and she calls his doctor--now we see potential-new-dad Toby in the position we saw him in at the end of last season. It's hopeful, though--we've seen Toby come through medication withdrawal and re-upping before, and I'm confident he'll pull through again.
"This is Us" consistently pulls the rug out from under us, but I'm never concerned that the Pearsons will stay down for long.
Photo by: Ron Batzdorff/NBC