Can a Primetime drama that is a multiple Emmy Award nominee and winner tell us something about coffee culture?
The answer is a resounding Yes.
In the season two finale of NBC’s ‘This Is Us’, coffee plays a major role in the relationships of The Pearson children and their families.
Coffee happens in the morning, for wake up calls. Coffee happens between couples, to discuss life. Coffee happens at hospitals, for getting through the night.
While coffee can be many things, for the Pearsons, it is function for function sakes and a symbol of the functioning state of their family.
Coffee in ‘This Is Us’ is an exploration, a taste, a bridge, an experience, even a symbol of class.
In the second season’s finale show, titled Her, coffee makes a cameo in each opening scene that allows its viewers to get a look at each of the characters with a storyline in Her.
Coffee is made, consumed and shared. It becomes a companion, a helper, a distraction and even a bridge – uniting and separating those on it. It is also a symbol for the door that
These characters must open, walk through and at times shut doors to become the better of themselves.
Let’s take a look at it’s presence and progression through a couple of scenes featuring the Pearson family.
Beth + Randall
The season starts with a series of scenes that introduce The Pearson family and their individual story scenarios, each non-coincidentally employing coffee.
Beth played by Susan Kelechi Watson slips a coffee pod into an automatic brewer in present time, in a home environment that appears to new to viewers as she drinks alone out of a nicely fired ceramic. Her new device is automated, sleek: it’s fancy, oh its fancy.
Next, we flashback to Beth in the home and kitchen we are used to seeing she and Randall in. The machine is less fancy; the coffee mug is nothing to write home about. However, as she reaches for her mug, we see Randall’s customize mug, which advertises his role as a dad in this home.
Randall is missing from Beth’s morning ritual and from the girls start to the day.
Then, we move to Randall played by Sterling K. Brown who we see at his campaign office. He’s alone. He makes coffee from an automatic coffee machine which drips into a design-less and nameless coffee mug. He’s far from home, far from family. How good could coffee be? Maybe as good as his forlorn look.
Rebecca, Kate + Toby
Rebecca, played by Mandy Moore is Mama Pearson. She enters into a hospital scene carrying two cups of coffee in to-go cups. One is a regular coffee for Toby, plaques by Chris Sullivan – new dad and her son-in-law and the other is decaf. The latter is for new mom, her daughter Kate, played by Chrissy Metz, who is on limited caffeine because of her newborn, premature baby Jack, named after her late father. The only thing is this new mom needs the caffeine not he mother making choices for her.
Kate hasn’t asked for decaf but her mom feels she knows best.
There’s Kevin, son to Rebecca and twin to Kate. He and his girlfriend, Zoe, played by Melanie Liburd and cousin to Beth are at home brewing a cup of specialty coffee, by Brooklyn roaster Devocion by means of a beautiful Chemex.
“Oh my gosh it tastes like coffee,” says Kevin, as Zoe pours the coffee, whose steam billows out in the beautiful morning light.
The issue between Kevin and Zoey is that he wants kids and she expressly does not. As they share a morning interchange over this pour-over at the kitchen counter, the light yet heavy banter occurring about the time it takes to make a proper coffee as a morning ritual, in contrast to spending it with children is a harbinger of a future dealbreaker in their relationship.
What do we make of, “I want to see if your pour coffee breath is better than regular coffee breath,” says Kevin.
This culture likes to think so, just as a life without children and with them wouldn’t be regular at all.
Rebeca drives along a road in her local neighborhood while drinking coffee. When a few peaches spill from the passenger seat onto the floor she attempts to juggle the wheel, her coffee, in a large mug, to get the peaches. Regrettably she fails at doing all three and crashes. Next, we see the interior of the office of Jack Pearson’s played by Milo Ventimiglia
We see his coffee mug, yes the one he used to spike the coffee with alcohol and his hand bypassing that mug to receive the impending phone call..
And now, with this we have all the Pearson’s and all the coffee rituals and scenes to contextualize their stories for this episode, Her.
Now, the question is what door will each of them go through to get to their other side. The door, which Beth mentions at the top of this episode is the way through, the solution to their problems.
Beth looks for the door when she realizes that it’s not just their morning ritual that they are distanced from but it’s a physical distance from one another. In realizing that she and Randall are always better together, she initiated closing the door on the only home they’ve had, in order to relocate to Philadelphia where Randall can do government and she can have her own dance studio. She’s found her door.
In the final scenes of this episode, the apex of a full circle ritual moment begins for her with a tight shot on Beth’s wedding ring. When Beth asks Randall if he wants coffee and he says “yes”, this yes, signals that their coffee ritual is on. This yes means they’ve found their door – they’ve managed to survive the crack in their marriage, to survive the obstacles that come between two people who can find themselves -while still honoring themselves.
When they pack up the house, the coffee mugs are packed too.
Rebecca, Mom Randall proposes a move to LA to help Kate and Toby with baby Jack.
“Do you think we would like living in Atwater village. Miguel found this place that has the cutest coffee shop on the corner and it would be five minutes from you guys.”
I am curious which coffee shop this is. Nevertheless, Atwater has a healthy amount of coffee options in modern times. Perhaps in Atwater, is where she’ll find appropriate distance from Kate, allowing her to flourish in her new role as a mom and Rebecca’s as a grandmother to Jack, bringing her daughter caffeinated drinks of course. They’ve found a door.
Now to Kevin, who in one of his final scenes with Zoe stands across the same counter that Zoe brewed a pour-over of Devocion coffee. She confronts her truth and asks Kevin to do the same. While she’s great with kids, including his nieces, she doesn’t want them in her future. And just like that the door on their relationship respectfully closes freeing Kevin to join Kate, Toby, and his mom in L.A. where his door is now wide open.
In a flash forward, we meet Kevin’s son, in a home that visually speaks to the success of his career, including that fancy, very fancy automated coffee maker by which Beth makes coffee in the opening scene.
An older Tess Pearson, daughter to Beth and Randall, sees the coffee Beth has made as soon as he enters into Kevin’s home and beelines for a cup. No doubt her upbringing with many kitchen mornings with coffee evoke comfort for her in this evening scene.
Now, we see Randall and Beth ask him if he wants coffee. He replies in the affirmative complimented by a reciprocal hug. All feels and looks right in the world seeing Beth and Randall , albeit aged, together still.
There is a Toby sighting sans Kate for now. There is also a Rebecca sighting but she appears invalid and dazed.
So, as the season finale comes to a conclusion with Her – take your pick – The Pearson’s have gathered for an event that seems centered around their matriarch, who is about to be visited by all her loved ones, including the beloved Randall. This family celebrates the fabric of what it means to be bonded together through trials and triumphs, death and life, surprises and known realities, rituals like coffee that make room for all these circumstances of everyman humanity to exist.