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This Is Us Recap: What’s a Happily-Ever-After?

This Is Us

Don’t Take My Sunshine Away
Season 3 Episode 16
Editor’s Rating *****

This Is Us

Don’t Take My Sunshine Away
Season 3 Episode 16
Editor’s Rating *****
Photo: Ron Batzdorff/NBC

It’s true, we have made our way out of that godforsaken hospital waiting room. But all of that angst and anger and fear and sadness that was felt while stuck in there last week? Yeah, that’s all still there. The Pearsons will never truly escape that.

“Don’t Take My Sunshine Away” is (very) loosely tied together by a flashback to 1992, when the Big Three attend their first school dance and Jack and Rebecca tag along as chaperones. Objectively speaking, Jack and Rebecca are hot, cool parents, but don’t you think they’d be extremely embarrassing to a bunch of 12-year-olds? They’re making out in the library and slow-dancing in the middle of the gym. We think it’s cute, but imagine the children!

The whole point of this trip to an awkward preteen event is, first, to allow Jack to remind us of his troubled childhood. Rebecca’s shocked to hear that he never went to a school dance (hence their slow dance later), but you know, Jack had bigger problems. I suspect that now that we’ve solved the mystery of both Jack’s death and his time in Vietnam, his story is going to pivot to what happened with his parents. Otherwise, I fear we’re running out of Jack story, and it would be a shame to lose him. But I digress: Jack is so happy to be at this school dance and see that, unlike him, his kids are getting a normal childhood. He praises Rebecca for providing it and believes “things are going to be effortless” for them.

Oh, you guys. I almost choked on my La Croix. Poor, dumb, handsome Jack. You have no idea! Their lives will be anything but effortless. Oh, and then he starts talking about what his kids’ “happily-ever-afters” will be and I wanted to flip a table. They will be nothing, Jack! Nothing! I mean, I’m sure this series has to end on some type of hopeful note … or at least a bittersweet one, right? After all the trauma, it has to. Probably. Maybe?

It doesn’t much matter in the present, because we’re still wading through the sadness. I mean, even the child who seemed poised to have a happy ending is slowly losing sight of that endgame. Randall and Beth are not in a great place (again). We get a little montage of them attempting to keep up with their crazy schedules and, reader, it is truly exhausting. But to make sure no one has to give up anything, it seems to be the only way. I mean, they could move to Philadelphia — they do have dance schools there and in the long run it would benefit their daughters to have their parents around more — but what do I know?

As they attempt to do it all, Beth and Randall never see each other, and whatever one tries to do for the other is never good enough. Randall rushes around and works like hell to get to Beth’s first recital, but he is a few minutes late and she reminds him of that. Was the theme of the recital passive-aggression? Randall begs Beth to come to an important dinner even though it means she’ll have to give up a work meeting she wants to attend, and when Beth doesn’t show, Randall calls her and leaves a truly heinous voicemail completely demeaning her job and telling her to “grow the hell up.” It is truly Randall at his worst.

And then, you guys, Beth shows up at that dinner. She was stuck in standstill traffic and her phone died. Oh, but not before she hears Randall’s awful voicemail (and yet she couldn’t respond to his other calls or texts before that?). She acts the part of the wonderful, supportive wife during the dinner, but as they leave, she tells Randall to sleep at his office. Her husband was a true dick and she is not having it. Unfortunately, Randall is not having her not having it. They slam the bedroom door shut and prepare to have it out. So we have that screaming match to look forward to next week. Cool, cool, cool. I’m not scared at all.

Randall’s siblings are faring much better, praise be. I mean, “better” is relative, but honestly, they both seem “happy” by episode’s end. Kate and Toby are six days into parenthood and baby Jack is still toughing it out in the NICU. If you too were worried about how uneasy Toby looked at the end of last week’s episode, you had reason to be! Toby is a mess. While Kate is there being strong and optimistic and singing lullabies to her son, Toby looks at him and can only see tubes and pain. I mean, it’s definitely something no one should have to look at, but Toby really leaves his wife hanging. He meets another dad in that dreaded waiting room (this is the last time, show!) who has been there with his wife and daughter for six weeks, and they swap stories of inadequacies and fear. He tells Toby that women are just better at this, and thanks, but no. That feels like a cop-out wrapped up in a compliment.

Thankfully, Toby realizes he needs to make a change. He apologizes to his wife and admits to feeling so overwhelmed and out of his wheelhouse. Kudos to Kate for not rolling her eyes and being like, “WE’RE ALL MAKING THIS UP AS WE GO ALONG” — instead she tells him she believes in him and leaves him alone with their son. It’s time to put your daddy pants on, Tobester. He does!

Not that I enjoy watching scary baby stories like this, but I will say, since the graduation episode on, I’ve never liked Kate and Toby storylines more. Guys, I know, that’s only three episodes, but we all have to start somewhere.

Hey! Kevin’s not doing so bad, either. We don’t get to see Zoe or any of his family confronting him about the vodka-in-a-water-bottle thing, which feels like a huge missed opportunity, but we see the aftermath. Kevin and Zoe are in couple’s therapy. She is ready to be there for Kevin throughout his recovery, but she cannot take the lies. “I just don’t want to be a sucker,” she says. I mean, she could be. But Kevin seems very convincing (he always does!) about being honest and dealing with this and wanting her forever with babies and a home and the whole thing.

It’s the kid thing that gives Zoe pause. She tells Kevin that she doesn’t want children. Ever. It’s something she’s thought about for a good long time and it’s not going to change. Kevin’s immediate response is that he could be okay without kids, which is maybe the least convincing he’s ever been! Zoe wants him to really think about it before deciding, but says that he should figure it out because neither of them should waste the other’s time if they aren’t on the same page about this. It’s very rational and respectful and I enjoy Zoe.

Kevin’s testing out different AA meetings throughout the city and ends up at one in Park Slope near Sophie’s apartment. Yeah, you read that right: Sophie’s apartment. Back in 1992 we’re witnessing Sophie and Kevin’s first kiss. Anyway, Sophie rolls up to find her ex-husband and also ex-boyfriend lurking in front of her apartment, but aside from the fast that there are dozens of ways to walk to the subway, it’s all very innocent. The guy was passing through and also he’s being forced to really think about what he wants from his life. For a long time, that was Sophie. She’s actually a good person to have this chat with.

They go to coffee and Sophie tells Kevin all about her fiancé. His name is Grant and he is a kindergarten teacher who plays piano and loves Billy Joel. Most likely he does not harbor intense baggage related to his father’s sudden death when he was a teenager. He sounds perfect. But because this is Kevin, the conversation quickly shifts to his current problem. (I know that sounds like a dig, but I love Kevin through all his faults.) Sophie thinks Zoe sounds good for Kevin. She also reminds him that he’s gotten everything he’s ever wanted in life, so he’s not used to making tough choices. Her advice is incredibly unhelpful: He just has to decide what he wants. Like it’s so easy, Sophie!

Well, apparently it is. Kevin goes home and tells Zoe that if he’s choosing between a life with her or a life with kids, it’s a no-brainer: He chooses Zoe. It’s very romantic and I want Kevin and Zoe to be together forever, but I feel like this conversation might come up again eventually. Then again, Kevin’s surprised us all before.

This Is Us Recap: What’s a Happily-Ever-After?