Welcome to the Kevin Pearson chapter of season four’s Big Three trilogy, also known as “Someone at This Is Us Really Likes Good Will Hunting.”
While Randall has been off scaring away intruders and becoming the Batman of Philadelphia and crying in well-furnished bathrooms, Kevin is over in Pittsburgh possibly closing the door on his relationship with Sophie forever. I say “possibly” because I’m not totally convinced Sophie is in the endgame here. I know they want us to think Kevin and Sophie said good-bye one last time, what with the “finally watching the end of Good Will Hunting” and the “Sophie has a nice fiancé who hasn’t stomped directly on her heart twice” stuff, but when you’ve got M. Night Shyamalan as a character on your show and he’s having meta-conversations about how you give people the “ending everyone wants, and they still won’t see it coming,” all bets are off. Oh how I hope the series finale of This Is Us gives us some kind of Shyamalan-esque twist. And I don’t mean a thoughtful, gasp-inducing one like “I see dead people”; I mean a hilarious one like when we found out the plants did it.
Sure, it’s possible Kevin and Sophie are really over. Maybe Kevin’s line about wondering why reshoots on the Shyamalan are necessary when there was already such resolution in the original ending refers to the last time we saw Kevin and Sophie, when she told him she was engaged and they both genuinely seemed to find closure. But WHAT IF it actually refers to this episode, in which Kevin and Sophie once again say good-bye in a way that feels final only to have that upended when we find out Sophie is the woman pregnant in the back of the cabin? Yes, at the end of this episode, we discover that the blonde woman in Kevin’s bed when he’s on the phone with Randall is Madison. No offense to Madison, but is she “the ending everyone wants”? Everyone?!? Another point to mull over: In the flashback to Jack taking care of the Toddler Big Three, he gives a little speech to Tiny Kevin about how sometimes you lose things and it feels like the worst thing that could ever happen but eventually you’ll find something new to love. Jack’s talking about stuffed animals, but the speech plays over Sophie looking at both her engagement ring and the emerald ring her mother was saving until Kevin earned it. Okay, most likely that signifies Sophie having found the new thing she loves in Grant — her Mr. Tiger, if you will — but what if it’s a trick? Remember: Shyamalan, Shyamalan, Shyamalan. Anyway, now my brain hurts, so I’m going to go put on a tinfoil hat and tell Joaquin Phoenix to “swing away, Merrill.” Good day to you.
Wait, I’m back. If I dig deep into why it’s so hard for me to believe Kevin and Sophie are really over, the answer is quite simple: Justin Hartley and Alexandra Breckenridge are so devastatingly good together in this episode, it would be a shame not to see them together again. Their scenes are quiet and wistful and heartbreaking. They are the kind of sad you don’t mind watching, not the typical heavy dreariness that can permeate a This Is Us episode. I want more of them.
Kevin arrives uninvited at the funeral of Sophie’s mother, Claire (Jennifer Westfeldt has joined the prestigious club that is This Is Us guest stars), but he is exactly the person she needs most in this moment. During her eulogy, the only reason Sophie doesn’t break down is that she spots Kevin sitting in the church and it comforts her. When he shows up at the reception but calls her while standing on the front lawn to see if it would be okay to come in — first of all, this scene featuring an emotional man in a suit holding doughnuts made me feel things, and also, how about Kevin being a mature, unselfish adult? — she asks him to get her out of there instead. Kevin understands the loss of a parent (have you heard? His dad died), and he knew and loved Claire.
Kevin takes Sophie to a place that is a touchstone for his grief: the spot in the woods where Kate found them and told them Jack had died. We fill in some of the blanks from that evening: How after completely insulting his father, Kevin found comfort in Claire, who had always been his biggest cheerleader; how Kevin and Sophie ended up seeing Good Will Hunting only for the projector to go down before the final scene; and how they promised they would never finish the movie and instead spend the rest of their lives coming up with theories as to how it ends. If that last thing makes you want to roll your eyes but also secretly you find it a little endearing, welcome to This Is Us!
Kevin opens up about how for a long time he never wanted to come back to this place, this town; it was all too sad, but that time passed and he could remember the good things along with the sad things. And that will happen for Sophie, too. I gotta tell you, therapy has done wonders for this guy.
Then they decide the time has come: They’re going to watch the end of Good Will Hunting together. “That was better than I could’ve imagined,” says Sophie. Okay, first, get off Good Will Hunting’s jock. Second, I can’t believe I’m writing this much about Good Will Hunting in my This Is Us recap. Third, yes, this could signal that the door is officially closed on these two. (Still! Always remember: Shyamalan, Shyamalan.) Then Kevin and Sophie stare into each other’s eyes, two people who hold each other’s histories, and dang if I didn’t politely say to the screen, “Please kiss right now.” They do not kiss, because they’re good people now, apparently. How boring! Instead, both are holding back tears as Sophie tells Kevin it’s time for her to go.
Sophie has one last thing for Kevin: While going through Claire’s things, she found one of his first headshots, which he signed and sent to Claire with their mantra, “Never settle.” Writing that out makes it sound so dumb, but watching it … okay, it’s also kind of dumb, but I have to tell you, Hartley and Breckenridge really sell that moment. Sophie is of course grieving, but Claire meant a lot to Kevin, too. She believed he could make something of himself from the very beginning. He finally cries, they hold hands, but alas, they really part ways this time. Kevin, who we know from experience truly lives for talking to dead people at their final resting places, goes to Claire’s grave to say good-bye. He tells her that he wishes he had one “last crack” at making things right with Sophie, that this time he knows he’s ready. But it’s too late, he says. (IS IT?????) He does not, mercifully, leave that headshot for her. But he thought about it.
And so after one of the most emotional days our No. 1 has been through in a long time, he returns to Los Angeles and heads over to Kate’s for some nephew snuggles — but the only person home is Madison. Kate and Jack are at a retreat, and Toby’s at work (this news does not bode well for Part Three); Madison is there to walk Audio. Apparently, she has also had a hell of a week. (Is Mercury in retrograde?) Kevin is actually nice to her for once, and, inevitably, they end up in bed together.
It’s not a great sign that when Randall calls in his time of need, Kevin’s first instinct is to get the hell out of L.A. Madison probably won’t be thrilled when she learns the guy she opened up to about being dumped so many times has hightailed it to his family’s cabin in Pittsburgh. But that’s where Kevin will be. Randall loves that idea; it’s exactly what he needs (I mean, aside from a therapist), and he thinks they should invite Kate, too. Kevin gets Kate on the line only to learn that she’s also having a rough go of it. She’s “two seconds away from [her] marriage imploding.” Cool, cool, cool. Can’t wait to get to the Cabin of Sadness. How about you?
This Is the Rest
• I don’t want to speak ill of the dead, but Fresca and Prosecco, Claire? How dare you!
• We get a little more info about Teen Kate’s forthcoming story: Kevin comes in for Rebecca’s dinner only to find it’s been canceled. Rebecca and Kate got in a huge fight, so Kate took off for the cabin with Marc but then she just called Rebecca crying. Something is wrong. Off to the cabin they go!
• Oh boy, Rebecca forgetting to watch Kevin’s first TV appearance — his line is cut, but his face is still on Days of Our Lives — adds some heft to his feelings about always being the forgotten child.
• Wait, I love that they just now have realized they’re the “Sad Three.” Very late to this party, Pearson kids.
• Could you imagine how different this episode would have been if Kevin and Sophie had decided to see Titanic? OR AS GOOD AS IT GETS?