Anyone who wasn’t an only child probably spent a fair amount of his or her youth trying to master the art of drawing attention to oneself. Children use a number of tactics to steer the spotlight in their direction. They want to be seen, heard, and understood. In some cases, this behavior puts them on a path they’ll follow for years. Insecurities are buried deep down so as not to deter from promising career goals. They have the choice to remain at odds with the unknown, or stare it square in the face. Welcome to adulthood.
Tonight’s episode opens with a montage of Jack worrying about money. The babies are expensive, and it’s clear he needs to give up his construction career in favor of a desk job. We watch him enter a cubicle and adjust a framed family picture… And with a few spins of his chair, the children are now 8 years old. Miguel has been promoted and wants Jack on his team. Jack has a different plan: Big Three Homes. He wants to strike out on his own.
Jack keeps the news from Rebecca, whom he finds sifting through report cards when he arrives home to a chorus of Kevin shouting, “Dad, dad, dad!” Rebecca informs Jack that Randall’s teacher has requested a meeting. As it turns out, even though Randall’s grades are average, he’s actually gifted. We’re talking special-school gifted. Jack balks, claiming Randall can’t attend a smarty-pants school because he needs his brother and sister as buffers. And by the way, all of his children are exceptional.
Rebecca persuades Jack to at least check out the school. As he suspects, “This school is whiter than Randall’s already pretty white other school.” He makes fun of the little kids carrying briefcases and even notes Randall will soon be conditioned to fluorescent classroom lights, which will cause the sun to burn his eyes when he plays outdoors.
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It’s clear this conversation has morphed from Randall’s future to Jack’s unhappiness at work. He confesses his dream of building his own business, and Rebecca is completely supportive. She just wants her husband to be happy. Say goodbye to the expensive school with blonde-haired, blue-eyed kids. Randall will be just fine.
That night, Kevin repeatedly reminds his dad they’re supposed to build model planes together. Jack pats his boy on his head and confirms their date. Meanwhile, Kate finds Rebecca standing in the bathroom in nothing but a towel. She compliments her mother, admiring her beauty. When Kate hands Rebecca her size-medium shirt, she’s quick to check her own tag which reads extra-large. Cue the falling face.
Later that day, Jack picks up Randall from a play date at Yvette’s house. Not only did she help Rebecca at the pool, but Yvette has officially become Jack’s authority for a black person’s seal of approval. He explains Randall scored off the charts at school, but he doesn’t want to uproot him so he can attend a private academy with mostly white kids.
Yvette: “You want to hold him back because he’s black?”
Jack: “No! Randall is special.”
Yvette: “Then don’t deny him this special opportunity.”
Jack considers her advice as he sits with Randall at work. He asks Randall to figure out a math problem he’s “having trouble with,” and his son answers the difficult equation within seconds. Jack asks Randall to help a second time, but he clams up, claiming he doesn’t know how to work the problem. Jack’s voice becomes forceful when he asks Randall why he’s been pretending to be bad at math. Sweet Randall begins to cry: If he earns an “A,” he’ll get ice cream and his siblings won’t. He’s afraid Kate and Kevin will hate him. (I know this isn’t an actual thing, but someone please give this kid a child Emmy.)
In this moment, Jack realizes he’s been holding his son back. He’s worked for eight years to try and convince the world Randall is no different than the others. But he is different. He does stand out, in more ways than one. He encourages Randall to be as different as he can be. He’s exceptional. Don’t be afraid of it.
Cut to Jack accepting Miguel’s offer to come work for him, and later, Randall adjusting his little tie and waving to Jack as he enters his new whiter-than-white prep school.
NEXT: Piano man