Tuesday, October 10, 2017

REVIEW: 'This Is Us' - An Interaction with Sylvester Stallone Throws Kevin Off His Game in 'Deja Vu'

NBC's This Is Us - Episode 2.03 "Deja Vu"

Kate visits Kevin on the set of his movie. Randall and Beth get exciting news. Rebecca tries to reconnect with Jack.

It was just in the review of last week's episode that I noted that the show really hasn't told many stories about Kevin's relationship with his father. Jack's death has stunted his children in so many different and emotional ways. That has been apparent to see in Kate and Randall's stories. It's always been at the forefront of their personal journeys as well. Of course, there's only so much the siblings can do to find closure regarding their father's tragic passing when it's still being played as a mystery. They can only talk about it in cryptic statements because the show still doesn't want the audience to have every detail about the fire that ultimately killed Jack. Yes, we know some significant details. We know that Jack was trying to get sober for his family. We know that Kate blames herself for what happened to him and now keeps his ashes in her apartment. We know that Kevin is going to break his leg at some point. These are all just very little clues that are a part of the larger picture. It's these little details that the show is just feeding the audience to make it seem like progress is being made even if it's fairly minor. And now, "Deja Vu" is putting the parallel between Jack and Kevin on full display. It is a little jarring because it's a story the show hasn't delved into so far. And yet, it has the potential to be very interesting and engaging moving forward. Again, Kevin hasn't always been the most exciting or necessary part of this show. The creative team largely just uses him for show business satire. That's gotten tiring without really pushing him to evolve or grow as a person. He's mostly just been defined though his work and romantic relationships. It's nice to see how he responds to his father's death even if it's more than likely setting him up on a tragic path of his own.

Of course, Kevin's story is significantly better throughout this episode because it involves Sylvester Stallone playing himself. Kevin's movie with Ron Howard has been a significant part of his story this season. And yet, it's taken until this episode to realize that it's actually a war film. All of the previous glimpses at it didn't set it up for what it actually was. But here, the show is nicely playing around with that genre. It has an ulterior motive as well. Kevin is struggling to connect to the material because it's forcing him to connect with the relationship with his father that he wants to bury. He hasn't done anything to mature beyond the teenager who lost his father in an accident. He responded to it by marrying Sophie. That was a decision that ended badly with Kevin then continually spiraling and wondering if he is truly good enough to be a working actor. That's been a consistent part of his story. He's always full of self-doubt. He hasn't changed all that much from the start of the series. The show wants us to believe that he has because it's positioning things with Sophie actually being good this time around. But that's not necessarily true at all. It's just the two of them hoping things are different now. And yet, this is still a pretty successful main plot that could signal at an intriguing shift for Kevin in the future. It's a dark twist for sure. But it's one that makes sense as well.

Kevin and Jack's relationship hasn't been onscreen much. And now, it's revealed that he's the Pearson sibling who is most like their father. Kate and Randall idolized Jack and have struggled in their personal lives and relationships ever since his death. Meanwhile, Kevin has always chosen to run away from that difficult conversation. He had his own experience with finding out what happened to Jack. He wasn't with the rest of the family when it happened. He learned after the fact. And now, Kate has made progress in being able to talk about it. She couldn't do that last season. Of course, she still can't have a full conversation about it with someone outside the family. The show wants us to believe that Kate and Toby are strong as a couple because they are "charming" together. And yet, it's hard to completely buy that intimacy when Kate herself still feels uncomfortable talking with him about Jack's death. It's something that just doesn't come up anymore after he pressed for more details last season. The show thinks that if it doesn't acknowledge that then it can still give the illusion of a happy and stable couple. It's not exactly working. It's just suppose to be important that Kate has made some progress in this regard and Kevin hasn't. She got to yell out about it at her fat camp last season. And now, Kevin is still internalizing all of those feelings and lashing out at his loved ones when they call him out for it.

