Season 1, Episode 4 – The Pool
I’ve been critical of this show during its rocky beginning, but “The Pool” is a step in the right direction. Whereas previous episodes felt derivative and made me wish that the show had a different structure altogether, “The Pool” is the first episode where I’m glad that it’s an ensemble show. Mostly because it explored many dynamics among the characters that felt important, primarily Randall’s place both within his own family and society at large. Exploring this aspect of the character is not only interesting from a dramatic point of view, but important in understanding the dynamic of the family in the show.
It’s easy to tiptoe around the fact that the Pearsons adopted Randall, but the show tackles this head on with the Pearsons’ struggles of raising a kid that doesn’t have the same needs as their other two children. When a black mother offers some helpful but unsolicited advice to Rebecca concerning Randall’s haircut, Rebecca balks and takes offense at this, feeling that her parenting skills are being judged. Eventually Rebecca realizes her shortcomings and humbly asks for advice. It’s not a wildly complex plotline, but it’s an important one in terms of emphasizing Rebecca’s willingness to realize her mistakes as well as pointing out that no matter how much of a normal and cushy life Randall got because of his adoption, he’s still different from everyone around his family.
This plays an important role in understanding the adult version of Randall, who could’ve been defined by his otherness but instead learned to overcome and adjust to it. He’s fully aware that people still, and always will, treat him differently purely because of his race, but instead of getting angry over it he’s found peace with it. He knows that despite his comfortable upbringing, it doesn’t mean that he’s far removed from his own inherent culture, which William eventually realizes. Getting in contact with his own biological father becomes a far more interesting plotline when the differences between the two characters are highlighted and become a point of discussion. It adds a necessary dimension to their relationship that elevates the storyline above its simplistic beginnings.
Despite the episode’s clear focus on Randall, the other characters don’t feel left behind. Even though Kate and Kevin had less to do this episode, their storylines still feel relevant instead of being pushed into the background in favour of Randall. Kevin adjusts to life in New York City, and after getting a role in a play despite his terrible audition, Kevin realizes that his past is still catching up to him. It seems that The Manny, the role that got him famous, still follows him everywhere despite moving to the other side of the country. It’s a mixed bag when he receives news of getting the role. On the one hand, it’s exactly what he wants, which is to try a more challenging gig and slowly move away from his famous role. On the other hand, the fact that he’s The Manny plays a big part as to why he got the role, which the producers feel will result in higher ticket sales.
Kate, meanwhile, gets a big surprise after finding out that Toby’s ex-wife is not only a successful businesswoman, but regular-sized and attractive as well. Kate then obsessively tries to find out everything about Toby’s ex-wife, with each new discovery adding more to her anxiety as she seems perfect in every way. Once confronted by Toby, Kate finds out that yes, Toby’s ex-wife looks amazing on the surface, but they divorced for a good reason. Toby’s ex-wife cheated on her and took half of his life savings, which lead to Toby gaining so much weight and contemplating suicide. It’s a pivotal scene because we finally get a glimpse of Toby as more than just being Kate’s boyfriend. We find out that underneath his jolly exterior is a man who’s still struggling from the pain he experienced from his marriage.
“The Pool” is the first time that we get to see this show’s true potential and what it could be moving forward. Still, it’s by no means a flawless episode, or a truly great one. The writing still feels banal at times, which can undermine what would otherwise be an emotionally affecting scene or storyline. Having said that, there are so many strengths to this episode, including some seemingly minor scenes of Kate and Kevin’s childhood experiences that helped define who they are growing up. This episode shows Kate being rejected by her childhood friends and Kevin almost drowning, which made him feel like the neglected child of the family. These are small events that paint a more complete picture about who these characters are, making them feel real and identifiable for the first time.