Tuesday, November 22, 2016

REVIEW: 'This Is Us' - The Pearson Family Comes Together to Celebrate Their Thanksgiving Traditions in 'Pilgrim Rick'

NBC's This Is Us - Episode 1.08 "Pilgrim Rick"

As Jack, Rebecca and the three kids make their way to Rebecca's parents' house for their traditional Thanksgiving holiday, an unforeseen detour occurs. Kate makes two drastic life-changing decisions. Kevin brings Olivia to Randall's house for Thanksgiving. Randall's heart is broken when he learns about a lifelong secret his mother has kept from him.

The holidays are a time for families to come together and appreciate everything they have together as a family. It's a tense time that provides a lot of story possibilities. But it's a time for joy and celebrations as well. So, it's not surprising that Thanksgiving is the first time the show brings its extended family together. All of the disjointed stories come together to play out at Randall's house in New Jersey. It's great that everything is essentially centered around Randall as he has become the best character on the entire show. His story is the most nuanced and interesting. But it's also interesting to see all of the complications that come out of the connections between the characters. Even though they've been separated by time and distance, these characters share some powerful bonds having gone through the same experiences. The things that have happened in the past with Jack and Rebecca have helped shaped Randall, Kevin and Kate into the people they are today. It's a rich and complex shared history amongst the characters that the show has only scratched the surface of. With a big revelation coming out at Thanksgiving dinner, it's clear that there is still so much to learn about this family.

It's not surprising at all that the Pearson family has strict traditions that they like to stick to with the holidays. That's simply the kind of environment that Jack created for his kids in their upbringing. The story in the past showcases how all of these strange traditions came to be. It highlights the importance that all of these weird details actually mean to this family. Back then, Jack and Rebecca had a traditional Thanksgiving with the family. They would go to Rebecca's parents' house for the traditional bickering of the siblings and the passive aggressive judgment of the parents. They became different people in order to be in that environment. It was the norm of society but it wasn't very fun for Jack, Rebecca or the kids. A tire blowing out on them is the reason why the family forms their own traditions. It's something Jack has always wanted to do after his parents died. He wants to be a leader who leaves a lasting impression on his kids. It's clear in seeing them in the present day that Jack and Rebecca succeed with that. No matter what happened to Jack in the years since, it's clear that his kids still have so much love for him and what he did for them. Plus, it's just a lot of fun to watch Jack, Rebecca and the kids go on this weird and random adventure and thus forming their new Thanksgiving tradition. It's one of hikes, watching Police Academy 3, eating hotdogs wrapped in cheese and crackers. But it's special to them and that means so much. It has a lasting impact on them throughout the years.

This is clearly a holiday that Randall has so much love for. He's the only one jumping up and down out of excitement. He's ready to celebrate this day with his family. It's a bigger dinner table than usual. Now, William is there as well. Plus, Kevin and Kate are bringing dates. This family is growing but the traditions stay the same. William may not be able to actually do the hike but Randall still wants him to experience these traditions because it may be the only time he gets to do them. Of course, Randall also wants to know about William's own traditions. He's not too stuck up in his ways to completely ignore what William did for the holidays. William didn't have a family to spend Thanksgiving with but he still made it special thanks to his sober friends. They had jam sessions that they recorded for their own amusement later on. It's such a simple thing. And yet, it means so much to William. It's all he had for the holidays. That's sad. But now, he has a relationship with his son. And Randall wants to make this Thanksgiving memorable because he doesn't know how long William will be around. He wants to go get the tapes from Pittsburgh so that William can still enjoy his own tradition while embracing this new happiness he has found with this new family.

