This Is Us Episode 14 Recap: “I Call Marriage”

Photo: Courtesy of NBC.
It is easy to fall in love, to let long summer kisses turn into conversations about a life together. It is easy to buy a ring, and to say yes, to join two souls into one before all of your family and friends until death do you part. The hard part of a marriage isn’t creating the fire, but making sure it never goes out -- that even in the moments when you couldn’t care less whether those embers fade into darkness, you have to fight to make sure they don’t, to blow air out across them to keep them aflame. “You are my great love story,” Rebecca Pearson (Mandy Moore) said in her vows to her husband Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) , “And our story is just getting started.” And that is where this episode of This is Us opens, with the beauty and freshness of another union: a woman in a white dress covered in lace, flowers in her hair, and a man by her side beaming and beaming, blessed to be joined to her. So many episodes of This is Us have been about marriage, the fights that happen between two people as well as the love, and this episode is -- compared to others -- much more subdued in what it is able to get across. The focus of “I Call Marriage” seems to be a repetitive moral for the show: that marriage is not always easy, and that it requires at least a little bit of work. The moral is front and center from the very beginning of the episode when Miguel (Jon Huertas), standing and giving a speech at the wedding of Rebecca and Jack says that a, “marriage is not something that you enter into without a promise to keep the passion alive.” This scene is immediately cut with a supercut of the early days of Jack and Rebecca Pearson’s marriage. Here they are in the shower, having the kind of sex that knocks a soap dispenser off of the wall. Here they are messing with one another, threatening to spit toothpaste on the other person. The goal is to set up a foil: that in these scenes are joy and bliss that will mirror the hardship to come. All of this joy and beauty, of course, is mirrored by the focus of the storyline happening in the past. The Rebecca and Jack plot takes place later in life than any Rebecca/Jack plot has taken so far. The triplets are teenagers, Jack is well into his middle-management job, and Rebecca’s band is doing well enough that they’ve been invited on an east coast tour. The crux of the episode happens when Rebecca and Jack go out to dinner with Miguel and his wife Shelly (Wynn Everett), who reveal somewhat suddenly that they are getting divorced. “It’s not an easy decision, but obviously things haven’t been right with us for some time.” It’s a realization that rocks Rebecca, but really seems to force Jack to answer some hard questions. “Sometimes people just drift apart,” Rebecca says. Then suddenly she has to reassure her husband, “I wasn’t talking about us.” They are further along in their marriage, and things are complicated now. The bonds that seemed so unbreakable early on, are suddenly less solid. Miguel and Shelly’s relationship didn’t devolve because one of them did something wrong; it just faded out over time. One of the most striking scenes in the episode is filmed in the office, when Jack confronts Miguel about why his marriage failed. The scene is shot is stark sunlight, deep shadows casting over the faces of the two men. Miguel tells a little story about getting his wife her coffee every day: splash of milk, two sugars. And then one day, he woke up and she didn’t notice. “You either roll up your sleeves and fight, or you retire” The marriage didn’t fail all at once; it failed piece by piece for long enough to dissolve. “I know we’re not Shelly and Miguel,” Jack says later in the episode, but it’s obvious that his fear is that they are on the course to becoming them. The rest of the episode loosely tries to connect the struggles of Jack and Rebecca’s three children to this central theme of marriage (or love, I guess) as a thing you have to work for. In the first plot, Randall (Sterling K. Brown) and his wife are struggling to manage their household as it becomes more and more obvious that Randall’s father William (Ron Cephas Jones) is growing closer to death. The only real drama in this plot is that Randall is continuing to have work dramas that encourage him to completely ignore his family in order to advance his career, and that his wife Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson), refuses to accept that. “I call marriage,” she says at one point to get Randall out of a company client dinner and to their daughter Tess’s (Eris Baker) chess tournament. His episode ends with a shaking hand, potentially a symptom of some greater issue in Randall’s body. In Kate’s (Chrissy Metz) plot, the only interesting thing happening is that her fiancé Toby (Chris Sullivan) has yet again decided to make something not about him, about him by showing up to Kate’s retreat to get her attention. So many plot lines are struggling on this show at this point, but Kate’s is by far the most difficult. Every difficulty she’s given has to do with her weight, and her fiance is constantly manipulating her into behaviors she wouldn’t otherwise choose. It’s no surprise then, that the episode ends with her making her way toward the cabin of the flirty stable boy. For another week, the most interesting of the triplet plotlines is Kevin’s. Our first shot of him, is Kevin demanding some booth in a random diner. It’s the booth where he had his first kiss with his ex-wife when they were in 8th grade, the booth where they decided he would move to LA to follow his dreams. Now it’s been 12 years, and -- as we learn this episode -- she’s been divorced twice, and isn’t all that happy to see him reappear in her life. “I only came here today to tell you to go screw yourself,” Sophie (Alexandra Breckenridge) says when she sees him. And though the show tries to convince viewers that we should want her to accept Kevin back, it’s a hard bargain to cut. We learn Kevin cheated on her, and that she was pretty happy before he reappeared. “ I just want you to know that I’ve changed, truly.” Kevin says, but there’s no way of knowing that is truth. Every relationship, at the end of “I Call Marriage” is in a rocky place, and everyone has a similar approach to trying to salvage something in obvious disrepair. They all, presumably, take after Jack. In an attempt to circumvent what seems like an obvious decline in romance, Jack plans a fancy date for Rebecca near the end of the episode. He takes her back to their first apartment, which he has lit with Christmas lights, strewn with flowers, and supplied with fluffy robes. He brings their original, handwritten wedding vows and they read them to each other sitting on the bathroom floor. “Saying I do means saying I will; I will love you every day for the rest of our lives.” The episode hinges on that idea that love is a choice, but it’s never quite clear who is expected to make the choice, or for how long. As the episode fades out, it has become obvious that if the show is going to continue to make these broad statements about marriage and relationships, it needs to be more consistent in its messaging. “It’s hard,” isn’t enough to tie an episode together neatly, much less enough to tie two people (even fictionally) together forever.

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