If you haven’t been hiding from the world’s competing dystopias, you’d know that Sterling K. Brown won the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series for his role as Randall in This Is Us. The first one a Black man has won in 19 years.
The show is a cocktail of taut familial drama and Brown is the misty eyed, anxiety-ridden perfectionist at its center. This is his second Emmy. The first he won in 2016 for his role as Christopher Darden, the tough-as-nails prosecutor brought on by Marcia Clarke to help put away O.J. Simpson.
Enough can’t be said about This Is Us as a vehicle for dramatic family television in our age. You can’t exactly gather the kids to watch Game Of Thrones. And the first season’s finale was explosive, as we saw our two beloveds, Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) and Rebecca Pearson (Mandy Moore), leap at each other’s throats.
That moment left us all hushed. But, here we are, with the second season approaching quickly over the horizon, and it’s time to give you guys the guide to season 1 that you deserve.
Don’t be that person who’s always asking questions to plot points you should already know, fam.
Episode 1: “Pilot”
Hope you’ve got your tissues ready! The pilot finds all of the characters in various states of distress. We tune in to Jack and Rebecca celebrating his 36th birthday the way they always do: a sultry striptease that leads to something more. We’re guessing that’s how Rebecca ended up with triplets. Then, her water breaks. The action swings flashes forward to Kevin Pearson (Justin Hartley) entertaining two fans in his hotel room. It’s his 36th birthday too and he’s troubled. He’s got this career as the lead of this dead end TV show called The Manny. It’s the definition of unfulfilling, his acting chops boiling down to whether he shows his chiseled chest or not. He’s so distraught, in fact, that he ends up telling the two bored women his theory: his life went left when he saw the Challenger explosion live on TV in second grade. The action scoots over to Kate Pearson (Chrissy Metz) stripping down to hop on the scale. She’s careful, even taking off her earrings before she makes the plunge. Nervously, of course. She tumbles backward and ends up spraining her ankle.
Showing just what kind of guy he is, when Kevin gets the call that his sister is injured he jumps immediately to her rescue. Their chemistry in that scene is palpable. “Tell me I should just lose the damn weight,” she says. “What’s that last one again?” he replies. She says it again, realizing, maybe, this time she actually will. It’s her 36th birthday, as well. Then there’s Randall, a corporate trader who’s looking for someone. Someone important. Someone who looks like him. Because, well, one of these things does not go together and Randall is a Black man with a white family. It’s his birthday, too. His 36th. Already, This Is Us has us by the throat. The characters are on the precipice of some realization, some purpose.
Then, things take a turn. The Pearsons find out their regular OB doctor’s spleen just burst and they’re left with Doctor K. A stately, genteel old man with a spry sense of humor played by Gerald McRaney. They’ll need that for what’s to come. Kevin’s back on set, now at The Manny, having a full-blown existential crisis when Alan Thicke shows up. That’s when he heads right out there on set and starts tearing his career apart, blaming the studio audience for having taste shitty enough to actually like the show. Afterward, he promptly gets wasted and runs back into his sister’s loving arms. At the same damn time, the Pearsons are going through hell. The pregnancy was high-risk to begin with, and Dr. K can only do save two of the three triplets and Rebecca. His white mustache wrinkles as he tells Jack how he lost a son in childbirth, as well. How he’s thought of him every day of delivering healthy baby after baby since. And, how, Jack’s sullenness— his insistence that there are three cribs waiting back at home, not two, but three— let’s him know that he’s just the kind of father and husband his wife, son and daughter need.
Now Kate’s taking this weight loss thing seriously and ends up at a support group. There, she meets Toby, a lovably colorful guy who’s comfortable enough in his own skin to put Kate at ease. There are sparks! And a first date in which Kevin blows his life up and comes running back to find his sister in the arms of the affable Toby. Drunk silly, Toby takes care of him and then hands him off to his sister. There is a kiss.
Then there’s Randall. A private detective has finally tracked down his elderly father. The same man —then, an addict —that left him on a fire station’s doorstep when his mother died during childbirth. The same guy that he never saw growing up. A knock at his door in Philadelphia reveals a withered old man. Hardly the villain he’d saved his energy for. He goes in anyway. Tells him he’s got a family of his own. Tells him he’s accomplished and he’s made it. Tells him he was raised by two beautiful parents and had a great growing up. A fine speech. But William (Ron Cephas Jones) is at a loss. He invites Randall in and though he wants to storm off, he comes inside. That’s when he finds out his newfound father doesn’t have much time. And that’s when he packs him up and takes him back to stay with him for a while with his wife Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) and his two daughters Tess (Eris Baker) and Annie (Faith Herman).
So just how did it come to be that Randall ended up a Pearson? Well, as we realize that we’ve been flung backward in time to show the trio Pearson children being born, a grief stricken Jack wanders over to the nursery. That’s where he see’s a firefighter dropping off a little abandoned Black baby boy, baby Randall, sleeping neatly next to Kevin and Kate. 36 years later, their father’s advice would stick in the minds of the trio: when life gives you sour lemons you make lemonade. And we have our cast! Our crew! Also, a tumbling series of emotional events that will leave you breathless with each passing episode.
