This Is Us Season 1 Episode 15 Recap: “Jack Pearson’s Son”

Photo: Courtesy of NBC.
Valentine’s Day is supposed to be sappy. With its incessant mushy narratives, red and pink color scheme, and sugar-coated everything, Valentine’s Day is supposed to be a breeze. Kiss your partner on the mouth, grab a dozen roses, and have a nice evening. Except it never really works out that way, does it? A holiday with so little personal connection and so much cultural pressure can cause tension and awful fights. And boy if your Valentine’s Day was already feeling more pressure and conflict than hugs and kisses, this episode of This is Us sure won’t help. Like its air date, “Jack Pearson’s Son” focuses on a single Valentine’s Day in the past, when the triplets were teenagers, and Rebecca (Mandy Moore) and her husband Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) are in the midst of a terrible fight. The very first words of the show are Rebecca saying “Happy Valentine’s Day,” to her husband, but the tone of the show shifts quickly. Rebecca is preparing to go out of town to be on tour with her band. They promise to go out to O’Shannon’s after her show at the bar -- a tradition -- to eat bacon cheeseburgers. Jack reserves them a booth. On the surface it looks like they’re in a perfect relationship -- a standing date on Valentine’s Day to eat bacon cheeseburgers is basically the American Dream. But stewing beneath the surface is one of a marriage’s most toxic emotions: resentment. We see a glimpse of it when Jack talks to his work friend Miguel (Jon Huertas) about how he hates that Rebecca is leaving at a time when their kids need a lot of help. And on one level, he’s right. They have three teenagers who are all behaving as such. Kate is wearing too much eyeliner, which “can’t be good.” Kevin is having sex with his girlfriend, and Randall is trying to write a good enough paper on Hamlet to become valedictorian. “I can’t go,” Rebecca claims when she realizes how hectic things are, but Jack -- even though we know he doesn’t want her to -- plays the supportive husband. This is Us always operates on two playing fields -- the upbringing of the triplets and their behavior in the present day. But tonight, the storylines felt more separate than ever, and it works. The emotional stakes are higher, and everyone’s character gets developed a little more (for better or for worse). The tie between the two storylines this week is the relationship between Randall and Kevin. The show has shown us before that they didn’t get along as children and that much of their fighting was due to the same resentment Jack and Rebecca battle this episode. In the past, Kevin feels envious of Randall because when Jack was supposed to be giving him a stern talk about having sex, he instead left to comfort Randall. Jack and Rachel try to have a conversation with Kevin about having sex. Meanwhile Randall is having a panic attack over how his Hamlet paper is going to go. In the present, their problems are similar. Randall (Sterling K. Brown) is putting so much pressure on himself to be a perfect father, husband, son, and brother, that he is barely functioning at work and causing he himself to have a panic attack. When he has to leave work early to go home because his father William (Ron Cephas Jones) has locked a hospice nurse out of the house, Randall almost loses it. He leaves him there promising that he’ll see him later. There’s an immediate moment of dread in how many times he says “later,” the expectation that that moment exists when his father is so frail. But Randall is the one on the decline, his stress manifesting itself as physical afflictions; a shaking hand, a stressed sweat. Meanwhile Kevin (Justin Hartley) is freaking out because his play is opening that night. His first move for comfort, of course, is Kate (Chrissy Metz). But Kate is busy with a plotline that's entirely unconnected to the things happening with the rest of the family. After calling the stable boy at her fat camp an asshole, she’s kicked out, and she makes up with her fiancé Toby (Chris Sullivan). They have some drama of their own to attend to. Because they have moved incredibly quickly, one of them finally has the bright idea that they should maybe get to know each other before they get married. “You never talk about your dad’s death,” Toby says during a serious conversation. But Kate can’t tell him. “I want to tell you about it,” Kate says. “I’m just not quite there yet. It’s been blocked for a really long time.” It’s a tease intended to get us to pay attention. And if there’s anything clear, it’s that Chrissy Metz is truly an incredible actress who has been stiffed with a role that doesn’t give her enough of a story (much less enough character development) to really let her shine. The two of them decide to delay their wedding and meet up with the rest of the family at Kevin’s play debut, which he promptly ruins by fleeing the scene right before the lights come up to go and comfort Randall who is having a breakdown in his office -- the exact opposite of his reaction when his brother had a breakdown about Hamlet in the scenes from the past. The show’s title, though comes from a conversation Kevin has with Miguel by accident; he’s trying to see Rebecca when it happens. Miguel admits that he used to talk to Jack whenever he was nervous. “You remind me of him,” Miguel says, and then transforms it into a conversation about him. “You are Jack Pearson’s son,” he tells him. “You have him inside of you.” This is meant to be a huge compliment. Jack, the show tells us, is the perfect man: a loving father, a brilliant husband, and a true provider for his family. That’s what Miguel is referring to. But in this episode, Jack doesn’t come off as any of those things. He comes off, really, as kind of an asshole. During Rebecca’s show, he becomes envious of the way she keeps looking at a band member during a song. “This is just a schtick man,” Miguel says. “It’s for the crowd.” And he’s right. But Jack’s envy is a monster, and when he finds out afterward that the two of them dated, he becomes a version of himself we have never seen on this show: someone who is jealous, and irrational, and incredibly oppressive. He demands Rebecca not go on the tour, and then emotionally manipulates her when she tells him he’s behaving irrationally. “I was trying to be a good guy,” he says in the heat of their argument. But that’s exactly the problem. Being a “good guy” is an easily stereotyped role that doesn’t allow room for conflict, it doesn’t allow for him to deal with his emotions in a sane way because being a “good guy” demands that he protect what is his. And in this case that’s Rebecca. In this moment of weakness or pain, he isn’t a good guy. A good guy would believe in his wife’s fidelity when she’s given him no reason not to. A good guy would listen in a fight, while saying what he needs to say. But most importantly, a good guy would stay to finish the fight until a resolution was reached. Instead, Jack leaves the house, goes to O’Shannon’s alone, and eats the bacon cheeseburger all by himself. Happy Valentine’s Day, I guess.

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