Over in the "TV Shows I Am Binging" thread, I noted that I got hooked on This Is Us, which led to a quick discussion over the show's merits and a pledge to talk about the latest episode. We threw out the idea of having that conversation in the "What Are You Watching Right Now?" thread, but I decided to start one dedicated to the show. Although I titled it "Season 4," I'm not going to limit my observations to that season alone,

So far, it's just been me and Jeff, but I welcome anyone else to join in -- especially Tracy! We've seen too little of you here in the Comics Cave!

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The latest episode of This Is Us is the third part of a trilogy focusing on each Pearson kid. "A Hell of a Week: Part Three" looks in on Kate, my least favorite character.

The story across the three episodes covers the same moment from three points in the time line, from each kid's point of view.

In one, the kids are all toddlers, Rebecca is sick, Jack has to put them to bed ... and one by one, each kid wakes up and Jack has to put them back to bed. In Part One, it's Randall, who's afraid of monsters under the bed. Jack assures him there aren't any monsters, but after Randall gets up again, Jack tells him, hey, just go to sleep -- the other two kids are a handful, and I need you to be strong and not bug me like they do. This, we see, sets the seeds for Randall's perfectionistic, I-need-to-fix-everything tendencies. In Part Two, Kevin gets up ... and I've forgotten just how Jack gets him back in bed. In Part Three, surprise, surprise, Kate gets up and wants a story. She wants a story from Mommy, but Jack entices her to make up a story with him. He tells her every story is about a person who wants something and goes on an adventure to get it. So Kate casts herself as a princess and Jack as her knight and he guides her to a scary dark tunnel to her prize ... Rebecca, as the beautiful queen!

Interesting ... !

The next timeline is when the kids are about 18. I didn't fully realize until I watched Part Three that it takes place on Rebecca's birthday because there's so much activity that's not about celebrating. Randall pops in briefly but soon head back to his dorm at Carnegie Mellon to be with Beth. Kevin and Sophie -- they recently eloped -- are back. Kate, however, is surly and has a bitter fight with Rebecca. Why? Because of her jerk boyfriend Marc.

We know Marc is bad news because he got Kate a job at a neighborhood record store ... and later that day showed up on her doorstep to ask her out, having gotten her address from her job application. HUGE red flag, but Kate doesn't see it. Randall and Kevin don't like him immediately, but Kate is defensive. 

In this part, Marc proves his jerkiness by passively aggressively telling Kate she shouldn't have chocolate, then gets bent out of shape when Kate shares some information about a popular record with a customer; Marc petulantly acts jealous that she dared to speak up.

Rebecca invites Marc to coffee, and he shows up late, complains about the manager at the record store and acts like even more of a jerk. He proposes taking Kate to the family cabin so he and she can write songs, which Rebecca clearly is not on board with.

Later, at home, Kate looks for the cabin key and Rebecca starts to express her concern. Kate lashes out, snarling that Rebecca has always been pretty and thin and had boys chasing after her. Clearly, Kate is making the mistake of thinking that the first guy who has been nice to her will be the only guy to be nice to her -- even if he starts being mean to her. 

it gets worse; on the drive to the cabin, Marc admits he's quit his job, and then goes into a rage when Kate doesn't declare she'll quit too. He starts speeding and driving erratically and she pleads for him to stop. When he eventually does, she gets out of the car ... and Marc drives off (!).

Kate walks to a pay phone (it was the '90s, you could still find one of those) and calls her mom. She apologizes, but before she can ask for help, Marc shows up with a blanket ... and Kate gets in the car with him. 

 

In the here and now, Kate's marriage to Toby is under its greatest strain yet. Their baby, Jack, is blind, and they are not on the same page on coping with it. Toby is grieving over what Jack can't do and what he can't do with Jack and wants to fix it; in an argument, he admits seeing the boy makes him sad. Then Jack notices some colored pineapple-shaped Christmas lights, which is a hopeful sign.

In this episode, Toby is on the Internet, having found an article about a blind baby who, thanks to gene therapy, recovered 30 percent of her sight. Kate points out that such therapy isn't applicable to Jack, who has physical, not genetic, damage to his eyes and retinas. Toby responds that he wants to enjoy the feeling of having hope and wants to keep researching. 

