This Is Us: “The Music And The Mirror” is about as heavy-handed as it gets.

This Is Us, Season 5, episode 14

“The Music And The Mirror”

Dir. Jonny Gomez

Wri. Jessica Yu

I’ve been begging since pre-pandemic for This Is Us to remember that Beth owns a dance studio.

Even before COVID-19 relegated the better half of a year’s worth of dance instruction to Zoom-land (although many studios have resumed in-person learning in the U.S., most of us Canadian dancers are still Zooming away), Beth’s studio seemed to never put the amount of stress on the family, financially or otherwise, that one would associate with a first-year dance studio. Like, why is Beth seemingly able to be home for every family dinner and weekend excursion? Why isn’t she exhausted all the time?

I know because I was there.

I did not own a studio, but a friend of mine opened a dance studio in fall of 2017, and I was there from the start — I was her first teacher and the one who stuck by her the longest, right up until the day we were forced to close due to COVID. So yeah, this episode hit hard, because we see Beth saying good-bye to her dream almost as quickly as she said hello to it.

And there were still some unrealistic aspects of the way Clarke School of Dance was depicted here — we see Beth working with a group of about a dozen dedicated advanced/senior dancers, which is just plain unrealistic for a first-year studio. We were in year three by the time we closed, and we had a total of five seniors, none pointe-ready. Beth opened her studio as a nobody without any connections in the community, so it seems weird that Clarke School of Dance was that popular within the first year. And if it was, how was she not able to keep the studio afloat for another year via Zoom classes? It all seems very glossed over, and I truly did think Randall would do the Randall thing and come through with a surprise arts grant or loan, because we see Beth teaching — and in some sort of “boss” role — in the future.

Prediction time: We know that Beth is “boss” in a studio setting in the future, but the studio we see her in is also much bigger and more grand and professional than Clarke School of Dance. My guess is they’re not building toward Beth reopening another dance studio, but rather taking on an artistic director or coordinator position with a major arts school, secondary or post-secondary.

Alas, that’s not what happens, and that’s a part of Randall’s arc with Beth. And we contrast this with college!Randall and Beth, when Randall learns about Beth’s complicated relationship with dance and tosses aside his romantic evening in favour of a tender, quiet dance in his dorm room. Predictable as it may have been, when Randall arrives at the studio to simply dance with Beth, I burst into tears. There’s a certain complicated angst and gratitude here — you can say good-bye to a dream, as Beth has here, while knowing that you are with someone who makes your life feel like a dream — but you also know that your life can’t be just that.

It will be interesting to see if Beth returns to architecture at all — we see another glimpse of her jittery, borderline-erratic self in her Zoom interview that we saw a few years ago when she first became unemployed. This is also where we see that Deja remains the most emotionally mature Pearson child, and I was worried until the very last scene with her and Randall that she was having to be too much of an adult with her parents. It is bizarre how Deja’s gone from having to be responsible for her birth mother because she might have been too young to properly care for her at the time, and is now quite often having to be responsible for her two very emotionally fragile adoptive parents. If Randall stays firmly in the corner of “team Deja,” we might not have a problem, but for fuck’s sakes, I wish we could let this poor kid be a kid.

The Beth/Randall story is the strongest part of the episode; Kate and Rebecca featuring Madison is a fairly underwhelming runner-up. It feels at first like they’re building toward a plot in which Kate becomes jealous of Rebecca being so kind and motherly to Madison, who is experiencing stress because her father — her only parental figure and a crappy one, at that — cannot come to the wedding. It’s nice to see that the result from Kate is not jealousy, but instead gratitude. She recognizes that Rebecca has been a great mother for their whole lives, even when Kate has not been an easy kid to parent. It concludes with a lovely gift from Kate to Rebecca, having her students sing a Joni Mitchell song for Rebecca. I suppose I could view it as a bit trite, but it does remind me of my grandmother’s own journey with Alzheimer’s, when my mother and uncles decided it was time to become the providers for her. And Rebecca graciously accepts it all. We do get a particularly heavy-handed line in which Rebecca tells Kate she sees “every Kate” on her face, but it’s a small complaint. The last two seasons have seen a real de-escalation of the tension between Kate and Rebecca. I know there have been a few complaints that Rebecca’s Alzheimer’s is seemingly a non-issue right now, but I think we have to remember that when Randall caught on in season four, the signs were so subtle that only he and Miguel noticed. It’s only been a year — and this can often be what the first couple years are like. It’s nice, after five years of Rebecca being frankly the most unsung hero of This Is Us, to see her so loved, embraced and appreciated by her children.

