This week, instead of exploring Jack and Rebecca’s relationship pre-marriage and kids, the past storyline delves in the Pearsons not long after Jack’s death. While we wouldn’t expect them to be doing particularly well, I didn’t expect them to be doing as bad as they were. Kate is eating as a way to find comfort, Kevin is hammered all the time and Rebecca looks like one of the Walking Dead. Randall clearly seems to be one trying to hold his family together. In a particularly strong scene, teenage Randall (played by Niles Fitch), fights with Rebecca, expressing his frustration with her, since she is not stepping up and taking care of everything as she had promised. As with every young, This Is Us actor, Fitch’s delivery is on point, making the viewer not only incredibly empathetic towards his feelings but also frustrated with the fact that this is what a child has to say to his mother in this situation. While they talk things through by the end of the episode, Randall calls Howard University, his dream college to which he just got accepted to, to say he won’t be attending so he can take care of his family.
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In the present storyline, the whole family is eagerly awaiting Kevin’s movie premiere. The only person who doesn’t seem that interested is Zoe, who is asking for a casual, nice and light relationship. Kevin clearly isn’t that comfortable with it, even if he says he is “the king of cas.”
Kate and Toby come to New York for the premiere. Kate says she doesn’t want to tell Rebecca about it, because she doesn’t want to hear Rebecca complain about the risks. Of course, the episode takes a very predictable turn and Rebecca and Miguel find the hormones, leading to yet another fight between the two women. Having had enough of it, and also suffering from his antidepressant withdrawn, Toby explodes at Rebecca in a way we’ve never seen before. He quickly exits the apartment and says he is going to clear his head before the premiere.
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The whole thing seems to get resolved when Toby fails to come back in time for giving Kate her hormone shot and Rebecca has to do it instead. The two end up sharing a very emotional and raw moment, perhaps the most vulnerable and real one they have shared in the series. They are both putting their insecurities about their relationship on the table and it’s one of the few times we actually get to see them open up and not hold their walls to each other. In the background, Older Chests by Damien Rice is playing and it only adds to the idea that this might be the time for the Pierson women to truly face their issues and start healing together.
Meanwhile, Randall is trying to find new ways to make Deja feel comfortable. After she says her new school is too white and that she misses things from her old neighbourhood, he decides it might be a good idea to introduce Deja to Sky, a girl about her age who lives in the building William used to. When doing that, he shares a conversation with Sky’s mom Chichi, who was very close to William, as we come to find out through flashbacks from the time she moved into the building while pregnant with Sky. From this point on, Randall’s storyline is beautifully intertwined with Chichi and William’s past. This is a tool This Is Us uses a lot, which should make it feel old and overused, but, due to Fogelman’s subtlety with dialogue and transitions, it ends up feeling like the perfect way to give more depth to the show, connecting different characters and storylines with care and wisdom.
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We go on to see William help Chichi and baby Sky by welcoming them to the community in every way he can. Randall is in a quest for a councilman, after hearing from Chichi about how the community center is falling apart. Although the scene where Randall and the councilman bond over the fact that they both have deceased fathers who they keep trying to make proud is good, the prize of the best scene in the storyline goes to the one where Chichi allows William to hold Sky for the first time. The song in the background starts out as just piano notes widely apart, but as William and Chichi grow closer the song gets more intense and more instruments come together, culminating at the moment William actually holds Sky. Right there and then you can’t help but picture how William would have been with Randall had he not given him up. The scene adds a lot to what was Randall’s main theme in this episode and likely for the rest of the season: trying to fit in, understanding his place both in William’s community and in the Pearson family, what being adopted means to him, especially when it comes to how he deals with adopting Deja.
Unlike episode 1, “A Philadelphia Story” ends without much indication of what will happen next week (other than the aftermath of Kevin’s premiere). It seems to be a more reflexive episode, where the real questions in the viewer’s minds should be about the characters and their family dynamic, especially when it comes to how they grieve Jack’s death.
Once again, I believe Kevin deserves more time and should be more developed. Getting one more serious scene (discussing with Kate a comment she made about her being the only one who could pass on a piece of Jack) in a 43-minute episode definitely isn’t enough, especially when the present storyline centers his premiere. There definitely could be more character development, especially for teenage Kevin, who, at this point, just seems like a douchebag and is highly unlikable.
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