We should’ve known. From the moment they told us the Pearsons were going to family therapy, we should’ve known that things would get intense. The Pearsons are a family plagued by emotional baggage and turmoil. Our tear ducts have been pushed to their limits by watching this family grapple with life. And yet, still, I was somehow caught off guard by the level of intensity reached in the Pearson therapy session. By the end of Kevin, Kate, Randall, and Rebecca’s time with Therapist Barb, I, like Kate, was weeping silently in my chair.
What fresh, incredibly well-acted hell is this, This Is Us? Maybe I’m in the minority here, but I wish the entire episode had stayed right in that cozy-looking group-therapy room at Kevin’s swanky, court-ordered rehab facility. It was like our very own Pearson Family Presents theater experience (way better than Back of an Egg) and I wanted more. I was emotionally exhausted by the end, I can’t imagine how the actors felt filming those scenes. Things needed to be said, some at very loud volumes.
Things start off nice enough, with the significant others asked to entertain themselves, Kevin, looking very healthy and together (Beth: “Of course he’s Mr. Rehab”), begins by apologizing to his mother and siblings. But then Therapist Barb decides it is time to Real World this situation: The Pearsons need to stop being polite, and start getting real.
Kevin’s issues began way before Jack died, and they, as a family, need to talk about the less-than-perfect things that were going on while Jack was alive. Not surprisingly, Rebecca is on the brink of tears throughout this entire ordeal. When Randall says under his breath, “God, do we have to?” there was nervous laughter in my living room, obviously because Sterling K. Brown’s delivery is perfection, but also because you just knew this would get worse before it got better.
Kevin has come to two conclusions after his one month of rehab. First, his problems stem from a childhood filled with feelings of inadequacy. Kate was their dad’s favorite, and Randall was their mom’s, so Kevin felt like the fifth wheel in his own family. And he’s always looked for ways to cover up those feelings: football, acting, fame, and then finally drugs and alcohol. Which brings Kevin to his second revelation: The Pearsons are a family of addicts. Jack was an addict, Jack’s father was an addict, Kevin is an addict, and yes, Kate is an addict, too.
As you might imagine, this does not go over well. Like, at all. Things especially escalate when Therapist Barb asks Rebecca if she ever spoke to her kids about Jack’s alcoholism. Rebecca defends Jack and her parenting choices (anyone else burst into tears when Rebecca reminded us that the kids only had 17 years’ worth of memories with their father? Sue me, I live for the melodrama!), Kevin attacks Rebecca, and then Randall attacks Kevin. See what you did, Therapist Barb?
Randall has been trying to bite his tongue, since not too long ago Kevin was there for Randall at his lowest (the run, you guys, the run!), but he can bite it no more. He accuses Kevin of only being addicted to attention and will not stand for his brother blaming their mother. Later, Randall will remark that everyone has a different perspective on his or her childhood, and he wishes that there was some objective video tape documenting theirs, so Randall could understand where Kevin was coming from.
You guys, it’s like Randall doesn’t even know what TV show he’s on.
In one of the best uses of This Is Us’s multiple-timeline format, we get a little glimpse into the past to show us exactly what Kevin is referring to. The kids are around 10 years old, and the Pearsons are up at the cabin for the first time. Much like “The Pool,” Jack is dealing with a Kate weight issue, and Rebecca is tending to Randall. In “The Pool,” Kevin almost drowned when he was overlooked by his parents, and he let them know how he was feeling. Here, Rebecca blaming Kevin anytime something happens to Randall seems like family tradition at this point. Little Kevin fights back, but then resigns himself to the fact that he can’t win. Poor little guy takes his comic books outside and reads in the rain. Is Little Kevin sometimes terrible to Randall? Sure! But as with all things Pearson-related, it’s complicated.
Back in the most uncomfortable room in history, Kevin and Randall are taking swipes at each other. Listen, I know Kevin can be insufferable at times, but man if I didn’t yell, “But you should’ve seen him weeping on Dr. One Night Stand’s lawn!” at my screen. Both Kevin and Randall say some nasty things, but this is Kevin’s therapy session. Cut the dude some slack! Alas, there is no slack left. Randall starts to walk out and Rebecca follows him, once again offering credence to Kevin’s claim that Randall is her favorite.
If you thought things were already bad, hold on to your butts.
Kevin just wants Rebecca to admit that she loves Randall the most, that she and Kevin have no real bond. It’s a shitty thing to do, but hey, this is a safe space. He goads her until everyone is yelling (well, Kate is just crying), and finally Rebecca breaks. Randall “was just easier!” she yells through tears. Rebecca says a lot of honest, sad things about her relationship with Kevin, but the real kicker is that, unlike Kevin, Randall “didn’t abandon me and move away after his father died.” It’s all so awful.
Anyway, that’s how you end a group therapy sesh, in case you were wondering.
As intense as things get in the room, the Pearsons do seem to be on the road toward healing by the time they leave the rehab facility. The Big Three end up on a bench outside, where they apologize and say other lovely things to one another as Kate holds both of her brothers. Naturally, Rebecca won’t leave without a one-on-one with Kevin and a final blow to our collective emotions. Kevin was always the strong one, the brave one, so she never thought she needed to worry about him, but that was wrong of her. She also tells her son that she knows they must have had their own special moments together while he was growing up. She feels it.
Back at the cabin, Little Kevin walks into his parents’ room during a thunderstorm to find his brother and sister already curled up between mom and dad. With no room left, Kevin makes his own bed on the floor. Rebecca wakes up in the middle of the night, sees her son, and gets down on the floor and cuddles next to him. Their own special moment.
Holy hell. This Is Us is not messing around in 2018.
This Is the Rest
• Miguel, Beth, and Toby are sent away and spend Family Day at rehab day-drinking and lamenting how hard it is to be an outsider in the Pearson family. They name themselves “The Other Big Three.” It’s fine.
• Twice in my episode notes I wrote, in all caps, “I LOVE MIGUEL.” I know. The first time: When he refused to let Beth and Toby rag on Jack Pearson for being untouchable. The second was his extremely self-aware moment about the whole “I married my best friend’s wife” thing. Now all I want is to see how Miguel and Rebecca fell in love. New year, new me, I guess?
• Beth and Randall’s banter is still the best banter: “That is some white-people-level repression, babe.” “Well, I was raised by white people.” “Everybody knows.”
• In the midst of this very sad episode, let us be grateful to This Is Us for giving us a little flirty, sexy Jack and Rebecca moment.
• It brought me joy to see Kate Burton as Therapist Barb. You may know Burton as Ellis Grey, Meredith’s cold superstar-surgeon mother on Grey’s Anatomy. Ellis would loathe being mistaken for a therapist.
• Since her miscarriage, Kate’s been binging on junk food and hiding it from Toby. After hearing what Kevin has to say, Kate admits that her issues with food are very much entwined with her father — both emotionally (in the flashback, they go on trips to the ice cream parlor together), and genetically. The girl has some things to work on.
• “Derek down the street called me fat. Do you think I’m fat?” “Katie girl, I think you are my favorite-looking person on the whole planet.” I HAVE NO MORE TEARS LEFT TO GIVE, SHOW.