Last week’s pilot episode of This Is Us granted us an intimate introduction into the lives of a unique family unit, the offspring of which lovingly refer to themselves as The Big Three. We were thrown straight into the deep end of their respective stories, and quickly realized they were all struggling with a similar theme: where do we go from here? Though they have all built a good life for themselves, their thirty-sixth birthdays threw them for a critical loop that caused them to ponder the paths they are on, and whether or not they’re headed toward personal fulfillment. While Randall and Kate are in the throes of filling certain voids in their lives and are struggling through the experience, Kevin has reached a pivotal point in his career, one that has him questioning his authenticity. By deepening their back story with their parents’ early eighties plotline, we are now starting to put together the puzzle pieces and have a better understanding of the siblings’ lives. This very personal approach was highlighted in this week’s episode.
The episode opens with a typical school morning for Randall, Kate and Kevin. As they are taking their sweet time coming downstairs for breakfast, Rebecca is on full mom-mode: preparing individual breakfasts and lunches whilst shouting up the stairs for the trio of eight-year olds to hurry up. Though the scene may have all the merits of a perfect-family-picture, it doesn’t take long to catch on to Rebecca’s obvious frustration and exhaustion. There’s an evident rift between the Jack and Rebecca dream-team we got to know and love in the pilot episode. They are no longer in-tune and seem to be operating from two opposing sides. Raising three kids and running a household is quite an undertaking, but Rebecca has put a system in place in the hopes of finding a healthier balance. Of course, this system only works when it is reinforced by both parents—and that is currently not the case. Rebecca is concerned about Kate’s weight and is making an effort to change her eating habits, starting with breakfast. While the boys dig into their sugary cereals, Kate is presented with a plate of fruit. This is a daily conflict in itself, not helped at all by Jack entering the kitchen and disregarding Rebecca’s rules by filling up Kate’s bowl with Fruit Loops. It’s bad enough Rebecca is taking care of the kids with minimal help from Jack, but what’s worse is the disrespect he shows her by taking on no role other than the fun parent, while she deals with all the difficult sides of parenting. Jack does finally seem to recognize his selfishness, however, a glimpse of Rebecca’s future, tells us it may have been too late.
In the present, Kate, whose relationship with Toby is flourishing under a coat of insecurities, finds it increasingly hard to live in the moment and just be Kate. Not “the fat girl,” just Kate. Though they both attend a counseling group and are moving towards a healthier lifestyle, Toby seems to be a step further than her, not just physically, but mentally. While Kate cannot separate her inner self from her outer appearance, Toby has adopted a positive attitude that stops him from obsessing over his weight and other people’s perceptions. He’s besotted with Kate and only wishes she could see what he sees when he looks at her. He longs for one carefree night of dancing at a fancy Hollywood party, all dolled up in their glad-rags. But what seems like a fun night for him, is an absolute nightmare in Kate’s eyes. Fortunately, with Toby’s confidence brushing off on her, and with a little help from several tequila shots, Kate finally has her moment of just being and goofing off on the dance floor. It doesn’t last long, but it’s a start. It’s easy to see why her weight has become her main concern and obsession in life. It’s always been about the weight for her. From the moment her mother started paying attention to it—from a place of genuine concern—so did Kate. And there’s a good chance that in prohibiting Kate from eating certain things as a child, Rebecca unwillingly contributed to Kate’s unhealthy relationship to food.
Randall and Kevin’s stories became a lot clearer in this episode, as we learn why there may be a strong distance between the two. As children, Kevin never had Randall’s back when classmates would call him “Webster” and point out their being brothers as “weird.” Instead, Kevin joined in the name calling, too concerned with what the kids thought of his unconventional family. The fear of other people’s opinions is one he carried into adult life, but as he finds himself at a crossroads in his career, he turns a new leaf by reaching out to the only people whose thoughts truly matter to him: his family. Though it is apparent that Randall is still hurt by Kevin’s lack of support back in the day, he tries to be the bigger person, but it’s not always easy. There seems to be a divide between Randall and the biological twins Kate and Kevin, but whether this is a matter of geographical distance or an emotional one remains to be seen. His wife Beth makes up for all the support he’s been lacking from his brother, and their relationship is one to be truly envious of. She knows Randall better than anyone and steps up when she feels he needs protecting. His greatest vice is his need for perfection, even in situations he cannot change. With William now forming a part of their family unit, and given the health issues he’s dealing with, she fears Randall’s inability to change the inevitable will cause him to crumble.
Their childhood vices and insecurities have all shaped the people they are today and, in a sense, these traits established a certain hierarchy within the family that will be interesting to explore in upcoming episodes. This Is Us has officially been picked up for a full season on NBC, which is good news for those of us really interested in watching these stories unfold.