Kevin and Zoe's relationship hits a crossroads, Kate makes a huge mistake as she and Toby prepare a nursery, and Randall fights for his marriage and the election.
There was a lot of ground to cover in the midseason premiere of NBC's "This Is Us" as it basically filled us in on everything that happened in the seven weeks since we last saw the Pearsons.
The gap took us right up to election night with Randall (Sterling K. Brown) and his family anxiously awaiting the results of his first election campaign. But wait, you say, weren't he and Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) fighting because she wanted him to drop out of the campaign? Yes. Yes, they were.
But that was just one mystery they let unravel slowly throughout the hour. We also got a glimpse of Kevin (Justin Hartley) and Zoe (Melanie Liburd) awaiting the results with Randall and the extended family, but clearly some turmoil had struck their relationship.
On top of that, a phone call from Toby (Chris Sullivan) established that Kate (Chrissy Metz) had been crying for five minutes and he didn't know if it was a good thing or a bad thing. What was she standing over? Why was she crying? Oh, this was going to be a long hour, and we just know by the end of it, we'll be crying right alongside her.
As we do every week, we're going to single out the show's most powerful moments, scoring them by how many tissues we tore through just to watch them. Believe us, these are happy tears of anguish.
Two weeks before the election, Randall opened up to the reverend without really opening up to him about some bombshell dirt he has on Councilman Sol -- namely that Sol paid off the police and the newspaper to bury a drunk-driving situation.
"I'm sitting on something that could change the whole game; it's just not the way I want to do it," Randall shared. His struggle was how to be both a great man and a good man. The theme of the episode was an exploration of whether or not that is even possible. we'd find out by the end of the night.
In the interim, though, the reverend told him to think about what he dubbed "deathbed advice." Imagine yourself lying in your bed in your twilight moments reflecting back on the life you led. Are you proud of the decisions you made? The things you prioritized? It's good advice for anyone at any time, but especially in trying times with difficult decisions.
Randall made the decision to power through the election without the support of his family. Was that the right thing to do? Would quitting have been right? There is no perfect answer in that moment, so he made a decision with his gut and prayed that the bonds of his marriage and connection with Beth would carry them through.
One of the biggest reveals on the night was when Zoe uncovered a postcard to Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) from a mysterious "C.K." Kevin quickly sussed that this might just stand for Clark Kent, Jack's nickname for his little brother, Nicky. Could this be the proof he's been looking for that Jack knew Nicky was still alive.
This scene was juxtaposed with a through-scene flashback of young Randall (Niles Fitch) and Jack sitting near the Vietnam Memorial. The majority of their exchange was about Randall's concerns about his future and Jack's affirmation that he would be a great man someday.
But then Randall asked if Jack wanted to go find his brother's name on the wall. Jack's facial expression, beat of silence and body language betrayed what Kevin suspects in the future. He knows Nicky is alive. "No, too sad for me," he told Randall then. But was he just lying, or is there a truth to his sadness?
Why would Jack keep Uncle Nicky away from his family for their entire lives? Is Nicky in that bad of shape? Is their relationship that terrible? Then, there's Nicky's postcard message to Jack, simply saying, "Last one." Another mystery to unravel. But at least this time we're unraveling a mystery of life and not death. We'll take it.
We felt Toby's pain in the core of our gut after finding out that Kate sold his vintage "Star Wars" action figures for $10, and we totally wanted to strangle Gabe for not caring at all that they were sold to him in mistake. He didn't even fall for Kate's sob story. Does he not cry at "This Is Us," either? Heartless, dude!
But Kate came through by looking to replace those toys on eBay -- where she had to learn how much they're worth, while Toby took it a step further. As part of her lament to Gabe, she revealed that a replica football stadium her dad had made her was one of her cherished items lost in the fire.
And so Toby -- another candidate for modern-day Jack -- totally got a pic of said stadium from Kevin and had it remade for her. The gesture, as with all of Toby's grand gestures, left her absolutely flabbergasted and so stunned into tearful silence that Toby had to call Kevin to ask about the crying. These two are going to be such adorable parents.
