This Is Us has jokes, you guys. And I’m not talking about the “Randall ‘Cool’ Pearson” and his wonky jokes. They are hilarious and I will never tire of Beth having to remind her husband that he’s not funny, but no, I’m talking about the joke This Is Us tries to play on us with this week’s episode title.
When you think of the “Brothers” associated with This Is Us, it’s Randall and Kevin. Of all the relationships we’ve watched develop in multiple timelines, Randall and Kevin’s has been the most interesting and been given the most screen time. From the excellent season-one outing “The Best Washing Machine in the Whole World,” in which Kevin and Randall hash out their long-simmering differences in front of Seth Meyers and all of Manhattan, to Kevin’s rom-com run, Randall’s rescue during his nervous breakdown in “Jack Pearson’s Son,” and all the glimpses of the contention between the two boys while they were growing up, This Is Us knows it has something worth mining with Randall and Kevin.
But they aren’t the only Pearson brothers.
In another patented This Is Us cliffhanger reveal, we learn that Jack Pearson has a brother named Nick. Cue the theme music, because this probably has you feeling all types of feelings. If some people are upset that the show can easily add in new things and toss them in as a “reveal” or a “twist,” just to serve the story, I understand. That’s going to be a tricky obstacle for the series as it continues, but thankfully, this one works. It’s both genuinely surprising and adds some much-needed character development to the mix.
Jack decides to take Little Kevin and Little Randall on a camping trip to see if he can help his sons bond — well, it’s mostly about making Kevin be nicer to Randall, because he can be a real jerk. Jack wants Kevin to understand that his relationship with his brother is one of the most important of his life, and that they will depend on each other more than anyone else in the world. (This obviously has much more meaning once we learn about Jack’s own brother.)
Meanwhile, back at the Pearson house, Rebecca gets a call from Jack’s father’s nursing home: Stanley is dying. Since Rebecca can’t get in touch with Jack, she and Kate go to the nursing home. There, she finds a ghost of a man. The Stanley who Rebecca meets is in stark contrast to the Stanley with whom we’ve seen Jack do battle, or the Stanley who we’ve been watching in the episode’s flashback to a time when he took Little Jack on a fishing trip. (He stops at a bar and leaves Jack in the truck by himself for a long time — long enough for Jack to whisper to himself, “He’s coming back,” over and over.)
Rebecca finally gets a hold of Jack through the park ranger and asks him if he wants to come back to see his father before he dies. There are so many emotions going through his face (get yours, Milo!), but he says no. He’s staying with his sons. His father has been dead to him for a long time. Rebecca has to tell Stanley that his son isn’t coming, and she also tells him that Jack is a better, stronger father despite Stanley. Boy, bye.
Back at the campsite, we see Jack’s parenting skills at work. Little Kevin has found Randall’s notebook that basically outlines how to not piss off his brother, and that heartbreaking realization, paired with Jack’s talk, helps Kevin pull himself together enough to be nice to Randall for the duration of the camping trip. Whether he knows it or not, Jack is helping his boys form a bond that they’ll both need as adults. (Like, really, really need.)
But Jack doesn’t get to celebrate his win: He can’t sleep. His father’s death and his time with his sons have stirred something in him. In the fishing-trip flashback, Little Jack is still waiting for his dad to come back when a boy wakes up in the backseat. It’s his brother. When Nicky seems worried about being forgotten, Jack reassures him that he isn’t going anywhere. When Adult Jack told his sons that brothers depend on one another, he was speaking from experience. And then the real kicker: Adult Jack sneaks into the garage and pulls out an old photo of him standing next to his brother … while they were overseas in Vietnam.
We always knew we’d need to explore Jack’s time in Vietnam, but now we feel even more urgency to do so. Did Nick die over there? Is his brother one of Jack’s demons? How does all of this play into his relationship with his father and his addictions? As usual, more clues lead to more questions. I’m a fan of any Jack development that has less to do with how he died and more about how he lived. And this development feels very important to who Jack is.
Adult Kevin and Randall get some brotherly bonding time as well. A month into her time at the Pearson house, Deja is still doing her standoffish thing, so when she expresses interest in attending a charity gala Kevin is going to for Sophie, Randall jumps at the chance to have an evening with his foster child. It doesn’t even bug him that the only reason she wants to go is because she is hardcore crushing on Kevin. Okay, it does bug him. A lot. But he’ll take the bonding where he can get it.
Deja seems to be enjoying herself, so Randall is, too. The happiness on his face as he watches Deja try shrimp for the first time is almost too much. Of course that abruptly ends when he sees Deja go to eat the tail, and he grabs her hand to stop her. It startles her, and she runs off to the bathroom. Randall does his best to stop himself from running into the ladies’ room after Deja, but even Kevin, who comes to wait beside his brother, knows there is no stopping him. They have a chat as they wait for the inevitable: Randall feels too much, whereas Kevin tries not to feel anything. Kevin is good with people, Randall is overwhelming. The shot of these two brothers standing next to one another is perfection.
Randall goes in to see Deja. Eventually, she opens up a little: She doesn’t like to be grabbed. She tells Randall a story about being abused in one of her old foster homes, and it finally dawns on Randall how real and complicated this situation is. He sees how much pain Deja’s been through. It’s a baby step toward having a real relationship, but a necessary one.
Here’s the big question: Now that Randall is consumed by Deja, and Kate is off in Los Angeles panicking about her pregnancy, who is going to notice Kevin having a complete meltdown? He spends the episode attempting to get more Vicodin from doctors, getting wasted at the gala, and embarrassing Sophie when he fails to show up for his portion of the auction. Sophie calls Kevin out for being weird since returning from L.A., Randall catches a hint of something off during their bathroom scene (but doesn’t press the matter), and Kate seems too busy to tune into her twin-tuition. Kevin is in a bad place and it is only getting worse. Someone needs to notice him, quick. Oh, you guys, I am already tearing up thinking about a Big Three intervention hug.
This Is the Rest
• A pro for Kate’s pregnancy: Two very nice Kate moments. First, Chrissy Metz navigates a speech that is rife with competing emotions — mainly hope and fear — as only Chrissy Metz can. Second, the delightful interaction between Kate and Madison, the annoying thin girl at weight group. Moments after fighting in the parking lot, they get into a fender bender and Kate ends up telling Madison about her pregnancy. Madison couldn’t be happier for her. Their dynamic is very entertaining.
• A con for Kate’s pregnancy: Toby acts exactly as you would expect once Kate gives him permission to tell people that she’s pregnant. Okay, well, no one could’ve guessed that he would do an homage to Flashdance in a coffeeshop, but you get the picture. This dude is going to be so annoying as a father.
• Episode titles of The Man-ny: “Iron Man-ny,” “The Thin Man-ny,” “Man-ny Get Your Gun,” “Of Mice and Man-nies,” and “Man-ny Pedi.”
• “You down with DQ?” Randall is the hottest nerd.
• Beth calls Sophie’s hospital charity gala a “Kev-ent” and nothing could be truer. She also calls Kevin “smoking hot” when trying to explain Deja’s infatuation to Randall, who is not pleased by any of this at all.
• Kevin asks Randall if he’s jealous that the charity is auctioning off a date with the Man-ny. Randall’s response: “No black man will ever be jealous of being auctioned. Hashtag American history.”