Episode 2: “The Big Three”
One twist deserves another.
If the first episode set up how we’d need to view this complicated storyline, the second episode clarifies a few things. These two timelines are being presented concurrently, with Jack and Rebecca’s marriage the giant boulder in the pond that’s sending ripples down into the lives of the Big Three. For Jack and Rebecca, it’s 1988 and things are heated. Their marriage is taking a hit because old Jack likes to hit the bar after work with his buddy Miguel. He starts in with a yarn about his wife until Miguel politely reminds him that he would gladly take her off his hands any-damn-day. He sobers up really quick after that.
Kate gets invited to a Hollywood big-wig party on account of Kevin, who’s met with his agent to access the damage of his antics going viral. She reminds him that he’s famous and rich for one reason and that’s her. They both head to the party where Kevin confronts the head of the network. That guy uses the term “Nagasaki’d” in reference to what he’ll do to Kevin’s career if he doesn’t finish out his contractual obligations. Yikes. But Kevin shows some moxie and refuses, leaving that bridge smoldering in a heap on the floor of his life. Meanwhile, there are flashbacks! Don’t you just love flashbacks?
Eight-year-olds are still as terrible as we remember as the kids nickname Randall something that hits a little too close to home: Webster. You know, the one about white folks adopting a Black baby. Anyway, Kevin doesn’t jump in to protect his brother because already he is scum, and this rift will echo through their lives into the present. Kate is in the throes of her weight loss journey when Toby invites himself to the party she’s agonizing over. His suggestion: forget about weight for a night and go dance. Good idea! But it backfires. Kate gets drunk off Tequila and gets blem. “It’s always going to be about the weight for me.” And you’re reminded of a flashback to young Kate, already spreading out farther than her brothers, her mother semi-sternly handing her some fruit. Clearly, her self-esteem issues began right there at the feet of Rebecca.
Speaking of those two, Jack ambles home drunk and ready to apologize while Rebecca reads him for filth. He sleeps outside her door like the guard dog that he is and hands her a moon necklace. One she claims she’ll never take off. She keeps her promise.
Let’s not forget about Randall, who’s got a house guest his wife Beth is very suspicious of. She comes out and questions him straight up because she’s a Black woman and life is hard enough and Randall is amazing and she wants to let William know that he can’t mess that up. Not ever.
Back in the present, grandma shows up for a visit. The necklace is there but Jack is not. Here, he’s replaced by Miguel, which… you scoundrel! (Isn’t that the exact plot of Spawn?) And, the ultimate question: Where the hell is Jack?
Episode 3: “Kyle”
What’s in a name?
Okay, okay. The first two were a lot to take in, but episode 3 is easy. Randall’s original name was Kyle, after Dr. K, you see. But he was fussy and wouldn’t breastfeed with Rebecca. It seems kids, like cats, can feel your commitment issues. So young Rebecca goes out to look for his biological father. She finds him, nicknamed Shakespeare, in a similar apartment to the one Randall found him in years later. She tells him she wanted to hear his story so he tells it. The mother and father were young, artistic and full of love. They made “Kyle” knowingly. But the drugs took over and young William ended up on a bus with a baby and out of options. So he did the only thing he thought he could do.
Then, she tells hers. She feels like “Kyle” was destiny. That she knows William loves him but he can’t just come around and makes him promise not to try. William does.
Fast forward to the present with grandma and Miguel showing up to Randall’s place, and you can understand how sticky this situation is. Upstairs is the man Rebecca made promise to stay away from his biological son. Randall, the sensitive one, the whole perfectly laid sail of this ship, tells her, “I know you would have found him if you could.” Ouch. They head upstairs where grandma Rebecca grabs some alone time with William. They both know Randall would give his dad his whole life if he could. That’s why he’s special. And granny tells him he better be worth it. William, now spiraling, breaks out. Randall chases him down in his car, and, after a speech, entreats him to get in so they can go to the doctor. The news isn’t good. The cancer has spread everywhere, is terminal, and there are no treatment options.
Meanwhile, the storyline of the twins Kevin and Kate gets fleshed out a bit. They hate being away from each other and are co-dependent. Kate is Kevin’s assistant and Kevin fires her before he bolts to New York for theatre. Toby and Kate get it poppin’.
Episode 4: “The Pool”
If you hadn’t noticed, the “I’m a Black kid with a white family” thing is beginning to form a vortex around the show, pulling all storylines back to Randall. The Pearsons go to a pool because Pittsburgh is a sweltering pit in the summer, and the kids bolt. First, Kevin nearly drowns, and instead of coming to his immediate rescue like Jack should, the parents are making sure Kate doesn’t feel too self-conscious and Randall doesn’t constantly feel like the odd man out. Kevin, already that hole inside him that seeks attention growing, calls his folks out for it. Accuses them of making sure “Kate doesn’t eat too much and Randall isn’t too adopted.”
