Hello, and welcome back! This is the second edition of Paste’s monthly This is Us check-in, where we see how the Pearson family is faring, discuss the show’s many twists, and come to terms with the Toby of it all. Get your tissues out and let’s get started.
This month was all about the Big Three, giving Sterling K. Brown, Chrissy Metz and Justin Hartley their episodes to submit come Emmy time. The three installments tell an interwoven story, flashing back to their first steps as toddlers and the life-changing weekend when Kevin (Logan Shroyer) suffered his career-ending football injury. Let’s break down the best of the Big Three’s moments this month.
Miscarriage, and the grief that accompanies it, is not something often explored on television. My hesitation with this story line is that although the show didn’t explicitly say it, it seemed to imply that the miscarriage may have been Kate’s fault because of her weight. Kate had been worried about the effect of her weight on her pregnancy prior to this, and “Number Two” does nothing to dispel it. Kate is already planning to try to get pregnant again (my fearless prediction is that she’ll have trouble conceiving). But my concerns about the story line aside, the moment Rebecca arrived at her doorstep and Kate was finally able to admit she wasn’t OK was beautiful. Their fractured mother/daughter relationship and the juxtaposition of the relationship Rebecca thought she would have with her daughter versus the one she actually has is one of the series’ most interesting elements. And sometimes, no matter how much your mother may annoy you, she is who you want when you’re sad.
As I said when I picked “Number One” for our TV power rankings list, Kevin’s story line is a cliché—but it’s melodrama done right. Kevin’s a golden child who doesn’t know how to face his demons. Life has given him a lot of chances, and he, by his own admission, keeps blowing them. After sleeping with Charlotte, a former classmate, at a high school event honoring him, he steals a page from her prescription pad and sneaks out. But he realizes he’s left behind his father’s necklace, the only thing he has left of him. When Charlotte won’t let him back into her house, he’s left crying on the lawn screaming, “I’m in pain here.” It’s a credit to Hartley, who brings a lot of depth to a character who could have easily been one note.
After Deja’s mom, Shauna (Joy Brunson), fails to appear when Randall takes Deja to see her, Randall goes to visit her. It’s a tense conversation, in which Randall judges Shauna for the choices she’s made and Shauna accuses him of not understanding. “Don’t get it twisted, sis. I wake up every morning next to a head scarf and coconut oil. I’m married to a black queen,” he tells her. It’s a flaw in the seemingly perfect Randall to see that he is judging Shauna in probably much the same way his birth parents were judged.
I love all the actors who portray the adolescent versions of the Big Three. But Niles Fitch is just fantastic. You can see in that quiet, reserved boy the man Randall will become. And the first step is finding a college where he feels like he belongs.
Like Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson), I found Randall’s description of life as a video game, where sometimes you get cherries but mostly ghosts are chasing you, so very bleak. But I also kind of loved it, because it homed in on exactly what This Is Us is about: How our past shapes our future. How life is a series of connected events that sometimes stand in isolation and sometimes have a domino effect. How the world keeps spinning no matter what happens. Randall realizes he cannot keep Deja from her mother, that Deja had a whole life before she lived with them and that even if he helped her create one of the best science projects ever (plants that listen to Beyoncé!), he is still not her family. Despite all that happened on the show this month, this was the episode that made me cry.
Performer of the month: Got to give it to Milo Ventimiglia, who I believe is even sexier with streaks of grey hair (discuss amongst yourselves). A lot of people talk about having Jack and Rebecca marriage goals, but it is Jack’s parenting I aspire to. Jack’s biggest gift is that he knows what he can’t do. He knows he can’t fully understand what Randall is going through. He knows he might not be able to get through to Kevin. He knows he can’t fix every problem. Ventimiglia brings the right nuance to the role, making Jack a character we all wish was our dad.
Most questionable plot development : I just don’t believe Tess (Eris Baker) would hide in the back seat of Kevin’s car—no matter how upset she is about Deja leaving, or how much she missed her Uncle Kevin. Randall and Beth’s child would be too smart for that.
Most ridiculous moment: Was the show actually trying to tell us that all three kids walked for the first time on the same day?
Guest star of the month: A tie between Debra Jo Rupp as the social worker and Delroy Lindo as the judge who didn’t want to give Randall to the Pearsons.
The Toby of it all: I mean, we all agree that Toby is the worst. The man managed to make Kate’s miscarriage about himself. But talking to Jack’s urn about getting married to Kate and informing said urn that he would have “crushed” asking for Jack’s blessing? As my seven-year-old is fond of saying, “What the heck?”
Lingering questions: Is Randall still not working? Was that Nicky’s name Jack touched on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial?
This is Us is now on a long winter’s nap and won’t return until January 2. But we will be back in 2018 to process all things Pearson!
Amy Amatangelo, the TV Gal®, is a Boston-based freelance writer, a member of the Television Critics Association and the Assistant TV Editor for Paste. She wasn’t allowed to watch much TV as a child and now her parents have to live with this as her career. You can follow her on Twitter (@AmyTVGal) or her blog .