A chance encounter with ex Zoe leaves Kevin questioning everything -- meanwhile, Toby and Kate continue pretending everything is fine.
"This Is Us" returned with a slow boil of an hour that's got us nervous for the upcoming final two episodes of the season.
This week's opening montage was a heartbreaking one so familiar to many small business owners. After finally achieving her dream of opening a dance studio, we watched as Beth's students went from in-person to wearing masks to Zoom classes to fewer and fewer students until the dream was over.
Like so many, Beth couldn't sustain her business in a world that's been shut down for over a year, and no amount of Pearson magic could change that. We're not sure if the failure of this studio was planned or the result of the real pandemic, but it's a powerful reflection of the challenges we're all truly facing.
Toby's story is also a reflection of the struggle so many have faced over the past year, laid off after ten years with his company and barely a goodbye, thanks for everything. His growing depression over his loss of self is starting to impact everything, including his marriage (even if he doesn't know it yet).
On the other end of the spectrum, though, this episode was also about the power of family and communication and love. Communication was the message of the entire episode, with examples on both sides of why it's so important. We imagine we'll soon enough be seeing yet again what happens when it's not happening as it should.
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.
We've found ourselves wondering how Kevin wound up living in that cabin on the old family property, and maybe this is the beginning of that. He could easily bounce back from a flop, but after the tumultuous career he's had just since we started following him, this may have been his last chance.
There is something satisfying about the obnoxious director Foster creating a giant turd of a movie, even if he thinks it's a masterpiece. But Kevin had just come off of an acclaimed performance that scored him a major award nomination, so there's no reason this should derail everything. He could be like a Nicolas Cage and do projects both good and atrocious.
Either way it plays out, it's an interesting development as suddenly Kevin might have to start prioritizing his career over his family and personal life, which has almost never been the case to this point. Either that, or maybe he'll have to start a whole new career -- football coach?
0 tissues (but color us intrigued)
"A Way of Making It What You Wanted All Along"
As if Kevin didn't have enough on his plate, with an upcoming wedding and two new babies and all of that we just talked about above, he had to go and run into his ex-girlfriend Zoe in a Zoom meeting. We don't love her putting into his head the notion that maybe this life he's building isn't what he's wanted all along.
She's the one who broke up with him because he wanted the whole family thing with kids. More than anyone, she should know that this is exactly what he wants. She does have him questioning, though, if he's settling for Madison simply because he got her pregnant and she gives him that instant family.
Meanwhile, Madison was an absolute delight this episode, so real and charming and wonderful. Now we're suddenly protecting of Madison. Kevin's worst impulses better not leave him hurting her. Leave Madison alone! Next week, he reconnects with his first love Sophie ... now we're really worried!
1 tissue (but we're getting an extra box for next week)
Toby had to call his dad in to help with the plumbing, and he actually began to open up to the old man about his anxiety over losing his job. But ultimately, he shut it down and buried it again. Even Alan (his dad) could see this was unhealthy behavior, praising the Pearsons for talking through their feelings.
In a bit of heavy-handed writing, he suggested that the visible leak isn't always the biggest problem when it comes to plumbing. It can be the pressure. That pressure is definitely building between Kate and Toby as he continues to lie to her about how unhappy he is doing the stay-at-home thing.
Meanwhile, Kate is downplaying her excitement over finally feeling that she's achieving her dream of working in music with her new job, something she should be able to share with her husband. Both of them are tiptoeing around his obvious feelings about this whole situation and the pressure just keeps building. This one's gonna blow soon.
"Thank You for Finally Making Me Feel Like Part of a Family"
We told you Madison is an absolute sweetheart. We've kind of liked her since she and Kate first became friends, and she's only endeared herself to us more and more with each time we see her. And she really is a great partner for Kevin. Even their exchange after work (which was more honest than Kate and Toby's) was proof of that. Damn it, Zoe!
It was beautiful seeing her getting that wedding dress experience with Kate and Rebecca, bonding as they laughed at terrible dresses and sharing in her heartbreak when her dad said he wouldn't be able to make it after all -- he'd only reconnected after she was on a magazine cover.
