Here’s a weird, fun sentence: Sylvester Stallone made me tear up while watching This Is Us.
Kate is visiting Kevin on the set of his big Ron Howard film (I know it was probably a scheduling thing, but could they have at least made it look a little bit like Ron Howard was in the same vicinity as his actors?), and his co-star just happens to be the man, the myth, the Rocky: Sylvester Stallone. As is, I imagine, the typical reaction to shaking hands with a movie icon, Kate is hardcore fangirling out. She is smitten. Sylvester Stallone knows her name. But Kate isn’t obsessed simply because she loves a good underdog movie — her father was a huge Sylvester Stallone fan. Whenever Jack felt under the weather or had a bad day at work, he’d pop in a Stallone movie. (This is a real fun fact once you remember that Milo Ventimiglia played Stallone’s son in Rocky Balboa.) The Big Three have Rocky memorized, which Kate later proves.
But Sylvester “Call Me Sly” Stallone’s This Is Us stint isn’t just a quick cameo. Stallone is so touched by Kate’s story about her dad, he brings it up to Kevin right before the two share an emotional scene. He knows it must be tough for Kevin and reminds him that his dad would be so proud. Kevin brushes his co-star off. He doesn’t want to talk about Jack right now, it was a long time ago. Then Sly goes into this lovely speech about how time is a funny thing, and that little moments can bring on a whole flood of memories. Nothing is “that long ago,” he explains. It’s basically the premise of the entire series and Sly delivers the thing with such sweetness and sincerity, one has to wonder how Kevin doesn’t just break down and fall to his knees right there. But, as we are learning in this episode, Kevin might be the Pearson with the most emotional armor. Who knew?
The reminder of Jack is just enough to throw Kevin off his game. He can’t remember his lines, as Jack memories flash through his head. Afterward, he has some words for Kate. Mean words. Words like, “I don’t need to walk around sad and damaged just because you are.” It is harsh. Twin fights take no prisoners. Later, after Kevin botches an action sequence because he hurts his bad knee (on the same leg that Teen Kevin has a cast on when Jack died), he reaches out to Kate for forgiveness and comfort. It’s obviously been an emotionally taxing day for the guy. He’s been forced to think about heavy stuff that he’s buried for years. Holding back tears, he tells Kate that it’s “hard for him with dad.” She already knows this, and she also knows he’ll talk about it in his own time. She saw this same kind of alpha male, bury-my-feelings charade with Jack. Kevin is his father’s son, after all. Of course, Jack burying his feelings didn’t really work out so well for him, what with the alcoholism and all. And if This Is Us is doing what I think it’s doing by ending the episode with Kate telling Kevin to be careful about his knee and Kevin popping some pain pills, then Kevin might be more like Jack than we previously thought. As if the Pearsons didn’t already have enough issues.
To steal Kate’s terrible pun, Kevin isn’t the only one getting off to a rocky start with things. After weeks of waiting, Randall and Beth finally get the phone call they’ve been waiting for: There’s a child who needs to be placed in their home. Her name is Deja, she’s 12 years old, and her mother was just arrested. Oh, yeah, she’s on her way immediately.
As we know, Randall is Type A to the extreme. He’s a planner. To prepare himself and his family for the arrival of a foster child, he reads blogs. So many blogs. When Deja arrives and is standoffish and doesn’t care at all about what is surely a top-notch snack drawer, Randall realizes this might be much harder than he thought. A blog post will not help him here.
It certainly doesn’t help when Deja finds Beth unpacking her things and pulling out the cigarettes she brought into the house. She gets a little physical and calls Beth a bitch before Randall runs in. Terrified, Deja backs off — and they finally realize this girl must have gone through something awful to be that scared of Randall.
There will be no quick fix here, but Deja does find a small bit of comfort from a surprising place: Tess and Annie. We shouldn’t be surprised, since Tess and Annie are equal parts Randall and Beth and those two are the actual best people, so their daughters had a real leg up in the “being awesome” department. Beth has a baby monitor set up in Tess and Annie’s room, so she and Randall hear this entire exchange: Deja comes into their room and wakes the girls up. She wants to know who is in charge (mom, obviously) and what happens when you break the rules. She’s sussing the place out, as it were. The conversation reminds little Annie of someone else’s first night at the Pearson abode: William.
You guys, This Is Us might make some missteps here and there, but these extra moments spent with William are not one of them. In an exchange so adorable it hurts, Annie catches William trying to sneak out during the middle of the night, and she tells him about a time when she was scared to sleep over at a friend’s house but then regretted going home because she probably would’ve had fun. Those words don’t seem like much, but they come out of the cutest face on the planet, so they are really affecting.
Little Annie realizes Deja might be scared, too. She offers up the reading chair in the corner of her room, you know, if Deja doesn’t want to sleep alone tonight. Randall and Beth and all of America couldn’t be prouder of Annie.
The win is short-lived. The next morning, Randall and Beth discover that Deja’s mother is most likely going to spend a long time in prison — so those cigarettes Deja wants to give to her mom when she picks her up are going to be sitting in the drawer for a while. Randall tries to soften the blow by telling Deja that she reminds him of himself. He shows her pictures of Jack and Rebecca, and one of William, and explains that when he was Deja’s age, he always felt split inside, torn between his family and his biological parents. But now, as an adult, he sees he was blessed with this big family and a “big, beautiful life,” and he thinks she could have that, too. It is a lovely sentiment, but then he follows it up with the news of her mother and Deja storms off. Speeches fix a lot of things in the Pearson family, but they may not be powerful enough to reach Deja just yet. Somebody call Annie!
This Is the Rest
• Jack and Rebecca take a big step forward: They have sex again! Jack is having a hard time being as open as he promised, so Rebecca plans a date that the old Jack Pearson would’ve been proud of. It does not go well, but in the end, Rebecca reminds Jack that she believes in him and he finally begins to open up. A little. These are baby steps, but they are something.
• “I know. I know. I know.” Leave it to Mandy Moore to destroy us with two words.
• Uh-oh. Jack and Rebecca find a mangy-looking stray dog outside of their house, post vehicular sexy time, and instantly fall in love. It’s the same dog Teen Kate is holding on the night of Jack’s death. Things are falling into place.
• It’s great we’re spending more time with the Teenage Big Three. Niles Fitch as Teen Randall is a particular standout in this episode, as he attempts to explain to his siblings why he suddenly put an ad in the paper looking for his birth parents. Praise be that Randall is smart enough to get himself away from the crazy lady who shows up at their agreed-upon meeting place claiming to be his birth mother. It was a stressful 60 seconds for all of us.
• Sylvester Stallone has exactly no time for fruit in water, but he has all the time for a good frittata situation.
• We’ll eventually see Rebecca’s pixie cut, right? RIGHT?