They just had to play that song, didn’t they? That song! That goddamn you-will-ugly-cry-while-sliding-down-a-wall (or we will die trying to get you to ugly-cry while sliding down a wall) song. Sometimes This Is Us just can’t help itself, you know? By my count, this is the third time the show has deployed the sadness bomb that is the Cinematic Orchestra’s “To Build a Home” — it was also used when the Crockpot decided to murder Jack and when we learned that Jack had an unfulfilled dream to build that house next to the cabin, so Kevin built it instead and oh my God I’m tearing up just thinking about both of those montages because that is what this song does to you and This Is Us knows it.
I’m not surprised This Is Us refused to go out without using that Pavlovian tearjerker one last time, but it’s not like this episode needed any help getting the waterworks going. It’s been seven days since Miguel died, and the Pearson brood is still convening at the Big House to figure out what happens next with Rebecca’s care. When Rebecca sat her three kids down to go over her wishes, which included that her kids not put their lives on hold for her and that Kate become her guardian if Miguel died, you knew it wouldn’t be as simple as all three of them just accepting those wishes. Have you met these people? As Beth puts it in this episode, the Pearson Process always includes an abundance of feelings and speeches. Those feelings and speeches come out in full force in the wake of Miguel’s death and the Big Three’s being forced to accept just how much their mother has deteriorated.
Randall and Kevin have the alpha-male argument everyone knew they would (most especially their wives, who, along with Philip, are waiting out this meeting in the cabin but correctly calling every aspect of it) since both want to believe they know what’s best for their mom: Randall doesn’t want to leave Rebecca alone in this house even with full-time nurses and thinks they should move her into his house in Philly; Kevin thinks that goes against all of Rebecca’s wishes, which included him building her this house to live in and not sacrificing huge parts of their lives for her, which Senator Pearson would have to do to be around at all. Meanwhile, Kate, who is technically supposed to make this decision, isn’t, as Randall points out, saying much of anything. She’s willingly letting her brothers dominate the conversation, as per usual.
There are two things at play here that get emphasized through a whole host of flashbacks to moments between Rebecca and her kids throughout their lives. The first is that these ding-dongs might be adults, but they still treat each other as if they’re the same person they were growing up. There’s a flashback to a month after Jack died when Kevin takes his siblings to get drunk at a party. When Randall hears some guys talking about taking advantage of Kate, he gets in a fistfight with them. Kevin is the irresponsible drunk, Kate can’t take care of herself, and Randall is left to shoulder the burden. At one point, his mother even says, “thank God for you.” And that’s how Randall’s seen himself this entire time, isn’t it? He has to take over Rebecca’s care because who else can? Well, thank God for Beth, because she points out that Randall is constantly underestimating his siblings, that they aren’t the same people they were when they were 18.
The most illuminating part of that flashback, however, is Kate’s conversation with Rebecca, in which she tells her mom that she has “two winners and one dud” for kids, and that actually isn’t a bad final percentage to wind up with. You can see it on Rebecca’s face — the heartbreak she feels hearing her daughter talk about herself this way. In another flashback to when the kids were little and Kate still hadn’t lost any of her baby teeth, Rebecca tells her that she’s just a late bloomer and that one day she’ll “leave them all in the dust.” Kate’s never seen herself the way her mother sees her. It’s why she was so surprised to be named her guardian in the first place. Surprisingly, it takes a quick convo with Toby to help Kate realize all of this. She checks in with her ex about the kids and fills him in on how the conversations are going, and he tells her that he has never understood why whenever she’s around her brothers, she becomes “an unsteady version of [herself].” Kate — who apparently is helping design an art curriculum for California these days — is no dud, and she shouldn’t act like her opinion doesn’t matter around The Senator Brother and The Celebrity Brother.
The second thing this episode does so well with its flashbacks is illustrate how it feels to watch your parent be sick and vulnerable; the mindfuck role reversal that comes when you need to care for your parent the way they once cared for you. Over and over, the episode cuts from Rebecca tying someone’s shoes, or feeding her kids, or cleaning them, or watching over them while they sleep to make sure they’re okay, to scenes of her now-adult children doing the same things for her. Holy hell, I felt these scenes in my bones. I suspect a lot of people watching will. This Is Us can romanticize grief at times, but when you have to grapple with seeing your parent this way, that is fucking real. I had to pause it at one point! This show lures you in with its warm visual tones and abundance of people with great hair and then it stabs you in the heart!!