Back in L.A, Kate is feeding into her insecurities around Toby by stalking his ex-wife. She even goes so far as to apply for a gig at the woman’s business. We mean, she needs a gig, sure, but she doesn’t need that gig.
Also, because he’s still The Manny in his heart, Kevin bombs his Broadway audition, then gets the gig anyway. He also meets a woman, Olivia Maine, and his storyline peters along.
Then, the kicker. Randall finds his way over to some Black kids. Rebecca rolls up on him and gets a Sunday helping of shade from a Black mom for adopting a Black child but not introducing herself to any Black families in the hood. The mom also offers some advice: take Randall to a Black barber so he can stop getting razor bumps. Rebecca’s hurt, but lessons are about how you take them, right? After stewing for a time, she heads back over to get barber rec’s and set up playdates. Maybe Randall can finally get some Black friends?
But we’re not done. This show needs to mill you for tears every single episode. In present day, William and Randall talk those times when Randall felt like the only Black boy in the world. He says he kept a little notebook for whenever he’d meet someone Black. That he’d imagine, somehow, that any one of the older Black men he met could have been his father. He resents William just a little for having to do this. William, instead of becoming offended, acquiesces. He didn’t want to do what he did, and, plus, Randall is doing “everything right.”
Episode 5: “The Game Plan”
Oh, so you don’t want kids?
By this point, we’re all wondering where old man Jack is, and to go along with old lady Rebecca instead of former best friend Miguel. Oh, Miguel. Well, episode 5 hits us with hit. The man’s dead. No explanation either. He’s ashes in an urn atop Kate’s mantle. She does creepy shit with it like dress it up in a Steelers hat. Personification is inches away from serial-killer-dom.
Back in the present, Kevin is spiraling. The whole family ends up glamping in his luxury hotel room and Kevin is using them to run lines. Then using them for emotional support. Then laying on the kids (Tess and Annie) that life’s a bitch and everyone dies. But William sets him straight. Don’t put your nonsense over on the kids, guy. Let’s keep it adult.
Speaking of adult, it’s 1980 and the Pearsons are at a bar to see the Steelers play the Los Angeles Rams in the Super Bowl. Miguel and his wife show up. You know, the wife he had before he became the husband of his friend’s wife. We’re not bitter. They tell one of those run-of-the-mill stories about the horrors of raising children and that triggers Rebecca. She’s not just some homemaker. She jokes to Jack that they’re never having kids. The joke runs a little long, though, and Jack starts to get serious. Is she serious? He’s always wanted kids and needs to talk about it right there in the bar. A heckler has a word and Jack punches him in the face. Then he lays it down in two ways: 1. He tells his wife if it’s her or kids then it’s her every time. Are you dudes paying attention? 2. He puts all three kids in her that night, in the bathroom of the bar.
Back in L.A, Kate explains the creepy urn on her mantle to Toby, who is taking her baggage in stride. Everyone’s got some, right? Then Kevin tells Tess and Annie that yeah, everyone may pass, but they are always with them because life is one big messy painting. He shows them the Jackson Pollock rip he made to show how he imagines the play he’s studying for. All is well.
Episode 6: “Career Days”
The ties that bind.
Finally, we get to flesh out each character’s relationship to Jack’s death just a little. Up first is Kevin, who’s tricked into connecting to his own grief when Olivia Maine (his co-star in the play) takes him to someone else’s funeral. He ends up having a deep chat with the wife of the man who just passed, wherein she has no idea what to do with their newly angry teenaged son. Here’s where Kevin comes out with it, telling her that he, too, lost his father, and that in his anger he threw out all the model airplanes they made together. That all he has left is this necklace. Bruh.
Kate’s going through it, too. It turns out the only reason she got her great new assistant gig is because the woman thought she may be able to get through to her overweight daughter. Ugh.
Then, there’s Randall. See, Randall was a bright kid. He tested off the charts in school and his flat grades meant only one thing: he was bored AF. The administration tells the Pearsons that Randall should go to this swanky private school. But Jack is shook. He doesn’t want to treat his kids differently. He doesn’t want to split them up. Upon heading to the private school the show has a salient moment. It’s mostly white. Now, Jack, a white guy, inches ever closer to the reality that Black people face, even when they’re gifted. Should he let Randall go to a place where he’ll feel so different? Of course he should! The fact that he wouldn’t be letting him go because he’s Black is explained to him by the grounds keeper.
To further connect, Jack takes Randall to his soul-crushing desk job. He asks him to solve some problems when Randall fronts like he can’t. Pop calls him out on it and so kid Randall reveals the truth: He doesn’t want to make Kate and Kevin feel he’s too different from them. Racial shit is deep, y’all. Jack lets Randall know that it doesn’t matter because he loves him more than any heart can.
There’s also a scene where, Randall is learning to tie a tie for his first day at this elite academy. Jack teaches him how to do it, as fathers are want to do, but then it takes on a symbolic meaning. Jack sacrificed his dream of opening a construction company so his family can be great. No ties. Cue tears.
Episode 7: “The Best Washing Machine In The World”
That’s my brother.