Kate is open and honest with Sylvester Stallone about the Pearson family. She wants to thank him for all the joy he brought them throughout their childhoods. It was movies like Rocky that brought the family together. Those are cherished memories that Kate really appreciates. She's star-struck when she first meets Sly. Then, the two of them just form a friendship. It's so nice and easy while also being completely genuine. Sly just does a fantastic job in playing himself. He's a compassionate person who also serves as an intriguing catalyst for everything happening within Kevin. Sure, it's still very forced and manipulative. The show isn't being subtle with Kevin being thrown off his game because Sly knows his family history because of Kate. It's disruptive when Kevin lashes out at Kate. She's done so much for him over the years. And he remains the volatile actor who isn't willing to truly tap into his honest emotions. He doesn't want to deal with his father's death. In the end, he is able to recognize that. He tells Kate that it's hard for him when he calls to apologize to her. Of course, that realization only comes after he sustains an injury on set during the pivotal turning point of the entire movie. He can't do it because the situation hits too close to home. In the movie, he is racing to save Sly who is playing a character who is like a father to Kevin's character. It's bringing up all of these issues within Kevin. Then, he falls and hits his bad knee. He copes with that by taking pills. That's not an inherently dramatic moment. But pairing it with Kate looking at Jack's ashes and saying Kevin is just like him would infer that the show is about to partake in an addiction storyline.

The story in the past with Jack and Rebecca also highlights the genetics of addiction in this family as well. The show is still telling a consistent story with Jack trying to get sober. It's proving to be a whole lot harder than he thought it would be. He beat it once by not talking about it. He instead let out his frustrations elsewhere. But now, he needs to be open about his issues. He needs to put in the work to address why he feels the need to drink. It's a fascinating story. In the first season, Jack and Rebecca stories were jumping all over the place in time. And now, the show has seemingly landed in one specific point in time. It's the months leading up to his death. That cloud hangs over everything that the two of them are doing. There is the expectation that any random episode could be the one that turns tragic. Of course, the audience also knows we have some time because teenage Kevin is still walking around on two good legs. As soon as he breaks it, then things will become very precarious. And so, Rebecca's attempts to sweep Jack off of his feet is allowed to be a lighter story. It's still devastating to listen to Jack talk about how difficult all of this has been and the many secrets he has kept in his life. He's trying to be more open. It's successful in bringing the two of them together in a genuine way. But its purpose is to still highlight that Jack's father was a drunk, Jack is an alcoholic, and now Kevin is beginning that pivot as well. 

Some more thoughts:
  • "Deja Vu" was written by Isaac Aptaker & Elizabeth Berger and directed by John Requa & Glenn Ficarra.
  • The Randall story is just way too manipulative and that's why it's relegated to the bullet point section of the review. At 12 years old, shouldn't Deja be tired of people always making a joke about her name reminding them of deja vu? Instead, it's played as the emotional turning point of the story. Randall shares his hopes for this new relationship by sharing his family history with her and hoping that her name is a sign for good things to come. But why is Deja so captivated by it if she has the full expectation of leaving very soon? It just doesn't work all that well.
  • Of course, Deja's mom isn't returning soon at all. She's been arrested with serious charges this time. So, she'll be with Randall and Beth for awhile. That should be fascinating. Deja bonding with Tess and Annie is a genuine moment. It leaves Randall and Beth hopeful about the future. And then, everything is thrown into disarray by the end to ensure it will continue to be difficult for this family.
  • Seeing glimpses of William in previously unseen moments of his time with his family could grow tiring after awhile. And yet, his interaction with Annie here is very moving to watch. It gives her a way to connect with Deja. She understands how complicated the situation can be even though she's had a good and stable life so far. It's powerful because of the audience's understanding of what will eventually happen.
  • The show also feels the need to show that Randall was always curious about his birth parents. It wasn't something he grew out of until he made the decision to hire a private investigator to find William. Here, he's a teenager and is devastated when the woman who responded to his ad in the paper is just looking for money from him.
  • Why would the entire family fly to Los Angeles to see a taping of The Manny last week when they know that Kevin is filming a movie with Ron Howard and Sylvester Stallone? The chance to meet this family's idol seems so much more enticing. Again, the logistics of last week's episode don't make much sense. It's important that only Kevin and Kate are interacting with Sly. But I would have loved to see Randall, Beth, Rebecca and Miguel's reactions as well.