Kate has scheduled them to attend a retreat for blind children the next day, but Toby is dragging his feet about packing for it. It's so clear he doesn't want to go that when Rebecca calls, Kate tells her Toby's going to be stuck at work -- and Toby doesn't stop her. Rebecca volunteers to come in Toby's place, which is good in several ways. Not only do they learn about various toys and therapies for blind kids, Kate and Rebecca begin to bond. Rebecca admits to Kate that she's had signs of memory lapses that could presage dementia, and Kate, being Kate, immediately makes it about herself -- "How did I not see the signs?" but Rebecca calms her down.

The retreat experience, however, makes Kate face the fear that she might wind up rearing Jack without Toby, and that she can't do it because she hasn't gotten over her own issues. LIke swimming; she'd be too afraid to take Jack swimming because she can't stand what people might think if they see her in a bathing suit. Mom Rebecca puts the kibosh on that, immediately resolving they should both go to the hotel pool, right now. "You're fat, I'm ancient, we're gorgeous!"

At the pool, Rebecca encourages Kate, while in the water, to be as weightless as she is right now, to just let stuff go. Back at home, Kate asks Toby to be the father Jack needs -- and then demands that he WILL be the father Jack needs. During that talk, she gets a call: It's Kevin and Randall, and we've seen their sides of this call in the previous episodes. They resolve to visit the family cabin. Kate begins to take Jack with her, but Toby insists she go to the cabin alone and he'll take care of Jack. 

“Kate, my least favorite character.”

Mine, too.

“The story across the three episodes covers the same moment from three points in the time line, from each kid's point of view.”

Coincidentally (and off topic), we are currently watching “The Haunting of Hill House” which uses exactly the same technique, except there are five siblings in that family. I think of “Hill House” as the horror version of “This Is Us.” Good show!

“In Part Two, Kevin gets up ... and I've forgotten just how Jack gets him back in bed.”

Uh… me. Too.

“Kate gets up and wants a story.”

It’s interesting how the story parallels and foreshadows her own live, particularly when the “prince” suddenly disappeared.

“…her jerk boyfriend Marc.”

Such a jerk! She can’t dump him soon enough to suit me. Bipolar…?

I will pass your invitation along to Tracy. I know she will be thrilled, but she’s attending an annual meeting for her work today.

I'm not sure Kate will dump Marc, at least not right away, and not even with the intervention she's about to have with her mom and brothers. Rebecca is in that awkward position of wanting to protect a daughter who is too headstrong to admit she needs protecting, because she doesn't want to admit to being wrong. 

In the modern-day storyline, I didn't mention that at one point, Rebecca sees Kate on the phone talking about what they've seen and learned at the retreat ... and Kate admits she was talking to her neighbor, Gregory, and not to Toby. Didn't Beth warn Kate in a previous episode that you shouldn't be talking to somebody else about problems in your marriage?

Speaking of Toby, I haven't always thought he was the best guy for Kate, or even the best guy at all, but I was really on his side when she brought up the business about the gene therapy. Did she have to say that? Did she have to say that right at that moment?

The problem is, first, that Kate was warned that a pregnancy at her age and with her physical condition was more likely than not to have a bad outcome. Now they are in that bad outcome, and Kate wants to make the best of it and Toby wants to fix it. Neither can really talk to the other because it's too painful, and they can't support each other as parents and spouses should.

Going back to the beginning, Tracy was already a fan of The Gilmore Girls when we were married. At first, she watched it by herself, then I began to watch it with her. We followed Lauren Graham over to Parenthood, and that became our favorite show for the time it was on the air. After it went away, I read something somewhere which said "If you liked Parenthood, you should try the new show This Is Us. We did and we've been watching ever since. I still remember watching the first episode when it wasn't, at first, clear that the multiple stories were taking place in different decades... until the camera pulls back to show a guy smoking a cigarette in the hospital maternity ward (!) and all the pieces fall into place. Brilliant!

I quizzed Tracy about Randall and Beth's future last night and she knew they stay together, so that comment I made the other day was just me not paying close enough attention.

Before there a new episode tomorrow to discuss on Wednesday, I’m thinking back to something in season one that I’ll bet I perceived differently than you did. Specifically, I’m thinking about Toby’s heart attack. Chris Sullivan played that so convincingly I thought that Toby was dead. What you may not have realized watching after-the-fact is that he collapsed in the last episode before the mid-season hiatus. Those of us watching in real time had to wait more than a month to learn his fate.

True; I just watched one after the other.

