Breakout star of 2017: Ms. Lyric Ross, aka Deja on "This Is Us." This young woman is everything right now, pulling out all the stops on a complex, nuanced performance I'd be impressed by if it were coming from an actor with three times her experience.
If you haven't yet seen last night's episode of "This Is Us," click the little "x" because this recap is, by its very nature, chockablock full of yummy spoilers.
Everyone else, grab the calamine lotion and the last copy of "The Karate Kid" and let's dissect "Still There."
… Back in the Day
In what will one day be the last Blockbuster, I feel sure, the Pearsons are making movie-night choices before the snow makes travel impossible.
Foreshadowing alert: The snow will sadly arrive too late to make travel impossible for Rebecca's mom, but it will be there in plenty of time to keep her there in the Pearson home way past the point she ceases to be welcome. Of course, as far as I can tell, that's roughly 3.7 seconds after she arrives, so … draw your own conclusions.
On this week's episode of "This Is Us," Jack works though AA, Beth and Randall welcome a foster child, and Kevin shoves away his feelings. Oh, and Sylvester Stallone shows up.
By Annie Sisk
Oct 11, 2017 | 4:45 PM
But that horror is still off in the future for our blissfully innocent Pearsons — poor, sweet, naive Pearsons, two-fifths of whom are about to exhibit symptoms of chicken pox.
After being advised by the pediatrician to go ahead and make it three-fifths by letting Randall get it, too (Randall: "Are you people insane?"), verifying both parents have already had it (second foreshadowing alert: That wasn't chicken pox, Jack), and finally getting off the phone with her mother, Rebecca and Jack take the brood home to begin what is sure to be a very uncomfortable few days, snow notwithstanding.
But it's gonna be even worse because Rebecca's mom — who is THE WORST, y'all, and this is not merely my opinion, just a scientific fact — has arrived. To "help."
She gives Kevin a football helmet (OK, good choice!), Kate a mermaid dress at least 2 sizes too small that she then says can be the girl's "goal dress" (oh God, no, woman, in the words of Randall, are you insane?!), and Randall a basketball.
The third one she's gifted him, apparently. Don't worry, though. It gets … well, actually, it gets worse. He says he's not really into basketball but he'll try if she wants him to. And she replies "Everyone should have something they're good at."
Um, hey, racist grandma? Yeah, Randall's already got that. He's smarter at 10 than you ever were or will be, times ten. Certified genius.
Jack is trying to help Kevin "toughen up" and stop whining so much over his chicken pox. And I get that the show is drawing parallels here, between his dad exhorting him to be tougher and even comparing him negatively to stoic Kate, and his present-day refusal to let his leg heal by taking it easy.
On the latest episode of “This Is Us,” the focus was on what is arguably the show’s most fractured couple: mother Rebecca and daughter Kate.
By Annie Sisk
Oct 04, 2017 | 4:15 PM
This kind of heavily gendered parental expectation leads to some toxic, unhealthy masculinity, as we all know by now. That's an issue worth exploring, I think, but it's also all too easy to get it wrong with strokes that are too broad and too simplistic.
Of course, Jack isn't consciously thinking any of that right now. He's worried — and as a parent I can verify this is true — that his kid's experience of his illness is being made exponentially worse by his perseverating on the unpleasant symptoms. The more you scratch, the more it itches. This is science.
But Jack's about to pay for it because that first foreshadowed boot is about to drop, when Jack wakes up with a fever and itchy spots. Yup. Four out of five Pearsons now have the chicken pox.
Unfortunately, this leaves Rebecca all on her own to deal with the outrageous things that spew with such ease out of her mother's mouth. The latest example: Did you know Rebecca's family had a maid, a "lovely black woman named Cora" whose grammar Rebecca's mom had to constantly correct so her children "didn't grow up talking like street kids"?
I repeat: THE. WORST.