Ok, y’all. The drama is heating up. We’ve just begun to explore the relationship between Kevin and Randall. It’s complicated. When sharing a room back in Pittsburgh the two fought constantly. Kevin was, of course, a star football player. Randall, the gifted academician. Oil and water, right? Things get terse when, after a fight, Kevin moves to the family’s basement to get away from Randall. Who, because his character is allowed room to be complex, is very emotional about this.
Fast forward to present day, and the two are out to dinner at one of those New York restaurants you can’t get a reservation to unless you’re The Manny. Kevin is recognized. He gets free shrimp. It’s what he’s always wanted. But Randall is unimpressed. And when he doesn’t recognize an old everyday guest on the show Kevin realizes that Randall has never seen it and storms out. Randall hurries after him. Tells him Kevin doesn’t know what he does, either. Which turns into Kevin doing his best The Big Short impression. Then, the pop off: When Kevin see’s he’s been replaced by a handsome Black guy on a billboard of The Manny he says, “That’s great, replaced by another Black man.” A, yo! The cork comes screaming off the bottle and they begin to scrap in the middle of the Flat Iron district. Kevin claims mom had to treat him special because he was Black and adopted. Randall screams back that she had to treat him that way because Kevin treated him like he was illegitimate.
This Is Us brings us back, though. When onlookers begin to notice the old Manny is scrapping in the street with a well coiffed Black guy Kevin says, it’s okay because he’s “my brother.” Randall, taken aback, says that’s the first time he’s ever called him his family.
At the same time, Toby is breaking his diet, out here with high-fructose corn syrup, disrespecting the struggle.
Then, with a few weed brownies between them William let’s a secret slip: He gave Rebecca that Dudley Randall poetry book (the one now resting in Randall’s house) when he was born. What?! He then has to explain the whole thing and pleads with Beth not to tell him. Beth is torn. So she goes to the source: Rebecca.
Episode 8: “Pilgrim Rick”
Make the best of it.
Thanksgiving is the time of year when you’re reminded that certain things aren’t up to you. You come from where and who you come from, and there’s nothing you can do about that. For the Pearsons it’s the same. With a twist. See, now Randall has become Mr. Thanksgiving because he’s Randall and he’s emotional like that. But it’s also a mirror of his dad, Jack. On their way to Rebecca’s family’s house for the family tradition the car gets a flat and runs through a fence. Everyone is fine. But the Pearsons end up hiking three-and-a-half-miles to the nearest gas station. Rebecca tells off her overbearing mom and the whole family digs in to a Thanksgiving night at a local motel run by a guy called Pilgrim Rick. Everyone’s whiny and complain-y and things are headed in the wrong direction fast. Jack, though, because he’s Jack, saves the day. With the heat cranked on the only setting it’s got (super hot), Rick takes the “Pilgrim Rick” hat we assume is in every room and starts telling goofball dad-jokes. They all end up eating cheese dogs and watching Police Academy 3. Back in the present, those turn into the family traditions for the Pearson clan.
With one exception, this year. Randall knows! He knows Rebecca kept his dad from him because he drove to Philly to get some of his dad’s paraphernalia. You know, to make him feel included, only to find a letter from his mom to William and a picture of a young Randall.
He knows, and he lays it out right there during dinner in front of everyone. The air is thick. Randall is unfolding. All his layers stacked on top of each other are melting and fast. Rebecca can’t get a word in. Randall cannot be calmed down. He’s irrational and vulnerable. A kid again. This is why this guy wins Emmy’s.
Aside: Miguel is there, too, and after a fight Kevin finally lets him wear the Pilgrim Rick hat like his dad would. Because, you know, life is complicated.
Episode 9: “The Trip”
Let’s get high and deal with our issues.
The Pearson clan heads up to the old family cabin for some R&R. Randall is still reeling from the news that his mother robbed him of a relationship with his father. He’s got a list, because he’s Randall, but he’s got memories, too.
Meanwhile, Kevin brings his co-star/girlfriend up to the cabin with him and Kate is not pleased. She knows a heartless person when she’s sees one. Especially a twisted up theatre actress that brought her ex-boyfriend-cum-friend to the cabin with her new boo.
But this episode is, as usual, about Randall, Jack, and Rebecca. Somehow, Randall takes a few healthy swigs of a mushroom cocktail brought along by Olivia Maine’s homeboy. This takes him on a literal trip. He see’s his dead father, Jack, fixing the roof. As a very wise ghost, he knows what’s going on. He explains to Randall that Rebecca was just trying to protect her family. To protect him.
A flashback drops in of Jack and Rebecca talking about how Randall was going all over the neighborhood asking people to roll their tongues. He knows the trait is inherited, so in the pile of tongue rollers could be his father. He needs a Black male role model. While Jack is with it, Rebecca is defensive. Especially now that she knows William has gotten sober. He’s got a job. So she writes William a letter —the letter that Randall finds 36 years later —making it clear that William has to stay away because Randall has someone who’s “an extraordinary father who gives him everything he needs.” She was just trying to protect her family, even if she had to play dirty to do it.
