Tuesday, October 24, 2017

REVIEW: 'This Is Us' - A New Detail About Jack's Upbringing is Revealed in 'Brothers'

NBC's This Is Us - Episode 2.05 "Brothers"

Kate surprises Toby at work. Kevin and Randall attend a charity fundraiser for Sophie's hospital. Jack takes the boys on a camping trip, leaving Rebecca to deal with some unexpected news.

This Is Us sure loves a good family-related twist. It's a formula the show established for itself in its very first episode. Across these two seasons, it's enjoyed implementing twists at the end of certain episodes to completely re-conceptualize the audience's understanding of the Pearson family. The family is all related. Rebecca and Miguel are married in the present day. Kevin has an ex-wife. Rebecca and William know each other. Jack is dead. That last one has become this huge mystery that has truly ignited amongst the fans of the show. The creative team must have known that it was going to become this huge thing because they were purposefully teasing details about his passing throughout the first season. They may not have expected it to become as big as it did. There may be a divide between the show the audience is watching and the one Dan Fogelman and company are writing. But this is still something that has occurred and the show is now fanning the flames of this mystery. They are slowly just teasing out details. The premiere offered a big clue. The show has spent more time there as Jack has joined Alcoholics Anonymous. But now, it's also exploring a new mystery with Jack. On one hand, it feels like yet another way to delay things before a simple and concise answer to this mystery the show has already set up. On the other hand though, it may ultimately be necessary to have a fuller understanding of the man Jack Pearson has been throughout his entire life. Right now, it has the potential to be a frustrating development because it comes at a time where it doesn't really have a thematic link to anything else going on in the show. It may deepen Jack as a character but it doesn't do much for the rest of the family. That's weird as far as twists go in the context of this show.

And so, "Brothers" reveals that Jack actually has a brother. It's pretty clear what happened to him and why no one has mentioned him at this point. It seems incredibly likely that Jack's brother died in the war. This reveal happens during the brief story that features Jack and his father going on a camping trip. It's not much of a story in the context of this episode. It runs parallel to Jack's own adventures with a young Kevin and Randall. He's trying to get his sons to act more like brothers. That too is an incredibly thin story. The show has already delved into the idea that Kevin wasn't really a good brother to Randall. There didn't need to be any grand explanation for why Jack wanted his sons to have this bond. It's perfectly fine for him to be aspirational with the idea that siblings should look out for each other and care about one another. In that regard, he has been a good father. It's just taken until Kevin and Randall were adults for the two of them to truly get along and care about each other. They are capable of having honest conversations and understanding how the other is going to react in any given situation. They are good now. Meanwhile, Kevin and Kate continue to work on not being so close with one another. They are trying to give each other more space to live their own lives and not need to rely on each other for any given decision. But all of this could just be Jack wanting to be a good father and hoping his children get along. That's been informed by him leaving this toxic family environment of his youth.

Jack's story in the past with his father only encompasses three screes in this entire episode. It doesn't have a solid beginning, middle and end. It highlights how his father was a horrible parent who cared more about getting a drink then caring for his children. Its whole purpose is to reveal that Jack has a brother. All of this then connects to what's going on with Rebecca and Kate back at home while the boys are camping. It's during this adventure that Rebecca gets the call that Jack's father is actually dying. She spends the day with him. This is the first time the two of them have met. This is the first time Jack's father has met any of his grandchildren. It's more important to highlight that Jack and his father don't ultimately need anything from each other. Jack's father doesn't feel the need to ask Rebecca for anything. He just wants confirmation that Kate is his granddaughter. Meanwhile, Rebecca and Kate largely just spend the day outside of the room instead of actually getting to know the man. The only thing Rebecca really tells him is that Jack turned out to be a great husband and father. Meanwhile, Jack doesn't feel the need to come home and interrupt his trip with his sons. He would rather spend this time with them instead of the man who pushed him away. Now, this new reveal about Jack's brother is significant. It may be a secret forever lost in time because Kate, Kevin and Randall don't seem to know anything about him. But it clearly means something to Jack. It probably made him eager to escape his home life because he no longer had his brother to help make all of it bearable.

