Uncurl yourselves from the fetal position, This Is Us fam. “Number One” is a doozy of an episode and we need to talk about it. Was it depressing as hell to watch Kevin Pearson hit rock bottom, or what? Someone hold me!
Before we get into the specifics of how Kevin winds up weeping on the front lawn of a one-night stand and breaking our collective hearts, let’s talk format. This episode is the first of three dedicated to each of the Big Three. It’s such a simple and effective way to play with the This Is Us structure, I’m surprised we didn’t see this happen in season one. It’s a deep dive into each Pearson kid without any pesky siblings. It’s smart, but it’s also a little risky: The show is cutting out other, more beloved, more Adult Randall–y characters for an installment or two to make room for a story about a character who may be less compelling on the reg.
People have problems with Kevin. I get it. His character is riddled with clichés and predictable story lines. Kevin is always better when he’s dealing with less actor-y and career stuff and more interpersonal relationship turmoil with family members. (Kevin and Randall story lines always and forever!) Despite all of that, I’m onboard with Kevin. Justin Hartley’s portrayal is always engaging and he straight-up hit me directly in the heart in “Number One.” For all the Kevin haters out there, I hope this solo installment helps fill in some shading on the character.
We get a better understanding of his inner turmoil. Please say yes, Kevin haters. I need to know something good came out of the storm of sadness that befalls the oldest Pearson.
As I was saying, “Number One” turns our focus on Adult Kevin and his sweaty, Vicodin-fueled shame spiral as he heads to a high-school alumni award ceremony, and Teen Kevin around the time he injures his knee and his football dreams are dashed. Which is also extremely close to the time Jack dies. (Remember: Kevin is still in his cast in those flashbacks.) Jack’s death! Always looming, making every conversation he has with his teenagers more poignant.
The Teen Kevin story very much informs the Adult Kevin Returns to Where He Once Was King story. Around this time, Teen Kevin is, well, a real dick. He’s being courted by college football coaches and he knows he’s a stud. He’s insanely rude to the Pitt coach when he pays a house visit. That poor dude! First, he has to choke down Rebecca’s chocolate-orange-zest cake and then he has to put up with a teenager giving him attitude. Give that guy a raise, University of Pittsburgh!
Kevin is still having issues with being overlooked for his other siblings. He seems fine, so he must be fine, right? It’s the scar he’ll wind up carrying well into adulthood. Furthermore, he’s having trouble dealing with his father’s alcoholism and participation in AA. The scene in which Kevin catches Jack on the phone with his sponsor and then watches as Jack gets down and recites the AA serenity prayer is very upsetting. (If you’re wondering where we are timeline-wise, Jack has been in AA for six months.)
When the coach leaves, Jack and Kevin get into it. Jack is embarrassed by watching his son behave that way. Kevin “knows the feeling well.” Later, Kevin apologizes, but things are still tense between the two. And Kevin is still a dick.
The pain of Kevin’s relationship with his dad is what he’s trying to stuff down with Vicodin and booze in the present day. Adult Kevin is on a bender in his hotel room. Even wise hotel housekeeper Martina can tell the guy needs to get out. When he gets a call from perky McKinley High homecoming coordinator Kelly about his arrival for the alumni ceremony, Kevin decides to go.
Kevin’s bender continues. He arrives in Pittsburgh the next day and has his driver take him to the old Pearson house, now completely different. He sees it gutted by fire. He imagines the tiny Big Three playing football with Jack and Rebecca on the front lawn. He doesn’t see me silently crying, but it is still happening.
Out of pills by the time he gets to the school, Kevin just gets shakier and drunker as the evening goes on. Can no one see how terrible Kevin looks? OPEN YOUR EYES, PEOPLE. But that’s the problem, isn’t it? No one can truly see Kevin. Even when he is standing right in front of people, completely broken, he’s always the Pearson without any problems. This is never clearer than when Kevin goes to accept his award. His old coach presents it with a moving speech about how Kevin has been dealt a lot of blows, but has managed to pick himself up every time. During the speech, Kevin begins to see Jack standing there at the microphone. It’s all he’s ever wanted, right? Seeing his dad beaming with pride. Kevin loses it. He tells the crowd that he doesn’t deserve this award. He isn’t strong at all. The crowd still cheers. No one can see this man begging for help.
Drunk Kevin winds up on the football field. We flash between Adult Kevin giving a play-by-play commentary of his screwed up life and the game when Teen Kevin gets irreparably injured. Which line hit you the hardest? “Kevin Pearson will walk again just in time to bury his beloved father” or “Even when he tries to tell people how pathetic he is, they don’t hear it, they just cheer?” This feels like rock bottom, right? Well, it isn’t.
Kevin ends up in bed with another alumna, a doctor named Charlotte who’s nursing a major crush. Predictably, post-coital Kevin finds Dr. Charlotte’s prescription pad before sneaking out of the house. Before he can hand over his prescription — this time for fentanyl, a much more powerful painkiller — to the pharmacist, Kevin gets spooked by some cops. The stress makes him reach for the one thing that calms him down: Jack’s necklace. Only this time, the necklace is missing. He must’ve left it at Charlotte’s house.
We already know this necklace is the only thing Kevin has that belonged to his father, but now we get to see the moment Jack passed it on to his son. Jack is the one who has to tell Teen Kevin that he’ll never play football again. Oof, this scene. Jack wishes he could take this on as his own pain! Teen Kevin is so sorry for how he’s been treating Jack! He’ll even go to Pitt. Jack promises Kevin he’ll find another dream. Then he gives him the necklace someone gave to him during the Vietnam war — it’s the Buddhist symbol for purpose. You know when Jack figured out his own purpose? The moment he held Kevin, his number one, for the first time. Can we all just group hug now?
No, we can’t, because it’s about to get worse. Adult Kevin goes to Dr. Charlotte’s house for the necklace, and she is understandably floored that he would even come back. And that’s when Kevin breaks down on the lawn. After Kevin’s final “I need somebody to help me!” while doubled over on Dr. Charlotte’s lawn in the dark, I was legit yelling, “WHY CAN’T SOMEBODY HELP HIM?!” (I’m a very active TV viewer, who cares.) Also, where the hell is that necklace?
Just when you think Kevin is going to reach out for that help, he is once again overlooked. A weary Kevin shows up at Randall’s door, ready to confide in his brother until Randall stops him. Randall says he already knows why Kevin is here looking so upset: Kate just lost her baby.
Good lord, can’t the Pearsons catch a break?
This Is the Rest
• No, that beard is not a Movie-Role Beard. It is an I’m-Broken-Inside Beard.
• The “Lonesome Loser” scene cutting back and forth between Teen Kevin and Adult Kevin in the school hallway is so, so good.
• Who is this Coach Duffy person? We’ve only just met and he’s already made me cry. Duff! Duff! Duff!
• I assumed with this format we’d skip around to monumental times in each of the Big Three’s lives, but it seems like we’ll be sticking with the same time period, seen from different perspectives. Conversations we only saw part of in Kevin’s installment will be filled in with the other two. I’m counting down to Jack and Randall’s road trip!
• “Get it together, Kelly!” Aside from propositioning Kevin, which is alarming, Homecoming Coordinator Kelly is hilariously annoying at every turn.
• BABY KATE IS THE CUTEST THING I HAVE EVER SEEN.