This Is Us
“Here we go,” the Pearson brothers say to each other as Kevin arrives in Philly, eager to get right into the long-awaited Kevin-Randall healing (maybe?) chat. They might as well have been saying it directly to the audience, because we’ve been waiting for this conversation, too.
Beth sums that season-four finale’s front-lawn fight up nicely for everyone: Randall called Kevin’s acting “trash” and told him that Jack died ashamed of him, and Kevin said he hated that Randall had been adopted in the first place. The anger and hurt that stemmed from that fight were only exacerbated once Randall started dealing with the feelings he had buried about growing up in a white family. All of that mixed up together is a huge conversation for Kevin and Randall to have, and This Is Us knows that. And so we get an hour that is almost exclusively Randall and Kevin onscreen, most of it just a dialogue between the adult versions of the Pearson brothers. In theory, that sounds risky, right? But as I’ve said within these recaps several times (I will not apologize for it), Sterling K. Brown and Justin Hartley have great onscreen chemistry, and anytime they share a scene, I’m automatically in. I mean, remember when they were wrestling on the streets of New York? Anyway, we’ve got two brothers with a laundry list of issues between them, so that whole “here we go,” buckle-up, buddy mentality going into this episode feels exactly right.
Randall’s actually pretty nervous ahead of Kevin’s arrival. The whole set up for this chat feels so formal to him (so formal and also, so, so Kevin — we love a drama queen!), and he’s anxious. But after their last fight, Beth says, it can’t really get any worse. Randall knows better because this is these two and this is This Is Us and this is definitely not the worst it can get.
The conversation starts off, as one might expect, terribly. Randall lets Kevin dive in, but it’s not long before he has to call his brother out on giving him a clearly rehearsed speech full of things he thinks Randall wants to hear. It’s Kevin apologizing for not stepping in when Randall’s prom date’s dad was overtly racist toward Randall, and it’s full of “I’m sorry if you felt alone” and “if I ever hurt you.” Randall’s right: This is not Kevin taking responsibility at all. “You don’t even understand what you’re apologizing for,” he tells Kevin at one point. The guys are outside on the street now. And before you ask, no, it’s not because they just love having intense fights in public (which they do) but because Randall went outside to get some air, Kevin followed because he’s done giving him space, and no one brought a key. This is where things get nastier. Kevin is basically like, How dare Randall complain because he was the golden child of the family and was treated as such by their parents (Kevin’s complained about this before)? And Randall tells Kevin that being treated as special was the opposite of what he wanted — he “just wanted to blend in.” He always stood out, and he finally tells Kevin, “The last thing I needed was for my brother to use my Blackness to Other me.” People like his prom date’s dad were intentional with the pain they inflicted, Kevin was “just thoughtless and willfully in the dark,” and that hurts even more. Kevin has no idea what Randall is talking about, and so much of their arguments boil down to the idea Kevin simply does not (or does not want to) see things the way Randall does. Kevin says he was always jealous of Randall, and “it had nothing to do with you being Black.” It was just sibling envy.
But we get a front-row seat to the hurtful microaggressions Randall is talking about when we flip back to the story of college-age Randall visiting Kevin in Los Angeles for the first time. As with so many of their hangouts from yore, the whole thing feels artificial, with lots of resentment hiding under the surface (Niles Fitch and Logan Shroyer have some of that same Randall-Kevin chemistry as their adult counterparts). Kevin teases Randall by calling him “Carlton” and making other Fresh Prince of Bel-Air jokes and chooses to humiliate him by calling attention to the fact that he doesn’t know the lyrics to rap songs (this is not the first time). When Randall apologizes to the cabdriver for his drunk brother, Kevin calls them “brothers from another,” and soon after, they end up fistfighting on the sidewalk. Later, when Randall tries to talk to Kevin about how it bothered him that Kevin was being rude to the Black cabdriver, Kevin gets defensive and Randall changes the subject.
