Randall finds out Deja hooked up with Malik, Kevin reaches out to long-lost friend we all know, and Jack tries to salvage a disastrous movie theater outing in father-focused hour.
What is it with "This Is Us" and food prep? First they were coming for Crock-Pot and now the Big Green Egg? At least we know the smoker goes on to create positive memories even deep into the future ... but it's definitely going to do some damage along the way!
This week's episode was primarily father-focused, with deep dives into troubled times for Jack (Milo Ventimiglia), Randall (Sterling K. Brown), Kevin (Justin Hartley) and Toby (Chris Sullivan). But we also got a surprise visit into baby Jack's (Blake Stadnik) future where viewers get a tantalizing tease about an upcoming traumatic incident.
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We also get the line from future Jack's wife Lucy (Auden Thornton), asking him why he still hangs onto that smoker after all these years as it's "the literal symbol of the day your mom and dad’s marriage blew up."
One of the sadder storylines were scrutinizing this season is the inevitable end of Kate (Chrissy Metz) and Toby's marriage, as foreshadowed when we jumped ahead four years and saw Kate getting married to Phillip (Chris Geere), of all people.
Can we take a moment to acknowledge that all three people in this veritable Pearson love triangle are all named Chris in their real lives: Metz, Sullivan and Geere. Was this intentional on the part of the creators? Was Geere hired because he's a Chris?
Okay, so not only do we have to unpack the end of a marriage we really liked, we have to take a character who hasn't really been all that likeable thus far and at least start to understand how Kate could wind up with him -- because we do want to believe he'd be her happily ever after as we'd prefer to leave her in that when the series end later this year.
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The struggles of these four fathers make up the thrust of this episode, though in every case it is the sensible care and reasoning of the women in their lives that helps them come to grips with the reality they're struggling under.
For Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) it is the struggle that work has him so busy, he feels like he's missing out on everything and he doesn't want his kids to remember him this way (Spoiler alert: they don't, they see him as a mythical Super-Dad -- this week proved once again that Rebecca (Mandy Moore) has always been the underappreciated Super-Mom).
Toby and Kevin are also struggling being away from their babies, with Toby off in San Francisco four days a week and Kevin co-parenting with Madison (Caitlin Thompson). But as anyone who's done that knows, it doesn't matter how close you are in proximity, you're going to miss things ... like maybe your daughter's first steps.
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.
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"She's Not Going to See This Until They Come Out with iPhone 30"
As always, we have to give it up to Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson), the queen of her household, her marriage, her life! She brings the grounding and perspective that Randall needs, but she also keeps it real. Yes, she reminds him that they were once as in love as Deja and Malik are and that this is just part of growing up, but that doesn't mean Deja gets off scot-free for lying about where she was going for the weekend. We know Beth goes through her stuff, too, but she is so much the rock. In fact, the mothers on this show are all incredible rocks -- even the newest of the bunch, Madison, is showing incredible grace under incredible pressure!
1 tissue (compassion mixed with realness for the win)
"Until a Day Is Over, There's Always a Chance You'll Remember It for Something Else"
Didn't we just talk about Beth being the rock of her family, here's a shout-out to Rebecca for the same thing. And just like Beth talks Randall down, Rebecca is the one who brings Jack back down to earth. In this case, he was beating himself up for losing track of Kevin on what was supposed to be a great first memory (we'll get to first memories again a bit later) at the movie theater. He also learns that she has a much better grasp on what's going on with the kids than he does at this overworked stage of his life (another recurring thread throughout tonight's stories). But, giving him the permission to rewrite the day's narrative, Jack goes into Super-Dad mode and creates a down-home movie experience that definitely becomes the dominant cherished memory of the day. Alas, for him, the final memory of his day comes later when he gets a phone call that his mother died. That story will unfold next week.
2 tissues (recognizing how lucky he is to have her)
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"Kids Would Much Rather Have Parents That Are Happy Than Parents That Are Together"
As with all things Toby, there is an inherent sadness in this conversation he shares with Kevin as both lament that they aren't experiencing the fatherhood of their dreams. Toby is more offering advice to Kevin than reflecting inward, but we already know that his own story might run parallel to his words, as well. We don't yet know who Kevin winds up with, but we know who Toby doesn't wind up with. Nevertheless, it is an important distinction and one that's hard for the children of happily-ever-after parents to sometimes comprehend. Even Miguel struggles to be accepted because he's not the Big Three's father. They hold onto this ideal of what life is, so when parenthood starts to look so different than what was expected, it's a struggle. Luckily, they've all grown in these five-plus seasons, so they may be better prepared for these curves.