Meanwhile, Jack takes Randall to a Karate class where a Black man is trying to show Black boys there are men who care about them. They’ve got a ritual, too, where the fathers of the kids do pushups with the kids on their backs to prove that they’ll always be there to lift them up. Jack does like a thousand.
Back in present day, ghost Jack asks Randall to look closer at his mother. Peering in through a window and tripping balls, he sees Rebecca enclosed on all sides, trying to keep the world at bay. He realizes now that she had good intentions though the choices could have been better.
Unrealistically, his trip ends. And, back with the living, he rolls up on Rebecca and lets her know that keeping all those secrets must have been very lonely. That’s all he’s got, though.
Episode 10: “Last Christmas”
Nothing bad happens on Christmas Eve.
Fall season finale time and the stakes have gone up one million percent. This Is Us has decided to experiment. Each characters scene is played out in vignette style instead of drama-com style before they all meet up at Randall’s, in the present, for after hours.
First, Kate and Rebecca head to see her gastric bypass surgeon. Here Rebecca is confronted with a few hard truths. That her behavior toward Kate helped lead them to this moment. That the risks of gastric bypass are lifelong and major. That, even when you try your best and even when you’ve got all the right intentions you can still set your whole life and the lives of those in your care on fire.
Next up is Kevin, who, after finally telling off Olivia Maine, gets blamed for ruining the play because Maine has run off. To make up for it, he gets roped into being the date for his playwright, Sloane (Milana Vayntrub), at her family’s Hanukah dinner. Watching them banter back and forth, he realizes something: He’s going to fund the play, Back of an Egg, himself!
Meanwhile, we catch a glimpse of William’s inner world. His relationship with Jessie aka Great Love is revealed at a narcotics anonymous meeting. We guess ghosting was a thing back then, too, because William left without a trace, leading to Jessie going back to drugs. A tearful apology occurs, and we find ourselves opening up to new possibilities hidden within William’s character.
We switch to Randall, where he’s literally talking his co-worker off a ledge. See, the man has just sold Randall a boat. Which Beth points out is not really a boat, it’s just the hole in his heart incarnate. That’s when he starts searching for a way to escape the deal, and he finds the guy stepping gingerly out onto a ledge at the top of the building. Things get a little ex-machina after that, as Randall lets him know forgiveness is possible, y’all. Even when your mom lies to you your whole life. Even if it takes years. There’s a flashback. We see Kate in the hospital on Christmas Eve in the ’80s. They run into Dr. K, who’s also having surgery. The kids are scared for Kate but Rebecca reassures them with the line, “Nothing bad ever happens on Christmas Eve.”
They all then meet at Randall’s for a night cap. Kevin has finally found a little purpose when Toby shows up to declare his love for Kate and they run upstairs in reverie. Randall is out a boat and William has found love again. Albeit, this time, with a man, maybe a soulmate. Then the unthinkable happens: Toby falls with a crash. He’s rushed to the hospital. Cliffhanger!
Episode 11: “The Right Thing To Do”
In Jack we trust.
Look, we left the last episode with Toby knocking on heaven’s door. So we’ve got a lot to cover. First, he survived! But the job’s not quite done. He’s got this heart condition and he’s just got out of surgery, right? Everyone’s breathing a sigh of relief. But the doc comes back and tells him if he gets back under the knife, they could do even more. He tells Kate, for the first time, that he loves her, and he heads back in. Now that the L word is out there, Kate’s freaking out. But, after another successful run with surgery, she ponies up and lets him know she wants to spend the rest of her life with him.
That’s present day. Heading back in time, the Pearsons find out they’re going to have triplets. They currently live in a one-bedroom, sixth floor walkup. They’re panicking, sure, but their love is the stuff of Shakespeare so it’s fine. Even as Rebecca starts to cry, Jack knows what he needs to do.
And here comes the flashback we were all waiting for. Jack’s early life. He had an abusive dad. A real asshole. And after he stood up to him for his mother’s sake as a teen, the guy just left. His mother swoops in to tell him, “Don’t you ever be like your father.” Jack is Jack, though, so he shows out. He’s the opposite of his dad, who, in his own rage, would call Jack worthless and a nobody.
So, out of options and back in the present, the Pearsons have three lives looming over them and no funds. So what does Jack do? He swallows his pride. He goes and knocks on his father’s door. Tells him, you were right. I ain’t shit. Tells him that he’s got some gambling debts and needs a check to cover them. Smug in his own satisfaction, his father cuts him that check. Now, since this is the ’70s, he takes that money and sells his car and presto! He’s got a house. A fixer-upper, but it’s theirs.
Back at the ranch with Randall, he’s not sure how to take the news that his father’s got a man as a lover. He’s also not sure how to handle feeling brushed aside for the new guy. When he confronts him, Randall has to fall back. William is avoiding him because chemo makes him sick-as-hell. That’s when the empathy smoke gets pumped in and Randall reassures William that this is his family too and they’ll get through this together. We’re not crying, we swear.
Episode 12: “The Big Day”
Pilot part two.
