This Is Us
In season two, This Is Us tried out a nifty little format experiment in which it presented a trilogy of episodes, with each focusing on one member of the Big Three. The results of this experiment were mixed: It offered up one of the best episodes of the series (Kevin’s) but also some truly meh stuff (Kate’s). One thing each of those episodes did, however, was provide a nice little showcase for the actor portraying that member of the Big Three. In season four, we’re starting a new trilogy, this time beginning with Randall, and that truth very much holds. I mean, I feel blasphemous even saying this because his performance in “Memphis” still makes me want to ugly cry while sliding down a wall, but, um, has Sterling K. Brown ever been better than he is in “One Hell of a Week: Part One”? He doesn’t even bring along his Sterling K. Brown Single Tear, and yet here I am, moved.
The trilogy in season two was framed by the Baby Big Three taking their first steps and the Teen Big Three coming together the night Kevin breaks his leg. Here, our stories are tied together by the Teen Big Three coming home for Rebecca’s birthday and a look back at the Toddler Big Three’s first night in big-kid beds. In the latter, Rebecca’s down with a cold and it’s up to Jack to deal with any child who may be unable to sleep because he’s scared or unable to cope with “Big Three Separation Anxiety.” I hate to say it because shaggy-haired, scruffy-beard Jack is my favorite Jack, but maybe this is a bad idea? First, he tells his 3-ish-year-old sons to “sleep like kings.” Now, I spent several minutes researching if that phrase was from something, but friends, I am here to tell you, I think that was just Jack being weird? Anyway, I wanted you to know how dedicated I am to solving all levels of This Is Us mysteries, and that is partially dedicated. Second, after little Randall tells Jack that he can’t sleep because he’s scared, Jack sleeps by his side for a bit but eventually has had enough. He tells little Randall, I am not making this up, that his brother and sister are “high maintenance” and because of that he really needs Randall not to be. I mean, I get needing to finish The Shining, but little does Jack know that this request sticks and from then on Randall will try to bury his own fears and be the brave one for the rest of his life. Is that really worth getting to see Jack Nicholson bust through a door yelling “Here’s Johnny”? I’m not a parent, but I’m 78 percent sure the answer is probably not.
We see another example of Randall having to bury his fears for the good of his family in the college timeline. Here, we learn that since Jack’s death, Randall’s been having some pretty awful dreams about feeling helpless (they involve a lot of screaming without the sound coming out and being unable to save family members). After a fire drill in his dorm, these dreams only get worse and more frequent and the kid is on edge all the time. Thankfully, he has Beth now. Beth, who can talk him down from an anxiety attack, who can reassure him that he is safe and everything is okay. The main takeaway here, though, is that even in college, Randall is vehemently against seeing a therapist for his anxiety, and that just when Beth has persuaded him to join her at a grief group session, he gets a call from Kevin: Kate is in trouble — surely, something to do with Marc — and he and Rebecca are on their way to get him. Once again, Randall packs up everything he’s feeling and pushes it away because someone else in his family needs him to be strong. This! Kid! Can’t! Win!
Of course, what we’re really here for is our present-day Randall. The things he goes through in the titular hellish week would be enough to drive most people to a bathroom breakdown, let alone someone with crippling anxiety. In short: Randall’s not doing well and literally not one person would blame him.
We left Randall in the last episode coming home from a surely exhausting trip to Los Angeles in which he learned that Rebecca’s health is deteriorating, only to find a home intruder with a knife standing in his kitchen. He gets rid of the intruder by tossing his money at him and lying about a home-security system, but it is intense. The next day, he’s trying to make jokes to keep his wife and daughters calm, but Randall is clearly shaken up by the entire thing. He isn’t sleeping, he’s obsessed with the new security system he has put in, and he’s distracted at work but refuses to postpone a town-hall meeting for that week.
On top of the home invasion, when he calls Kevin for some comfort and distraction, he has to lie about why he was coming home from the airport the night it happened. He has a lot weighing on him — you know, much like the last time he had a breakdown — and Beth knows the signs. So on the day of the town-hall meeting, when Randall and Beth discover some jewelry missing from their dresser and Randall starts freaking out because this means the intruder was in their bedroom, Beth has to talk him off the ledge. And she makes him promise that they’ll have a real discussion about how to manage everything he’s dealing with at the moment. Beth knows Randall. These conditions right here are the perfect storm.
Randall is (understandably) off his game at the town hall, and one surprising person takes notice: Darnell Hodges. After learning about the home invasion from Malik, this angel man comes by to see if Randall’s talking to anyone and tells him how much therapy has helped in his own life. You guys, it’s just two handsome men sitting on a stoop talking about therapy. WHAT A TIME WE ARE HAVING. Once again, Randall makes it known that running is what works for him and he doesn’t see any benefit to therapy. That’s just not what he does. I mean, we all know this story line is going to end with Randall in therapy, right? It is the only way.
In the meantime, however, Randall goes on that run and, I kid you not, in broad daylight, in a seemingly crowded area, comes upon a woman being robbed in a parking lot. Has this man not suffered enough? Did we really need another intense moment to believe Randall would have a breakdown? No, but we’re watching This Is Us, the show where everyone suffers for all eternity.
After Randall punches the guy out, breaks his hand, and is heralded as a hero in Philadelphia, he seems more out of it than before. Throughout the episode, Brown perfectly toes that line of reacting to the chaos around him while also trying to keep up a brave face. He’s trying to be the hero, the brave one. Even more impressive, you can subtly see how it gets harder and harder for him to keep up that façade. Have you guys heard about this guy Sterling K. Brown? He is very good at his job.
It’s the applause and praise in his office (and the awkward “How does it feel to be a hero?” question that dumb lady asks) that finally proves too much. He turns around, calmly walks out, gets home, locks himself in his bathroom, and then he breaks. The man can hardly breathe. Again, he calls Kevin. “I’m not okay,” he tells him over and over. Kevin promises Randall that he’ll be the person to get him through this. It’s very moving and lord knows I love me some Randall-Kevin time, but we need to remember that in a few months, these two won’t even be talking to each other. Dang, does This Is Us like to kick us when we’re down.
This Is the Rest
• We also get primed for next week’s Kevin-centric episode: The first time Randall calls him, he’s in Pittsburgh for Sophie’s mother’s funeral. The second time, we see him in bed with a woman who seems to be blonde. Is this Sophie? Madison? Cassidy? Give us them dirty deets, TIU.
• Randall using The Great British Baking Show as his comfort TV really spoke to me as a human. And you know this dude uses the phrase “soggy bottom” whenever he gets the chance. Randall Pearson 101.
• We don’t have many clues as to what goes wrong with Teen Kate, but we do see her on a heated phone call with Marc in which she’s asking him why he’s mad and if she did something wrong. Anyway, just over here dreading this story line.
• Why are people out here watching The Shining alone?