2 tissues (life isn't always what you expected, but better not to force it)
"Take It as a Good Sign You're Still Talking About It"
While Toby is giving advice to Kevin, and perhaps to himself, Phillip is trying to help Kate see the positive. She's obviously been struggling as the primary caretaker of their two kids with Toby gone four days a week, and when he comes barreling in and disrupts everything because he thinks he knows as well as her what's going on in their lives, things get turned upside down. She's understandably frustrated, but Toby acknowledges he was wrong and Phillip tells her to be happy they're still arguing and talking about the small things. When he and his wife stopped doing that he knew things were far more serious in their marriage. Of course, we know how things wind up here, so it's a strange conversation, but it was an important step toward showing a more compassionate and humane side of Phillip. We can already see the slow drifting between Toby and Kate
3 tissues (the future has us all mixed up in these scenes)
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That growth we were talking about was perhaps best exemplified by Kevin's late-night booty call that wasn't. His 25-year-old "Manny" reboot co-star had dropped her digits, so we were worried when we saw that classic "You up?" go through his phone. But rather than fall back into the unhealthy habits that defined his first three seasons (at least), Kevin was reaching into his more recent past to reconnect with Cassidy (Jennifer Morrison), who'd helped him achieve sobriety and reconnect with Nicky. She's definitely someone who understands him, and understands the challenges of parenting. And, of course, him talking to her means that we can start wondering if she's with him in the cabin future? It's pretty clear this isn't a one-off phone call and the two have a great camaraderie, so if nothing else, it'd be pretty great for her to become a part of his life as a friend. They could probably both use it.
3 tissues (it's not always easy to be the grown-up)
"Don't Get Too Close, Buddy"
The hour starts in the future where rock star Jack and his beautiful wife Lucy are lounging by their lavish pool while he cooks on an "ancient" smoker. It is through these scenes that we learn that not only is this the very smoker Toby decides to buy at the end of the episode in an effort to create family memories, but it's the one that will destroy their marriage and it's part of a traumatic event that scars Jack's forehead and imprints as his earliest memory. He hears Toby warning him not to get too close and Kate shouting his name over and over, so we can assume what's going to happen. How that leads to the end of the marriage only time will tell, but clearly no one learned Rebecca's lesson to try and end the day with a different memory, as that's the one Jack is left with. He's also left with the smoker becuase it makes such great food, so at least it won't be as traumatic to the Pearsons as the Crock-Pot.
3 tissues (the pieces are starting to come together, and it looks bad)
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"Are You Gonna Live at Work Forever?"
Little kids don't fully understand the world around them, so what a devastating thing for Jack to hear from his young daughter at the movie theater. Just as he's fearing that he's spending too much time away from his kids and that's how they'll remember him, he gets this question suggesting that this is how they're at least thinking of him right now. He's in a situation where he can't just quit his job, so it's one of those moments as a father where you feel like there's just no way to win, no way to come out on top and be all the things you want and need to be for your family. There isn't even a right answer he can give in this moment, as he assures her he lives with her and the family, but perception is so powerful and when you're young and trying to understand your world-- well, it can be everything.
4 tissues (wanting it all and having no idea how to make it happen)
"Please Be Patient With Me"
Randall went through the emotional gamut this week, from shock and outrage that Deja had lied to him and that she'd snuck out to see Malik and had sex with him to attempting to be a more compassionate and understanding father, communicating openly about his own experiences in that moment to-- well, teenagers like to push. We loved that Randall knew enough to remove himself from the situation because he was too hot, and we love that Beth was there to rein him in a bit further when he returned from his run. He handled it perfectly, asking Deja for grace as he's having a hard time seeing her as a 16 year old when he missed the first 12 years of her life. But, when he tried to put his foot down and say she wouldn't be seeing Malik for awhile? "Well, that's gonna be a problem," she shot back, the tears in her eyes gone. Deja is as willful a kid as we've seen and now she's fully in her teen rebellion years. And she's in love. This is going to be a battle of wills. She'll win eventually, if by growing up, but how ugly will it get?
4 tissues (maturity and grace as a parent only to be tested even more)
"Tell Her That I'm Proud of Her"
As we said, Madison may be the newest parent in the extended Pearson family, but she is serving the same role as the rest of them, acting as the solid and reliable rock upon which the Pearson men (and Toby) can batter their emotions all over. In this case, it's Kevin lamenting that things can't be just the way he imagines them, that he has to miss things. He even runs over to her house after bedtime to try and see his daughter walk after missing her first steps and receiving them via video from Madison. Madison is trying, Kevin is struggling and that's real. But she also checks him that this is hard for her, too, and the reality is that they will each miss things as part of co-parenting. It's a hard truth, but one Kevin actually heard, acknowledged and apologized for his outburst over. It was still crushing to hear him ask Madison to tell Franny that he's proud of her as there was an absolute sadness in those words, but also a knowing that there's nothing really that can be done about it. Life is messy and sometimes you're just in the muck for awhile.
5 tissues (no one wants to miss out, but you can't control everything)