We head back in time, now, to the big day to feel all the feels the writers weren’t able to stuff into the pilot. Rebecca’s pregnancy is driving her mad. She can’t move and no shoes will fit and Jack is being just super positive. She rants and she raves — she’s creating three humans, so it’s not to be unexpected. But then she realizes she forgot the guy’s birthday. She feels awful. There’s nothing in the house but she makes it work. There’s a moment, too, when she’s talking to her future tri-force and Jack gets it on tape. Oh, Jack.
A switch and we’re suddenly thrust into the life of Dr. K. His wife’s passing has him in stasis. Her clothes and things are still in the house. His kids are worried. He thinks about ending his life but his beeper goes off. The work is the only thing holding him together.
Then there’s firefighter Joe. In church, he prays that something can save his marriage. Then a baby shows up at the firehouse. This is it, right? This is God? He takes the baby home and says this baby can save our marriage (things are so rocky due to the fallout of them not being able to have kids of their own). But his wife is sober. She tells him to take the baby to the hospital.
There, we are now privy to the scene when Jack tells Rebecca she’s lost the third baby. She says, “I felt three kicking, Jack.” He says, “I know.” She insisted she thought it was destiny. How can Jack fix this one?
How, indeed. The firefighter shows up with a tiny future Randall. And when Dr. K finds out, sometime later, how Jack’s been able to make it work, he gets inspired, too. He moves his wife’s things out of the house. He even goes on a date. Joe, too, is changed. Melted by his gesture, his wife wants to start over.
Episode 13: “The Three Sentences”
The Princess Bride.
This Is Us loves a thick script. Now, after the scene where Kate professes that she wants to marry Toby, they’re engaged. And, after watching all that surgery, Kate becomes squeamish about her bypass. So her doctor recommends an “immersive weight loss experience.” A “fat camp?” says Kate. She ends up going and finds that it’s not just about weight. There are emotional issues weighing her down, too. Quickly, we see a flashback of Jack’s funeral.
She begins to take the treatment seriously after being hit on by the stable guy who insists people never change. A guttural scream pours out of her at POUND fitness class. She’s on her way.
Then a big flashback. The Pearson three want a birthday party of their own. They’re 10, you see. Kate wants a Madonna party. Kevin, a Princess Bride party. And Randall is pretty meh, but if there’s a magician he can rock with it. Only three of his main amigos show up and he’s fine with that. But Jack and Rebecca are a little worried. Then, despite her best effort, all Kate’s friends bounce to check Kevin and his Princess Bride party. Not only that, but she’s at that age where dad can’t just wave a magic wand and say the right thing to fix everything. When he asks Kevin to send Sophie —Kate’s best friend —back to her party he says he can’t. And we get the impression that there’s a very good reason why.
Back in the present, Kevin needs Toby to walk him through the woman he should choose. Sloane dipped on him last episode after Olivia Maine came back wanting back in. The way he spoke about her did not move her, so off she went. Now, Toby tells Kevin to close his eyes and imagine the girl he wants to be with and the three sentences he would say to her.
Who does he pick, y’all? Sophie, of course! As a matter of fact, Sophie is Kevin’s ex-wife. He hasn’t seen her in 12 years. After that all-flashback episode, this show is kicking again.
Episode 14: “I Call Marriage”
Don’t stop noticing.
Imagine the most thoughtful man you’ve ever met. Ready? That person is probably five-times less thoughtful than Jack is on this show. After he and Rebecca find out Miguel and his wife Shelly are calling it quits, Jack wants answers. Miguel gives them. They stopped “noticing” each other and then stopped caring. So Rebecca wants to be noticed, huh? Cool. Jack rents out their old place for a night. Puts up lights and gets them both robes where, in the bathtub where they used to get it in, he reads her their old wedding vows. Game, Jack. But not so fast. This is where Rebecca tells him her band booked a five state tour and, of course, she wants to go.
But back to Randall. He’s a perfectionist, as you know, so he’s desperately trying to out duel his colleague at work, Sanjay. Sanjay seems nice, but he’s putting pressure on Randall he doesn’t need right now. What, with his dying father giving his now neglected daughter Tess chess lessons. It’s a lot for just one guy. And we know how Randall is by now. He’s going to take all of this on himself. When a work thing conflicts with Tess’ chess tourney Beth has a word with her husband. Tells him he needs to lean in to this tournament and put his family first. He does, but then Sanjay walks away with half his clients. Now he really starts to lose it and there’s a scene where his hand is violently holding a shaking cup.
Kevin got his ex-wife to hit a coffee shop with him. Everything’s going cool until he brings up that he feels like this is “right where they left off.” Nah, B. She storms out on him. But he runs after her and tells her marrying her was the best thing that’s ever happened to him. He gets a second date.
Toby shows up to fat camp to distract Kate. Truth be told, he’s scared of her losing the weight. They go back and forth while stable guy beckons Kate back to his cabin. Toby’s plan works. Now, she’s distracted, but has he lost his lady in the process? This after giving her his grandma’s engagement ring!
