Tuesday, November 29, 2016

REVIEW: 'This Is Us' - Randall, Kevin and Kate Deal with Their Issues at the Family Cabin in 'The Trip'

NBC's This Is Us - Episode 1.09 "The Trip"

Kate, Kevin and Randall head to their family's cabin to get away after their chaotic family Thanksgiving. A very angry Randall finds comfort and explanation from his father, Jack. Olivia speaks a harsh truth to Kate, which drives a wedge between Kate and Kevin. Rebecca and Jack struggle with what to do when 9-year-old Randall tells them that he's been looking for his birth parents.

"The Trip" deals with the immediate fallout that comes from Randall learning that Rebecca and William have known each other for his entire life. It was a secret that was bound to come out during the holiday. But when it did, it was absolutely unexpected and devastating. Randall, Kevin and Kate try to deal with the big developments in their lives by escaping to the family cabin for the weekend. They've all changed so much in recent weeks. Sure, Randall learning the truth about Rebecca and William is the big bombshell. But Thanksgiving also saw Kevin and Olivia kissing while Kate decided to have surgery to help lose the weight. Those were some bold moments as well. This hour analyzes how all of these characters are feeling about their decisions right now. People can't hide from family. This weekend away could have been good for all three of them. There is a version of this episode that is all about the three of them sitting around the cabin, reminiscing about the past and talking things out with each other. That's not what ultimately happens though. It's something the show could have done but doesn't. Instead, it invites Olivia and her friends over to crash the getaway which robs the episode of what makes it inherently special - the bond between the three siblings.

So instead of talking about the revelations of his parents' secrets with his siblings, Randall spends the hour high on mushrooms and having a conversation with his father, Jack. It's still a powerful story no matter how weird the plotting is throughout the rest of the hour. Randall is completely destroyed because of learning the truth. He is now reanalyzing every single part of his life. His mother lied to him for 36 years. She kept William from him. Randall is now furious over how many important life moments William has missed because of that decision. Randall has always been the one who cares more about family and their traditions. He has so much love and appreciation for the way he was raised. He loves being in this family. But the truth threatens to ruin all of that for him. It exposes that not everything was as real as it looks. He wants to look back at the happy memories of playing board games with his family at the cabin. But now, all he sees is his lying mother who kept his biological father from him. It's a fascinating journey for him throughout this episode.

Randall has wanted to know about his birth parents for his entire life. This season has shown him get some clarity by finally finding and accepting William. He didn't know what he would do after he found him. But now, he is happy that William is around even though it's only for a limited amount of time. He appreciates this time he has to get to know his father. He's his own man now who is capable of making these decisions. And yet, he's still furious with his mother for making it so difficult for him for his entire life. Randall has strived for perfection because he felt the pressure to prove himself in this family. That was pressure he put on himself. That's clearly a pattern for him. He strives to be the best otherwise he's afraid he'll fail and be alone again. It's clear he wants the approval of others and doesn't take things well when he learns he's been lied to. Rebecca's decision to keep William from him was a selfish one. And now, Randall has to accept that and figure out how to move forward. The drugs help him in this regard. He sees Jack as a hallucination. It's a manipulative plot device. But it still works for Randall's emotional journey. He needs to find clarity. Kevin and Kate aren't in the right places in their lives to help him through this. They still have to figure themselves out. So, he essentially is all alone in his search for peace. Jack helps him see things from a different perspective. Randall is now able to recognize that Rebecca spent her whole life dangling by a thread with the threat of destruction of her family unit present at all times. She never let that show. Randall wants to look at this situation like the 9-year-old child in the flashbacks. He can't because he's a grown man now. He knows what has happened to Jack and Rebecca over the years. He may not be able to forgive Rebecca just yet but he is open to talking with her and her continuing to be in his life.

