By the end of the hour, three faces from Kevin's past emerge that could put a wrinkle in his wedding plans -- if Madison doesn't do that, first!
This was a week on "This Is Us" about characters having the emotional maturity to get out of their own way.
In a lot of ways, it was inspiring to watch as people were able to set aside hurt feelings, pride and regrets to do the right thing, even if it's not always the easiest or safest thing for their own feelings.
Well, almost all of our favorites were able to do that this week. Faced with the tough need to speak their truth about what they're feeling, one character came up short and instead played it off as if nothing were amiss. That's going to come back to haunt them.
Elsewhere, we finally got to see Jack's brothers together in the same room sharing a scene as Nicky and Miguel joined forces to help plan Kevin and Madison's rehearsal dinner. And by joined forces, we mean Nicky had no idea what was going on and mostly wanted to attack Miguel for "swooping in" to marry his dead brother's wife.
It was ... uncomfortable, to say the least. And Kevin was right there for it. A Kevin who was avoiding his own potentially uncomfortable conversation. Knowing he wanted to ask Randall to be his best man, why on earth was he drafting an email? Even Nicky knows that's a terrible idea, and he has virtually no social skills.
Over at Randall's house, "This Is Us" again delved into the LGBTQ+ discussion by having Tess invite her nonbinary significant other, Alex, over for a "study date." But these are teenagers, we know they're studying something other than books, don't we?
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.
Now that we like all of the Pearsons and their extended persons, it's time to bring in someone we can collectively despise. For now, Paul ("You're the Worst's" Chris Geere) fits that role beautifully as the condescending music teacher Kate is saddled to work alongside at her new job. Turns out he thinks she's underqualified and he didn't want here there at all. And he wasn't afraid to tell her.
At least we learned that his impersonal aloof dickishness wasn't just for Kate. He was the same with his students, allowing Kate to have an a-ha moment that maybe -- just
0 tissues (just frustration)
"I'm Just Tired"
Even as Kate is slowly (potentially?) thriving at work, Toby is struggling with his sudden stay-at-home status. And despite pushing Madison to speak her truth, Toby failed to do the same after Kate downloaded her enthusiasm about her day. We get he wanted to be supportive and not take her light, but we've been down this road before and it never ends well.
Honestly, it's a little frustrating to see this couple backtrack in their communication like this, as they'd really reached a place of transparency and honesty with one another through their adoption journey. The biggest fear, though, is Toby sliding into a deeper depression by holding onto this truth.
At least we know Madison knows that truth, so as long as the two of them stay in honest communication, she can hopefully help him navigate it. As Kate's best friend, she's certainly been put in an awkward position, but one that could prove pivotal in righting the Kate-Toby ship again.
Whereas Toby fell short in being forthright with Kate, Madison fought through her own fears and Kevin's dominant will to finally share that she didn't want to get married at the venue they'd already picked out.
Instead, she opened up about a family trip to Japan she'd had a few weeks before her parents got divorce, and a garden there that really meant something to her. And so, she had a different idea to connect to that piece of happiness from her life, and without a moment's hesitation, Kevin was on board.
Madison was a little stunned he was so accommodating, but she is the bride. Doesn't the bride always get what they want? It's also another example of Kevin's continuing maturation through the years we've been following his story. His ego might have tried to force through his notion of what their wedding should be, with special concern for his public image.
That man cast all of those trappings aside when he abandoned a film project to be their for the birth of his twins. We've yet to see how this evolution impacts his career, but his star still shines bright enough that his engagement made the cover of Us Weekly (though not the main image). In that capacity, much like Randall's scandalous dance video reconnected him with the story of his birth mother, this episode closed with three women from Kevin's past looking at that magazine cover.
Hookup Cassidy (Jennifer Morrison) and Kevin seem to have a solid understanding, and we just saw her helping Nicky prep for his cross-country trip, so we imagine she'll just be happy and supportive. Less clear is the implications of former serious relationships Zoe (Melanie Liburd) and Sophie (Alexandra Breckenridge). There are tons of unresolved issues with both women, and we can't imagine they were brought in for this scene as a throwaway. This is going somewhere.
Still criminally under-explored, Miguel proved his mettle as a friend and unofficial "best man" to Jack in standing up to Rebecca's father for Jack in a fun flashback. Mandy Moore was nowhere to be seen in this proposal set-up -- we suspect she was off having her baby -- so the writers did a solid job of framing her out logically.
The same can be said for those present scenes with Miguel. It helps that the show has such a sprawling cast you can get away with leaving someone out, but the writers did a solid job of crafting the narrative where her absence -- while noticed -- did not come across as a glaring problem.
It was nice to see Tim Matheson back as Rebecca's father, who once again dressed Jack down to the point Jack looked a meek shell of his usual boisterous self. Hell, he was a shadow of the self he was just moments before Dave walked in and said he would only "tolerate" Jack's marriage to Rebecca.
Huge props to Miguel in this moment for standing up to an older man who knows how to command a room, defending Jack for his love and commitment to Rebecca almost from the moment he met her. Any father would be luck to have a man so devoted to their daughter join his family, and Dave needs to understand that right now. Miguel gets an unfair rep over and over again (we'll complain more about this soon)!
