This Is Us: Season 1, Episode 11: The Right Thing To Do

Photo: Courtesy of NBC.
No family messes can really be mopped up as easily as commercials for cleaning supplies imply. Family messes are made of blood and experience, history and lore, they’re sticky and stubborn and not wiping up easily any how any way. That is what This Is Us is really about: the mess.

When we left the Pearson family for the winter break, absolutely nothing was going right. The cast of NBC’s This is Us found their connections to one another more fragile than ever: a love interest has had a heart attack, an important colleague has disappeared, and [spoilers] in the biggest twist of the episode, Randall Pearson (Sterling K. Brown) found out that his newly rediscovered father (Ron Cephas Jones) is bisexual.

This is Us is told through two intertwined storylines set in different time periods: the story of two parents, and the lives their children live. In the first storyline, parents Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) and Rebecca Pearson (Mandy Moore) struggle to figure out how to maintain the life they have together despite the rather shocking news that instead of one child, they will be having triplets.

Three babies means triple cost, and for Jack and Rebecca, the cost is almost too high. “Can we even afford this?” Rebecca asks, a phrase so often on the tongues of young dreamers who want so badly for the beautiful thing laid in front of them to be theirs for the taking. And it’s not just the apartment she means; it’s the beauty and the dream. But, of course, they can’t.

Their sixth-floor walkup apartment won’t hold three children, much less be accessible for three strollers. In a particularly striking scene, Rebecca sends Jack to the grocery store on a fake mission for mint chocolate chip ice cream. As soon as the door slams behind him, she collapses against the wall sobbing. The financial stress of their relationship has created an emotional barrier between them that’s only good for hiding behind.

The American Dream hinges upon the ideal that if you just work hard enough, doors can swing open for you, and more importantly doors can swing open for your children, and their children, and their children’s children. In the episode’s second storyline set in the present, Rebecca and Jack’s triplets -- now grown -- are facing struggles that aren’t financial at all. Randall lives in a giant home with his family. Kevin (Justin Hartley) is a successful albeit sitcom actor. And Kate (Chrissy Metz) has just decided to take control of her weight for good.

All three of the triplets are trying to repair bruised relationships with someone outside of the immediate Pearson family. “We are a hot mess, huh?” Kate asks, raising a coffee cup to her siblings, and they all are, in slightly different ways. Kate struggles to be reunited with her romantic former boyfriend Toby after he is sent to the hospital with a heart arrhythmia. There’s a hole in his otherwise very sappy heart that has to be fixed, but not before he behaves like a child about how to repair it.

For Kevin and Randall the stakes, though not as high as life-and-death, hold a lot more emotional weight. Kevin has revamped his indie play after the departure of its leading lady to star his now romantic interest, the “brilliant playwright” Sloane Sandburg (Milana Vayntrub), only to have his former love interest reappear with a sleek new blonde haircut and a wish for reunification. Caught in a classic love triangle, Kevin has to decide whether he wants to return to his former flame or remain loyal to the woman who he’s since fallen for. The first ten episodes of the season before this taught us that while Kevin often means well, he’s easily swayed by beauty and money and fame, a little too vapid for his own good. But the title of this episode is “The Right Thing To Do,” and it comes from a line Kevin says to his former co-star Olivia (Janet Montgomery) when he tells her he’s choosing Sloane because it’s “the right thing to do, even if it’s not what I want.” It would have been a sweet gesture, if it wasn’t overheard by Sloane, leaving Kevin still uncertain of his standing, but now down two beautiful women.

The humor of the episode hangs on Randall’s storyline. Though much of his relationship with his very secretive and cancer-ridden father William has been littered with painful emotional scars, in this episode, Randall and William develop most of the episode’s comic relief. After leaving William’s sexuality a bit up in the air after the mid-season finale, William clarifies early on that “I’m not gay now, I’ve always loved both women and men. And many artists don’t believe sexuality is as fixed as it is fluid.”

Even Randall’s more serious self-reflective question “Am I homophobic?” which he poses to his wife, is taken with a light touch. She immediately dismisses it. Randall can’t be homophobic because “you’re good,” she tells him. “And you’re open-minded." Randall’s problem isn’t that his father is gay, or even that he’s having to interact with his father’s lover, it’s that he’s been hit with so many hurdles this season that every jump seems hard. But the reason Randall’s inquiry is dismissed so quickly is that it is obvious how deeply Randall cares about his father. “You’ve lived in this home and if it comes to it, you can die in it,” he promises William at the end.

That’s where the episode finds its resting place: at home. The spaces we occupy grow around us with notches on a door frame and creaking floorboards stacked with memories. We mold the places we live to match the lives we live in them: The moments of joy and fear and thrill and heartbreak all becoming one living room doorway, one buzzing doorbell.

The episode ends with Jack doing the right thing by finding a way out of their financial turmoil. He sells his beloved car, and returns to his abusive dad to ask for a loan so that he can buy Rebecca and their growing family a home with three bedrooms and two baths and no emotional walls building up between them.

“This could work,” Rebecca says to close the episode, their eyes shimmering with the possibilities of this new house and their future children and the love threaded between them as carefully and as strong as silk.


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