While the last two episodes of THIS IS US have felt bogged down by predictability, “Jack Pearson’s Son” feels different. There is more urgency to the episode than has been felt in the past, with outcomes feeling unsure and everything hanging up in the air. There are three more episodes of the season, so it seems that things are finally picking up speed and the “everything’s going to be alright” attitude of the show is shifting. Sure, this means the characters making inane decisions, but at least it’s something.
Perhaps the wildest thing about this episode is that Toby is likable again. For once ,he’s not overbearing or pressuring Kate into anything. At the end of last week, I was hoping Kate would go sleep with the resident fat camp asshole, but she does one better and finally grows a backbone and tells him off. Apparently, his parents own the place so it gets Kate kicked out. The show doesn’t go into how messed up that is, just Kate coming into Toby’s hotel and saying “hey they kicked me out,” but let’s dive into how gross that is. A woman rejects a man sexually whose family owns a weight loss facility and said facility makes her leave because of it. That’s truly a disgusting system, promoting the idea that if she wants to lose weight she has to sleep with someone on the inside. Of course, This Is Us does not go into the unethical nature of this whole situation, and instead spends the episode with Kate and Toby trying to actually get to know each other. Finally, the odd nature of their relationship is called out and it’s the first truly healthy move they’ve made as a couple. The second move is at the end of the episode when Toby suggests they don’t get married until they’ve done a deep dive into each other’s past. It’s smart, and it’s prioritizing their actually relationship over a dumb romantic gesture. For once, Toby’s looking pretty good.
Not looking so great is Kevin, though, who is a ball of nerves about his opening night. It’s hard to care that much about his acting career, though, when Randall is on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Between things not going well at work, his father slowly dying, his wife’s mother breaking a hip, all in addition to having to be a parent, Randall is constantly about to have a panic attack. This Is Us, never one for subtlety, should thank their lucky stars that Sterling K Brown has the grace and passion as an actor to convey this very put together man fully breaking down. It’s a hard to watch plot, given that all the empathy goes straight to poor Randall, but there’s really not much for him to do with his situation, and the stress keeps building. A small portion of the flashback episode is even devoted to how Randall is freaking out over a paper, and Jack does his best to comfort him, while Kevin, unsure of what to do, ignores his brother. Not this time, though. Randall calls Kevin right before Kevin’s about to make his theater debut, and Kevin is more than worried about his brother. So he goes to him. He completely abandons poor poor Sloane and the entire theater to go help his brother who needs him. It’s a very sweet and selfless gesture, but it’s also incredibly dumb. His mother and his sister are in that theater, and could go help Randall if Kevin just called them, and Kevin is just letting down an entire production. It sounds cold to say he should have stayed, when clearly going to help his brother was a crowning moment for Kevin, but he basically just threw away the hard work of so many people.
This is the first cliffhanger the episode leaves us on, with the whole theater not knowing what to do. The second one takes place in flashback world, where everything is all set for Rebecca to go out on tour, until Jack figures out that she used to date one of the band members. It leads to Jack sitting and drinking alone, for the first time in probably years, so not a great move. It’s the first time since maybe the third episode where Jack is the one who isn’t as understanding. Normally he’s the hero, while Rebecca struggles to do the right thing. On the one hand, it’s good to see that dynamic shifted, but on the other hand, simple jealousy does not seem like a good reason for Jack to get back into drinking. A thing that’s always been admirable about their relationship is that the problems don’t come from infidelity or jealousy, but now of course, the trust issues are coming up, as is Jack’s alcoholism.
Though all of these plots have their issues, and some of them aren’t small, it is great to see the Pearsons actually doing things that will affect their lives. As opposed to romantic gestures and ex-wives, there is finally some activity going on in This Is Us. It might be unwise activity, but at least it’s there, and it promises higher stakes for the final stretch of season one.
Season 1, Episode 15 (S01E15)
This Is Us airs Tuesday at 10PM on NBC
Raina spends most of her time watching television and trying to find the perfect bagel and lox, because she likes being emotionally distraught.
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Raina Deerwater | Contributor