As Kevin is struggling to make a decision about his future with Zoe, a fateful encounter with Sophie provides the answer he needs.
Whew, it was nice to stretch our wings and let this story breathe after the claustrophobia of last week's hit-or-miss "Waiting Room" episode.
In the aftermath of that tense period where the family came together in hopes Kate and Toby's bay could survive being born way too early, life has crept back in and whisked everyone back into their own crazy worlds of drama and building tension.
There was a song that played throughout this episode, repeating the line, "This is the calm before the storm," and it perfectly created this atmosphere of building tension that every storyline lingered in to the point we were waiting for every single one of them to blow up.
As expected, Kate and Toby's world continued to revolve around the hospital in that week as their little preemie fought for his life. We saw hints of it last week, but let's just say, Toby is not okay in this moment.
Zoe proved what amazing growth she's gone through as a character because even the vodka water bottle didn't deter her from fighting for Kevin. She even got him into couples therapy, but that doesn't mean the road will be easy. She's all in for addiction, but it was when he mentioned kids that she had to take a beat.
And then there's poor Randall and Beth. This relationship has been coming up against this wall for a long time now, and it looks like that "calm before the storm" was mostly referring to our favorite modern-day Pearson couple. Could this be the one that breaks them?
Let's just say that money is tight right now, schedules are even tighter and every couple on the face of the planet fights about stress and money. If your relationship can survive financial strain, you can weather almost anything. We'll soon find out if this storm breaks them.
We sure hope note, but "This Is Us" trades in realism, heartache and pain and we've yet to see a marriage collapse. And while we don't think they'd do that to this strong, black family on national television ... well, we were wrong once before. We were so sure Jack was going to die in a drunk-driving accident.
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.
This is part of what Beth is struggling with. Randall has this obsessive need to be the best. It eats him up and he will become self-destructive and lash out when things aren't going his way. Plus, he will ignore everything else that should matter in his world when he gets laser-focused on something. While they have helped him achieve success and greatness so far, they can also stand in the way of really opening up and connecting as he's constantly wrestling that anxiety in one form or another. It can get hard to see clearly.
"He's Very Charming"
We've kind of fallen in love with Zoe this season, and in doing so, we've come to appreciate Kevin even more. He's still one of the harder characters to like, but both Zoe and Sophie in this one hour have shown us why Kevin is the way he is. He has charmed his way through life and for the most part, he's gotten everything he ever wanted. Even when his football career was taken from him, he simply shifted his dream and got that new one, too. It's hard to come down from those heights and its left Kevin ill-prepared to deal with the normal ebb and flow of life with its ugly rejections and disappointments. And so he deflects and defends and charms ... and drinks. And Zoe is ready to stand by him through all of it, just as Sophie realized she couldn't. He should hang onto this one.
We didn't get much with Rebecca and Jack this week, as their flashback storyline saw them chaperoning the kids' junior high dance. Jack was wistful and melancholy the whole time, reflecting on how amazing Rebecca has been in giving their kids this perfect life he could have only dreamed of. And then, she honored him by asking him to dance as this was his first-ever school dance. They were, once again, relationship goals in this moment. And most importantly, they were that representation of pure love that kids need to see. Had Jack not died, maybe they would still be the perfect people he saw in their futures. As it stands, his death broke every one of them.
"I Choose You"
Faced with a choice between ever having kids and being with Zoe, Kevin went to an AA meeting and ran into Sophie. Find out she was now engaged helped him to see that sometimes it's okay and right to move on, to start a new chapter and to pursue what truly brings you joy and happiness. To his credit, he wasn't too narcissistic or controlling -- a Big Three trait -- and simply shared a moment in time with her. And this time, when they parted, they both had some closure in their relationship, and Kevin had some clarity. At least we hope he did. He says he chooses Zoe and we want to believe him, but he's also proven himself a smooth-talking liar on many, many occasions. For now, though, we're going with benefit of the doubt and we're happy for the both of them.
Toby remains one of the most endearing and real people in this crazy extended family, a much-needed addition to Kate's sad sack existence, and a constant source of joy and comedy. So it's especially hard to see him suffering as he's been these past couple of episodes since Kate's water broke. At the same time, we can totally feel his pain as he tries so hard to be there for his son, but just can't see past all the odds stacked against him and the constant tests and injections and tubes. And yet, one thing remains constant and that is his love and admiration for his wife. Kate sees past all of that, per Toby's perception, and she just sees and loves their child. He doesn't know how she does it. And in that moment, he was one with Jack all those years ago, totally in awe of the mother of their children; their capacity for love and what they are capable of. In all of his pain, he still has such love and admiration in his heart.
"Close the Door"
Oh shit! Speaking of love and pain and admiration and struggle, things are about to get ugly in the Pearson household. Throughout the episode, we saw Randall and Beth doing the dance of trying to keep up with their insane schedules while both are pursuing their dreams. It was a pursuit in futility, though, as the only possible end result was a complete and total meltdown. Randall had it on the phone when he was so sure Beth was going to let him down about the dinner and left an awful voicemail on her phone, and then she returned the favor when he refused to sleep in his office. It's go time. And honestly, they're both at fault here. We can't disagree that Randall has run roughshod over this household for years, doing what he wants when he wants. But now, neither he nor Beth are compromising nearly enough. And yet, it seems that Randall is going through the motions for Beth with just a little less resentment; resentment she's built up over who knows how long. As much as we dread next week's brawl, it's one that's been needed for a long time. Hopefully, their love will transcend their hurt and anger and keep them together through and after it. Fighting is okay and can even be healthy when communication is breaking down; just never lose sight of the bigger picture.
And there it is. After speaking with another dad who's been in the hospital six weeks, and talking about another couple who's baby will not be going home with him, Toby was able to look at his own situation with a little more perspective. And Kate proved willing to wait for him to come around, even though it left her hold the bag by herself. Finally, he held his baby in his hands and that was all it took -- often, it's as simple as human contact to seal that bond. The smile that lit up his face was so genuine in that moment, it reminded us how spoiled we are to have a cast with this caliber of talent that you just believe these little scenes even without dialogue. And in all honesty, we need this quiet moment of fatherly love and joy to carry us through this next week, because we are not looking forward to what is coming.
The calm is over and the storm is here in all its self-righteous fury on "This Is Us," Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET on NBC.