One of the driving forces of This Is Us is the fact that we get to follow the personal development of our protagonists over the years. This allows us to sympathise even with Kevin, one of the weakest characters on the show so far. Had it not been for “The Pool,” it would have been easy to write him off as a self-absorbed Hollywood douche in this week’s “The Game Plan.” But having gotten to know his backstory and the insecurities he struggled with as a child, I’ve come to believe in his potential to outgrow his limitations. While his storyline may not be redeeming, the episode’s end shows a new side of him, one I hope will take the spotlight from now on. The flashbacks in “The Game Plan” take us even further into the past, and offer insight into Rebecca and Jack’s childhood growing pains, as well as their lives as a young couple prior to “the big three.” Their respective visions for the future set the tone of the episode. It underlines the importance of honest communication in any relationship, and how difficult it can be to stay true to yourself when you’re no longer thinking for one.
In the past, we see that Rebecca’s mother often puts herself last. She’s the typical ‘50s hausfrau type: Waiting on her husband hand and foot; making sure Rebecca and her sister keep quiet while his highness is watching the big game. Young Rebecca took her mother as an example of what she never wanted to become, so when Jack raises the question of children in their future, she feels cornered into reconsidering her principles. This is a conversation they’ve never had before. Until now, she thought they were on the same page, scoffed about how they would never become one of those couples. In Rebecca’s eyes, this meant not even entertaining the thought of children; in Jack’s eyes, it meant solidifying their relationship and making sure that they would never become the type of parents who no longer had a life and dreams of their own. Having grown up with a father uninvolved in the raising of his children, it’s Jack’s wish to become the father he never had. But without having openly discussed their hopes for the future, he and Rebecca find themselves having to reconsider their respective “game plans.”
The same can be said of Randall and Beth, whose relationship thus far has been one to envy. We’ve gotten to know them as people who place great importance on honesty and letting one another in on their own private thoughts, but as they prepare for a romantic night away, various unspoken issues come to the surface. For one, Beth’s period is late, and she’s freaking out about the thought of having to start the cycle of diapers again just as she’s preparing to head back to work full-time. I was surprised by Randall’s insensitive reaction, seeing as he’s always seemed so understanding and selfless. It appears Randall has his own plans for the future. He uses his quiet moments at work to dream up a future in Charleston and has already been looking at neighborhoods and houses. He has a certain vision for their retirement, one that seemed to be getting closer now that their daughters are getting older. The baby scare has put a damper on it and he’s obviously disappointed, but he never once stopped to consider how Beth felt about his fantasies. Beth is ready to rediscover who she is outside of the family unit and the thought of losing herself to motherhood entirely frightens her. Fortunately for her, it’s was a false alarm, and with Randall in the know, she can continue to focus on her own path.
A lack of communication causes friction between Kate and Toby in “The Game Plan” as well. Toby has been an absolute star in this relationship; he is incredibly patient with her and surprises her with grand gestures on a regular basis. Realizing that it’s her turn to put him first, she agrees to watch the game at his house, even though she made it clear it was a ritual of hers to watch it on her own. Arriving at his apartment on the big day, Toby is excited to introduce her to his best friend, Shooter (Reggie Watkins), but she’s taken aback. At first, it seems this is down to her feeling uncomfortable, having thought it was just going to be her and Toby. But as it turns out, Kate is actually a massive football fan and it all ties up with her father, Jack. Watching the game was a special tradition for her family and it is one she continues to honor in her own way. When Toby and Shooter keep interrupting the game, she leaves abruptly, causing Toby to feel disappointed and left out.
Though I can see why it would be frustrating for a football fan to watch the big game with constant interruptions, her reaction to it all feels quite bratty and selfish, at least until she clarifies the situation. Her tradition of watching it alone is personal, even beautiful—because, in essence, she’s not watching it alone at all. She watches it in order to feel close to her father, with whom she spent so many Sundays celebrating and cuddling on the couch. He may no longer be around, but on game day, she can feel his spirit all around her.
“The Game Plan” may have felt a bit scattered, in that it relied heavily on its flashbacks, but it still managed to accentuate the characters’ personal journeys in a powerful manner. Rebecca and Beth’s respective stories were strong reminders of how a woman’s personal ambitions are often disregarded in a man’s world, and it will be interesting to learn whether Rebecca ultimately felt she had compromised too much of herself for Jack. The big reveal in this episode was of course the fact that Jack is no longer alive. While it was a tough one to swallow, William’s “wise owl” presence on the show has brought a gentle, paternal figure into the mix, one Kevin could definitely benefit from should either of them choose to stick around long enough—and I really do hope William will be around for a little while longer.
Roxanne Sancto is a freelance journalist for Paste and The New Heroes & Pioneers. She’s the author of The Tuesday Series & co-author of The Pink Boots. She can usually be found covered in paint stains.