It surely can’t be an accident that an innocent-seeming trip to the pool is used as a framing device for this episode examining the ramifications of a black boy being raised by white parents. After all, America’s swimming pools have a long, sad, racist history (much like busses), and even as we watch events unfold in the slightly more progressive ‘80s, the racial divide is still alive and (un)well at would should be a happy summer hangout.
But the trip isn’t just an opportunity to dive deeper into Randall’s psyche — it brings issues to the surface for all three kids, from Kate’s early body-shaming to Kevin’s insecurities about other people’s love and approval.
The catalyst for the trip is a broken air conditioner, and when it’s announced the remedy will be a day at the pool, Randall has one request: He’d like to go to the pool with the diving board. (We later learn it’s not because he’s a budding Greg Louganis, but rather because other black kids swim there.) Kate is also excited about the trip because it means she’ll get to show off her new Care Bear bikini. (Which would have been a totally nice complement to the Care Bear sheet set I had as a kid. Thanks for nothing, Mom.) The lone hold out is Kevin — he’s not a big fan of the pool. But he’s, like, 8 years old, so he doesn’t really have a say in the matter. Before they head out, Jack coolly mentions that he packed only soft drinks — no beer.
“A whole day at the pool with those kids and no alcohol?” Rebecca asks. He reminds her of his oath to stay sober. (Which obviously feels like foreshadowing of a very not-sober Jack in an upcoming episode.)
Anyway, when they arrive, it becomes apparent everyone else in town had the same idea to cool off at the pool. And you don’t have to have aced college calculus to know that two parents keeping an eye on three children (at a very packed pool) is some pretty tricky math, indeed.
And, unsurprisingly, problems quickly ensue: Kate’s chubby prepubescent two-piece-clad body draws attention. Especially from her supposed friends, who are so “embarrassed” by her appearance that they write her a letter saying as much and that they don’t want to hang out with her any more. (The pig illustration is a particularly gut-wrenching signature.)
Meanwhile, Randall has managed to wander off. Rebecca eventually finds him playing with a group of other black kids. She introduces herself to one of the mothers, but said mother needs no introduction: She knows all about the white family who adopted the black child and has yet to introduce themselves. She also advises Rebecca that Randall needs a proper barber who understands black hair — he’s got all those razor bumps on his neck. (Which, not knowing any better, Rebecca had assumed was a rash.) Rebecca, perhaps rightfully so, is offended by the mother’s judgmental tone and marches off with Randall in tow.
All of which means that Kevin, bless his heart, has been left largely to his own devices. And despite pleas that Dad observe his high jinks in the pool, Jack becomes distracted just as his son inches closer and closer to the deep end. Eventually, Kevin reaches a point where he can no longer touch the pool’s bottom and begins to drown. And no one notices. He finally grabs onto a buoy and pulls himself to safety — no thanks to either of his parents. When he emerges from the water, he’s furious.
“You’re so busy making sure Kate’s not eating too much and Randall’s not too adopted,” he screams. “And, meanwhile, where’s Kevin? Oh, guess what, he’s dead!”
Jack consoles him and promises to be a better dad. A promise he puts into action right away with his daughter. Kate’s obviously stung from her friends’ nasty missive and refuses to eat her lunch. So Jack tells her the legend of the nasty green T-shirt he insisted on wearing to the pool despite Rebecca’s best efforts and how the tattered garment can imbue special powers. Kate agrees to wear it with the understanding that it will make her a princess.
And, tying up a few loose strings, Rebecca realizes that she maybe could use some advice when it comes to raising Randall, and seeks out the black woman from earlier for a barber recommendation. And to confirm that Randall does, in fact, require sunscreen.
NEXT: The Right Reasons