Kevin and Jack are both haunted by the voices of their fathers, speaking to them through the years -- plus, Kevin's huge decision that could impact his career forever.
After an unexpected Covid-related production delay, "This Is Us" finally returned to show us what was up with that shot of Kevin's ID sitting near an off-the-road vehicle accident.
It turns out the whole thing was the writers pulling another fast one on us. Just when you think they're gonna zig, they zag. They even go so far as to show us several scenes of Kevin almost getting into an accident -- both his fault and not -- just to really set us up.
As teased during Randall's solo outing last week, Kevin found himself suddenly on the road, having fled his film project in Vancouver when Madison was suddenly in labor. This week, we got that frantic phone call contextualized with a lot of depth and (medium rare) meat on it.
The episode had a very effective framing sequence with scenes developing across three timelines, and in each of them the focus is on fatherhood. As Kevin is worried about missing his first steps into fatherhood, he recalls a pivotal moment in his relationship with his own father.
Meanwhile, in that flashback we have moments where Jack is reflecting back on his own father, Stanley, and a pivotal experience they once shared. And in every case, the story is the same. Good or bad, our parents are flawed human beings. But as long as you strive to be better, isn't that enough?
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.
In a phone call with Rebecca that ultimately got cut off, Kevin articulated how much the greatness of one Jack Pearson looms large in his mind as his own impending fatherhood is now here. We know the kids idolize their father, and it is in these moments that the weight of that can be almost soul crushing.
In a flashback sequence, though, it was Jack who laid it out to his own son. In a rare moment of vulnerability, shared with a purpose, Jack opened up about his own experiences playing baseball with his father getting drunk at the games and then railing against him if they lost. For good or bad, those voices never really go away.
But he was also quick to emphasize that his father wasn't always mean and awful. After forcing Jack to drive home, thus becoming Jack's first time driving, Stanley gave him a "not bad." It was a rare compliment that left the teen confused, but stayed with him.
And it's how Jack was able to realize the weight of his own words, in particular Kevin overhearing him tell Rebecca she was making him soft, have on his son. There's a power parents have, whether they want it or not, because they are such larger-than-life figures in their children's lives. It's important to use that power responsibly.
"My Dad Was the Most There Person That Ever Lived"
It was that looming specter of his father that, in part, spurred him to do the right thing, rescuing an accident victim from his car. And yes, that was the episode's big fakeout. Kevin was never in an accident, he merely came up on one. As for his ID, he dropped it on the scene.
Being a good samaritan, he rushed the man to the hospital on his way to an airport in Seattle to try and get a flight to Los Angeles to be with Madison. He was able to cross the border without his ID, but getting on a domestic flight is a whole other matter.
The bottom line, as he told them to keep him conscious and alert during the drive, he feels this inordinate pressure to be there for his children in the way that he feels Jack was there for him. And yet, in that same flashback we know that he felt he and Jack had never done anything alone together prior to this trip to football camp.
In other words, Jack remains a flawed person, but at least in that conversation at the bar with his son, he opened up and owned his flaws and even his failings as a parent. And yet, despite even these admissions, his kids have a hard time seeing him as less than perfect.
On the one hand, Kevin's devotion to being the kind of man and father that Jack was is admirable, and he does seem to have a heart big enough to get there. On the other, that devotion may have just destroyed his career.
When Madison went into real labor six weeks early, Kevin made the decision to leave the film shoot literally minutes before Robert De Niro was coming in to rehearse their scene together. When the director called to tell him he had to come back, Kevin flipped out on him.
Can he come back from this? Perhaps. Actors are known for being emotional and he is legitimately about to be a father. But even his agent was thinking maybe he could go home, see the babies and get back on the set by the next day (this was before he told off the director).
Flash-forwards have shown Kevin as this amazing father enjoying his life in Jack's dream home that he completed. Can he be living a full life there while traveling all over as an actor, or does he actually walk away from that career? Or maybe, based on this, he's forced out but doesn't care because now he can be what will truly bring him joy ... a father.
It's not so much the scene where Jack confronted Kevin's coach in the bathroom, which was a genuinely awesome scene in itself, but the aftermath of it that was really powerful. Jack downplayed it so much, he basically lied to his son about what happened.
