To invoke one of the greatest love stories committed to the screen, marriage is what brings us together today. We travel back not only to Jack and Rebecca’s City Hall marriage, but also to years later, when the Big Three are teenagers and life wasn’t easy as it was for the two newlyweds. The Big Three in present day show marriages at different junctures, experiencing their own bumps, just like Miguel references when he explains to Jack why he is splitting up with his wife. Each of these junctures reflect a part of what Rebecca and Jack are going through. Marriage isn’t easy, and I appreciate that This Is Us reflects that beyond the sitcom simplicity. On the whole, this wasn’t the most compelling episode of the series and it mined some territory that I’ve seen before — how does a couple deal with the divorce of people they thought were similar to themselves? — without breaking much ground, but it’s still a solid episode.

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There’s two lines that really struck me during this episode that I thought rang really true. The first came in that scene where Miguel and Jack talk about the dissolution of his marriage. “We stopped noticing each other,” Miguel says to Jack. That’s counteracted by the other line that occurs during Jack’s vows: “Our love has always been worth it.” It stopped being worth it to Miguel and his wife, while Rebecca reminds her bandmate why it’s still worth it to her. That worth may come in the form of a presence at her son’s football games or a glass of water by her bedside table, but it’s still worth it, despite the hardships that come along with that worth.

Kevin’s relationship with Sophia did not seem worth it at one point, as Kevin explains to the older couple whose table he’d like to move so he can sit in the exact right booth and get the exact right lava fries (which I had never heard of but now would like to eat, please and thank you). The distance between New York and Los Angeles got to them, and they couldn’t sustain their marriage. What the next episodes will decide is whether it’s worth or it or not later as they progress on their version 2.0 of their relationship. I’m not really sure how I feel about Kevin and Sophie’s time together if only because “I Call Marriage” was very much a setup episode for them; their reunion was inevitable, so while it was nice that Kevin could reflect his father by saying that one of the best days of his life was meeting this woman, and it was equally nice that Sophie could show up at just the right time, it didn’t mean much happened.

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This was also a setup episode for Randall in a lot of ways as well. His professional life is beginning to show cracks, just as Beth starts to prepare for William’s death in a way that Randall isn’t ready to do yet. It seems that Randall’s tremors are the dramatic twist to watch out for the in future, but that’s for next week, so let’s focus on this one. I loved Beth’s idea of “calling marriage” for the night. She needed her partner and she got him. I know I’ve always favored Randall’s storylines, and part of that is because of the relationship he has with Beth. It’s funny and endearing, but also reflects that Parenthood ideal of feeling just real enough. While Jack and Rebecca’s storyline reiterates this idea of the importance of a strong marriage, Randall’s — and really by extension Beth’s — storylines prove that may not be enough sometimes. I hope this exploration, and really preparation, for grief and loss becomes a part of Randall’s storyline. It’s an interesting idea, especially considering how alive William seemed in the previous episode.

And then there’s Kate. I’ve made reference to the idea before that Rebecca gets a harsher portrayal than the saintly Jack, but I think that gender treatment also can extend to Kate and Toby as well. The King of the Grand Gestures has never been met on the same terms by Kate who is generally only seen pushing him away. That’s acknowledged in this episode more than in others. But I have a beef with Toby as well: He let her go. After major surgery and almost dying, he let her leave without saying, “Hey, I just had major surgery and almost died and I need you to stay with me in this city where I don’t know anyone and be with me.” But it’s Kate that looks like the bad guy.

Look, these are quibbles and Toby’s passive aggression can be chalked up to reality; like he said, Toby didn’t want to get in the way of her progress again. My one big problem with this episode began in the last one: Duke (Longmire’s Adam Bartley). Toby and Kate’s actions can be explained away, but this character has no motivation to be a dick — both in the way he treats the other campers and his insistence on breaking up Kate’s relationship — other than it makes for a story. The central problem with Duke can be found when he says to Kate: “It’s a hell of a lot of easier to accept who you are in all of your damaged glory than be someone you’re not. It’s also a hell of a lot more fun too.” Here’s the issue: He works at a place where accepting who you are goes against its central mission. There is nothing about this character that makes any sense to me. I don’t think there’s any twist out there that could possibly remedy what this character is actually trying to do and why he’s trying to do it other than to create some sort of false drama between Kate and Toby. Considering that Kate and Toby met and got engaged within a short period of time, perhaps they can let their own problems arise, rather than throw in one that feels so disingenuous.

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Stray observations

  • Okay, did it creep anyone else out that Jack kept reiterating that he would love Rebecca to the day he died? We get it, he croaks. Although, this episode reveals a little bit more about the Pearson timeline, namely that they are at least teenagers when he dies. Sophie also knew Miguel as Kevin’s stepdad, and they divorced when they were only 24 so we’re narrowing down that timeframe.
  • How does Kate afford life. What happened to her job back in LA? How does she pay for this camp? Why is her boss cool with her not being around? Same could be said for Toby. At least he has an excuse in that he can’t travel, but where is he living? Who is paying for that? Why don’t these people ever seem to work?

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