Here, neither Kevin nor Randall can really look at their mother. They can talk about her all day long, but they can’t talk to her. They hesitate even to touch her. “That’s not our mother, Kev. Our mother was magic,” Randall says at one point. It’s Kate who is able to care for Rebecca in the way she needs now. She goes on walks with her and reads to her, and when she insists on putting on some wild makeup, Kate can still tell her how pretty she looks while her brothers just stare, gutted by what’s happened. They talk about how their mom always somehow knew what each of them needed individually, but here only Kate seems to be attempting to do the same for Rebecca.
So before Kate decides what she thinks they should do moving forward, she wants her brothers to be able to look at their mother and to touch her and to give her what she really needs. She has Randall brush Rebecca’s hair and Kevin put hand lotion on her. That shot of the three kids tending to Rebecca on the edge of her bed? I’m not, like, going to cry in the shower about that later or anything. So much of the Big Three’s arguments over what’s best for their mom is rooted in, as Randall notes, their “deep need” to somehow pay her back for everything she did for them. It’s why Randall wants to come in and be the hero for her; it’s why Kevin built her this house. But they can pay her back by caring for her in these small ways — that are really big ways — too. Kate helps them realize that.
Kate gathers the troops for a second family meeting, this time including the spouses, Nicky and Edie and Madison and Elijah (the gravitational pull this family has on anyone remotely within its orbit! Elijah just wanted to be in a nerdy fantasy-book club!). She tells them that she has thought about it and Randall’s right that Rebecca can’t stay in this house alone but that moving her to Philly isn’t right either. She wants to move her to Los Angeles, where they’ll either find a good facility for her or she’ll live with Kate and Philip. Kevin, although 100 percent ready to support whatever Kate decides, wants to offer one more option: He and Sophie talked it over, and they want to move into the Big House permanently and take care of Rebecca. The Manny reboot is wrapping up, Sophie hates Los Angeles (also, she’s a nurse, which no one seems to bring up as being helpful), Madison and Elijah have wanted to move to the East Coast for a while so Kevin wouldn’t be that far from his kids, and Nicky and Edie want to live at the cabin, so they’d have extra help. This way, they’d be able to honor their mom’s wishes exactly as she wanted. Kate’s onboard. Kevin looks Randall dead in the eyes and says, “I know you think I’m not up for it, but I am.” He knows how much of an ass he was to his mom for a long time, and he wants to do this for her. In a truly wild This Is Us twist, the character with the most well-developed arc was Kevin Pearson all along!! What a world! Randall shakes his hand and thanks him. The Big Three hold hands. Beth goes in for a second helping of walnut shrimp. We all cry.
And then the song starts. “To Build a Home” plays over a montage that speeds through the next few years. Kevin’s plan does turn out to be the best option for all of them. We see them all taking care of Rebecca in different ways and flashbacks to her caring for them in those ways too. Then, finally, we land right ahead of that big future flash-forward we’ve been visiting for the past few seasons. Kevin calls Randall and tells him they should all come up to the house because Rebecca doesn’t have long. The Pearsons are gathering, people! The Pearsons are gathering!
This Is the Rest
• No, Philip’s right: Beth and Sophie absolutely should take their impressions of their husbands on tour. They’re so good! We should’ve been getting these all along!
• Beth says she found her old bottle of Tommy Girl perfume in the bathroom because this cabin is a time capsule, and if you know, you know!!
• In one of the flashbacks, Baby Kate falls off the bed and Rebecca calls Dr. K in a panic. She leaves him a message and we don’t hear anything more about it (Kate is fine, Rebecca watches her sleep all night), but do we think we’ll get one last Dr. K appearance before this thing wraps up? Will someone talk about lemons again? My fragile heart cannot handle the thought.
• “Beth said all this sadness called for some carbs.” No truer words have ever been spoken.