3 tissues (for supporting a friend)
"He Never Replaced You, Nicky"
That strength of character never left, Miguel, as it was on full display in the present narrative as well. First, he stood up for himself and his marriage to Rebecca when Nicky just started blasting him needlessly during those planning scenes. He was right to do so, as his story with Rebecca is nothing he needs to justify to anyone, save maybe Jack. The pain in that moment, as you could tell he still feels the ache of losing his best friend, was delivered perfectly by Jon Huertas.
But then later, we saw two men who were both willing to set aside their pride and potential embarrassment (in Nicky's case, for his behavior). Nicky actually called to apologize, a testament to his own continued growth an maturity, and Miguel actually made sure to emphasize to Nicky that Jack had never replaced him. Not with Miguel or anyone.
He did so by telling Nicky that even though Miguel stood by Jack's side and gave a speech at his wedding to Rebecca, Jack never named him Best Man. There was always a part, Miguel believed, of Jack that was holding out hope that that role could be filled by Nicky.
Miguel didn't have to do that, he didn't have to give that gift to Nicky, but he did. Miguel is always the healer, the one who takes the most abuse and never stops giving of himself to these needy and demanding Pearsons. Justice for Miguel!
There were so many painfully awkward moments in Randall's house while he was checked out and on his own journey of discovery at a transracial adoptee support group. To his credit, and our surprise, Randall opted to listen to the stories of other BIPOC who'd been adopted into white families talking about the challenges of growing up that way.
They put voice to a lot of what Randall had been saying, but in new and different ways. It was a powerful scene, made even more powerful by Randall not bogarting it with his story, but rather soaking in the lives of these people who were not so different from him in many ways, but in others in completely different places in their journey toward accepting their duality.
Beth, on the other hand, is even further behind her own mother in her journey toward embracing the full spectrum of the LGBTQ+ community as it now exists in her own household. Tess came out two years ago, and Beth said she felt she had processed that, but she's definitely struggling with Tess' nonbinary significant other, Alex.
Now, any parent would snap at finding their teen making out behind a closed door on a supposed study date, but that wasn't the issue, or why Tess called Beth "psycho" to Alex. According to Tess, Beth had a look on her face when she saw Tess and Alex kissing. It was a look, presumably, she would not have seeing Annie or Deja making out with a boy.
Beth admitted as much to Carol, that she was having trouble shedding that image of Tess walking down the aisle to a man. It's certainly an understandable point of view, as parents often have preconceived notions of how their kids' lives might play out -- and it almost never plays out that way. It's just surprising seeing her struggle quite so much with it when she and Randall have always been pretty progressive.
At the same time, if we're going to go there, then we applaud the writers for going all the way there. Tess' delivery of the line, "Okay, Mom," was absolutely devastating. Hearing that she knows Beth is trying but that it pains her that she doesn't have to try with her sisters is hard to hear. It's also Tess' truth, and one that many LGBTQ+ people experience in their homes. And for some, they're grateful that it isn't worse.
4 tissues (because it's hard to hear a truth like that)
Huge props to Kevin for making a genuine gesture to meet Randall and really stare down the huge gulf between them. With Randall fresh out of that group therapy session, which we suspect offered him even fresher insights into his own experience, Kevin definitely has no idea what he's in for.
There's a lot of bad blood between Kevin and Randall from their childhood as Kevin was a huge jerk to Randall almost all of the time. And that's not even getting into the additional issues Randall faced as a Black boy in a white family and environment ... and the fact that his brother was totally disconnected, narcissistic and oblivious to all of it.
At the same time, it may be that Kevin knows exactly how difficult this conversation could become, but he wants to have it anyway because Randall is his brother. Yes, he has an agenda of having no beef between them by Kevin's wedding, but it also comes across as a sincere desire to have that conversation and try to move through it together and have a stronger relationship on the other side.
Unfortunately, while this episode was about people getting out of their own way (except for Toby) and growing a bit as people because of it, this conversation didn't happen this episode. Will that maturity carry into next week's episode when they finally have their chat? We can hope so, but we also know that these two tend to bring out the worst in one another. We've seen some ugly fights already. Can they avoid one during what will likely be the most challenging and important conversation they ever have?
We knew having Phylicia Rashad available would give us incredible moments, because she is an incredible actress. In this case, we got to see that you're never too old for personal growth. Carol finally got out of her own way, but it took her 20 years to do it.
In those two decades, she lamented that Beth didn't follow the path Carol had set for her daughter in her own mind, rather than embrace the journey Beth did choose, because the reality is just as wonderful and beautiful as the fantasy.
That's what Carol wants for Beth when it comes to Tess. No, Tess will never fulfill the fantasies Beth put in her own head about her daughter probably back when Tess was a baby. Hers will be a different life, one with challenges and obstacles Beth would have never conceived, but also perhaps triumphs and achievements Beth can't even imagine. And her journey will be just as beautiful.
"I hope you will adjust quicker," Carol told her daughter. "Time is so precious." Truer words perhaps never spoken. The tender moment when Beth rested her head on Carol's shoulder broke us. We never stop needing our mothers, and learning can come from up or down the generations. Beth is getting a heaping helping from both sides right now, for sure!