The other significant scene of "Brothers" comes when Randall and Kevin are just standing outside the ladies' room at Sophie's gala talking about what the other is going to do next. It's an important scene for Randall because it helps forge a bond between him and Deja. He's been struggling to make that connection. That's been such an important relationship this season as well. This is something that Randall really wanted to do. Beth was the one who convinced him to foster an older child. And now, he's realized just how difficult this new experience actually is. Deja is his first experience dealing with a preteen. Tess and Annie have been well behaved. But they've also had a good life. Randall and Beth have been able to provide that for them. And now, they can do that for Deja as well. She has an opportunity to go to a gala. She only shows any interest in it because she has a crush on Kevin. It's a crush that doesn't ultimately go anywhere. Randall notes that she'll have to spend more time at this event with him than Kevin. But he's still struggling to form an actual connection with her. It comes more easily for Beth. For Randall, he is really pushing hard. It's awkward and uncomfortable. Randall is so confident with his oddities. His family loves him for them. But it makes it difficult for someone new entering this family. And in the end, all he has to do is listen to Deja. Yes, he's forceful because he walks into the ladies' room. And yet, that's a completely fitting decision for him as well. He knows that he shouldn't but that he's going to anyway. Kevin knows that as well. And so, he goes in. He listens as Deja finally opens up about the abusive past she has had with foster parents. It's a solid moment of expression. She shares the details of being hit just for looking at magazines. All Randall needs to do is be better than that. She feels comfortable enough sharing this story now. It could foster a deeper relationship between them. But it's still just a baby step. It's significant and Randall will see it as a huge thing. But it could only be a tenuous connection as well.

And finally, Kevin's life continues to take a tragic downward turn. It's the expected development for his story. He has run out of painkillers to deal with his knee. He was able to take the medication in order to get back to work early. He needed to remain active. He needed to remain a visible role on the set. He needed to keep moving because the pain would only bring about further self-doubt and destruction. He's in a very precarious place right now. It's surprising how well he is at hiding all of this from his friends and family. Randall isn't worried about him at all. Their brotherly bond is an important part of this episode. But he doesn't see it because he's more worried about Deja - as he rightfully should be because she's in the bathroom and doesn't want to come out. Meanwhile, Kevin's issues are more private. He's arguing with his doctors on why they refuse to give him a refill on his prescription. He's in pain and become addicted to these pills. It's a dependency that is slowly changing him. Of course, the story is moving very quickly as well. Sophie is able to see the change within him. This is her big night. It's her opportunity to prove herself at her job. She can prove that she can bring in a lot of money for this gala. And in the end, Kevin does nothing but disappoint her. She notices that he's acting strangely. And yet, she doesn't have any suspicions about what's actually going on with him. That continues to be a suspension of disbelief that doesn't quite work for me. She's a nurse and doesn't at least suspect that Kevin could be forming this addiction? That doesn't particularly track. The show just wants to make things worse for Kevin before they potentially get better. So now, he's getting drunk in the middle of the day and reaching out to an old doctor in the hopes of getting more pills.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Brothers" was written by Tyler Bensinger and directed by John Requa & Glenn Ficarra.
  • Kate finally tells Toby that she is pregnant. That was a mystery for her in last week's episode. She was choosing to keep this massive development that would change their family away from the father of the child. For someone she for some reason loves, that didn't feel accurate. But now, she does tell him and their story is all about feeling comfortable telling people even though it's still in the early going.
  • And yet, how presumptuous and off-putting is Toby with his belief that Kate has surprised him at work in order to have sex in his office? He pushes the stuff off his desk because that's what he thinks. It's him continuing to romanticize this relationship. It's him believing in the romance of the movies instead of what their dynamic actually is. As such it's difficult to see him as the perfect guy for her. What about Kate would ever give him the impression that she would want to have sex outside of the apartment?
  • It's great that Kate's worries about her pregnancy are more than just her weight. She's concerned about her age as well. Her doctor literally refers to it as a geriatric pregnancy. That's the official term for it and it sends her for a loop. That feels genuine in how it terrifies her and makes her believe that she won't carry the baby to term.
  • The show wants Toby and Jack to be similar characters in that they both believe in the power of big romantic gestures. It's much more successful with Jack because Milo Ventimiglia does a better job at selling it and making it feel believable. With Toby, it continues to be so forced. He continues to just push Kate into accepting her changing life. Of course, it's good for Kate to be pushed every once in awhile. But that's basically their entire relationship as well which doesn't make it seem healthy.
  • Jack's father doesn't actually die onscreen. There is just the assumption that he is close to death. Rebecca gets the call. She leaves a message for Jack at the ranger's station. It makes it seem like this story will focus on Jack's father dying without Jack even knowing it. But the old man is still clinging to life when Rebecca and Kate leave. It's just to be assumed that he dies offscreen.
  • It's noticeable that the older version of Jack's brother who served alongside him in the war isn't looking directly at the camera during the picture. That's probably because the show hasn't actually cast that role yet. It should be interesting to see who gets the part because he'll become a huge part of Jack's story.