“Now What?” is a lot more descriptive of a title than perhaps it should be. It’s tough to follow an episode like “Memphis,” an emotional gut-punch that focused on the most compelling series’ storyline and its best characters. And “Now What?” proved that in a couple of ways. But it had to pull back. Sustaining that high level of emotion in an episode that is sandwiched between “Memphis” and what will surely be a tearjerker finale was untenable. So I was fine to expect a set up episode that would like lead us into the final 45 minutes of the season. I just wish it didn’t feel like such a wholly predictable setup. Or course Randall was going to quit his job. Of course Kate was going to admit she believes she’s the cause of Jack’s death. Of course Kevin’s play was going to be great (although, I got to admit, I didn’t see the Ron Howard cameo coming). For a show that relies so heavily on twists and turns and the unexpected outcome, it’s even more noticeable when the setup of those twists pays off as expected. I don’t want that payoff. That’s not why I tune in.
At the same time, though, as This Is Us’ first season winds down, its penchant for throwing a wrench in the expected showed how the show relied on those jolts and often didn’t put any real meaning behind them. William is dead and he has tasked Randall’s children with planning his memorial. Jesse (Denis O’Hare) calls to check in, but won’t be attending the funeral, and while I appreciate the acknowledgment that this character still exists, it’s just an example of how weird the inclusion of Jesse was into the first season to begin with. This guy was supposed to be a major figure in William’s life, his romantic partner. I was hoping to see some sort of romantic engagement between Jesse and William, or least more interaction between Jesse and Wiiliam’s family. But there wasn’t enough time play that out and, hey, Denis O’Hare is a busy guy. Jesse and Randall’s brief phone call pointed out that Jesse was a twist for twist’s sake, rather than to deepen Randall or show us some truth that we could not have figured out without about his personality without Jesse’s brief cameo. Jesse provided the twist about William’s sexuality and that’s all. That puts This Is Us in a tough spot: The expected feel utterly mundane, while the unexpected needs to have a payoff or it feels even more frivolous.
Randall is surprisingly calm and even-keeled through William’s memorial, perhaps because he already got his lovely goodbye to his father, although the life lesson leads to life changes path felt hackneyed here. This tranquility ultimately leads to his resignation from his firm, wherein he reveals how integral he was the to the business’ genesis and development. It feels like a tossed in detail to give his resignation some more weight, but would have made more sense had it been introduced earlier to explain his fear of and aversion to Sanjay, a seemingly innocuous competitor who existed just so Randall could get angry. But, also, if he’s such a building block of this company, why was he so freaked out by Sanjay’s presence? Sanjay caused a lot of personal upheaval for a guy we really knew nothing about.
It was Beth who got to show a wider range of emotion in “Now What?,” and it was her contribution to William’s funeral that I enjoyed the most. Beth feels neglected and left out. She accepted this man into her house, and took care of him in his final day and she does not feel like she is given her chance to say goodbye. In fact, she’s pissed. That’s one of the interesting thing about this show: in an attempt to tug at all of the heartstrings, it does a lot of different types of tugging. Beth’s anger was unexpected and refreshing and as far as twists go in this episode, it was my favorite one. Susan Kelechi Watson did more in her scene of quiet frustration — being upset about something she knows she shouldn’t be — than both of the bigger emotional breakdowns from Rebecca and Kate.
Chrissy Metz is given quite a few of these big, teary scenes, but I appreciate Metz more when she gets to be funny. I liked her turbo-bitch moment on the phone where she freaked out about the balloons just as much as I enjoyed her showier aspects of this episode. It’s been a long time coming for Kate to announce she is the cause of her father’s death. She’s clearly more affected by Jack’s passing than Kevin or Randall, which has been apparent since we found out she watches football games next to her dad’s ashes. So we had to see her revelation to Toby — that she’s the reason Jack died — coming. But if we have learned anything from This Is Us over the first season, it’s that we tend to not get the expected (duh), for better or for worse. Take Jack’s scene in the bar as his coworker puts her hand on his knee. The expected is that Jack has some sort of crisis of confidence in his own marriage, especially as he believes Rebecca is off gallivanting through Cleveland with her ex. But, instead, there’s no hesitation. Instead, he angrily shames her come on (this seemed unnecessarily aggressive, although we can chock that up to a few beers and some scotch). So while Jack drives off to meet Rebecca at her gig, we expect that he will die while driving drunk in a car accident. But that just seems so entirely obvious that if it, in fact, comes to pass, I’ll be confused by how much set up there was for the expected. Or perhaps that’s the twist after all.
- Not much to say about Kevin’s plot line other than the fact that I guffawed at the idea of a daily newspaper theater critic a) having his own office, and b) and having an assistant. Also, Ron Howard?!
- “You got white doves.” “They don’t make black ones, Randall.”
- “That band that always sounds like they’re kidding.” “Weezer”