Ah, see? This feels much better. I get what This Is Us was trying to do with its season-four premiere, and sure, I’m interested in seeing how our new characters are woven into the greater Pearson tapestry, but to really get back into the This Is Us swing of things, I needed an episode like “The Pool: Part Two.” I know I’ve said this before, and I’ll probably be saying this until the series finale, but This Is Us doesn’t need tricky reveals to be moving — “The Pool: Part Two,” which brings us back to the public pool we visited in season one, is one of the best TIU episodes in a while, and it has none of those. Instead it has things like: reminders of emotional bridges that have carried the Pearson kids from childhood to adulthood, Rebecca in yet another fabulous hat, some great adult-sibling moments, Randall talking about meat sweats, parents wistfully looking at their children growing up before their very eyes, and Milo Ventimiglia singing “Rumpshaker” while in a bathing suit. I mean, that’s really all I need to enjoy an episode of This Is Us. That’s really all I need to enjoy anything.
The Big Three are about to embark on seventh grade, and to celebrate the end of the summer, Jack and Rebecca decide to have a Pearson Family Fun Day at the public pool. It would be a lovely idea if only their three children hadn’t turned into monsters. They’re legit embarrassed of Jack and Rebecca and honestly: in what world? Their parents are hot angel humansm and I feel like even a child should be able to recognize that. Not these three! Jack once again is able to nab five chairs for his family, but it is all for naught: Kate runs off when two popular girls invite her to join them, and Kevin has won over Randall’s friends with his knowledge of Wreckx-N-Effect, as one did in the ’90s.
This return to the pool acts as a jumping-off point for all the other story lines in the episode, but for Jack and Rebecca it serves as a reminder that their children are growing up. Those two sad dinks can’t even look at a bottle of sunscreen without it transporting them back to a time when their kids enjoyed being around them. It also clearly demonstrates that old saying about “the bigger the kids, the bigger the problems.” Instead of arguing with them to get their swimmies on, now Rebecca spends the entire day worried that Kate’s being bullied by the popular kids, and Jack has to have a discussion about “complicated men” with Kevin, who, after deliberately embarrassing Randall in front of his friends, questions if he’s a good person. What a terrible pool day! They don’t even end up cuddling on a chair together at the end of the day while an Alexi Murdoch song plays.
In the present day, Randall and Beth are also learning that preteens and teens are monsters and that it’s hard to let go of your kids as they grow up. Randall, like his father, wants to throw a Pearson Family Fun Day before the girls start school, especially because they haven’t been able to enjoy Philadelphia as a family yet. These kids are even worse than the Big Three — like, I get the importance of a 90210 marathon; I do not get being so angry over your father making up nicknames for you every morning. Before the “fun” can begin, Beth has to take Tess to get her hair done and Randall has to test out the bus route Deja wants to take to school before deciding if she’s allowed. Both of those excursions turn out to be disasters: Beth “ruins” what is supposed to be a transformative day at the salon by questioning Tess’s choice of haircut, and Randall immediately freaks out when he sees a weird dude sitting next to Deja on the bus and forbids her from taking it to school. The girls get so mad! But here’s the thing: Beth is just sad her daughter is growing up, and Randall is just being overprotective. Let them be parents, ungrateful children!
Because Randall and Beth are too good for this world (except when it comes to political campaigns, work-life balance, and deciding whether or not to name their firstborn after an appliance), they salvage the day: Tess gets her haircut, Deja is allowed to ride the bus as long as she texts Randall when she gets to school, they teach their daughters about the “Worst-Case Scenario” game, and then they all do the Rocky run up the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum, which, by the way, is not easy! Maybe things will work out for the Philadelphia Pearson contingent! Just kidding, I’m sure tragedy is on its way.
Another through line from the past into the present is that Rebecca is always worried about Kate. At the pool, she’s hiding in bushes to make sure the popular girls aren’t being mean to her daughter; in the present, she’s asking for intel from her son-in-law on Kate’s well-being after learning that baby Jack is blind. Kate’s taking it entirely too well for anyone to believe. No Pearson can be as sturdy and as hopeful in the face of tragedy as Kate is being. It’s science.
Rebecca’s fears are confirmed when Toby tells her that Kate’s been overeating, and we all know that’s her coping mechanism for dealing with trauma. Later, Kate tells Kevin she feels guilty because so many doctors told her about the risks of having a child, so she feels like Jack’s blindness is her fault. The last time she felt this guilty over something is when she initially gained all of her weight, so this all, unfortunately, tracks. The other bomb waiting to go off in this story line is the fact that Toby is losing weight — because he’s secretly going to the gym. Here I was enjoying that those never-ending arcs about Kate’s weight had seemed to take a backseat to her adventures in motherhood, but I was wrong.
At least for now, she’s trying not to wallow. After a pep talk with Kevin, she gathers her family, who are at her house for a consultation with a specialist, giving them some advice for life with a blind infant. She tells them that they won’t live in a state of perpetual worry, this will be a house of hope! Again, this is way too hopeful for the Pearsons, though I can’t say I wasn’t moved by it. I love a Pearson-family powwow.
Actually, if I am honest with myself, I was already tearing up at Kate telling Kevin that she wishes he had the same compassion for himself that he does for his sister, and thus was an easy target by the time Kate got to her Worry Doesn’t Live Here Anymore speech. That’s got to be it. I have a soft spot for Kevin Pearson, what can I say?
Our dear Kevin is in a way again. The only thing he feels in control of at the moment, while battling through 187 days of sobriety, is his ficus. He does not know how to help Kate or baby Jack, he can’t get ahold of Nicky since wiring him bail money, he does not know how to do anything except take direction from people like M. Night Shyamalan and keep a small houseplant alive. We’ve all been there! Sort of!
Kevin’s moping around Kate’s house because he’s been offered a role in a Spike Jonze movie, but it films in Chicago. He knows it’s easier to focus on his sobriety while working on a film with a strict schedule, but that would mean leaving Kate and Jack. You can see Adult Kevin grappling with the same issue that Little Kevin is pondering back at the pool after he and Little Randall fight and Randall tells him that he’s supposed to be his brother yet acts like anything but: If he’s a good person, why does always end up doing bad things? Little Kevin gets to talk it out with Jack, who tells him that he has the same problem, and what has always saved him is surrounding himself with people he loves, people to take care of. So Adult Kevin hops on a plane to visit the person who probably needs him the most: Uncle Nicky.
That’s not staying to help Kate, nor is it starring in a Spike Jonze movie, so we shall see what comes of it. Like all things Pearson-related, only Time! Will! Tell!
This Is the Rest:
• When Randall and Beth are getting attitude from Deja and Tess, there is only one thing holding them together: Annie. She doesn’t care what they do for Pearson Family Fun Day, nor is she worried about starting over in Philly. “Bless your soul,” Randall tells his youngest daughter. Randall is all of us.
• The first thing Rebecca and Miguel did when they moved to Los Angeles was subscribe to The Hollywood Reporter so they could get all the inside scoop. They are adorable.
• During her bus ride, Deja spots Malik working at the body shop, snaps a pic, and they begin some flirty texting. I am so ready for a cute little love story. Please don’t ruin this for me.
• Speaking of, Little Kate gets her first kiss! Those popular girls do try to embarrass her, but she’s like, “Oh, hell no,” and plants a smooch on sort-of-dorky-but-also-cute Stuart. Beat it, Jessica P.!
• Jack being completely indignant over the thought that his kids could consider him, Jack Pearson, a dork, is so pure and true and no, I’m still not over the fact that he dies, thank you for asking.
• Okay but seriously, THAT HAT.