There’s a lot of truth to the saying, “You can’t choose your family.” For many people with complicated family backgrounds, this simply means they put up with unhealthy dynamics and relationships in an attempt to keep the peace and not contribute to an already hostile environment. Hurtful comments, negligence and traumatic experiences are swept under the carpet, never to be discussed again. Any shrink will tell you this approach only leads to feelings of resentment and abandonment festering inside you, preventing you from ever moving on. And any family will tell you that, while they may realize this ignorantly blissful method is by no means perfect, it’s the only way they’re able to keep up their idea of what constitutes the “perfect family.”
This Is Us has offered us a taste of Kevin and Randall’s relationship in earlier episodes, but in “The Best Washing Machine in the World” it becomes clear that they’ve never even attempted to resolve their childhood differences. Now that they’re living under the same roof again, they slip back into sibling rivalry instead of addressing head on the issues that have shaped their relationship. While Randall keeps his distance and subtly lets it be known that not all is forgiven and forgotten, Kevin channels everything he’s ever learned as an actor in order to maintain pretenses. When Kevin first turned up at Randall’s house, I was fooled into believing it may have been his way of trying to make amends, but if that was the case, he sure has a strange way of showing it. He acts like a spoiled Hollywood brat with a giant chip on his shoulder; he sullenly holds on to all the ways he feels Randall has wronged him and fails to recognize his own part in making his brother’s life miserable.
When they’re forced to spend an evening together without anyone acting as a buffer for the first time ever, all the shit that’s been swept under the carpet suddenly comes spilling out. Kevin takes Randall to a fancy restaurant, the kind of place celebrities frequent for a dose of selfie-posing and ego-boosting. He revels in the fact that Randall feels out of place here, and takes pride in fans and fellow actors showering him with praise and affection. He’s desperate to impress Randall, but it never once dawns on him to introduce him—not even as Randall, let alone as his brother. When Kevin figures out that Randall has never actually watched “The Manny,” he sulkily leaves the restaurant. He’s pissed off at Randall for not showing an interest in his life and his accomplishments and seems oblivious to the fact that he’s never done the same for Randall. He knows Randall is a “Wall Street guy,” but that’s as far as it goes.
As Randall chases him down the street, Kevin accuses him of always having shown him up, of always being Rebecca’s favourite. And it’s right at this moment that he spots a massive billboard advertising the new “Manny”—in which he’s been “replaced by another black man.” The irony of it all, and the ridiculously juvenile roughhousing it inspires in the middle of the street, creates a laugh-out-loud moment, one quickly followed up by four incredibly meaningful words. When one of the members of the crowd that has gathered around them recognizes Kevin and awkwardly asks whether he needs help, Kevin brushes him off with, “This is my brother.”
On their drive home, they both appear emotionally exhausted, but somewhat freed from thirty-six years of brotherly baggage. Arriving home to find William and Beth high on pot brownies, the night couldn’t possibly get any weirder—so they decide to roll with it and actually volunteer to spend the rest of the night hanging out with each other.
Kate and Toby are still struggling to find a good balance in their relationship, but recent developments point to things souring again very soon. Toby is far more successful at shedding his excess weight than Kate is, and when she finds out he’s celebrated his latest milestone by binging on junk food, he admits the strict diet regime just doesn’t work for him. She’s concerned that they won’t be able to continue motivating each other, but he promises he’ll stick to their original diet whenever they’re around each other. Not wanting to deny him, she urges him to dig into whatever dessert he fancies on a night out. He does so, reluctantly at first. But as he starts allowing himself to enjoy his treat, Kate watches on in envy.
On her drive home, she stops at the gas station and buys a bag of pastries, guiltily indulging in them. I can already see this becoming a reservoir of deep resentment—Kate will blame Toby for her set-back, Toby will blame Kate for her inability to be strong and let loose, and voila: the ingredients for a bitter relationship starved of all things fun.
Rebecca and Jack’s story has moved into the nineties and the first signs of something amiss are becoming evident. Although they’re both celebrating personal victories—Jack signed an important deal at work, Rebecca returns to the stage for the first time in ten years—the lack of unity in the Pearson household is taking its toll; Kevin’s move out of his room with Randall and into the basement marks the start of their decline as a couple and a family.
The washing machine that once symbolized the strength and beauty of Rebecca and Jack’s relationship and the joy at the arrival of the big three now acts as a sad reminder of the increasing alienation among the Pearsons. While this closing sequence was most certainly moving, it didn’t quite achieve the desired effect, perhaps because Jack and Rebecca’s marital struggles weren’t verbalized quite as loudly as in “The Game Plan.” But all in all, “The Best Washing Machine in the World” is an episode that brings us closer to understanding the Pearson family’s dynamics—and all the reasons why their living-room carpet will remain bumpy, unless they continue to work on smoothing it out.
Roxanne Sancto is a freelance journalist for Paste and The New Heroes & Pioneers. She’s the author of The Tuesday Series & co-author of The Pink Boots. She can usually be found covered in paint stains.