Episode 15: “Jack Pearson’s Son”
What would Jack do part deux.
This episode is going to have y’all SHOOK. Look, Kevin and Randall’s relationship has always been fractured. Mom paid too much attention to Randall in Kevin’s eyes. For Randall, he just can’t understand why his brother couldn’t show him some love.
Okay, so Kevin’s going to each member of the crew to talk the stress of his play. Kate’s busy with her fiance, though. And, Randall, well, Randall’s got a dying father, and Sanjay trying to steal his thunder, and his kids, and his wife — who had to go away to D.C. when her mother got hospitalized. He’s overwhelmed and botting it all up inside. His hand won’t stop shaking. Sanjay has to jump in with him on a client meeting. It’s rough.
There are flashbacks of Randall freaking out before. Over a Hamlet paper, for one. And Kevin just walking on by, refusing to show his brother the affection he’s been craving. Randall has the whole world on his shoulders. He needs to be perfect, and when that starts to spiral then he begins to clam up.
At the start of his play, with just five minutes left to go on, Randall hits Kevin up. He can’t make it, he says. His voice is devoid of any feeling, any substance. Kevin notices it, but has taught himself not to care for so long that he still makes it about him. “You’ll see it eventually,” he says. “Right?” There’s nary an answer on the other line and Randall abruptly hangs up. He knows something is wrong, but will he blow his big moment?
Back at the office, Randall’s eyes begin to lose focus. He’s so wound up, he can’t even see the screen in front of him. This is where the onions start to get cut. See, back when Kevin was looking for a shoulder to cry on about the play, he went by Rebecca’s. The person who answered the door, though, was Miguel. All this time, their feelings toward each other have been bubbling just beneath the surface, yet, it’s Miguel who comes to Kevin’s rescue. His advice boils down to this: You are your father’s son. So what would Jack do?
Kevin knows what Jack would do. So as he leaves behind Sloane and an audience full of people, he begins to run to Randall. Slowly at first and then faster, and faster, until he finds his brother collapsed on the floor crying and in a daze. He slides down next to him and just holds him. Just holds him there for a second. Just does what Jack would do.
Episode 16: “Memphis”
Going home is never, ever easy. That’s where all your secrets lie. Your failures. Your regrets. So when William and Randall go on a trip to Memphis we should have known that one of them wasn’t coming back.
William is dying. He’s been dying now for 15 episodes. But he’s also been sweet at the end of his life. Wise, too. Triumphant in a way that he could not have been earlier.
After his meltdown, Randall is feeling good so he proposes a trip to Memphis. He wants to get to know more about William. Beth is flatly against it, as she probably should be. Both her guys are in fragile states at the moment. So they go to their psychiatrist for advice and he agrees with Randall. Quite frankly, closing some holes around family might be good for the guy. So off they go. They scurry down through New Jersey into Tennessee. On the way, though, they stop to pay respects to Jack. He looms over the episode, and in a gesture so huge it brings tears to our eyes, William thanks Jack with the line, “I would have liked to have met my son’s father.”
Once in Memphis, William shows Randall all his old haunts. Then, a gorgeous flashback pops up. A young William (Jermel Nakia) loses his beautiful mother when she has to go to Pittsburgh to take care of her mother. That’s when he writes the song that puts he and his cousin (Bryan Tyree Henry of Atlanta) and their nascent band on the map. Their big break almost comes but William has to go up north to take care of his mother. He promises he’ll be back. But we all know that in Black life some promises are almost always broken. We’re guided through his life. William, the young poet, on a bus. William in love on a bus. Then, William, the addict, on a bus.
There were so many heartwarming beats to this episode. Like when William walks into an old bar and sees his cousin sitting there as though he’d been sitting there since the day he left. There’s tension, but Tyree asks to jam with him one more time and William obliges. Honestly, Bryan Tyree Henry’s voice is unreal. Then Randall finally meets his extended family. He’s got cousins! Cousins that are forced to accept his nerdy self just how he is. It’s been a perfect day, but in This Is Us land, perfect days never last.
The next morning, William wakes up on his deathbed. He knew he wasn’t coming back, which is why he said goodbye to Tess and Annie before he left. His diagnosis is grim. Randall is talking experimental drugs but it’s too little too late. Then, the scene: As a kid, the only person who could stave off his panic attacks was Jack. He’d hold his head in his hands and say, “Breathe with me.” Well, after a stirring speech where William tells Randall to wind down the windows, grow out his afro and let someone else make the bed (lol) he tells William he’s scared. So Randall holds his head in his hands and tells him to breathe. They do this until his very last breath as Williams gets a flashback of all the important people in his life. He walks through a door where his mother is waiting for him.
Episode 17: “What Now”
Time for a fun-eral.
You’re almost there. We’re just one episode from the season finale.
Simply put, after retiring William to that blues club in the sky, what now? Well, William knows this’ll be hard on everyone so he asks the kids to plan his memorial service. According to Randall, it’s now a fun-eral. The girls do a bang up job, making the occasion less about his absence and more about the love he helped to cultivate while he was here. William was such a lovable character that even the mailman cried when he found out.