As always, Rebecca sprinkled a little of that Pearson magic, saying just the right thing to remind Madison that this family has fallen in love with her. "We're all crazy about you," she told her, while also conceding, "And your dad sounds like a bit of a jackass."
It was even more bittersweet when she revealed her mom ditched the family when she was eight, leaving her with a father who may as well have not been there. Finally, she has that sense of inclusion she's been needing all of her life, that openness Toby's father praised. Communication!
We've been seeing for quite awhile how difficult Kate became as a sullen teenager in the wake of Jack's death. This week drove it home with her excitement about pursuing music while sharing a meal with Jack at a diner juxtaposed with her sullen refusal to even try for a "real" job.
Instead, she took a job as a waitress and worked there for nine years. But even that wasn't the real issue, because it is a job. It's that she told Rebecca to stop holding out hope that someday she could be proud of Kate, instead telling her to pin her hopes on Randall and hope Kevin becomes a star.
This week, Kate took Rebecca to one of her classes and realized the fulfillment of her life's passion that Rebecca always believed she would one day recapture and embrace. As Kate apologized for taking 40 years to do it, Rebecca knew only joy. It's never too late for dreams, after all.
"Beth Doesn't Need a Hero"
We kind of love that Deja is this fount of wisdom in Randall's household. And thanks to the special bond she and Randall share, she's also the best handler he's ever had. It was clear through this episode, that she was as concerned about Beth's seemingly unhinged behavior as Randall.
But she also knew that Beth's state was just a part of the process of grieving the loss of her dream (for now) and studio. Beth had already made it clear she wasn't interested in grants or fighting to keep the studio going. She was resigned to letting it go. But that doesn't mean it won't hurt.
Deja knew that Randall would try to swoop in and be the hero, but with a few words, she was able to remind him that sometimes you don't have to fix everything. Sometimes, it's so much more simple than that. "Just be there for her," Deja told him. Communication sometimes amounts to just listening or even just being present.
There's something powerful about being a parent, watching your children grow into adulthood and experiencing almost simultaneously every moment you've ever shared with them. In some ways, you know them more than they know themselves because you have an innate understanding of them through every stage of their development.
That's what Rebecca was trying to convey to Kate as she felt pride simply for the woman Kate has become. In the time we've known her, we've talked about how her character has become strong and capable, believing in herself in a way the Kate of Season 1 would have never done.
You don't have to become a world-renowned singer, or even a professional singer, to make your parents proud. All you have to do is your best at any given moment. And even when you don't do that, they'll still be there to pick you up and believe in you and be proud of every step you take on your journey of self-discovery.
It's an unconditional love that doesn't demand anything of you, but is built on a lifetime of experiences together. And when you struggle to hold onto the dreams you used to voice, your parents will often carry that dream for you until you're ready to pick it up again.
"May I Have This Dance?"
Young Randall knew the right thing to do in a moment of vulnerability during their college years when Beth balked at going to the ballet, opening up about having to give up that dream. She was a dancer who didn't dance, she pointed out.
And so they danced.
We loved the parallel to now, with Randall showing up at the dance studio while Beth packed it up. Even as she shouted that she wasn't looking for him to save the day with another scheme or offer or possibility, he simply put on the same song and extended his hand.
And so they danced.
With an assist from Deja, Randall was able to communicate to Rebecca that he was simply there for her in this emotionally challenging time. He didn't need to say a word. She may have said he was too much, but in that moment, he was just enough. He was present and that's all he needed to be in that moment.
Kevin and Madison were present for one another as well, even if he did cave and let her watch "The Great British Baking Show" over "Bridgerton." He took even that as evidence Zoe might be right, but that's just love and compromise, which is perfectly fine.
We're still not happy about where this is going, because we were finally rooting for Kevin to get it together. We know he does soon enough, so we're hoping this is just pre-wedding jitters and he'll shake off Zoe's words -- and whatever happens with Sophie -- to realize the happiness he deserves ... with Madison!
We'll find out just how mad we have to be at him on "This Is Us" next Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET on NBC.