Mom pressures Rebecca to tell her what's wrong. Something's clearly wrong, she thinks, because of the way Rebecca has been acting — not calling, not visiting, acting so stressed out around her all the time.
Rebecca's had it and lays into her. She flat-out tells her mother that she's the problem. She's badly behaved to all of Rebecca's children and to her husband, most of which she can overlook because it's damage she can undo.
But the damage she does to Randall is in a class by itself. She points out that lovely Dora wasn't some child whose grammar she had to correct — she was a 50-year-old woman with children of her own. And that time they left their long-time church was because the new priest was from Ghana.
Mom protests, of course. That's a horrible thing to say! She couldn't understand the man's accent, Rebecca! She just calls Kate and Kevin "the twins" because that's what they are!
You guys, ever since last season's Thanksgiving episode and the horrific reveal from little Randall that Grandmama made him get out of the camera frame so she could get a picture of "the twins," I have been waiting for this moment.
And I was NOT disappointed. No holds were barred, no punches were pulled. Rebecca was blunt, and blunt was most definitely called for.
But dear Lord, little Randall is right behind her. He came downstairs to let them know he finally caught the chicken pox. Rebecca swoops him up and gets him out of there, then enlists Jack to try to help explain microaggressions and soft racism to their son (albeit without ever using those words, because we didn't have them back then, sadly).
It's deeply painful. It's a variation of The Talk that seems somehow even more awful because the white person whose bad behavior they're trying to explain is the kid's grandmother.
On the plus side, we do get this amazing, pure moment when they're talking about Martin Luther King being assassinated because he wanted all people to have equal rights, and little Randall's eyes go wide as he asks, "Did Grandma shoot him?!"
The following morning, when Jack realizes his entire family is being held hostage by his mother-in-law, he gets dressed and goes outside to dig her car out from the snow so she can leave. And then little Kevin joins him, because he's tough, like his dad.
Mom tells Rebecca she couldn't sleep because she was "haunted" by Rebecca's words. She starts excusing her behavior with the old chestnut "I was brought up in a different time," but Rebecca cuts her off and isn't having it.
Mom changes tactics and admits between the adoption and Randall's race, it all feels "foreign" to her, but she swears she's trying so hard. Rebecca points out she shouldn't HAVE to try. Not with a great kid like Randall, certainly, so yeah, I'm firmly #TeamRebecca.
On second thought, make that #TeamRandall. When Grandma goes to say goodbye, she sees that he's finished his incredibly complex Rube Goldberg machine for the science fair, and he figured out the last problem so now it works. Grandma says "You're a special young man, aren't you?" Randall says, "Took you long enough."
While Rebecca's verbal smackdown was admittedly fulfilling, I am still hoping to see a genuine, serious come-to-Jesus moment between a more mature Randall and his maternal grandmother one of these days.
If Beth wants to get a few words in, I'm good with that, too.
… Present Day
Before we dive into the present day shenanigans, a mea culpa: I missed a few seconds of the heated argument between Deja, Beth and Randall last week and it made it look like something Beth did caused Deja to flinch.
In the "previously" segment for "Still There," though, I realized it was solely Randall's entrance that made Deja throw herself up against the wall. A man hurt this kid in the past, and that can't help but affect how she interacts with Randall.
And that's unfortunate because as we learn this week, Ms. Deja is having some issues with hygiene. As in, she won't wash and fix her hair. And it's beginning to be more than simply a matter of looking unkempt. She's starting to smell.
Randall wants to take the lead on this one, and Beth acquiesces. So instead of a gentle talk, Deja gets taken to a bowling alley. Randall's logic is so quintessentially Randall, it makes my heart ache: If Deja has fun, she'll feel better, and she'll just naturally want to take better care of herself.
Instead, what happens is predictable and ugly: Deja gets bullied by a snickering girl with a smart mouth. Deja confronts her, and it ends with Deja pushing the girl. Then the girl's dad steps up. Randall initially tries to defuse the situation by leaving but it escalates quickly, with the men practically beating their chests and posturing.
