Isn’t it wonderful when a slow-burn story line finally comes together in the most beautiful, heartbreaking way? There is no huge reveal in “Jack Pearson’s Son,” and we’re still waiting to find out the story behind Jack’s death, but man is there a big payoff.
In a show overflowing with family dynamics, Randall and Kevin’s infinitely layered relationship has to be close to the top. It’s fraught with resentment: Kevin always felt overlooked by his parents; Randall never understood why his brother couldn’t just love him. Mix that baggage with a little guilt (okay, a lot of guilt) and some bonding based on tragic history, top with some Hot Brother Morning Runs, and you’ve got yourself a standout episode.
The tension between Kevin and Randall has been subtly on display since the start of the series, and explicitly explored in “The Best Washing Machine in the World,” in which we witnessed the first time Kevin claimed Randall as his brother in public. It hit Kevin very hard, so by the end of the episode, the two have made baby steps toward dealing with their issues. “Jack Pearson’s Son” owes an awful lot to that moment. The slow rebuilding of their fraternal bond not only makes it easy to believe in Kevin’s grand gesture, but to also understand why Randall might need his brother, and only his brother. YOU GUYS, KEVIN HOLDS A CRYING RANDALL AND I AM FOREVER CHANGED.
Okay, I’m getting ahead of myself, but honestly … the crying! The holding! The brothers! It is such a moment. Let’s talk about how This Is Us gets there.
Randall is losing it. After the last episode, if you were speculating that Randall might be broken, I have an update: THE BOY IS BROKE. As if the pressure to keep it all together wasn’t enough, now Beth has to head to D.C. to help her hospitalized mother, leaving Randall on his own.
Things are real bad, you guys. His hand tremor won’t go away. He has trouble breathing during the aforementioned Hot Brother Morning Run. He’s a little mean to his rapidly deteriorating father. (Don’t you dare die yet, William.) He falters with a client and Sanjay (Sanjay!) has to step in. Randall starts to silently cry right there at the conference table. Remember how, in Parenthood, anytime Mae Whitman started tearing up, you would have zero control over your own tear ducts, as if her tears had magical powers to which human reason stood no chance? Well, the same thing happens to me with Sterling K. Brown. When Sterling cries, America cries. So there is a lot of crying happening.
While Randall is stoically falling apart (the quiet ones are always the most alarming), Kevin is having his own sort of meltdown. Of course it’s a pretentious actor-y meltdown ahead of the premiere of The Back of an Egg. It includes a dream in which Katie Couric (!) refers to Kevin as a “vapid, pretty boy who made his mark pretending to breastfeed an infant from his own pectoral,” so it is hard to take it as seriously as his brother’s. Which is kind of the point.
Kevin moves from loved one to loved one with his plight of self-doubt. Sophie (news flash: they are cautiously dating already) is busy with work, Kate is off finally learning about the man she’s going to marry, and Randall … oof, Randall can barely hear what his brother is telling him. Randall might be standing in front of him, but he isn’t really there. Kevin may notice his brother’s problem, but doesn’t have time to inquire further.
This isn’t the first time Kevin has seen Randall in panic mode. During the flashback to the Big Three as teenagers, we discover that Randall’s panic attacks aren’t anything new. One of those early attacks, this time over a paper on Hamlet that needs to be perfect, takes ahold of Randall just as Jack and Rebecca are giving Kevin a stern talking to about having sex with Sophie. Even in the middle of such an important conversation, Jack stops to help calm down Randall. He holds his son and reminds him to breathe. To teenage Kevin, it is just another example of Randall being the priority. It’s so infuriating, in fact, that when he sees Randall crying over his computer, alone in his room, Kevin puts his head down and continues on with his own business. Randall won’t be getting any help from him.
Back in the present, it almost feels like history is repeating itself. Kevin must know something is a little off with his brother, but he’s too busy dealing with his pre-show jitters to say anything.
The next stop on the Make Kevin Feel Better Tour is his mother. When Kevin arrives at her house, though, the only person home is Miguel. What follows is another example of a dynamic that has been slowly set up for a great payoff. Kevin and Miguel have never really had it out (that we’ve seen), but the tension is always bubbling underneath. So, having Miguel be the one to finally assuage Kevin’s fears is a great emotional twist. The fact that all of Miguel’s advice boils down to “you are your father’s son, remember that and think about what he would do” makes it unexpectedly moving.
And that’s exactly what Kevin does. As he waits backstage for his big stage debut, he gets a call from a very confused Randall. Randall is back at his desk, barely able to see his computer screen. He tells Kevin that he can’t make it to the show, that something came up at work. There’s an emptiness to his voice that does not go unnoticed by Kevin. The entire thing is very off-putting.
As Kevin walks toward the stage, he remembers Miguel’s advice, and he does what his dad would do. He runs. He runs as fast as he can to find Randall. It is a big, cheesy, end-of-a-rom-com, running-through-the-streets moment and it is glorious. Like, forget that he just left Sloane hanging onstage in front of the New York Times critic. Just. Enjoy. The. Run.
Kevin finds Randall on the floor of his office, crying, unable to move. He holds his brother close to him because that is what is most important now. And honestly, what the hell does The Back of an Egg mean, anyway?
This Is the Rest
• Am I in a parallel universe? I think I liked BFF Miguel … IN BOTH TIMELINES. Young Miguel had me at Jeff Goldblum and sealed it with that awkward wink-wave. And Old Miguel, well, he tells Kevin that talking to him is like getting a tiny piece of his best friend back. I think you can guess what kind of reaction I had to that speech. In short, an emotional one.
• ALERT: Jack is drinking again. After attempting to be okay with his wife going on a month-long tour, he discovers that Ben, who seemingly only has eyes for Rebecca, is a kinda, sorta ex. A heated fight ensues and Jack ends up going to Valentine’s Day dinner alone, where he orders a double bacon cheeseburger with a side of Maker’s Mark. This is a troubling development.
• “I needed something for myself without you getting in the way.” “I never thought of myself as getting in your way, Rebecca.” MOM AND DAD, PLEASE STOP FIGHTING.
• Things we learned during Kate and Toby’s Deep Dive: Little Kate crushed on Aladdin and his abs, Toby had a pet turtle named Shirley (“as in Laverne and”), Toby is kind of lovely when he isn’t being a goofball or the pushiest boyfriend on the planet, oh, and, Kate still cannot talk about her father’s death. Ugh. THIS IS GOING TO BE SO SAD.
• The ONLY solace I find in Jack’s early demise is that we will be seeing lots of intense, dramatic moments from the teen Big Three and those kids seem wonderful.
• Is that really it with Duke? He’s just a dick to Kate, then when she pushes back, he has her kicked out of his mommy and daddy’s fat camp? I’m not saying I want him back, but WTF?
• I love Jack Pearson for many reasons, but my No. 1 might be him talking Miguel out of wearing a fedora in public.
• But seriously: Poor Sloane!