In last week’s episode of This Is Us, after that horrible voice mail, I may have overreacted when I suggested that the show had completely assassinated the character of Randall. It was an egregiously awful voice mail and completely out of character for Randall, but who among us hasn’t done something completely out of character in the midst of an argument with a spouse or other long-time partner? Think back on your worst arguments, and ask yourself if you’ve ever said anything worse than, “I hope you’re off having fun talking about how to teach bored housewives how to twirl. Grow the hell up, Beth.” In our worst arguments, we’re not trying to score points or argue rationally, we’re trying to inflict the same hurt feelings that we feel. And that’s exactly what Randall did: He thought his wife had stood him up, and he wanted to make her feel like he felt in that moment. That was a real moment.
This week’s episode of This Is Us begins where the last one ended. “Damnit, Randall,” Beth says. “We have been having the same fight since we met.” And for whom among us is that not true? Put aside those first few fights that couples invariably have about petty jealousies and insecurities, and ask yourself if you’ve not also been having the same fight, over and over, for the length of your relationship? Those fights tend to revolve around our individual identities, and how they mesh together, and how we make space for each other while remaining true to ourselves. Most of the arguments we have are window dressing for that particular argument. Honestly, it’s a good fight to have every few years, just to re-establish those boundaries, reaffirm your individual identities, ask each other if the relationship is still sustainable, if compromises can be made, and ask each other if you can continue to be your own selves — the people you came into the relationship as — without sacrificing each other.
And that’s kind of what marriage is about: Bending to each other’s will, but not so much that the bend turns to a break. The problem with Randall and Beth’s marriage — as unearthed in a series of flashbacks going back to their very first date — is that it’s always been Beth who has done the bending, because the Pearson men are very convincing in their speeches, and often able to charm the women into bending to their will by hiding real problems behind big romantic gestures.
Is it Randall’s fault that Beth has allowed his charm to subsume her life? I mean, yes and no. As we see time and again over the course of their relationship, Beth allows herself to get swept up in his charm, to ignore the longer-term issues in favor of short-term romantic gains. But that debt has finally come due. On the other hand, Randall should’ve recognized the issue. He should have remembered his wedding vows. Beth is being heard, but she’s not been “seen” in a long time, and it’s Randall’s responsibility to give his wife some space to be herself. She should not have to ask that from him. He should have been volunteering it.
But to be honest, I’m no longer worried about Beth and Randall. This is a fight that needed to be had. Ultimately, this fight will be good for their marriage. And we all know what’s going to happen in next week’s season finale: Randall is finally going to do the bending. He hasn’t been sworn in yet. He shouldn’t even be the city councilor for a city three hours away! Jae-won should be the city councilor. He did the hard work that Randall wrapped up with nice speeches. Jae-won knows the district. He lives in the district.
Randall’s gotta give it up for his wife’s flight of fancy (but seriously, no two people in any relationship should have had as many “flights of fancy” as these two have had), and I trust that Randall will appropriately let his wife’s career subsume him for a while. I mean, dude’s a great dad, and he just brought a third kid into their family. He shouldn’t be leaving his wife to take care of them while he drives three hours each way to make the lives of Philadelphians better; he needs to ensure first and foremost that the lives of his family are taken care of. He’s not a dumb man, and I trust that he will eventually recognize that.
TL;DR: It’s not enough for Randall to tell Beth how much he loves her anymore. He has to show her through his actions. He will. Kevin on the other hand? He and Zoe don’t make it to season four.
Header Image Source: NBC