One thing that got by me: When Kevin was riding with Kate when her water broke, and he called an ambulance and then called Toby to tell him he'd called an ambulance. I was wondering why Kevin just didn't drive the car himself to the hospital; I had forgotten Kate had found Kevin drunk in his hotel room earlier in the day. 

FEBRUARY 18 EPISODE – “Big Three, One Cabin”

I’m not going to do a detailed plot synopsis; I assume anyone reading this discussion has already seen the episode. I’m just going to hit what I consider to be the highlights. Expect SPOILERS.

1993: The family buries a time capsule at their cabin.

Late ‘90s: Rebecca, Kevin and Randall come to Kate’s rescue. You’re probably right that, left to her own devices, Kate probably wouldn’t have dumped Marc just yet. Rebecca, however, is not about to be fooled. I love how she told him, in no uncertain terms, to “Get. Out. Of. My. House.” I don’t think we’ll be seeing him again. It’s interesting that the breaking of Jack’s mug was done off camera. What do you think? On purpose or accident. (My vote: on purpose.)

Present Day: They Big Three open the time capsule. Kevin didn’t take it seriously, while Randall (typically) stressed out over it. Yet it was Kevin who chose the perfect item for Randall. Meanwhile, baby Jack almost choked under toby watch, and Kate learned that Kevin slept with Madison.

Future: Kevin has built the dream house Jack designed. (I think we’ve seen it in a previous flash forward but didn’t realize its significance at the time…? I don’t recall the details.) Is Rebecca alive at this point? I know Beth said she’s in the other room, but that could have been her ashes…?

Jeff of Earth-J said:

FEBRUARY 18 EPISODE – “Big Three, One Cabin”

I’m not going to do a detailed plot synopsis; I assume anyone reading this discussion has already seen the episode. I’m just going to hit what I consider to be the highlights. Expect SPOILERS.

Well, if you aren't going to do a detailed plot synopsis, then I won't either.

IN THE LATE '90S: 

  • Since this is TV, I expect this will be the last we see of Marc. If this was life here on Earth-Prime, I wouldn't. Sadly, people who fall into the spell of guys like Marc often find it hard to disentangle themselves, despite reason, common sense, or the intervention of loving relatives. Fortunately, Kate has loving relatives, although I got the sense that Kevin was ready to beat the living snot out of Marc and Randall wasn't. (I'll come back to this.)
  • Rebecca in full mama bear mode was adorable. 
  • I thought it odd that the prospect of a teenage girl going alone to a remote cabin with a teenage boy happened with absolutely no one bringing up the possibility of sex occurring between them, not even the teenage girl and teenage boy in question. 
  • Yeah, it was interesting that the mug was broken off-camera. And yeah, I think Marc did it on purpose.
  • In the previous episode, I coudn't blame Kate (too much) for getting back into the car with Marc after he abandoned her on the side of the road; she was alone in the dark, she hadn't told her mother where she was when she made that call, and she didn't know mom and her brothers were coming to the rescue.
  • That said, I'm sure she regretted it when that creep locked her out of the cabin. I don't get her putting on an act that everything was fine when Rebecca and Kevin and Randall showed up, but I guess she still needed to save face ... which is why I think Kate might not have suffered enough to choose on her own accord to cut Marc loose.

IN THE (DISTANT) PAST: 

  • I felt a little pang when Jack said they would bury the time capsule and open it when the kids turn 18, since none of them know (but we the audience do know), Jack won't be around for their 18th birthdays. 

IN THE PRESENT:

  • I really don't know how long Randall and Kate thought they could keep Kevin in the dark about Rebecca's diagnosis of cognitive impairment. But Randall letting slip he was in Los Angeles could only have led to it getting out. Of course, Kevin's going to ask, "You were in Los Angeles and you didn't come see me?" since they show up at each other's houses like they all live on the same street.
  • I think everybody in this family tends to make things about them when it isn't ("You think I couldn't handle it?"), but I think Kevin had grounds to legitimately be hurt that he was the last to know and that Rebecca had grounds to wait to tell him, what with his drinking problem and his hanging out with Uncle Nicky to fix his drinking problem and PTSD.
  • I also think Randall's reluctance to give Marc a beatdown back in the past was because he knew, even then, that he wasn't sure of how well he could control himself ... as evidenced by the way he whaled on that mugger in part one of the "A Hell of a Week" trilogy.
  • It was funny how Madison couldn't keep the secret of her tryst with Kevin, although I confess I don't understand what the problem is. (But then, I never watched the MTV show Girl Code.)
  • I think Toby's episode with baby Jack almost choking would have broken up Kate and Toby for good if she'd been there, because she wouldn't have accepted that a) these things happen and b) there was a good outcome. But Toby found a way to bond with baby Jack through the Star Wars action figures (even if they aren't the original vintage ones), so there's some positive progress.