The audience gets another piece of the puzzle as well. We don't know what ultimately happened between Jack and Rebecca in the years since the flashbacks to the 1980s. It's clear that Jack made his mistakes. And yet, his stories so far have shown him striving to be the best father and husband. He doesn't always succeed in that endeavor. But he is doing his best to be there for Rebecca and his children. He wants to be supportive of Randall as he asks about his birth parents. He has no information about them. Rebecca is the one carrying this secret. She never lets Jack know the truth. She is keeping William from him as well. Randall asking questions is the reason why Rebecca reaches out to William again. She sees a man who is very different from the person who first gave her his baby son. William is now a man who is clear and sober. He has a job. He may still be living in the same apartment. But his life has gotten better. He would love to see his son again. Rebecca is the reason why the two don't actually meet. In the beginning, William helped her bond with Randall. But now, he represents one of her greatest fears. Randall is her son. It may have taken longer for her to grow attached to him. But she did. He is hers and doesn't want to give him away. It's a selfish decision. It's heartbreaking to William because he wants to share so much of his life with Randall. He appreciates hearing that he is loved and thriving in this family. But that's not enough. Of course, Jack makes sure to fill the void for Randall as well. He is willing to go above and beyond to teach Randall what it means to be a black man in America. Jack doesn't know that but he is willing to put the work in to prove himself as someone his son can always count on. Randall's connection with Jack has been apparent for the entire series so far. He accepts the truth because of what Jack shows him. His love for his father is more than his anger towards his mother.

Randall's story is so powerful in both the past and present that it once again overshadows Kevin and Kate's stories. Their plots in this episode fell more one-note and erratic because the show just doesn't put in the time to make them compelling and nuanced. Kevin and Olivia's relationship continues to go back-and-forth for no reason whatsoever. She opened herself up to him last week at Thanksgiving. She loved his family and all of the drama. But now, she's actively trying to avoid being real. She ruins her relationship with Kevin before it even gets started because she brings her ex to the cabin. It's clear that neither of them are ready for a relationship. They may be good for each other eventually. But right now, they are both damaged individuals who don't have their lives figures out. And thus, they can't have a happy and healthy relationship just yet. However, the show plays this story as Kate and Kevin feeling validated for pushing someone out of their lives who just isn't good for either of them. Olivia is definitely right about Kate though. Having the surgery to shrink her stomach won't suddenly make her a happy person who has her life completely figured out. She still has to put in that work. She may want to seize the day but she has many things to work on before this major surgery. She recognizes that by the end of the episode. Plus, it offers the hint that she may be staying around in New York for a little bit longer. The show has needed the three siblings to spend more time together. And now, it seems like that may actually be happening.

Some more thoughts:
  • "The Trip" was written by Vera Herbert and directed by Uta Briesewitz.
  • Jack is ready to hire a private investigator to track down Randall's birth parents. That's how much he cares about helping him fill this void in his life. He even has ideas about how they could be found. Just because Rebecca stops him doesn't mean he stops showing Randall his love though. He's still willing to go above and beyond for him.
  • And now, Kevin has slept with the playwright as well. She is dragged onto this adventure at the cabin just because she has a vehicle. She's suppose to be visiting her sister who is in labor. So basically every character who keeps her from doing that (which is everyone) is a selfish jerk. And yet, she still sleeps with Kevin.
  • Kevin also agrees that surgery is just too dangerous for Kate. He doesn't want her to make any big decisions over some mild turbulence. He isn't able to articulate his feelings on the subject that well. He's a jerk to her as well for embracing his new friends instead of the family. But he is still there for her in the end.
  • Earlier in the season, it was important that Kate made her own life in Los Angeles. And now, she's willing to stick around with her family in New York just because she needs people to talk with about herself. But won't it feel like regression if she goes back to being Kevin's assistant?
  • Of course, if Kate moves to the East Coast to be with her family, then that essentially cuts Toby out of the show completely. That wouldn't inherently be a bad thing. But the show has invested time in him. It would feel weird if he's cut out now though not impossible.
  • Apparently, the Pearson family has crazy Christmas traditions as well. That's not surprising at all considering how seriously Randall took Thanksgiving and recreating that one memorable experience he had as a kid.