Prediction time: As if often the case with people with Alzheimer’s and dementia, the caregiver is the one who often takes the biggest hits early on. We might want to ready ourselves for the reality that Miguel is not long for this world.

All the while, Toby is trying to fix a bad leak in his kitchen, and his father comes over to help out and make Toby more uncomfortable. We get the second most heavy-handed aspect of the episode in which Toby’s dad tells him that it’s not just the bursts to worry about, but the tension. There is, however, decent payoff to that not-at-all subtle piece of advice when Toby still doesn’t communicate with Kate at the end. One good thing about This Is Us is that we’ve now seen characters receive advice that they simply do not take, and they end up worse off for it. We even saw this with Randall in therapy. So Kate and Toby are still not out of the woods, meaning we’re likely barrelling toward something in the finale.

Speaking of “not out of the woods,” it’s time to manufacture more drama for Kevin and Madison. Kevin has, sadly, been my least favourite aspect of this season, and it pains me to admit that, because Kevin has been one of my favourite characters. It’s nothing against Justin Hartley, who always does a formidable job as the complicated character, but it feels like the show has been throwing random conflicts at Kevin out of nowhere this season to see what sticks. The one multiseason runner we see here is when Kevin’s agent points out that he’s gotten a diva reputation thanks to three walk-outs — stage, small screen and big screen, a real trifecta! Of course, besides the excuse that Kevin was racing for the birth of his twins (and again, where was his publicist on the whole “Kevin Pearson saved a man from a fiery death in a car accident” thing?) I can’t help but wonder if Kevin’s past behaviour wouldn’t at least be seen through a slightly sympathetic lens because it was prior to him seeking treatment for substance abuse. Especially because after those two walk-outs, he apparently was nominated for a Golden Globe.

But it’s still a good thing to bring up, and we are sowing the seeds of Kevin’s acting career perhaps taking a turn. It’s softened by some decent comedy — Nicky tagging along with Kevin is always a great opportunity for a one-man Statler-and-Waldorf routine, and the Gilligan cut to Kevin and his agent talking about how bad the movie is genuinely made me guffaw. But it’s also weird that the culmination of this is a chance meeting with Zoe via Zoom, who points out that Kevin goes all-out into whatever’s in front of him, regardless of whether or not it’s what he wants. She’s not entirely wrong, but a) it’s weird to have this happen right after Kevin’s been accused of walk-outs on set and failures to commit to projects, and b) maybe this is just a sore spot for me, but if you’re talking to your ex, especially one who is as neurotic as Kevin, try not to trot out your well-intentioned observations about their slightly problematic personality traits. Kevin gets in his head about it, and suddenly his cozy viewing of The Great British Bake Show with Madison reads a lot less adorable. I will note, for no reason, that this is the second appearance of Bake Show on This Is Us.

Prediction time: Kevin will leave Hollywood eventually, because who else would start Big Three Homes?

This is one of the classic This Is Us transition episodes to take us toward the end of the season, and I suppose it was decent on the tension, but I do need some of this to pay off at some point — the heavy-handed stuff doesn’t work when the Pearson family is still all truncated and far apart.

The Good

  • The ending scene with Beth and Randall is not only romantic and sweet, but also assures me that the show isn’t going to just try and take these two through the ringer at every given opportunity.
  • Mandy Moore is so strong at acting with her eyes that a mask doesn’t matter in the scene where the kids are singing for her.
  • Hi Gregory!

The Bad

  • Someone please let Deja be a kid for an episode or two.
  • I am begging the show to just pick what kind of character Madison is supposed to be.

Episode MVP

  • Rachel Hilson, Mandy Moore, Lyric Ross

I have a lot of feelings about movies and TV shows that would be embarrassing if it weren’t 2020.