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In the present, Kate is stunned by Toby's new physique while in the past, Miguel puts his own butt on the line to try and save Jack's career.

All the pieces of the past two episodes came together for a wonderful hour of "This Is Us" that managed to progress everyone's story in the present, and offer us some of the growing pains of the Big 3 -- and some beautiful moments together -- in the past.

The theme of this week was all about connections, whether they come from family, friendship or even in the workplace. Connections are the reason Kevin (Justin Hartley) was looking for in the closing moments of the show, as he shared in an AA meeting and scored the laughter of newcomer Cassidy (Jennifer Morrison) and Uncle Nicky (Griffin Dunne).

And the key to successful connections is being open to listening, which is how Randall broke the rules (and the doors down) on his first day in public office. And it's how his aide lost her job.

It's also how Deja (Lyric Ross) and Tess (Eris Baker) found themselves able to open up to one another about their first day of school when neither of them were particularly comfortable doing so with Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson), despite their love for her. As Tess put it, she didn't even know why it was harder to share with parents, but that's the painful truth of growing up. Suddenly it is infinitely harder to be vulnerable with parents, or anyone for that matter.

And sometimes that never goes away. Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) struggled with it still as an adult, as evidenced by how difficult it was for him to thank Miguel (Jon Huertas) for putting his own job on the line to save Jack's. He wanted to tell his best friend that he loved him, and in his own way he did so, but coming right out and doing so proved impossible. Luckily, Miguel knows Jack and so he could translate well enough.

And that's the disconnect happening between Nicky and Kevin right now. They both seem to be reaching toward one another in their own way, but they're also their own worst enemies at times and don't know how to connect. Perhaps Cassidy will be both the bad and good influence they need to bridge their gap.

It's not a struggle new to Kevin. In the flashback sequence, we got to experience Randall's (Lonnie Chavis) first-ever panic attack with him, and when he called him in distress about it, it was Kevin (Parker Bates) who dropped his "me day" and came riding to the rescue. He had no idea what was going on or even how to help, really, but his heart was in the right place and he did care about his brother.

Just as he cares about Nicky, though he has no idea how to show it in a meaningful way for his uncle, or what to do about it considering Nicky's current mental and emotional state.

It was nice that we got to see the genesis of Nicky throwing that chair through the window of the veteran's center. Its heartbreaking to think that he'd connected with a therapist and was actually showing signs of improvement until she got transferred. It was in the resulting spiral that he lashed out.

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.

"Like His Mom Might"

Okay, it's been a while since Kate (Chrissy Metz) has had a real crisis of self over her weight, and we think she's allowed this one, considering Toby (Chris Sullivan) had been sneaking off to the gym to get ripped without telling her, going so far as to hide his changing physique from her.

And what made this time so much better is that Kate quickly realized this was her own demons cropping up, and rather than wallow in it or sink further, we closed the episode with her making the decision to start walking with the crabby neighbor she inexplicably befriended.

This is the kind of growth we've been applauding and wanting for her throughout the show. She's allowed to have missteps and screw up and fall apart completely, but her mind is stronger and her will is stronger now and it's so good to see her climb right back out of her frustrations and do something.

1 tissue (because we're so proud)

"They're Still There"

How wonderful for Tess and Deja that they've come into one another's lives, and what a testament to Beth and Randall in this moment. Even though neither girl was willing to really open up to their parents about what's going on in their lives, Deja was still able to acknowledge that there's something comforting about just knowing that Randall and Beth are there.

And that's all you want as a parent. You don't have all the answers, you may not even always know the questions, but you want your kids to know that you will always be there for them.

If they can come to you, you'll be there for them directly. If they can't or won't for whatever reason, it's just important for them to know that you still love and support them, and that's a message this couple appears to have passed down flawlessly.

At the same time, we're so excited for the girls that they have each other now, too, because it's always easier to have someone to talk to about your girl problems at that age, and it was great seeing them connect and bond over their shared struggles after the first day of school.

Deja finds out the boy she's into has a daughter and Tess inadvertently closeted herself and has no idea why she did it. And just like Kevin having no idea how to fix Randall's problem, neither girl was looking to the other for the answer. It was enough to know that they were there for each other.

2 tissues (because family)

"I'll Crush Mario Kart"

This was probably the sweetest scene in the whole episode, and this was an hour filled with great moments for Kevins of all ages. This one saw adult Kevin bonding with Cassidy's son Ryan (Nick Wechsler) before he'd even met her. There was something just so genuine about him playing Mario Kart with this kid, and you could see how great of a parent he'll be, and how much he desperately wants and needs kids in his life.

"This Is Us" continues to show us the softer side of Kevin this season, and it's an important development to make as he'd gotten the short shrift in the past and present in previous seasons, coming across as an almost one-dimensional douchebag. But there be layers underneath all that douchery, and we're even getting a better understanding of why he is the way he is.

Still, we totally commiserated with Cassidy who freaked out a little upon finding out that her son's new friend is a practically middle-aged man (don't tell Kevin we said that). That said, it looks like he and Cassidy may soon be able to bond on something else.

Thought it wasn't off to a great start when she burst out laughing over his share in AA, telling him that it was "really stupid." Why? Because she's a veteran and has seen things he can't imagine, or because he's the typical whining movie star? It's unfair to equate someone else's struggle with yours, but we're okay with Cassidy being callous and awful about this.

