BWW Recap: Three Kates, Two Suitors, One Mystery on THIS IS US
After last week's uncharacteristically plot-driven "This is Us," we're back with episode three--a return to a character-focused mecca of good feelings, happy tears, and good old fashioned family baggage.
"Katie Girls" starts in a past we've never visited before! Rebecca's childhood draws us quickly into a domestic routine that Rebecca will consistently struggle with. She fails in home ec, and decides to move over to male-dominated woodshop. Most of the guys laugh at her when she's not immediately a professional, but there's one that doesn't--a guy who, at the end of the first episode of the season, had me wondering, "Is that Hunter Parrish?" (It is! I recognized him in his high school form, without the weird little seventies moustache).
This is the guy we've been wondering about: Alan, the mysterious stranger who showed up and ruined Jack and Rebecca's potential second date. Alan's back from a journalism job in London and wants Rebecca to love him again.
When we first saw Alan, I categorized him as "a Logan Huntzberger type" (we've all watched Gilmore Girls, yeah?) and this whole journalism-in-London thing only fueled the fire. Of course the Logan Huntzberger type is the foil to the Jess Mariano type--played, conveniently, by Jess Mariano himself, Milo Ventimiglia, future Pearson patriarch, currently beside himself that the girl of his dreams is with somebody else.
Jack goes, dejected, to his parents' house, where his father is being a jerk--as usual. He's dissatisfied with the sandwich his wife made and demands she make him another. It's the last straw for Jack. He gives his mom a choice: she leaves, or he kills his dad. She goes with option A, and they leave for a friend's house.
Meanwhile, Rebecca and Alan go to his parents' house to celebrate their reconciliation. His mom is Jane Kaczmarek--and, while nobody's rooting for this self-important Rebecca-ditcher, it's exciting to see that his mom is the woman who gets far too little credit for how great she was on Malcolm in the Middle (and in so much else).
Conversation eventually comes to Rebecca's future. She tells them she's planning on moving to Los Angeles to pursue her music career--Alan immediately shuts her down. Tells her that New York is the place to be to pursue music. "It's got soul, he says, "And also, conveniently, I have a job lined up there with the Village Voice, which clearly has nothing to do with the fact that I wanted you back so badly."
After Rebecca and Alan talk privately about it and decide (well, he decides) that New York is what's best for both of them (for his career and, tangentially, hers), Rebecca goes and gets some champagne to celebrate. She runs into Jack and his mom at the store. It's awkward.
They apologize for the weirdness of the date they never went on. Rebecca tells Jack she's moving to New York. They part ways--except, Rebecca asks him a final question. What are YOUR dreams, Jack Pearson?
It's one of several moments in this episode I think are strangely written--like, that's not a question people ask other people in real life. Nevertheless, Jack fantasizes about the stable, suburban life Rebecca wants nothing to do with, and they part ways again.
After a surprisingly open-minded conversation with Jane Kaczmarek, Rebecca makes a decision--it's Jack she wants. She just has a feeling about it.
She goes to see him where his mom is staying. He immediately takes her back, and they decide to drive to Los Angeles together that night. WHOOOOH. This is a big day for them both.
Meanwhile, in 2018, we're back at Kevin's movie premiere. We hear the final moments of the movie, and, in a sweet and meta moment, we see all of the Pearsons in tears. Kevin's getting the recognition he always wanted from his family--but it's not all sweet.
After the movie, Randall confronts Kate about her "I'm the only person who's going to carry on a piece of Dad" comment. He's hurt that she would rather spend tons of money and get dangerous surgery than adopt a baby. It's clear why the issue is so personal to Randall, but he absolutely crosses a line. Kate reminds Randall he has no idea how much it hurts to lose a baby, and how hard it is to try and try and always fail to get pregnant. They both leave angry and hurt.
