This Is Us recap: Rebecca gets her head in the ‘Clouds’
There’s a lot going on in the latest This Is Us episode, dubbed “Clouds” after the Joni Mitchell album referenced in the episode’s core story — a story that builds on the season-long focus on Rebecca and the children’s relationship with her. But there’s also a lot of other individual threads both big and small packed in, from Kate’s relationship dramas, to Randall and his mother’s mental health statuses; from distant past, to less distant past, to present.
It feels a bit like a bundle of knotted power cords you find in your miscellaneous electronics drawer, but the only way to untangle them is to dive in, so without further ado, let’s get into the events of this episode.
Kate & Toby & Baby Jack (and Madison)
For Kate, this season has involved exploring her romantic past amid a tumultuous romantic present. With college-era boyfriend Marc’s story seemingly wrapped, this week, we go back further. The episode opens on Jack and Rebecca reviewing report cards, in the pre-teen Big Three era.
Kate’s report card is fine, but she’s depressed because she’s experiencing her first breakup. Jack tries to make her feel better but she runs to her room. She listens to sad music and thinks angsty thoughts. (Kate is the most stereotypical of the three when it comes to teen angst/attitude, and I can’t decide if I love or hate it.) To cheer her up, Rebecca lets her pick dinner.
But Kate’s still wallowing that afternoon and Jack tries again to help. He compares boyfriends to waffles, saying the first few are never great but eventually you get it right. It’s another of several nods this season to Toby being right for her, despite what’s happening at the moment.
In the present, Kate and Toby are trying to move past Toby’s difficulty with Jack’s blindness. The morning after she returns from the cabin, he apologizes, then reveals a surprise: he’s converting their garage into a music studio. Kate appreciates the gesture but isn’t ready to forgive him.
Kate heads to brunch with Madison to hear her apologize for sleeping with Kevin. Kate tells Madison her betrayal couldn’t have come at a worse time. Madison begs her to confide in her about what else is wrong. Kate tells her about Toby and how she isn’t sure if his attitude change is sincere.
In response, Madison says she slept with Kevin because he knows her more authentically than other guys. That’s a sort of intimacy she sees in Kate and Toby’s relationship and she wants and believes it’s part of marriage. She says Toby should be able to tell Kate his deepest fears without punishment. Kate realizes she has a point. (If the writers are trying to endear us to Madison ahead of her and Kevin’s union, I’m still not sold, but I am moved a little.) Kate then forgives Madison and later makes amends with Toby.
She asks to see the garage again. He shows her the best part: an area for Jack filled with children’s instruments. Kate is grateful and the two embrace. A few scenes later, Kate sits down at a keyboard and begins to play while baby Jack plays, too. We see them playing in the studio together when he’s a toddler, then Jack playing as a pre-teen/teenager, then young adult. Toby’s apologetic gesture for struggling with Jack’s disability shapes Jack’s life, helping him transcend his disability.
On report card day, Randall is bummed over an A-. He insists on speaking to the teacher about it. Rebecca thinks Randall is “getting worse” and needs to see someone about his anxiety. Jack dismissively says Randall’s simply wound tight and needs to blow off steam (his apparent failure to take Randall’s mental state seriously may have cost Randall in the long term). For Randall to blow off steam, Jack takes him to the track and challenges him to a race, saying running will help ease his stress. Presumably, that’s where Randall’s love (and dependency) on running began.
In the present, Beth is proud of Randall for planning on going to therapy but he apathetically downplays it. Before he leaves, Beth mentions getting Annie an iPhone for her birthday. Randall rejects the idea.
At the therapist’s office, Randall fidgets in the waiting room, then in the session, takes issue with a painting, and starts cracking jokes. He brings up his mother’s doctor’s appointment that day but says that’s not why he’s in therapy. The therapist asks why he’s there. He admits he’s always had anxiety and it sometimes get to the point of panic attacks and hospitalization. His wife is worried another such incident is coming. He wants coping mechanisms. Before they go further, the therapist admits she knows Randall — i.e. his adoption story — from his campaign speeches. He seems irked but moves on, referencing a point from his speeches about how his life was shaped by two fathers: the one he lost and the one he gained. But then he gets worked up over the therapist knowing him. When he calms down, the therapist asks more questions.
After they discuss his relationship with his fathers and siblings, the therapist asks about his mother. Randall says he’s stressed about her illness but otherwise, their relationship is great. He tries to change the subject, and between his therapist pressing him on it anyway, and the constant sizzle noise of dripping coffee hitting the hot bottom of the coffee maker, he gets more annoyed.
