This Is Us
When This Is Us began so many years and traumas ago, did you ever once think that Kevin would become the most interesting character in this whole thing? But here we are! Out of all the Pearsons, he’s had the most well-developed and interesting arc thus far (although I will hear arguments for Rebecca), and the trio of actors who portray this character have done a gorgeous job with him. I’m still thinking about those cuts between Little Kevin in the car with his mom and Adult Kevin in the car with his mom to close out “Songbird Road: Part Two.” Those small, quiet moments moved me. Anyway, the world is wild, man.
So what kind of journey did the eldest of the Big Three go on in the follow-up to the big road trip to meet Uncle Nicky? An emotional and ultimately sad one, as is par for the Pearson course. After finding Nicky drunk in his trailer, staring at a handgun, they bring him to the hotel to spend the night. Neither Randall nor Kate seem to be as invested in helping their uncle as Kevin is. When they find Kevin the next morning, after staying up all night to research centers for vets nearby, they tell him they can’t stick around for part two. Randall needs to be with his family before his new gig starts up and Kate has a doctor’s appointment she can’t miss.
Here’s the thing, you guys. Both of them have excuses that are marginally valid — especially Kate, who honestly I can’t believe flew across country in the first place — but when Kevin sasses back at Randall that he’ll help everyone else but not their own uncle and then walks it back, I was mad. He’s right! Don’t walk that back, dude! If this had been Randall’s plan all along, he wouldn’t like people being so dismissive. But this is Kevin, and we know from experience that no one takes Kevin seriously. We also know from experience what happens when no one takes Kevin seriously: a great episode for us, an intense family therapy session for them. YOU REMEMBER.
There is one Pearson there to stand up for Kev: his mom. (So I guess Rebecca learned something in family therapy, unlike those other fools!) Yes, once Rebecca hears about Nicky and what the kids are doing, she drives to Bradford. She’ll stay with Kevin and see this thing through.
While all of this is playing out in the present day, we continue with that weekend from 1992 in which Jack saw Nicky for the last time. Jack is so unsettled by the whole thing, he can’t take Little Kevin to a baseball-card signing like he promised — but Rebecca will do it for him. And so, in both timelines we are treated to the story of a mother-son day. In 1992, Rebecca’s learning how surprisingly thoughtful Kevin is, so in the present day when she sees that thoughtfulness on display, she’s no longer surprised.
You can see Nicky physically growing more agitated the longer he’s away from his trailer, as he’s forced to visit a vet center and spend time with his late brother’s family — forced to face his past trauma and his grief. As Kevin continues to push, Nicky finally has enough. He can’t be fixed and Kevin is “out of his depth.” This, of course, sends Kevin into a bit of a tailspin. He’s frustrated because he came all this way — Vietnam and back! — and he’s angry at his father for putting him in this position in the first place. The only thing that makes him feel even a tiny bit better is the fact that Rebecca’s mad at Jack, too. But, it’s hard to be mad at a dead man, folks, so Rebecca takes some of that fire into her one-on-one with her brother-in-law.
She mama-bears the crap out of him. When Nicky doesn’t want to talk about his and Jack’s childhood — she’s dying for some new stories about the guy — she turns to defending her son and his desire to help Nicky. Kevin seems like he has it all together, she tells him, but his pain is trickier to see. Kevin is a worrier, he wants people to be happy — especially the people he loves. Nicky is already family to Kevin, she can see it. But when Nicky responds that he doesn’t want to be a “prop” “so a movie star can be a real-life hero,” Rebecca just up and leaves. The lady won’t hear it. (Mandy Moore is great in this episode, no?)
Later, Nicky will heartbreakingly admit that he’s not much of a person anymore, but we see that he is human enough to realize he was wrong to speak to Rebecca that way. He finds her later to apologize and gives her a gift: a simple story about Jack building a tree fort when they were kids, of Jack saying the words “tongue and groove, Nicky.” He gives Kevin a gift, too: He lets him fix the leaky roof in his trailer. I know, I know, that’s not really a gift to us normals, but this is a Pearson, so he’s like, really happy to help out. Nicky also promises to go to one AA meeting at the vet center, for Kevin. For Jack’s son. Nicky thinks seeing Jack’s family is too painful for him, but something tells me we’ll be seeing this guy again.
On the way home, Rebecca is beaming with pride for her son. He did what he set out to do. But Kevin doesn’t look proud or relieved or content — and it’s not because he wanted to do more for his uncle. Kevin had gone back to Nicky’s trailer to try and clean up before they brought him back, but instead of cleaning, he ended up drinking some of Nicky’s booze. Kevin relapsed. Fingers crossed it doesn’t take him screaming on someone’s lawn in pain for anyone to notice him this time.
So where are Kevin’s siblings? I’m glad I asked. Randall and Kate decide to take a detour from their drive back to Alpine, New Jersey — where I’m assuming Kate is flying in and out of NYC — to visit their childhood home in Pittsburgh, which apparently is “not that far.” Okay, so Bradford, Pennsylvania, to Pittsburgh is a three-hour drive (I Google because I care). Then they still have a five- to six-hour drive to New York. This is not a small detour! Also, what time is Kate’s flight?! I’m very worried for her! Also, if they had this much time to kill, why couldn’t they have gone to the vet center with Kevin and Nicky?! Gah! The one enduring truth on this show is that geography and time constraints are fluid for the Pearsons.
This whole excursion is really about Kate and Randall processing why Jack would’ve kept this secret from them. They both sort-of remember that weekend in 1992, but for very different reasons. Randall remembers Jack getting mad at Kate for making a mess with her Valentine’s Day cards and throwing a plate against the wall in the kitchen. Kate remembers it as the weekend they invented “Pearson Pizza” and had an epic sequin fight. Both are true. Randall explains that all it means is that Jack did a good job at parenting — he fought hard to have good memories even on the bad days, hoping it was the former his kids would remember. It’s a very nice sentiment, and that tense weekend in 1992 ends in laughter. But listen, as much as I would like to shower Milo Ventimiglia and his mustache in sparkles, that sequin fight looked too messy to be fun. That’s how I’ll remember that day.
This Is the Rest:
• Meet the Pearson-Schuyler sisters: Deja is Angelica, Tess is Eliza, and Annie is Peggy. Annie complains about getting saddled with “And Peggy” because Annie knows what’s up. Work!
• Just as Randall walks in the door, Beth is walking out. She and Zoe are headed to D.C. because her mom hurt her hip again and we have the long-awaited Beth-centric episode to get to!
• Because this show loves to force me into researching sports trivia: In case you were wondering, John Smiley did get traded to the Minnesota Twins that year. I hope he played all the pool his heart desired!
• YOU GUYS. The look of confusion followed by pure excitement on Little Randall’s face when Jack tells him to order the pizza is so dead-on for how an 11-year-old would react to that situation. Followed by putting on a deep voice and saying “Hi, I’m an adult, can I order a pizza?” on the phone? The whole thing brings me endless joy.
• “You guys were all he ever wanted.” Griffin Dunne’s gunning for Gerald McRaney’s guest Emmy nomination in this one, folks.
• Little Randall putting his head on Jack’s shoulder forever and ever.
• “The Simpsons say it better than I ever could.”