But they can't stay that way. Kate's going into surgery tomorrow, and Randall, as Beth reminds us, has trouble apologizing to his siblings (side note, I want to be a fly on THE WALL in this Beth/Toby/Miguel group chat). After a weird and difficult phone call with Kate, Randall decides to do the valiant thing and fly cross-country to be there when she wakes up from surgery.
Kate's scared out of her mind to go into this surgery, and her family has been treating her like she's about to die, which is not helping.
And then she's in the surgery, passed out from the anesthesia. She dreams a conversation between herself, her teenage self, and her child self. I love seeing these fabulous actresses work together--there's really no excuse to get them on screen at the same time other than a medically-induced coma.
She's being antagonized by her teenage self, who keeps telling her she'll never be a mother, when Jack shows up. Just him saying "Hey, Katie Girl" brought a whole lot of tears to my eyes. They eat ice cream and are happy (in this moment, I was eating ice cream and was sad, for the record).
We find out that, in the real world, Kate is holding heavily on to the anesthesia. She should have woken up a while ago. It's stressful for Toby and Randall--not as much for me, because I know Kate is alive to help Toby with his depression from that flash forward, but still stressful. There's a weirdly maudlin moment where teenage Kate tells adult Kate that it might be better if she just stays and hangs out forever in this in-between place--obviously suggesting that Kate just give up and succumb to the anesthesia.
She thinks better of it, though. In a moment we all wish we could have with our previous selves, Kate tells the younger Kates that times will be tough, but they're going to be okay. And they're going to be a mother. We find out in a second that the doctors were able to harvest EIGHT eggs (yay!), which supports this hypothesis.
Personally, I can see a near-future where Kate is pregnant with triplets--multiples are common within families, and how perfect would that be? It's nice that, for once, we're giving Kate a break, and we get to see her happy.
Randall and Toby have this great conversation in the waiting room about mental illness (Toby's depression and Randall's anxiety). So much of this episode is underscored with ideas about traditional (i.e. toxic) masculinity, and it's nice to see the two of them break down a barrier and a stigma about mental health, medication, and manhood.
Kate wakes up and sees Randall, who immediately apologizes (after he says "Hi, sis," which is another writing moment in this episode I don't like, because not once in the history of siblings has a sibling called their sibling "sis" or "bro." I know this because I am a sibling and I speak for all of us).
Kate is touched, and tells him that he has SO much of Jack in him--flying across the country to say you're sorry, it seems, is the ultimate Jack Pearson move.
And it's something Randall needs to hear. He's been dealing with the Philadelphia councilman who refuses to follow through on his promises--and, now, has to rush home from California to take care of Chichi, whose daughter, Sky, was mugged and assaulted outside of the community center Councilman Brown refuses to fix up. He's decided to take action and run against the councilman in the next election--a happy decision that's immediately thwarted by Beth, who's just been fired from her job and wants more than anything for Randall to just sit and be present with her.
Kevin's story is the one most relevant to next week's episode. He and Zoe go on a press tour for his new movie where he'll be interviewed by Terry Gross, real-life radio superstar and Zoe's hero.
In the interview, Kevin is asked about his father's experiences in Vietnam, and he seems to know absolutely nothing. In flashback, we see Jack try to talk to Kevin about being in a war--he gives up because Kevin does not know what to ask.
Kevin begins to search for answers, putting together serial-killer-ish cork boards and sending emails to men from Jack's platoon. We see at least one of them receive the email and recognize the name on it. I'm excited to see how far we're able to delve into Jack's past, and how Kevin will be affected by it.
"This is Us" works because there is not a single character who doesn't feel like family. We're shocked and appalled by Beth's lay off (because who in this world could be more competent than Beth?), we're thrilled by Toby and Kate's sweet rapport, we cry along with the real family members because we're so proud of Kevin. Consistently, the show reminds me that, even in this world, which often seems random and cruel, the relationships I have with my loved ones are my purpose.
Pictured: Chrissy Metz as Kate Pearson -- (Photo by: Ron Batzdorff/NBC)