He gradually begins to rant, saying he’s the only one who can take care of his mother. He criticizes Miguel for missing illness signs and Kevin for not being reliable. He mentions how Rebecca asked him not to tell his siblings about her diagnosis because Kevin’s an addict and Kate has a baby with special needs. He infers he’s mad she took for granted that he has his own problems too. He tells the therapist that therapy is pointless. He’s always known his relationships aren’t perfect, and he’s fine with any triggers or faults he has. Then he says his family would’ve fallen apart without him. (I support acknowledgment that Randall has a superiority/hero complex.) When the therapist questions his assertion, Randall boils over. He insults her and storms off.
When he gets home, he tells Beth he doesn’t want to return. But Beth says she needs him to. The break-in has affected her more than she’s shown. She’s afraid to leave her dance studio at night. She wants Annie to have an iPhone so she always knows where she is. She hasn’t slept well. But she hasn’t felt she could share her struggles with Randall because if she did, he’d crack. He needs to be stronger for himself so they can help each other. In a way, Randall has forced Beth to be for him what his mother always forced him to be for her. This is a wakeup call for Randall and he returns to therapy, more sincere.
Kevin & Rebecca & Jack
In the pre-teen era, Kevin is smug because he has two As, and Rebecca promised him $5 for every A. Randall points out the As are in Physical Education and Art, and Rebecca reads negative teacher comments, but Kevin insists a deal’s a deal. He plans on buying baseball cards. He asks his mom to take him to the store after school but she says she has too many errands. He suggests he join her and they make the store another stop. She reluctantly agrees.
Adult Kevin shows up at his mother’s gunning to draw out a confession about her health. She picks up on this, admits it, and apologizes, at which point Kevin softens and hugs her. He asks to join her and Miguel in their plans to go to an old school record store that day. Miguel sweetly suggests Kevin and Rebecca go.
At the store, Rebecca wistfully listens to a Joni Mitchell record. She talks about her love of records and that album, “Clouds,” and Kevin teases her (with a slightly misplaced but still comical OK Boomer crack). She compares her love of records to his childhood baseball card obsession. Then Rebecca starts telling him about when she and Jack were in L.A. and tried unsuccessfully to find Joni Mitchell’s old house. Kevin suggests completing the mission. He gets the address from Siri. (This episode is big on generational divide gags — Rebecca was mystified by Siri. It’s weird pretending Mandy Moore’s too old to for Siri, but okay.)
Back in pre-teen time, Kevin becomes impatient while running errands and begs to go to the store. Rebecca initially denies him. He points out she’s doing things for Kate and Randall, then says he wishes she was fun like Sophie’s mom. His ploy works and Rebecca agrees to go to the store to prove she’s fun.
Adult Kevin and his mother find Joni’s old house. The gate is open and Rebecca walks in. Kevin jokes about ending up on TMZ for breaking into Joni’s old house with his mother.
Pre-teen Kevin and Rebecca arrive at the card store. Kevin buys 14 packs of cards hoping to find the last player he needs for a particular set. He asks his mother to blow on one for good luck. The two playfully devour the gum that comes with the cards and comb through the packs.
In the present, Rebecca tells Kevin about Joni Mitchell writing the song “Our House” with Graham Nash—it’s a story she told Jack on their trip. She starts singing the song and Kevin looks on in awe. He asks if she’s scared about her diagnosis. She admits she is but she’s happy in the moment because Kevin makes everything fun. (I’m living for the Rebecca-Kevin past and present bonding.) Rebecca knows Kevin thinks his lightheartedness is a flaw but she says it’s important to help people forget about their worries. This moment juxtaposed with Randall’s therapy perfectly contrasts the brothers: one serious, one silly, those traits both their strengths and flaws.
When we next see them, Rebecca tries to convince Kevin to skip the doctor’s appointment and get food. Kevin doesn’t want to reinforce the family narrative that he’s unreliable. Rebecca doesn’t want the day to end. Kevin wisely says it must end eventually, but he’ll be there tomorrow and beyond.
Kevin and Miguel join Rebecca for her test results. She has mild cognitive impairment likely linked to Alzheimer’s. (Even though I knew it was coming, this hurt.) After the doctor’s appointment, Rebecca makes Kevin promise not to treat her differently. She needs his fun and laughs.
In the L.A. Jack and Rebecca memory, Jack looks lovingly at Rebecca as she sings “Our House.” Then we see them in the pre-teen era making dinner, then watching a movie together, then Miguel and Rebecca watching a movie. Then adult Kevin’s at a store buying the exact card he needed — and found — as a kid that day in the store with his mom.
Bonus thought: It’s genius and heart-wrenching that as we’re seeing the bright side of two relationships depicted as more strained — Rebecca and Kate, and Rebecca and Kevin — we’re seeing the other side of a relationship long painted as rosy — Rebecca and Randall.
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