Through her laughter, Nicky began to laugh and yes, both of them were probably laughing at the pretty boy lamenting that he'd passed up a movie role when they endured atrocities and real horror in war, but it is through that laughter that they can start to heal and it is through that laughter that the three of them started to form a connection.

Well, make that four because Ryan is definitely in the mix You can't always choose how a connection forms, but once it does, it can be pretty powerful stuff. All three adults in this scenario are battling pretty serious demons, so maybe they'll be good for one another. None appear to be bad people, just damaged people, so there's hope.

3 tissues (the softer side of Kevin)

"Any Time, Man"

One relationship that we still need to give some love to is the friendship between Miguel and Jack. We've gotten glimpses and teases at it, and we even got the origins of it finally in the season premiere, but we haven't quite seen how it became such an unbreakable bond that Miguel would effectively be a part of the family, and feel a moral obligation to take care of them after Jack's passing.

For that matter, poor Miguel continues to get screwed over in general as far as character development and moments. We already know he has the patience of a saint to deal with how awfully the Big 3 have treated him over the years, and we know he was a devoted friend to Jack and Rebecca; not to mention he fell in love with Rebecca eventually.

This week, we saw just how much Jack meant to him when he used his clout at their company to save Jack's job after Jack had royally screwed up, costing the company $20,000. That's not a small amount, and especially back then when it was probably a year's salary for many of their employees. And yet, without hesitation, Miguel put his job on the line for his friend.

Now, he knew he had some leverage, considering the clients he'd brought in that he could take with him, but there was no guarantee the boss wouldn't just fire him, too. How many people would do that for a co-worker, a friend ... hell, anyone? It's a rare thing to find a friendship that true, or someone that decent and good.

Miguel is one of the most decent and good people on this show, and hopefully we get a chance to see more of him. He was so humble, too, in accepting Jack's awkward thank you. And when he told him he'd do it any time, you know that he absolutely meant it.

3 tissues (Miguel's the man)

"I Thought We Could All Watch 'The Arsenio Hall Show' Together

He always had it in him, even if he didn't know how to express it. Kevin is an awkward dude who struggles to make meaningful connections with people, and when he does, he tends to bowl over them, dominate that relationship and deflect from real moments with jokes and distractions.

In other words, he's not the suave, leading man his chiseled jawline would have you think. He is someone who acts out due to crippling insecurity and a need to be loved, but he's not as awful as his archetype would lead you to believe. In fact, he's genuinely a good person underneath it all and he cares about people. Especially his people.

One week after seeing him be absolutely awful to Randall at the pool -- and even ask his dad if he was a bad person after -- Kevin stepped up in a huge way for his adopted twin by helping him not only forge a disciplinary note from school after Randall broke the rules to rock Air Jordans, but by talking him through a traumatic ordeal neither of them understood: Randall's first panic attack.

But when Randall asked who Arsenio Hall was (something his teacher said), Kevin suddenly figured out something he could fix. And he didn't just tell Randall who it was, or sneak Randall up to watch the show, he got the entire family together and effectively pleaded with Jack and Rebecca to let them stay up to watch Arsenio's show.

He could sense, even if he didn't know why, that it was important for Randall, this impressionable young black kid who'd already proven he didn't know Kris Kross, to know who Arsenio Hall was. For context, "The Arsenio Hall Show" was a cultural phenomenon when it launched, and it was a milestone in African-American representation on television.

While he may not have known why it was important, Kevin was able to recognize that it mattered for Randall to see this man hosting his own late-night talk show, being in charge and commanding the stage. And he was right.

4 tissues (the softer side of Kevin, the prequel)

"This Is the Gig"

When Randall's (Sterling K. Brown) aide told him he needed to fire Jae-won (Tim Jo) because he shouldn't have his chief of staff also be his best friend, Randall was forced with a difficult decision.

So he fired the aide.

But this was a thought-out decision. For one, she'd been disrespecting him at every turn. For the other, while she was an established veteran with more experience than Randall and Jae-won combined, she was also establishment and already pushing him to do his part.

Jae-won nailed it beautifully after Randall told him what he'd had to do, emphasizing that while they may be inexperienced, they're also like nothing the city has seen yet. They're not career politicians seeing this as a stepping stone to bigger and better things.

They're here for this job, for these people and to try and make a difference in their lives. It was a powerful speech about how they're already breaking the rules of politics, but isn't that what they came there to do -- the kind Randall would give -- and led to an even sweeter moment.

All episode long, he'd been asking Randall to carve out time to hear his proposal, and we assumed this was some new initiative or program. But no, it was an actual proposal ... of marriage.

It was so sweet seeing them sit there as Jae-won broke down how he was going to do it, and you could see the connection the two had forged through the election process had grown into true friendship, which is wonderful for both of them. And what's wrong with being in this with a true friend?

Well, we may find out, but for now, we're so happy for Randall that he has someone he can share these moments with. That he seems to be balancing all of his tasks thus far beautifully, and that he's made a connection in his kids' lives powerful enough that they love him and know he's always there for them even if they may have to roll their eyes at him. A lot.

4 tissues (wide-eyed optimism for the win)

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