Now, Randall’s wondering what the best way would be to honor his father’s legacy. He gets his answer in a callous basket of pears (which he is allergic to) and a generic card. He knows then what he’s gotta do. So he strolls into the office and tells his boss off. For 10 years he’d been there, and helped grow that place into a powerhouse. Now, he was walking the hell away. “What will you do?” asks his overly presumptive ex-boss. “I don’t know,” Randall says, for maybe the first time in his life. “Walk in the morning instead of run. Maybe talk to my mailman more.”
Back at the fun-eral, Kate is having a reaction. She leaves the room crying and Randall chases after her, holding her in his arms. She apologizes that she’s doing this on his day. He’s had to go through this twice. But Randall is feeling pretty chill these days, and he tells her about a dream he had where Jack and William were clowning him for his driving.
Later, we find out that there may have been an extra reason why she was crying: she feels a certain measure of guilt for her father’s death. See, after Rebecca goes on the first tour stop with her band Kate tells her dad that he should go after her. This implies that maybe he died in a drunk driving accident? We still don’t know.
But, by far the best part of the episode is Beth’s speech. While Randall had Memphis, Beth is angry with William for not saying goodbye. In that space, she gives a roaring speech talking about how adorable he was and how now, their lives are split into “before William and after William.”
Eventually, Rebecca, too, heads up to speak. She says she’s sorry for keeping him a secret for so long but she didn’t want to lose her son. She knows it was selfish. Randall immediately forgives her. He’s had his Memphis.
Stay tuned, guys, and keep those tissues ready.
P.S. – Did we mention Kevin is officially back with Sophie?
P.P.S – Toby’s been acting the fool since Kate got her mind right.
Episode 18: “Moonshadow”
Jack’s got something to do.
The season one finale is upon us, ladies and gentlemen. We have made it to the top of the mountain. Now, prepare yourselves to go back down. This one’s a little strange. We get a young Jack fixing cars, the exact same thing he was doing in the military. He wants to open an auto body shop with his homie, Darryl. But where to get the money?
After fixing his neighbor’s car (that Chevy Chevelle that ends up being his) he’s given nothing but a five spot and a blind date option. Neither seem appealing to a Jack down on his luck. Especially one who’s crazy-ass father is back at home.
That’s where things go a little Breaking Bad. See, Darryl’s cousin has a poker game going at this bar called Ray’s. Jack wants in. If he can make some decent money, they can afford to open their shop. At first, things are coming up roses. He wins a huge pot on the first hand after he goes all in (because he’s Jack, of course.) But he does something foolish. He bails. You can’t just leave without giving folks a chance to get back their money. Anyone who’s ever gambled on anything knows that, right? Well, if Jack knew it then he forgot it in that moment. He goes back outside with Darryl to celebrate their luck when they get jumped and robbed. Money gone and feeling desperate, Jack comes up with the a hell of a plan: He and Darryl are going to rob the hell out of that bar.
Now, this man’s just come home from Vietnam so he’s no slouch in the asskicking department. But this isn’t the Jack we know, either. Not the Jack who’d sacrifice anything to fix his family. Not the Jack who’s fixed every problem that fate has put in front of him.
On to Rebecca, who’s a budding singer (y’all forgot this was Mandy Moore, huh?) She gets rejected from the music studio she thought would change her life. So what does she do? She goes on a blind date. One set up for her by her more traditional friends. Now here’s where the future Pearsons’ fates collide.
Jack is on his way to rob that bar with Darryl after being no show to his first date. Rebecca ditches her finance guy after a sub-prime time to attend an open mic. On their way to do both, their eyes meet. Jack says hello. And the rest is history. Until now, at least.
Back in the present, Jack is drunk driving to go grab his lady from her first tour stop in Cleveland with her band and her ex-boyfriend, Ben. He’s drunk and focused so he starts wandering around. That’s when he finds Ben, who’s mumbling something about crossing the line with Rebecca, the love of drunk-man-Jack’s life and the mother of his children. So he socks him right in the face and he keeps socking him until Rebecca pulls him off.
They drive back to Pittsburgh together. Jack drunk in the passenger seat. Then, they get home, and all hell breaks loose. They leap at each other. Rebecca wants to sing again. She feels invisible. She’s got an itch she can’t scratch. And his alcoholism is a serious problem. She’s rung him up for this before. He said he’d do better that night he waited outside her door. Well, Jack is frustrated, too. Frustrated at his wife whose family is not enough for her. Frustrated at the woman who ran off knowing her ex may try to come onto her. He’s sacrificed so much but so has she. Everything. Then, the question, is their relationship hurting the kids?
Jack pulls a rabbit out of a hat, here. He says that’s not possible. They’ve been the best parents they can be. Yet, the next morning when she wakes up, Jack is not sleeping outside her door.
She’s emotional. She asks Jack, what do you love about me in this moment? He gives an amazing Jack speech and renews his wedding vow: this is just the beginning of their story. Then, he picks up his bag and walks out the door.