Kevin was warned that Zoe came with baggage, but it didn't really hit him until after he met someone she'd dated prior. It was a politician she'd dated for two years, but when they started looking for apartments together, she bailed ... via email.
The man was still clearly very upset about it, and rightfully so. And Zoe was so nonchalant about it, it was easy to see why they were strained on election night. Poor Kevin really likes this girl, and it looks as if she likes him, too. But would she allow her damage to make her repeat familiar patterns and run away just as it was getting more serious?
Kevin was perhaps justly upset that she hadn't even unpacked her stuff yet weeks later, but he didn't fully grasp the enormity of the situation. On top of that, how was Zoe so obtuse to what she'd done to her ex that she would ask him for a favor in helping Kevin track down his uncle? That was a pretty big red flag, too, at how well she compartmentalizes her own behavior, failing to see it for what it is and how it impacts others.
Randall struggles to make everyone happy all of the time and he often sacrifices himself to do it. When Beth saw him devoting more of his time to the family toward the end of the campaign, she knew that this was what he was doing. She also realized that she'd been unfair to isolate him and put that ultimatum on him.
It's not necessarily because she was wrong (ask any politician's spouse about time) but because she knows the man she married and she was suddenly asking him to be something that isn't remotely true to his nature. "You are a man who cares too much and tries too hard. You are a great man," she told him. "I will not let you forget who you are."
And she didn't, giving him the final push and support to carry him through the last week of the election and into a very tense and very close election result.
We've already learned about Zoe's traumatic past with her father and we know she's damaged goods. We also know that Kevin has shown a remarkable ability to listen and care about her needs and wants if only she'll let him in. He's kind of a bonehead but he's a good guy underneath all that swagger and pushiness.
It's the Pearson in him. Some of Jack rubbed off, even if he was mostly combative throughout his childhood.
But this time, it was Zoe who chose a different path for herself. It was Randall's speech at the election center when they learned results wouldn't come in until after midnight that resonated with her. Sometimes the thing you want takes sacrifice and hard work. But if you really want it, it's worth fighting for. And amazing things can happen wnen you do.
Zoe has been in a relationship pattern her entire adult life and it's left he repeatedly alone, where she might feel safe, but clearly is unsatisfied or she wouldn't seek out and accept new relationships. It was time for her to be brave, be strong and be ready to work hard for something different.
After chasing Kevin down, she told him, "I want to live with you. I do. Because even though you just might be the most pushy person I have ever met, I think I like what you're pushing for. I'm in love with you."
A sweet moment, but that was only the first step in how hard this might be for her. Now, she has to let her guard down with Kevin and learn to trust him. It might be a daily struggle for her, and those old instincts will kick back in. Self-preservation is a powerful thing, and even though her sense of it is skewed through abuse, it's still powerful.
But we're rooting for them. Both of them come with plenty of baggage and damage, but who doesn't. It's communicating and listening that help you overcome any obstacle that comes your way. Both have the capacity to be those things, if they can help one another avoid their worst instincts.
4 tissues (but we haven't put that flag all the way down yet)
A quiet moment alone in bed with Beth. That's where Randall was when he got the phone call that will likely change his life. With his drive and ambition, the sky is really the limit and we can only imagine the career that future Randall has in all those flash-forward sequences. He could well be a Senator or President by then.
How perfect that it came when it was just the two of them together. They are the strongest team on this show in the present era -- no knock to Jack and Rebecca (Mandy Moore) in the past -- and it is with the other by their side that they can take on anything. Randall is nothing without Beth and there is no one more important to be with him at this pivotal moment.
It was a beautiful and sweet moment to end the hour on, as well as a monumental one for the future of both Randall's character and the entire show, as politics has a tendency to raise a public profile and increase interest in the entire family.
2 tissues (we broke rank, but had to save this for last)