Tess takes a controversial -- but justified -- stand for social justice while Kate and Toby try not to get too excited -- or terrified -- after bonding with their prospective birth mother.
After dropping a bombshell about Randall's birth mother Laurel last week, "This Is Us" quickly got to the business of peeling back more of the secrets of the life we never knew she had.
While there are still more questions than answers, an episode-long series of flashbacks culminated in the reveal that she was at one point in love with a Vietnamese man. Is she still? And if so, how come his granddaughter has never met her?
It's a shocking revelation to imagine this whole other life having happened alongside Randall's upbringing and even his reunion with his birth father, William, who also never knew Laurel had survived that drug overdose. See, so many questions!
But those are questions for another time. For now, all we're getting is these little puzzles pieces about her life, while our main focus remains on the Big Three and the huge things happening in their lives.
For Kate and Kevin, it's still all about the new babies coming into their lives, while Randall is starting to face new challenges with his own babies. In particular, Tess' burgeoning teen years not only resurfaced a memory of his own early teens, but challenged him as a parent.
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.
Before we even knew the connection to the main story, we were enamored with this adorable story about a Vietnamese grandfather fishing and cooking with his young granddaughter. He treated her with such kindness and love, you could tell the heart he has.
All the while, he kept telling her that he learned to cook to impress a certain someone in his life, and that it was a gesture of love. That woman was none other than Laurel, as seen in a picture from when the man was younger, and so was she.
That would suggest these scenes were taking place in the present day, and this is a woman he's known a very long time. And yet, the granddaughter only knows her as "the woman in all the pictures."
That would suggest she's been out of his life a long time, as the grandfather clearly is close to his granddaughter, which would only come with time and trust. So when were they a thing, for how long and what happened between them?
0 tissues (we have too many questions for tears)
“That’s a Hot Take”
As adorable as it was to watch Kate and Toby navigate an argument about spare diapers, culminating in a terrible joke, an apology and all is well, we applauded even more their willingness to give each other what they needed, even if it was a bit ridiculous.
Kate wanted to be excited about their prospective birth mother Ellie and how well their first meeting went, while Toby wants to be worried and terrified. And so, Kate offered a fair reason to be terrified to help meet him where he's at, followed by Toby sharing the positives.
We love that some of her best qualities are pop culture-based, like her love of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" or her "hot take" that Babu Frik is the best character in "Star Wars" -- she'd clearly not seen "The Mandalorian" yet.
But most importantly, it is a testament to the strength and unique qualities of their relationship, their shared weirdness and their shared willingness to meet the other where they need them for the other person. Both have grown a lot and we didn't even see it happening.
By the same token, even when faced with new challenges as their kids are growing up, Randall and Beth continue to be the rock the other one needs. In this case, even though Randall found himself somewhat conflicted, he recognized the need for a united front.
No one likes to be the "bad cop," but so often it falls to the mother -- look at Rebecca. And so we applaud Beth for challenging Randall to take on that role in this instance, and him for standing his ground in a stern but reasonable way.
He's right in that it's not necessarily about the message Tess was trying to get across, but rather the way she chose to do it. The internet never forgets anything, and youthful, righteous impulsiveness can cost someone real jobs or opportunities.
In the end, even though Tess lashed out as teens do, Beth was right there with Randall. Parents are people, too, with doubts and concerns even as they're disciplining their children, so it helps to have that support system in place.
2 tissues (for parenting the right way)
“We’re Basically Strangers”
Madison is really stepping up as a character this season and Caitlin Thompson is stepping it up as a performer, embodying the nuances and complexity of a character that started off almost as a punchline to Kate's weight-loss journey.
We have loved her arc to this point, and we respected her standing up in this moment and slapping Kevin down from his romanticized bubble that he and all the Pearson children live in. Yes, his proposal was impulsive and immature, but it's par for the course for Kevin.
