The Pearsons come together to learn how to raise a blind baby, and wonder why Toby appears to be wasting away.
After a jarring Season 4 premiere that introduced us to three whole new characters, "This Is Us" finally picks up the stories of the Big 3 in the modern era, just days before the big 4-0.
In three interweaving narratives, we explore love, coming at it from many different ways. There's the protective love a parent experiences that can feel suffocating and restrictive to a child, but is done out of fear and concern for their well-being. It's just so hard for a child to grasp that this, too, is how a parent can love their children.
That love came to dominate the Philadelphia Pearsons story, as both Randall and Beth struggle with the fact that their kids are growing up and seeking greater independence in decisions both big and small in their lives. And it hovered over part of Rebecca's flashback saga, as she saw the inevitable cruelty of kids that sweet, naive Kate wasn't able to anticipate.
There's also that love we feel for our spouse, where we want to take away all of their pain and suffering and carry their burdens for them. There's the love of a new child, where you are filled with hope and ambition for them, wanting to nothing more than to see them soar and achieve all their hopes and dream.
And then there is the most challenging love of all, the love of self. It is here that so many of our characters struggle, but perhaps none more than Kevin. And it is through the prism of this love that we begin to understand the most enigmatic character on the show. In many ways, Kevin is the villain of the story.
In flashbacks, he is often seen displaying awful behavior to his parents and siblings, and doens't seem to improve much throughout his adolescence. Then, in the present, we see him abusing himself over and over and over again, and still using and abusing others through seeming narcissism.
For three seasons, he has been one of the most challenging characters to sympathize with, and yet he represents a real segment of society. He is a winner in life who is prone to being a rather selfish and horrible person. But with one simple question, he forces us to step back and re-evaluate him.
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.
"Something About Complicated Men"
Jack and Rebecca are super-parents, obviously, and yet this scene beautifully exemplified what it is to be a super-parent. It is the ability to be so present for your kids that you can improvise your way through some of their most challenging moments with as much truth as you can muster and an understanding of what it is they might need from you in that moment. Kevin was at an existential crossroads -- more on that in a bit -- and came to the only person in the family he felt really got him at all. And as usual, Jack seemed to have all the answers.
And yet, when Rebecca asked him how he responded, he gave an answer as if he was so making it up on the fly, he wasn't even sure what he said. All he knew was that his child was in pain, was looking to him for answers and he would do anything to take that pain away. The beautiful tragedy came next when Rebecca asked him if it worked and he could only admit, "I don't know."
That's the brutal reality of parenting. You do everything you can for them, you try to be there, to say the right thing, to offer love when needed, discipline when needed, and yet you can never really know how it's being received. Are you doing this right? Are you screwing it all up? All you can do is navigate from a place of love and hope for the best.
1 tissue (parenting is improv)
"Worst Case Scenario"
What a beautifully poingnant and powerful moment when Randall decided to expose his and Beth's favorite game, "Worst Case Scenario," to their kids. It's such a powerful tool to express your deepest fears and face them in a safe and even sometimes amusing format. By allowing the kids into the game, Randall pulls back the curtain on parenting a bit, because some of that love for you child that you would do anything for is fear for their well-being; especially in areas you can't control, like Deja wanting to ride the bus.
We loved her Rapunzel allegory after Randall decided he couldn't handle that fear and forbade her from riding the bus. Captured in humor, Deja was able to express her fear and frustration that Randell's well-intentioned love might just smother her and hamper her need for some freedom in her life ... not to mention, the bus went right by where that cute boy (last week's Malik) works with his father. But that' neither here nor there.
Beth, too, embraced the format to express a common fear among parents, that you will project your stuff, your demons, your hang-ups and your issues onto your children unfairly. Is that a concept the kids could fully grasp? Probably not, but it might help them nevertheless to hear that. And it's not bad for kids to know that their parents are human, they are flawed, and they have their own fears and concerns.
2 tissue (great insight into communication)
"You Just Have to Warn Him What's Happening"
For all of her fears about baby Jack's blindness, Kate proved in this one moment with Kevin that she absolutely has this. Yes, she still has things to learn, and yes she will make mistakes like when she envisioned watching the Steelers with her son, but she is so in tune with the needs of her son already, that blindness will just mean she goes about things a little differently.
It was so wonderful to see the whole family coming together for this, but we are so proud of Kate for handling things as well as she is, even if she's struggling to admit it to herself or believe enough in herself that she can do this, she does have this, and there is no reason that Jack has to live a life of limits (and as we saw in last week's flash-forward, he absolutely does not ... we suspect Kate plays a huge role in that).
3 tissues (she's got this)
"She's at the Top of My List"
Meanwhile, Toby is the one who's really struggling with everything, worrying about Kate incessantly because she's not expressing her fears, and again turning to food. And yet, Toby is not expressing the depths of his fears and concerns, but rather than turning to food, he's turned to exercise. On the surface, this looks like a good thing, as exercise is healthier than overeating.
But it can be just as dangerous if it is approached compulsively or addictively, and we know Toby has those tendencies. We also know he struggles with depression and those deeper emotions, hiding behind a mask of charm and jokes. The reality, though, is that Kate is stronger than he wants to give her credit for, and she is someone he can lean on in his time of need.
The fact he lied to her to hide going to the gym means he's keeping it a secret from her. The teaser of next week would indicate he's been hiding his body, too. We did see him stooping over a lot and standing in such a way as to obscure his size (much like pregnant sitcom actresses get comically large purses and house plants to hide behind). We're thrilled Chris Sullivan can lose the prosthetic stomach, but he needs to learn to channel his angst in a healthy way.
3 tissues (even super-husbands have their limit)
"Am I a Good Person?"
Finally, we get a scene with Kevin that helps to click all the pieces together. We've seen him be -- for lack of a better word -- an asshole to everyone in every era for three seasons now, but we know there's more to him than that. We've seen him lose himself in alcohol, but we know there's more to him than that. And yet, it's been hard to sympathize with the guy who seemingly has everything, no matter his personal demons.
But in one question to Jack at the pool, Kevin summed up what he's always been all about. Kevin not only has an addictive personality and impulse control issues, often falling prey to his worst instincts and inclinations, but he also appears to have a deep-rooted dislike of himself and apparently, a fear that he's not a good person.
Kevin doesn't know why he makes the choices he does, like choosing to ridicule Randall in front of his friends to elevate his own social status. But it's all about Kevin's self-loathing. He has no love for Kevin coming from within himself, and so he seeks it from everyone around him. Thus, you get the confident, charming, schmoozing, womanizing man he becomes.
He is someone with a hole inside of him where self-love should be that's so deep that there isn't enough external love out there to fill it. And that's because they're different kinds of love. Kevin isn't looking for love from the outside just because, he's looking for all of that love to convince his inner demons that he is a good person, he is someone worthy of love. But his internal voice refuses to hear it.
And so Kevin continue to ask himself this question over and over and over again, and most of the time the answer he throws back at himself is no, because he equates each failure of character as further proof that he's a bad person without exploring why he's giving in to those impulses. What is he trying to cover up with drink? With excess? With control? With distraction (like staying to help Kate with the baby)?
Now that he's sober, there's nowhere to hide from those little voices that torment him in the dark. That's why he's so afraid of what happens when the director yells, 'Cut.' Because when he's alone, he sees himself with someone who is bad, and bad people aren't worthy of being loved and they certainly don't love themselves ... and so they act out.
Kevin is still that little boy, afraid that he's not worthy of love.
4 tissues (he's still looking for this answer; oh the heart aches)
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