Kevin’s always been hung up on his jealousy of his brother — the show has shown us this time and time again — but Kevin actually expresses that here, confessing to his brother that he’s having an awful time in Los Angeles, his career is going nowhere, and he has to watch Randall be successful in everything, while he’s the family failure. This, however, is something that Randall doesn’t see the same way. Everyone experiences their childhood differently, sometimes to gutting consequences.
In the present, Kevin wants to know if Randall means it when he says he wishes he was never adopted. Randall knows Kevin sometimes understands emotions better with a visual (that fucking splatter painting is back by way of L.A. Kevin’s wall, and will that thing just haunt me for the rest of my days? We get it, already!), so he tells Kevin about his ghost kingdom — the life he imagines he would’ve had with his birth parents that we learned about in Randall’s support-group meeting last week. We actually get to see Randall’s ghost kingdom: He’s a little kid, and his “parents” are the weatherman from the local news and the librarian who always let him take more books than allowed. He explains to Kevin that these were the only two Black people he saw on a consistent basis. But he also shares with Kevin that Kevin and Kate and Jack and Rebecca would all show up in his ghost kingdom too. “I couldn’t even create a fantasy world without you guys, Kev,” he tells his brother. “Do you know how unusual that is?” He tells Kevin about the guilt of imagining this world, about how he thought he was doing something wrong.
And Kevin starts to understand a little better. This time, he offers up a sincere, unrehearsed apology for the things he didn’t see growing up. For everything. “You’re my brother, and I love you,” he tells Randall. And Randall apologizes, too, for what he said on the lawn that day. He tells him that their dad was proud of Kevin and he is too. “Sorry I ever let you think otherwise,” he says. There’s lots of brothers touching faces and getting misty-eyed and joking about Kevin’s acting skills and hugging. THE HUGGING is what really gets me.
But Kevin has more to say. He almost can’t bring himself to do it when Randall, sitting beside him, says, “The rest of the world can’t say the ugly thing, but we have to.” If they’ve learned anything through this conversation, it is that, really. And so Kevin can finally say it. He admits that maybe he did resent Randall being Black. “Maybe I thought you getting special treatment was mixed up with you being Black.” He admits to willingly overlooking things and making fun of Randall for things he never should’ve. “I was more jealous of you than I should’ve been,” he says. Then the Sterling K. Brown Single Tear comes out (you knew it would be making an appearance tonight!!) because these were the things Randall needed to hear. And it feels like maybe some real healing has begun. Dear Lord, brothers, you know??
This Is the Rest
• We learn about Randall’s ghost kingdom through a flashback to a boys’ weekend when Randall and Kevin are little and Jack takes them to a taping of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood (we see more examples of Randall feeling like an outsider and Kevin jealous of Randall). At one point, little Randall is left on his own and ends up wandering on set, where he chats about his imaginary parents and Daniel Tiger tells him it’s okay because “we all have imaginary neighborhoods of make-believe.” I did not have that on my TIU bingo card, but here we are.
• Randall goes to bed that night and dreams of his ghost kingdom once again, but this time it’s with William and Laurel and, in his sleep, Randall is smiling.
• Randall’s neighbor, whom they go see because she has a spare key to Randall’s house, is a treasure. She has absolutely zero hesitation in telling Kevin that she hated his movie with Sylvester Stallone and that Kevin should stick to comedy. A delight!
• When did Kevin get a Golden Globe nomination?
• There’s a whole runner about Kevin waiting for Robert De Niro to give him a call so they can discuss reshoots after Kevin walked off set to see his children be born and, in the end, De Niro is like, fine with everything, I guess, and I have zero time for how that whole situation is playing out. I’ll never get over the show just glossing over Kevin sweet-talking his way onto a plane with no ID during a pandemic.
• Wow, Kate really gets the short end of the stick on this show, huh?
• Wait, did Kevin just leave Nicky and Madison alone together while he’s gone? Because that’s fucking classic.