IN THE FUTURE:

Jeff of Earth-J said:

Future: Kevin has built the dream house Jack designed. (I think we’ve seen it in a previous flash forward but didn’t realize its significance at the time…? I don’t recall the details.)

  • I didn't recognize the house from the drawing but yes, that is the house everyone gathers in, which answers the question of where Kevin lives in the future

Jeff of Earth-J said:

Is Rebecca alive at this point? I know Beth said she’s in the other room, but that could have been her ashes…?

  • Rebecca is alive, but seemingly on her deathbed, which is why the family is gathering. In one of the flashforwards, Randall enters a bedroom and greets her with, "Hi, I'm Randall, your son." (I suppose that's a sign the cognitive impairment has developed into some kind of full-blown dementia.) Rebecca is white-haired at this point and somewhat wrinkled but still beautiful. And to the surprise of the viewers, Nicky is in the room, seated at Rebecca's bedside. (At that point in the present-day storyline, the family had only recently learned Nicky was alive, and he very aggressively was keeping them at arms' length.)

“I also think Randall's reluctance to give Marc a beatdown back in the past was because he knew, even then, that he wasn't sure of how well he could control himself ... “

Interesting theory. And, of course, Randall is be just the type to analyze possible consequences in the heat of the moment.

“…although I confess I don't understand what the problem is.”

Yeah, me either.

“Toby found a way to bond with baby Jack through the Star Wars action figures”

That was touching.

“Rebecca is alive, but seemingly on her deathbed, which is why the family is gathering. In one of the flashforwards, Randall enters a bedroom and greets her with, ‘Hi, I'm Randall, your son.’”

Ah, yes. I remember now. One of these days, we’re going to have to sit down and re-watch everything so far, perhaps in anticipation of next season. This is the kind of show one can really appreciate a seconf time through.

Kate was feeling loved and happy for the first time since her dad died. I can empathize with her because I have suffered that exact situation. You want to be loved and cared for but you have to take care of yourself first. Kate has shown that she is not so good at doing that.

Rebecca was amazing!

I think both Kevin and Randall thought about how they would handle Marc when they saw him. They had the whole drive to think it through. Randall was already having nightmares. He knew he wasn't in a good place. It takes a smart man to stand down and protect himself and his family first, before violence. There could be too much trouble for everyone if anyone got violent.

I didn't realize the dream house was Kevin's until this episode. Beth greeted everyone at the door in the previous episode.

This Is Us wasn't on this week, but then, we haven't discussed last week's episode, so let's get to it, shall we ..?

FEBRUARY 25 EPISODE – "Clouds"

1993: 

It's report card day for the tween Pearson kids, and, oddly Jack and Rebecca make a production out of it, with all the kids sitting at the dining room table (which is not the way I would do it if I had three kids). Unsurprisingly, Randall is stressing because he didn't get straight As; he grumbles that he spent too much time being a mathelete and not enough studying math. He wants to appeal the one A-minus with his teacher. Kate has a mediocre card, but Rebecca exults at the teacher notes that Kate's shown improvement. Kate is upset, however; her boyfriend dumped her.

Kevin is happy because he's got two As, which shocks Randall -- who scoffs that they're in art and P.E. No matter; Mom and Dad promised him $5 for each A and he wants that cold, hard cash and he wants it now, so he can complete his baseball card collection with a John Candelaria card. Rebecca has errands to run, and Kevin nags and wheedles his way into tagging along so she'll take him to the card store, finally getting her to agree with a well-aimed dig that she's not a cool mom. 

At the card store, Rebecca insists they'll spend only five minutes -- the groceries in the car are melting -- but they spend a happy afternoon cracking open pack after pack of cards until he finds the key. Yay!

Later, Jack cheers up Kate by making an analogy to his cooking; sometimes, when he makes waffles, he throws out the first one because it isn't quite right. Boyfriends are like that, he says. And he coaches Randall out of his anxiety over his A-minus by taking him to a track and challenging him to a race. He tells Randall running until that tight feeling goes away is a good thing. (This, we see, sets the seeds for Randall's struggles later.)

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