Time for Plan B, Randall — B for Beth, Empress of All Things. Beth and Deja have that quiet talk, and it goes well. So well, in fact, that she asks Beth to do her hair!
Turns out, it's not a hygiene problem. Deja has alopecia — a word she's never heard, so the poor child had no idea why her hair falls out, creating bald patches. She just knows that it gets worse when "stuff happens" — i.e., when she gets stressed.
Not to worry, Deja. Beth's sister has the same condition, and Beth is a pro at braiding hair to hide the thin spots. And as she works, Beth reassures Deja that it's OK — it's just the two of them talking. (Foreshadowing alert No. 3: This will soon go very, very wrong.)
The braids Beth whips up on that child's head are a thing of absolute classic beauty and perfection. And you can tell Deja agrees, the way she smiles at her own reflection in the mirror.
Then Randall comes in.
After apologizing for the incredibly not-cool way he behaved at the bowling alley, he tells Deja that he had two nervous breakdowns in his life, and that jogging helps him relieve stress, and maybe she'd like to jog with him sometime, because it really helps and he'd like that?
And she stares at him. And she knows. "She TOLD you what I said."
All he can say is "... Oh."
And a few minutes later the Pearsons sit in the kitchen, utterly horrified, as Deja walks in, having butchered every single one of those beautiful braids, leaving a mad cap of spikes and tufts of varying lengths.
I literally put my hand over my mouth, y'all. It's bad.
It's pure heartbreak, but what both sells it and makes it ten times worse is the expression on Lyric Ross's face. It's 40% "screw you" and 50% "I hate myself" and 10% "I want my Mommy" and 100% anguish. She manages to convey all of that in about 2 seconds with just the look on her face as she walks in, sits at the table, and eats a strawberry.
Ladies and gentlemen, Lyric Ross: the real MVP.
And now, let's check in on the West Coast Pearsons, because that's definitely where we want to end up this week. Kevin's knee is seriously messed up, which producer Brian discovers when he makes Kevin lift his pants leg to display the proof — and kudos to the makeup department because that shot made MY knee hurt.
In the season premiere of "This Is Us," we get a huge clue about how Jack died.
By Annie Sisk
Sep 27, 2017 | 1:35 PM
Kevin protests that he's fine, but producer Brian is Having None Of It. He's not asking, Kevin. He's telling.
This is how Kevin ends up undergoing arthroscopic surgery to repair a torn meniscus. But he's behaving bizarrely in his recovery. He won't take the pain medication. He's actually on the treadmill, trying to force an early recovery.
And why? Because his knee injury in high school took away his football career, and he won't let the knee ruin his life again.
Alone, he watches some old video his father took of him playing high school football for college coaches, and every time his dad boasts about how tough a player Kevin is, present-day Kevin looks sadder.
He winds up taking the pain medication again — which, good! I mean, am I supposed to feel bad about this? Because this is a good thing for someone who just had surgery and then completely overtaxed his leg! — and going back into work, where producer Brian says he looks great and Kevin says "I told you I wouldn't slow you down!"
Meanwhile, Toby is worried about Kate, who is exhibiting some seriously obsessive behavior around her health: not eating even the healthy muffin Toby made her; working out all the time; even "treadmilling in [her] sleep," Toby asserts.
Kate reassures him she's not wigging out. She's just focused. She got her first big paid gig — a bar mitzvah! — and she's determined to look good and fit into the dress she bought for the occasion.
So when Kate wanders into a drugstore and heads down the aisle labeled, in part, "weight loss," we're nervous. Is she taking this too far? After the "Kevin and pain meds" roller coaster, this makes me side-eye my TV screen.
But no. That drugstore aisle has other labels, you know. "Vitamins," for one.
And when we next see Kate, she's showing the bottle she picked up at that drugstore to her doctor.