It took her a moment, but finally she slapped him in the face with their truth. This situation as they're doing it right now does not work. They're still at the stage in their relationship where they're being polite, keeping the bathroom door closed, harboring their darkest secrets.
How can that possibly be the foundation upon which a marriage is built? And why is it that Kevin can't seem to see that? Because Kevin has glossed his way through life and only recently started finding a depth within himself.
Naming names on a public forum is never going to be the solution, though sometimes it might feel like the only recourse. Tess created a very complex situation, and it would be easy to say that her and her friend Alex handled this perfectly.
They basically called out teachers in a dance video for referring to Alex as "she" when they prefers "they" and has said so multiple times, and then for touching Tess and other Black students' hair.
The behavior they're railing against is absolutely wrong and they are right to be outraged and feel a need to say loudly and clearly that this is not right and something should be done about it.
"Silence in the face of injustice is complicity with the oppressors," Tess argued when her parents shut her down, but quoting Ginetta Sagan was not enough to spare her a pretty severe punishment.
Like Randall, we applaud her for standing up for herself, but there are nuanced ways to do these things. Is this an inherently wrong choice? We're actually still on the fence about it. But whether she could have found a better approach or not, they absolutely were doing the right thing in speaking up and saying enough is enough.
3 tissues (for social justice activism)
“It’s to Remind Me to Eat”
It's no surprise that Madison was the one to take the first step in changing the dynamic between her and Kevin. Yes, he was asking her what was wrong and she kept telling him (unconvincingly) she was fine, but he'd never really opened himself up to her, either.
It's easy to forget that Madison came into this show as a member of Kate and Toby's eating disorder group, so watching him choose to restrict and not eat with her is certainly going to be challenging to her mentally.
When she told him that she put the ultrasound on the refrigerator to remind herself to eat for the sake of their baby, our hearts broke for her. Even though she's in a better place with her own issues with food, that's not a struggle that just disappears.
We applaud Madison for sharing this piece of her truth, for putting it out there and making Kevin see her as a flawed, real human being. They're not just playing house here, this is very real. And real doesn't always have that pretty shine on it.
Kudos to Kevin as well, for following up later with some real and genuine sharing of his own. He could have gone the route of just being supportive and trying to show how understanding he is of her struggles, but instead he decided to be vulnerable himself.
He spoke up about his own addictive tendencies, having swapped out alcohol for exercise at this point, as well as his daddy issues. Flashbacks showed how he and Jack bonded in Jack's garage gym, and here's Kevin obsessively working out in the garage.
You think there's something there? We applaud Kevin for owning his flaws, and even moreso for sharing them with Madison. And then, she shared that her specific disorder is bulimia, opening up even more. It's this kind of foundation that real trust could be built on.
Perhaps they're both in a place now where they're willing to put in the real emotional work of building a relationship from the ground up.
4 tissues (for sharing and listening)
“I Always Wondered”
We had no idea where this was going, and then when it landed with the line, "I always wondered what it would be like to kiss someone like you." Oof!
We always knew that Randall had to deal with so many things about being Black by himself, growing up in a white family that was well-intentioned and loved him unconditionally but could never really, fully understand the experience of being him.
By the time Kate's friend Tonya told him that, he'd already been making it clear he wasn't really interested in her advances. It would have been a much more painful memory had he been.
But still, it was such a gut punch to his identity and sense of humanity to be reduced to some sort of exotic bucket list item rather than being received as a human being.
It was perfect that they didn't really give us a readable reaction young Randall's face, just as it was perfect that he dismissed Rebecca, agreeing with her that it was a fine day and Tonya was nice.
There were surely things going on inside him that he couldn't even fully comprehend yet, lacking the full experience of what his Blackness means in this country. And lacking his own complete development yet, just as adult Randall has to acknowledge about Tess.
Whereas his daughter stood up for herself in the face of racist overtures, Randall internalized. We can see in this moment why he had that pride in her because she did what he couldn't. And if she can, then there is yet hope for us all.