Happy Thanksgiving, This Is Us fam! The Pearsons are serving up a big ol' turkey, some homemade stuffing, and straight-up tears. Tears, you guys! Remember how William let it slip to Beth that he and Rebecca already met? And how Beth is desperate for Rebecca to tell Randall that she's been lying to her son his entire life? Well, that whole thing explodes before the aforementioned turkey gets passed around the table. That poor turkey.
But mostly, poor Randall. Not only does he have his entire life blown up, but it happens on his favorite day of the year. Randall is Mr. Thanksgiving. The guy lives for this day. He's up at 6:30 a.m., thanks to the sweet sounds of Paul Simon's Graceland, for kitchen prep. There are traditions upon traditions upon traditions to get to on a Pearson Thanksgiving, and the guy just can't wait to get started.
Back in the late '80s (what up, Dad 'stache?), we're treated to a story about how these Pearson family traditions came to be. It's another flashback that reaffirms how great Jack was with the Big Three and how much he fought to keep his family happy. I fear for the flashbacks when he starts breaking hearts rather than warming them. But heartwarming is on the menu at the moment.
The five Pearsons hop into the car for their annual six-hour road trip to Rebecca's parents' house, where they'll partake in the Thanksgiving tradition of gorging on food and being unbearable. We never meet these parents (can we?), but we learn enough through Rebecca's fears of being compared to her perfect sister (can we meet her too?), and the kids complaining about their mother turning into a high-pitched weirdo every year, that we know Rebecca's parents are pretty terrible.
Thankfully, while en route to the Most Uncomfortable Dinner and listening to the sweet sounds of Paul Simon, the Pearsonmobile pops a tire and goes through a fence, setting into motion a Thanksgiving full of new traditions. Stuck on the side of an empty road, the Pearsons walk the 3.4 miles down the road to the nearest gas station. There is no tow truck available, and after Rebecca FINALLY tells her mother off, she and Jack realize they will be spending the night at the creepy lodge across the street. It's run by Pilgrim Rick, a creepster in a pilgrim hat. The heat in their room only has one setting: high. There's no food except for cold hot dogs, Kraft singles, and saltines. It is an unmitigated disaster … until Jack saves the day. He tells goofy stories while wearing Pilgrim Rick's hat. They have an indoor picnic complete with cheese dogs and a viewing of Police Academy 3. They go around the room and each say what they're thankful for while ripping up Kate's itchy sweater.
Back in the present, all of these moments have become Thanksgiving Day staples. They hike 3.4 miles, they make cheese dogs, they watch Police Academy 3. By the time they get to the Yarn Ball of Thanks, and Rebecca makes the same speech Jack did all those years ago — "There's no one else I'd rather be too hot or too cold with" — we're all wiping tears from our eyes because we know how meaningful those words are. But then everything goes to hell.
Randall knows that Rebecca and William met long before he introduced them to one another a few weeks ago. Randall knows that every time he asked Rebecca about his birth parents, she was lying to his face. Randall knows all of this because he, being a remarkable human being, wanted to make sure one of William's Thanksgiving traditions was upheld, so he drove all the way to Philadelphia to find some recordings of William and his friends' Thanksgiving Day jam sessions. Unfortunately, right next to the box of tapes is a letter addressed to William in Rebecca's handwriting, containing a photo of 8-year-old Randall.
Randall confronts Rebecca right there at the table, as if he just can't hold the anger in any longer. Any time Rebecca tries to explain herself, he cuts her off. He won't hear it; he can't even look at her. You can feel Randall's heart being ripped open. You can feel his relationship with his mother implode. The walls are caving in and Rebecca can't stop it. It is by far the best scene of the series.
Because This Is Us loves to twist the knife, the episode ends back in '80s, with little Randall — once a true hater of Thanksgiving — telling Rebecca that he wants every Thanksgiving to be just like this one for the rest of his life. Mother and son snuggled together after a very good day. Way to kick us when we're down, show.
Not that it could ever compare to Randall's experience, but Kevin has a weird Thanksgiving too. Part of that weirdness he brings upon himself by inviting Olivia Maine to join his family for dinner. Olivia Maine hates Thanksgiving because OF COURSE SHE DOES. We get it. She's all dark and twisty because her family is screwed up. But can you stop ruining things for everyone else? You can be a damaged artist and still pick up on social cues. The more I learn about this girl, the worse she gets. If anyone is rooting for Kevin and Olivia — yes, they did share a very cute pie moment and a steamy kitchen kiss — please state your case in the comments.
I only have two items in the pro–Olivia Maine column: She loves Rocky 2 and she takes good advice from Wise Owl William when she hears it. How could she not, when it was dished out so beautifully? Of course, to get to William's speech about appreciating the tiny beautiful moments and thanking nice boys for pie, Olivia had to callously ask, "How does it feel to be dying?" So maybe the whole thing is a wash.
While Kevin's dealing with Olivia complaining and then leaving and then coming back and eating his face, he also has to handle being around BFF Miguel. We still haven't gotten much information on Rebecca and Miguel's relationship, but it's safe to say that Kevin does not ship it. He can't even say Miguel's name without looking like he wants to barf. When BFF Miguel innocently asks if Kevin's having fun in rehearsals, he can't help himself: "Fun? No, Miguel, I'm not having any fun. It's emotionally brutal work, but thanks for asking." Later, when Miguel asks if he can wear the Pilgrim Rick hat because he'd like to be included in the tradition, Kevin squarely tells him no. His dad used to wear the hat, and now he and Randall take turns wearing the hat. What does BFF Miguel think he's doing? HE DOESN'T EVEN GO TO THIS SCHOOL.
Here's the thing, though. As much as he tries, Kevin isn't actually a jerk. He's just a guy who misses his father. Kevin wears the Pilgrim Rick hat, but partway through the act, he locks eyes with BFF Miguel and sees a guy who is trying his best. Kevin hands over the Pilgrim Rick duties as an olive branch to his stepfather. Man, families are complicated.
This Is the Rest:
- "We've already listened to Graceland like five times. We get it, Dad! We can call him Al!"
- Rebecca Hat Watch strikes again! She may make regrettable choices regarding her children, but the girl's hat game is always on point.
- I'm happy to report that there's only one moment of Kate staring longingly at food in "Pilgrim Rick." After which she dumps Toby, has a life's-too-short epiphany thanks to some plane turbulence, and decides to get gastric-bypass surgery — and then announces it to her entire family upon her late arrival to Thanksgiving dinner, which happens to be immediately following Randall-gate.
- However you feel about the handling of Kate's character, Chrissy Metz continues to be a phenom. I'm very much Team Breakup, but that scene was a dozen kinds of heartbreaking thanks to Metz's layered performance.
- Kevin and Olivia's play is called Back of an Egg, which is just so perfectly pretentious.
- Randall teasing Kevin about how his "girlfriend" might be into Randall was so true to life. Also, any time we can hear Sterling K. Brown say the words "Thanksgiving Dad is a Hot Dad" while doing the robot is really a victory for all of us.