This Is Us is taking a breather. Aside from one major revelation — YES, WE WILL GET TO IT — this week’s episode presses pause on the Deja stuff (all very good so far), the Kate-is-pregnant story (meh), and the Kevin-has-a-drug-addiction drama (hard pass) to better shade in the Pearson clan. Not a ton happens plot-wise, which might upset some people, but filling the blanks in the Pearson family history is basically the whole point of this show. It’s a long journey, people, and we have much to learn. So, the haters can stuff it!
The episode mainly alternates between Halloween in 1990 and 2008. Yes, that means we’re meeting the Big Three in their 20s for the first time. Finally! Now that we have some more details on how Jack meets his demise, the show is free to explore the time between his death and when we met Randall, Kevin, and Kate in the pilot. Not that the present-day Big Three have it all figured out, but it is interesting to see them struggling as 28-year-olds, especially since they are much closer to the loss of their father and the grief is much more palpable.
There’s no getting around it: In 2008, Randall, Kevin, and Kate are all hot messes. Randall and Beth are about to have their first child, and we’re about two months after his first nervous breakdown (the one Beth described to William when he first arrived). This Randall is not the upbeat guy we know now. His breakdown and the stress of becoming a father have broken him. Once Rebecca arrives the night before they’re going to induce, he heads out to Home Depot to settle a score with a nursery ceiling fan that just doesn’t want to cooperate. In true Randall fashion, he dumps his entire emotional state on the well-meaning store clerk, who, in the end, offers Randall some very sweet advice about fatherhood. Want to feel even more moved? Think about how wonderful Jack would’ve been at giving Randall father-to-be advice. Yep. Sit on that.
Done crying? Cool. After the nice man at Home Depot helps Randall with both his fears of fatherhood and finding a good ceiling fan, Randall gets a call: This baby is coming … now. Due to some contrivances, Beth is delivering this baby in the living room. She’s scared, and that’s what it takes to snap Randall out of his funk. He is there for her. He sees her. And they can do this together. So on Halloween 2008, Randall, Beth, and Rebecca bring little Tess (named after that new ceiling fan, which is just wonderful) into the world.
Randall’s life is looking up. By the end of the episode, Kate and Kevin’s seems to be as well. In 2008, Kate is still in Pittsburgh, working as a waitress, sleeping with a married guy, and sitting outside her old childhood home eating fast food and crying. Kevin is working at a hair salon in L.A., hasn’t had an audition in a year, and gets kicked out of his apartment after trying to steal a part from his roommate. Standing in Randall’s gorgeous kitchen after meeting their niece, the two reluctantly admit to one another that they are most definitely not crushing their 20s. They’re stuck. But it is time for a change. With that mind-set, Kate makes the big move out to Los Angeles to live with Kevin, and Kevin joins that dumb improv group where we know he’ll get discovered by his agent. For better or worse, they are on track to wind up where we know them to be in the present day. We await your arrival with open arms.
Although I’m very happy to meet the Big Three in their 20s and I very much hope we’ll do it again sometime, the real standout of this episode is Rebecca. I’ve said it before, but it begs to be repeated: Mandy Moore is doing something very special in season two, and she is acting her ass off in “The 20’s.”
Back in 1990, Rebecca is living her dream of making Halloween costumes for her kids (she was so excited about that!), dealing with Randall and Kevin’s fights about trick-or-treating, and Jack babying Kate. As much as Jack gives Kate whatever she wants, Rebecca does the same with Randall. And because of this, Sonny and Cher end up going their separate ways on Halloween, so that Rebecca can appease Randall and his very detailed map for maximizing candy-to-houses ratio. It’s also how she ends up having to tell Randall about Kyle by herself, once a chatty neighbor tells Randall he’s a miracle. She does an excellent job explaining that Randall was never “instead of” Kyle, but rather meant to be, yet she is still shaken up by the whole thing once she and Jack reunite back at home. She didn’t want to have that conversation without her partner. She doesn’t work without him; nothing about their lives works without Jack.
It’s a very lovely scene on its own — Ventimiglia and Moore’s chemistry continues to grow — but really, it’s a setup for another scene in the episode. You know the scene and you know I am still crying about it.
After Tess is born and they get Beth to the hospital, Rebecca and Randall are back home. Randall finds his mother cleaning up a mug she dropped on the floor. She is crying. She explains to her son that being there for her granddaughter’s birth is one of the happiest moments of her life — but Jack wasn’t there for it. She still hasn’t gotten used to the fact that all of her happy moments will be tinged with a sadness because of this loss. The present-day timeline has mainly focused on the adult Big Three, their lives, and their grief over their father, but it hasn’t really touched on Rebecca’s life or emotional state post-Jack, aside from being married to Miguel, so this scene is long awaited and much needed. Again, more of this, please!
Rebecca gets the final montage in the episode, as well. It gorgeously goes back and forth between Rebecca in 2008, talking to her new granddaughter in the hospital nursery and Rebecca in 1980, meeting Randall in the nursery for the first time. Like Kevin’s painting speech about how our stories begin long before we are born and end long after we die, Rebecca tells baby Tess how her story began long ago, thanks to someone who isn’t here anymore. She tells her how at first it felt like an ending, but really it was a beginning — and that now, she thought her story was ending, but maybe, with her granddaughter, it’s a new beginning.
And it really is. Earlier in the episode, Sad Rebecca asks Beth to help her set up a Facebook account so she can share pictures of her granddaughter. At the end, we watch as Rebecca posts that first picture of Tess … and she gets a message. It’s from Miguel. It’s been eight years since they’ve seen each other and now they are reconnecting. RECORD SCRATCH, YOU GUYS. We’re watching how Rebecca and Miguel end up together, and it is long after Jack has died. Rebecca has been mourning for a long time. She is the saddest. And this is her getting a new beginning.
Man, you just knew they were going to make us feel terrible for all the Miguel hate.
This Is the Rest
• Just when you’ve decided Kevin is a little shit, he goes and says something like this to Kate, when he finds out that she’s still sitting outside the old Pearson house waiting for Jack to come back: “You know what he’d want for you? Everything.” Did you immediately move your hand to your heart? No, no, me neither.
• Speaking of wonderful things Kevin does for his sister: In 1990, all Little Kate wants is for Billy Palmer to walk through a haunted house with her and maybe hold her hand. And it happens! But as Jack discovers, it happens because Kevin gives all of his candy to Billy in order to make it happen. “I can always get more candy, Dad.”
• In case you’re wondering: Jack and Rebecca are Sonny and Cher, Randall is Michael Jackson, Kate is Pretty Sandra Dee (not Tough Sandra Dee), and Kevin is a bum smoking a cigar because his ultimate fantasy is to have no chores and never tuck his shirt in.
• Milo Ventimiglia looks like he’s having so much fun in this episode. The Sonny Bono getup, terrible singing, doing the moonwalk — these are a few of my favorite Jack Pearson things.
• Find you a man who looks at you the way Jack looks at Rebecca through a hospital nursery window.
• “I’m Rhoda with a mustache.”