Randall-centric first chapter of a "Big Three" trilogy teases major developments for Kate in the past and Kevin in the now coming up.
Once again, "This Is Us" decided to split the "Big Three" for another trilogy series of episodes covering the same time span in the lives of Randall, Kevin and Kate.
Randall was up first, with events picking up immediately from where we left them -- with Randall facing off against an intruder in his home. From there it was a slow burn across multiple eras as Randall continues to struggle to deal with and control his anxiety on his own.
Clearly, this is a method that isn't working and yet Randall stubbornly refuses to seek professional help, and has apparently been doing that for years and years. Does it go all the way back to when he was a toddler sleeping in his own bed for the first time ever and Jack asked him to be brave?
Is it as Darnell suggested, that men of color are more likely to bottle these things up and refuse to talk them out and Randall is just continuing that potentially self-destructive trend?
It's at least encouraging that he has Kevin to lean on, as we've seen in prior episodes, dating all the way back to their childhood. The problem is that while Kevin is attentive and driven to help Randall, he's also in over his head in this area. He can provide love and be there, but he doesn't have the knowledge or training to really help Randall in the way he probably needs.
It's been a huge thing for this show to explore mental health in such a realistic way, and for Sterling K. Brown to be willing to show this vulnerable side to a character many feel is a super-dad. It's important that he represents this complexity and shows that Randall is not his anxiety, nor is he apart from it.
This is a huge facet of his identity, as evidenced by four cross-sections of time this week that showed just how far back he's been dealing with this, how well-intentioned those around him have been, how he's rebuffed attempts to get him to seek professional care and how it inevitably leads to another break and frantic call to Kevin.
That's the other part of it for Kevin, he's really only stepping in when Randall finally admits there's a problem, which only happens at his breaking point. It puts Kevin at a distinct and unfair disadvantage because Randall just unloads on him when he has to, and he has to at these moments but there is no regard for what's going on in Kevin's life at the time because Randall is so far beyond that.
While it's difficult to applaud the fact that Randall continues to try and deal with this on his own, getting aggressive with Beth and Jae-Won (and even Darnell) when they try to get him to face it before he reaches a crisis, it's powerful because it raises a mirror to how mental health is largely considered and treated in this country.
Randall was stunned to find that Darnell goes to therapy, and he absolutely refuses to consider it for himself. He rebuffed Beth's suggestion back in college and nearly two decades later, he's still shutting her down absolutely. Why? Is it pride? Does Randall not take it seriously himself, because he knows how bad it can get?
The truth is that he's been told, as have we all, that he should just toughen up and deal with it. Mental health is all in your mind, so just change your mind. Society says it's just that simple, that it's nothing like a broken arm that takes a doctor to fix.
This is the lie we tell each other and thus we're left feeling that we're weak-minded or lesser than if we simply can't overcome whatever mental illness or issues are impacting us. And there is no quick fix, or easy solution, and repeated breakdowns aren't enough to shake off that stubborn pride, that belief that this time I can be strong enough to just fix it.
But it's not that easy. We can only hope that professional help is in Randall's future, but it's too painfully real that he is taking the very long way toward it. And as much as he loves Beth and he loves Jae-Won and cherishes them in his life and even values their opinion, in this he simply cannot bend and hear them.
It's admitting weakness, which is admitting failure, which makes him less than the man he wants to be and needs to believe he's capable of being, because his self-worth and value as a father, husband, friend and man is all tied up in this perception of perfect mental control that others need to see at all times.
It's an illusion, one that Darnell tried to shatter with his own reveal that he goes to therapy and has found it tremendously helpful in unloading all those burdens that life has put on him and he's put on himself as a father, husband, friend and man. When will it be enough for Randall to see and stop running.
It's symbolic that he chooses literal running to deal with his issues, because he is literally running from them rather than facing them. In the flashback to college, we saw him open up to Beth about his dreams and now he's not doing that. He doesn't want to be a burden to her, but more importantly, he knows she's going to urge a "big talk" that's going to get too real for him.
Push it down until it explodes. He exploded on that purse snatcher because he was very near his breaking point. Thankfully, he was able to stop but the break came shortly after when he was hailed as a hero. Probably because in the throes of his anxiety and guilt, he didn't feel worthy of this new honorific.
This week, we had far fewer tissue moments because it was a different kind of episode of "This Is Us." This was a slow burn exploration into Randall's anxiety across the years, and thus far, there is no resolution. Instead, we are simply repeating what we've seen before where he hits the wall and Kevin is there for him.
Before we do get into the tissue moments we did find, it's worth remembering that the flash-forward to a year from now shows that Kevin and Randall are no longer speaking. That's a huge departure from their intimate exchanges this week where Kevin was "that guy" for Randall in his time of need. What happens between these two?
Does Randall's bullish pride and refusal to address his issues in a professional capacity lead to friction between him and Kevin, who has gone the professional route and seen significant growth? Or is it something else entirely? Guess we'll all find out together.
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.
If I Have to Body-Slam Jae-Won to Get You Out of Work
Beth is so present for Randall and so strong for him, it's a beautiful thing to work. But as their marriage is working right now, she is giving so much more than she's getting back from him. She also knows that her man simply does not deal with his growing anxiety and so she tires to force the issue.
Beth has been laying the groundwork for this talk over the past few weeks, with Randall shutting her down each time she brings it up. He's brusque and rude, but not enough to slow down her love and care and concern for him. But it's not an easy battle, as proven when she gives in (again) and simply lets him lie there and stew in his mind after his fracture, rather than force the talk she'd scheduled.
2 tissues (the love is real, y'all, and now always easy)
But That's What Therapy Is ... Talking
Darnell really put himself out there in a tenuous situation with someone he's only recently started becoming friendly with. On top of that, he exposed himself in a raw and vulnerable way in an effort to get through to Randall as a fellow man and fellow man of color. He knows some of what Randall is dealing with in that role, and it was powerful seeing him try to reach out.
Randall just wasn't at a place to hear it right then, but it doesn't take away from what a huge statement this makes about Darnell's character as a friend and as a person. If nothing else, this should put Randall's mind even more at ease about Deja and Malik dating, because Malik is being raised by someone with such a big heart and this much compassion, he can't be all bad, right?
2 tissues (hopefully, the start of a key friendship)
We hate that Randall let it get to this point, but it's so hard to give up control and tell yourself that you simply can't handle this by yourself. Nevertheless, this moment was palpable because Randall did reach out to someone in his moment of crisis, and for the second time in the episode Kevin was so completely there for him.
Kevin has always been there for Randall, but the former high school jerk has grown so much in this past year that it really feels like he's there in a whole new way right now, even as he's clearly dealing with something of his own (was that Sophie in bed with him or someone else?)
Could this moment be Randall's rock bottom he clearly needs in order to change his approach to dealing with his mental health issues. Clearly running isn't cutting it anymore as his responsibilities and the pressures in his life have increased exponentially.
Sterling K. Brown was sensational throughout this episode (as was Niles Fitch as his younger self), but never more than when he was even still trying to not break down entirely while on the phone with Kevin, hoping that Kevin can keep him from that total collapse. You could feel the exhaustion, the pain and the struggle in his voice, with Justin Hartley giving a compassionate return.
4 tissues (for brotherly love)
_Kevin takes center stage in the second part of the "Big Three" trilogy as we learn what's up with him as he steps back into Sophie's life, and we probably only get teased some more about what went down between Kate and Marc (said with scorn) in the years shortly after Jack's death before the full story is revealed in Part Three.
"This Is Us" returns in two weeks, Tuesday nights at 9 p.m. ET on NBC.