Sunday, November 27, 2016

This Is Us 1x08 Recap: "Pilgrim Rick" (Dysfunctional But Traditional Thanksgivings)

"Pilgrim Rick"
Original Airdate: November 22, 2016

Thanksgivings are often a time of year in which all of a family's dysfunctions are on full display. Maybe you're one of the rare families that doesn't have drama during the holidays. But for most families, Thanksgiving is the first time an entire family, or side of the family, is together. That can stir up old arguments, feelings, and incite new drama. If you haven't noticed already, the Pearson clan isn't exactly drama-free. Even in the flashbacks of This Is Us, the kids fight with one another, Kate struggles with her weight issues and relationship with her mom, and even Jack and Rebecca seem to be on thin ice with their arguing. "Pilgrim Rick" is the absolute perfect way to bring all of the family tension — both in the past and present — to a head. The result is an emotional episode that leaves us with potentially even more fractured relationships than before.


Jack and Rebecca are preparing for another Thanksgiving spent with her parents. It causes her immense stress, and she wants everything to go perfectly. I like the little glimpse we get into Rebecca's family life because apart from the tiny flashback in "The Game Plan," we really haven't seen much of her family life. We can assume, however, that her parents put a lot of pressure on Rebecca to have the perfect family. And, unfortunately, they seem resistant to Randall being a part of that family. En route to Rebecca's parents' house, Rebecca works on making her second batch of cranberry sauce of the day (the first, having been ruined by the boys earlier), when the family car's tire blows out and sends them straight through a fence.

Thankfully, no one is hurt in the accident but everyone is understandably shaken up. The family emerges from the vehicle, in the middle of nowhere, and decides that their only option is to walk to a gas station 3.4 miles away. Already tired, the kids and Rebecca follow Jack. The gas station isn't much help — there's no way a tow truck will come out on Thanksgiving night, and after a disastrous call with her parents, Rebecca realizes she doesn't want to even spend Thanksgiving with them anyway.

Cue the Pearson clan starting their own Thanksgiving traditions.

I love traditions. I think it's really awesome when I hear of families who give certain gifts or do certain things around the holidays, and have for years. Even though it's not an ideal Thanksgiving, the group decides to make it their own. When they check into a little motel, the front desk associate (who has named himself Pilgrim Rick) directs them to a room whose furnace is stuck and doesn't have a working television. Hot, hungry, and tired, the kids and Rebecca are ready to call the holiday quits. But Jack is not ready to give up that easily. He has an idea, and is prepared to save Thanksgiving for everyone.

Since the furnace is permanently broken, Jack returns from his trip out with a movie (Police Academy 3), the gas station hot dogs from earlier, and a plan: they'll cook cheese dogs rolled in crushed up crackers. They'll watch the movie together. And they'll do it all with Jack impersonating Pilgrim Rick. This sends the kids into a fit of giggles, and helps their spirits brighten. Later, Rebecca adds to their family's traditions: they'll use a ball of yarn to throw back and forth to one another (without letting go of their end) and say what they're thankful for. It's a cute tradition that carries into the present-day, as do a lot of the traditions.

I think that's my favorite part of traditions, really: you don't know how long they can last and how many people they can affect until you start them. And Jack and Rebcca's legacies live on through their children and grandchildren. Which brings us to...


If you'll recall from last week's episode, Beth learned that William and Rebecca met and knew one another since Randall was born. Randall is unaware that his mother not only had a relationship with William but instructed him to stay away from her son. Beth has been stressing out about this information (understandably so), and confronts Rebecca as soon as the woman arrives for Thanksgiving. Beth's unanswered phone calls seemed like Rebecca's answer, but just to drive home how serious she is, Beth provides an ultimatum: either Rebecca tells Randall this huge secret by the end of the day, or she will.

Have I mentioned lately how much I love Beth? Because while I really love Randall a lot (and I'll talk about Sterling K. Brown's performance later on), Beth is this incredibly fierce, resilient, fun, and compassionate woman who doesn't get enough credit for holding her family together. I love her so much.