Jack was crushed to find out that the coach had been calling his son stupid, and probably blaming himself a bit for pushing Kevin so hard into this. So when he saw the coach at the bar he and Kevin hit for dinner, he definitely intimidated the hell out of him. Good.
It was that moment, when he lied with a twinkle in his eye, making it obvious that Kevin knew he was lying and Jack knew that he knew, but it was okay. Jack had advocated for his son in a capacity that Kevin, as a kid, couldn't really do.
A scene from later that night with the two of them laughing and throwing the football back and forth showed just how much that one moment brought them closer together and loosened the restraints of fear and pressure that were dragging Kevin down. It was a beautifully poignant moment, and a powerful "papa bear" scene any parent would be proud of.
"This is Us" knows all about breaking our hearts, so we were more than ready for Madison to really have to deliver those babies alone. Certainly, Kevin's misadventures north of the border were not conducive to him getting there on time.
Even in a perfect world, it would take him five hours to get there, which might still be too late. It was heartbreaking seeing her lying on the bed, in labor, having contractions and having absolutely no one.
When the nurse asked if she wanted to call someone, Madison realized she had no one to call. Kate is off with her surrogate about to have a baby of her own and Kevin is her only other person, and they'd been unable to reach one another for a while by this point.
It's just brutal to think of being alone in a hospital amid a global pandemic about to bring twins into the world six weeks early. Overwhelming doesn't even scratch the surface there.
We can totally acknowledge that this was one of those lines that put an enormous amount of pressure on Kevin throughout his life, and was even driving him to his breaking point as he was trying to get to Madison. But it was still a beautiful moment between father and son.
After Jack basically owned up to his regret for pushing his son too far, without actually saying those words, and shared a little about what it was like to be berated by his own father as a youth, Kevin assured his father, "You're way better than him."
In so many ways, that is true. But a humble Jack, who still knows his flaws all too well, simply replied, "Thank you, my son," which was just about the sweetest thing he could have said, validating and accepting Kevin's comment.
That was then followed up with Jack's statement of faith in Kevin as a human being that he could even surpass Jack as a father. Future evidence proves this may be true, but it was hard for Kevin to see then, and almost impossible for him to see on his frantic trip to L.A.
With four words, Kevin broke our hearts as we saw just how deflated, defeated and scared he was. After realizing at the last possible moment that his ID was gone, he tried everything to get the TSA agent to get him on his plane.
No ID, no entry. He even tried the celebrity card, but only as a way to prove his identity. Kevin from a few seasons ago would have played it in the traditional way of thinking he deserves special treatment. This is a Kevin who is growing.
It's also a Kevin terrified that he's going to miss this hugely important moment. And even though the accident victim tried to assure him the babies will never remember their own births, Kevin will and Madison will.
We don't yet know if his desperate plea was enough to inspire the TSA agent to explore possible avenues to get him on his flight, but it seemed encouraging. But as we said above, "This Is Us" loves to break our hearts.
Just when we thought Kevin's breakdown at the airport would be the scene the broke us, the show proved it could break us all over again. Realizing just how truly alone she was, it never even occurred to us that Randall and Beth would reach out.
What a genuine and beautiful human moment. They're both on the road still from their adventure in New Orleans, so after Randall's brief conversation with Kevin, he and Beth had the wherewithal to realize Madison was alone at this moment, knowing how hard that was.
Even better, we loved their empathy in hearing through her attempts to sound like she really was okay to know that she really was not. While all they could offer to her was them staying on the line with her, for someone who feels completely and utterly alone, that's everything.
And for Randall to call her family had to have touched her heart so much. She's known Randall and Beth for a few years now, but they've never been more than acquaintances. But they thought of her, reached out to her and assured her that she is accepted, she is one of them.
It could not have been a more beautiful moment, played to perfection by Caitlin Thompson, who has really grown into a remarkable character on the show, considering how she started. We still don't know if she and Kevin have a future, but we're rooting for them!
"This Is Us" is definitely back next week with a new episode, Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET on NBC.