Of course, all of this is stealth set-up for the reveal that William and Rebecca have known each other for as long as Randall has been alive. That's not new information to the audience. We've known about it for most of the season so far. Plus, it's not surprising that that bombshell comes out now. Beth knows the truth as well and is pressuring Rebecca to tell Randall the truth. The truly shocking moment comes from how Randall finds out. He doesn't learn the truth from Beth, Rebecca or William. Instead, he sees a note from his mother in William's apartment. He reads it and knows that she's been lying to him for his entire life. It's even a shocking revelation to the audience as well. Apparently, William and Rebecca had more of a relationship than that simple meeting when Rebecca was struggling to connect with Randall as a newborn. She sent him letters with pictures and even met him in person. So, that means there is still more to be learned about why William was kept from Randall for so long. He wasn't fit to be a parent when Randall was first born. But it's also been established that he has been clean from drugs for a long time as well. Rebecca's note even mentions that William is looking well. All of this hits Randall hard at the dinner table. It's such a powerful scene that the episode smartly builds towards. Yes, it's the traditional story of an epic blowup at a family gathering for the holidays. But there's such a raw intensity to it that really works wonders despite how devastating all of this is for Randall and the rest of the family.

This is the kind of family tension that Olivia didn't want to put up with over the holiday. And yet, Kevin convinced her to spend time with his family just as everything is about to explode. Their dynamic has been interesting this season. Kevin has grown annoying as a character. He's just a little too narcissistic and stubborn as a person. Meanwhile, it's been difficult to get a good read on Olivia. Is she actually flirting with him? Or is it all a manipulation to get a great performance out of him for the play? "Pilgrim Rick" definitely lands on the two of them as a couple. Kevin is trying to give her the Thanksgiving she was never able to have with her family. It's a tragic piece of backstory that sets up Kevin's chivalry well. But the best moment of this story comes from Olivia and William's conversation on the front steps. That's a completely unexpected character pairing. And yet, it only continues to prove that William is great at telling people the exact things they need to hear. He has a profound definition of what it means to be dying. Yes, he does seem a little judgmental about Olivia not being appreciative for the pie Kevin gives to her. He doesn't know why she's so reluctant to give in to this relationship. But he still gives a powerful speech about catching the moments of life while you're still young and appreciating them because it won't be long until you're old and slow. He loves his new life with Randall and only regrets that he doesn't have much time left with them. That motivates Olivia to return. Plus, she's perhaps the only person entertained by what later happens between Randall and Rebecca.

This is a very emotional and big episode for the show. And yet, Kate does get shortchanged in it a little bit. The story is about the family coming together and appreciating all of these traditions together. They're remembering their past while loving what their lives are now. But Kate is just stuck on a plane and not an active member of the story. She still comes to a couple of major decisions with her life. She decides to break up with Toby because she doesn't have enough of her life figured out right now to be comfortably dating him. That breakup scene is very emotional. Not because I have a huge investment in the two of them as a couple but by how Chrissy Metz delivers her speech. Toby isn't as great a guy as the show wants the audience to believe. He has clearly meant something to Kate. She loves him but can't be with him. She needs to figure out her life. She does that while almost dying in a plane crash. That's an extreme to force her life to come into focus. It's in that moment that she decides to get gastric surgery. It's an extreme option to help with the weight loss. But it's something she's excited about when she finally makes it to family dinner. Of course, that moment is annoyingly played as a joke because it happens after Randall's epic blowup at his mother. Hopefully, Kate doesn't just hop right back on a plane to Los Angeles. It would be great if she got to spend some quality time with the other members of her family. She doesn't here which is extremely disappointing. She could benefit from interacting with them again. 

Some more thoughts:
  • Randall, Kevin and Kate's love for Jack is still very clear in the present-day. He may be gone but they still see him as their father. None of them have really warmed up to Miguel yet. However, Kevin decides to break from tradition and let Miguel wear the hat. That's basically his way of welcoming Miguel as an official member of the family.
  • Police Academy 3 is just such a random movie to include as part of the family tradition. Plus, they have to watch it on VHS which just seems like more work than it's worth. Plus, no one can mention Police Academy without me getting flashbacks to Bill Clinton's speech at this past summer's Democratic National Convention.
  • It really is great when Olivia proclaims that she loves Kevin's family after everything happens around the dinner table. This probably wasn't what she expected at all but it's exactly what she wanted to see.
  • It's only a matter of time until Rebecca's parents and sister show up, right? She makes a big point here about not coming back home for the holidays. Plus, it seems like this new traditions will work for decades. But where does that leave these people in her life moving forward?
  • The fight between Randall and Rebecca is even more heartbreaking when the episode cuts back to the past and young Randall is sleeping next to Rebecca excited about making this their family tradition for Thanksgiving for the rest of his life.