Nicky finds himself in the caretaker position as Kevin spirals and picks a fight in a bar after sleeping with Cassidy.
As "This Is Us" careens toward its midseason finale next week, it seemed like almost everyone had major developments going down this week, except for poor Kate. It seems like saddling her with this baby has really sapped the writers' creativity regarding her characters.
But while the biggest story for Kate and Toby was the fact that Jack was refusing to eat solid foods, all hell was breaking loose in Philadelphia as we fully explored the depths of Randall and Rebecca's relationship and we got a glimpse of what kind of a man Malik might grow up to be.
We knew when we first met Malik and Cassidy that they were exciting additions to the cast this season, and they've proven to be just that. But while Cassidy may have just had her swan song with a stellar outing for Jennifer Morrison this week, Asante Black's Malik is only solidifying his importance.
Oh and speaking of boyfriends, we haven't forgotten the cryptic and dire warnings about Kate's childhood boyfriend Mark, played to sinister perfection by Austin Abrams. He had only the briefest moment here, but we're more scared than ever for where his story is going.
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.
"But We're Not 12-Year-Old Girls"
We only got one quick scene of Mark sashaying through the Pearson household, but this is a Pearson household broken and fractured, so the warning signs were being ignored. Our alarm bells certainly went off when Mark dismissed Kate saying how much she really wanted to see "Practical Magic" by basically shaming her for wanting to see it and then flat-out saying it wasn't going to happen.
It was unnecessarily harsh and abrupt, and yet not one Pearson stood up for Kate in that moment; and you know Jack would not have let that moment pass. But we see just why a little later.
0 tissues (but we're worried and already don't like this dude)
"Deja Wants to See Her Birth Mom"
After last week's powerhouse dinners episode that really spotlighted what an upstanding young man Malik is, Asante Black was on fire again this week, going toe to toe with Susan Kelechi Watson in all of her intimidating Beth-ness. Nevertheless, just as the best characters on this show will stand up and advocate for the people they care about, Malik spoke up for Deja.
And it's not just that he said what Deja was afraid to say, he called out Beth and Randall for finding time to run for office and open a dance studio while pushing off their daughter's one request to go and see her mother. It's egregious on their part, but commendable and impressively mature on his. It says a lot about his character, pushing him toward that Jack/Randall category.
1 tissue (so much poise for someone so young)
"I'm Going to the Pantry"
Props to Beth for being woman enough to hear these tough words from a teenager and not let her parental or adult pride get in the way of her truly listening and hearing Malik's message. We love that she immediately addressed the issue with Deja, discovering she wanted to invite her mother to Thanksgiving, and that she was able to read the room well enough on this chaperoned date to allow the adorable couple a few moments alone.
"Okay, that's enough. You get on out of here, Malik," she said after only a few seconds, but it was enough. Enough for the couple to kiss and enough to show how much Malik had grown in her eyes.
1 tissue (respect earned, respect given)
"You're a Human Wrecking Ball"
For the first time, it was Nicky who was chastising Kevin for sleeping with Cassidy even as he was supposed to be helping her salvage her marriage and family. And the best part of it was that he wasn't wrong. The fact that Kevin kept seeing Jack's disappointment in Nicky was proof that he has been crying out for a father figure to hold him in check all these years.
But outside of Kevin, this is a monumental advancement for Nicky, because in yelling at Kevin he proved how much he cares about Cassidy and Kevin. These two people who barreled into his life unwanted have become that important that he's willing to stand up and shout down what's wrong. We love that he's fearless in doing so, too. There is a bit of Jack in there.
2 tissues (a powerful role-reversal)
"I Hope You Find Your Happy Ending"
Despite sleeping together, it wasn't too late for Cassidy. After she and Nicky helped slap some reality and responsibility back into Kevin -- plus a little makeup to cover up his self-destructive streak -- this unlikely trio proved that friendship and connections really can be the most important thing and the right people at the right time can make all the difference.
For Cassidy, it looks like Kevin and Nicky were those people. Just as Nicky turned around and found himself and his reason to care, Cassidy found her reason to fight for what she truly wanted out of her life. Even sleeping with Kevin helped her realize what really matters. And had Nicky not called her that day, she may have filed for divorce. People who care make all the difference.
3 tissues (they were just what one another needed)
"I'll Teach Her Any Software She Needs"
The layers of compassion and anxiety and stress inherent in the relationship between Randall and Rebecca became crystal clear this week as we saw what an active role Randall took in his mother's life in the aftermath of Jack's death. Even as he was courting Beth and attending college, he was making time to come home and help Rebecca.
The two moments we saw Rebecca unloading on Randall those adult things she used to share with Jack were so raw and real, we could see the pain in both of them. This is more than Randall should have to deal with, but Rebecca is a woman still broken and she has no one else to lean on (Miguel has not quite stepped into that role yet).
It's a common dynamic in single-parent households, but a dangerous one. It left Randall stepping up to help her get a job, which was admirable and impressive, but also puts an undue burden on a young man when he really shouldn't have to carry her struggles on top of his own. And for someone who's a go-getter perfectionist with anxiety anyway, taking on Rebecca only compounds things.
When he chastised her in the present era after a day where she didn't quite seem herself -- signs of early onset Alzheimer's, or some form of dementia, as seen in that flash-forward -- Randall almost let slip that he hasn't felt a proper mother-son dynamic between them for 20 years. Rebecca was so incensed by the comment because she knows it, too.
At her lowest, Randall stepped up to help her get through and she let him. It's probably a great shame of hers, but she was lost and desperate at the time. And so very human. And as much as Randall kept his focus on his adored mother, he proved human, too in completely overlooking what a sinister threat Mark was for poor Kate.
Kate, who is finally getting that spark of life back. Kate who has yet to gain the weight and fall into that despair that defined her totally when we met her at the beginning of this series. If Mark isn't the sole reason she finds herself on that path, he's definitely a catalyst. And after a choppy childhood, the tragedy of this happier Kate having to face that near-future of sadness and struggle is just tragic.
4 tissues (for this realistically painful dynamic)
"When I Threw That Chair"
We've already touched on Nicky's growth and epiphany moment this week when he called Kevin out for his boorish behavior, but it was still a powerful moment when he told the judge he had no remorse over throwing the chair. With both Kevin and Cassidy in attendance, Nicky could only see what his rash and reckless act had brought into his life, instead of what it threatened.
And what it brought back for him was life itself, because Nicky was just sort of existing before. Now, he cares about things. He has human connections that mean something to him. Hell, he accepted Kevin's offer to come to Thanksgiving. Yes, the speech was schmaltzy and predictable, but it was still a powerful turning point and Griffin Dunne sold the hell out of it.
In fact, he showed the depths of his talent throughout this episode, proving why he was invited to join one of television's all-time most talented ensemble casts.
5 tissues (despite everything, Kevin helped him)
We can't wait for that entire cast to come together for next week's epic Thanksgiving celebration. We expect lots of friction, emotional fireworks and lots and lots of tears.
"This Is Us" airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET on NBC.
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