Speaking of Thanksgiving traditions, Kevin invites his British Girlfriend — EW tells me that her name is Olivia but for now, she'll just get called BG because that's how little I like her — over for Thanksgiving. Apparently BG can only filter real events through the lens of acting (kind of like we saw when she "taught" Kevin how to grieve) because the only reason she agrees is because it seems like Thanksgiving will be dramatic. She says something about never staying for Thanksgiving until dessert and later on, Kevin does a sweet thing and brings her pie which sets off BG who tells him that she just can't be what he wants her to be. You can't be... a girl who eats pie? This part of "Pilgrim Rick" was odd, because we (or I, at least) don't care enough about BG for her to be a focal point in a Thanksgiving-centric story, but it does provide us with a fantastic mini-monologue from William to BG about not wasting your life and your time — about making the most of moments. At least THAT seems to stick with her.

Kevin has another conflict in this episode though, and it's Miguel. If you'll recall from the flashbacks, Jack absorbed the role of "Pilgrim Rick" in order to entertain his family. He told an absurd tall tale about the character, but everyone loved it. In the family, Pilgrim Rick visits every Thanksgiving — with Randall and Kevin alternating years they play the role — and Miguel wants to play the part this year. I'll just let the EW recap of this episode sum up my feelings about that: Why is he so insistent upon assuming Jack’s traditional duty? I totally get he wants to feel included, but he already took his dead friend’s wife — does he really need his Pilgrim, hat too?

(Seriously, Miguel, why are you so insistent on playing dad?)

Eventually, Kevin decides to make the sacrifice and lets Miguel wear the Pilgrim hat and be Pilgrim Rick. What a guy.


I love Kate's journey so far, because it's realistic. She's struggling not just with her weight but with happiness in general and who she is vs. who she wants to be. A roadblock to her ultimate happiness? Toby. I've never liked Toby. Occasionally he gets a funny line or something, but mostly he struck me as this arrogant, myopic jerk who thought he could be what Kate needed without changing. And maybe Toby doesn't want to change — maybe he is okay with who he is and would rather be happy binge-eating than unhappy losing weight. But that's not Kate. And that is not who she wants.

Toby does not take priority over Kate's happiness, and I am so thankful for this. It would be easy for This Is Us to go on a very trope-y route — to make Kate's journey all about finding love and self-acceptance through a relationship — but I'm glad they're not. Kate has learned that there are people in our lives who may care about us but that doesn't mean they're healthy for us. Right now, Kate's focus needs to be on what makes her happy. And Toby is just as unhealthy as a bag of gas station donuts.

While on the flight back home, Kate's plane hits turbulence that scares the passenger next to her so much that she reaches out for Kate's hand (aww). The passenger then declares that she's getting a divorce from her cheating husband. Life is too short to spend it unhappy. And it's too short to resist making changes we know are right for us. Kate hates having to break up with Toby, but she does it anyway. Because she knows, eventually, it will be the healthiest thing for her. 

And then, at the family dinner, Kate declares that she is getting gastric bypass surgery. The news doesn't go over super well, but that's only because family drama erupted moments before she arrived.


On an errand to William's apartment on Thanksgiving, Randall notices a letter with his mother's handwriting. Upon reading it, he is distraught: Rebecca not only knows William but regularly has corresponded with him. Of course, Randall cannot keep this information to himself and he explodes at dinner at his mother for the way she lied to him his entire life.

The scene is played to perfection by Sterling K. Brown and Mandy Moore. I genuinely felt for Randall, who has spent his entire life feeling abandoned but has always sought solace in his mother. The relationship between Randall and Rebecca is really important in this series, because she chose him and continues to choose him even when things are difficult in his childhood. She protects him and cares about him. And, as the men pointed out last week, she always treated him like the favorite. Randall was the good child, and because of that, he built up a relationship with his mother based on trust and mutual respect — even into adulthood.

I can imagine that there are so many moments we have not even seen yet — Randall growing up, the loss of Jack, etc. — that have been formative in their relationship, but this one (however painful) will be added to that list. Rebecca tries to explain her reasons for keeping William out of Randall's life, but he won't have it. His mother lied to him, plain and simple, even after knowing how desperate he was to find his family. She kept that a secret from him — she kept part of his identity a secret. As he also rightly points out, Randall is lucky to have found William on his own when he did. Otherwise, he might not have ever known where he came from.

And that would have been on Rebecca.

By the end of the dinner, Rebecca is in tears and so is Randall. He can't even look at his mother, he's so disgusted. It's an incredibly emotional, incredibly powerful scene (undercut slightly by BG talking about how great the drama is) that may just be a turning point in Rebecca and Randall's relationship moving forward.

I don't know about y'all and your Thanksgiving dinners, but I hope this year they weren't nearly as bad as THAT.


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