We know This Is Us loves giving us a twisty surprise, and it loves an episode theme that ties multiple timelines together, and, wow, does it love Cat Stevens. But one of the best This Is Us traditions the show has given us over the years is its Big Three trilogy. In both seasons two and four, This Is Us has bucked its typical format to dedicate one episode to each member of the Big Three, examining that one character in multiple timelines and typically weaving the episodes together by showing us at least one event from the perspective of all three siblings. These trilogies have been highlights of their respective seasons. Remember Kevin emotionally breaking down on that woman’s lawn? Or Randall emotionally breaking down in his bathroom? Okay, so these trilogies involve a lot of emotional breakdowns, and that feels right. More than anything, they are some real capital-A Acting showcases that also typically push the plot along. They get our people in place for some major event or needed catharsis (like, you know something is going down at Rebecca and Miguel’s anniversary party that gets mentioned). They’re both emotional and efficient, and, honestly, what could be better? It’s why I’m excited to see a nice little trilogy plopped down right here in the middle of the final season.
This time around, we begin with our No. 1 again. It looks as though these episodes will be tied together first with a family trip to the opening of the community pool — another staple in the This Is Us universe — with our tiny version of the Big Three. Here, Kevin wants to jump off the diving board and touch the drain in the deep end, but he refuses to take swimming lessons. Jack tries to explain that he needs to learn how to swim first and then, while trying to teach him, Kevin has a little scare. The kid just wants to go, go, go without putting in the work he needs to do so. Rebecca sits with him and tells him there is an order to things and that his father was just trying to help and that Jack knows how to build things from the ground up. He is a builder of houses and a builder of men or whatever. You get where this is going, though, right? It takes time to become the person you want to be, to be the best version of yourself, and you have to do the work to get there. Also, Rebecca Pearson has had impeccable poolwear throughout this entire series, and we should all recognize that. Some might say the first lesson is the more important one, but honestly it’s debatable.
The other touchstone for this trilogy looks like it’ll be in our middle timeline, which picks up directly after that awkward as hell Thanksgiving in which Miguel broke Rebecca’s heart by telling her he is moving to Houston. Last week, Kevin ran off to see the pool before it closes down, and this week, Randall and Kate follow him there, worried. They find him getting drunk while sitting on that diving board he so badly wanted to jump off of as a child. He tells his siblings that all he ever wanted was to be in the deep end but that he knows he doesn’t belong there. He belongs in the shallow end, he tells them, “because I’m shallow.” Kate and Randall are both like, Uh, yeah, we get it. Everyone gets it. Poor Kev. He is trying very hard to be deep. Holding back tears, Kevin talks about how he wishes he were more like their father, a guy who “was solid,” a guy who was able to “put a roof over [their] heads,” but he thinks — especially after the debacle with Sophie and his stalling career — that he simply “doesn’t have the right stuff underneath [him].” He’s missing “the foundation.” Kate assures him, as only a sister can, that, yeah, he’s definitely a screwup, but she knows he’ll eventually figure it out.
Oh, hey, another thing This Is Us loves that we’ve covered in these recaps before: not being remotely subtle. Embrace the cheese; this is who This Is Us is. Because wouldn’t you know, in the present day, Kevin is LITERALLY having a house built for his family, and at this very moment, THE FOUNDATION is being poured. Oh, and the foundation gets poured incorrectly at first, and they have to rip it up and start over. Metaphors, baby.
Present-day Kevin is still very much preoccupied with all of those fears he drunkenly laid out in the empty pool with his brother and sister. He still wants to be a good man, to be solid, but how do you know if you’re actually the person you want to be or just acting? Kevin deals with all of this over a few days at the cabin with his children — the three arrive after a harrowing plane ride (for the other passengers dealing with crying babies, mostly) that only exacerbates Kevin’s fears that he isn’t cut out for … anything — and with Nicky, Edie (who remains a delight), Cassidy, and her son, Matty.
Cassidy is having a rough go of it. She took the job to oversee the cabin construction and hired a bunch of vets to be on her crew, and when Kevin arrives and learns about the foundation mishap, he gets upset and she immediately gets her backup. Nicky tells him to cut her some slack, which I get, but I also think Kevin is allowed to be a little upset about it, no? Kevin is always getting reprimanded and underestimated, and sometimes he absolutely deserves it, but maybe not here.
Anyway, Nicky explains that Cassidy is dealing with a lot, including her divorce and grappling with the way the war in Afghanistan ended, which is bringing a lot of her guilt over leaving people behind to the forefront. She isn’t sleeping well, and many times throughout what actually seems like a lovely evening of family dinner and Monopoly and dancing, you can see her zone out. Nicky sees it, at least. Kevin gets a call in the middle of the night and learns that Cassidy, who must have gone out for a drive, was in a car accident. He and Nicky rush over to the hospital, and she’s okay save for a fractured clavicle, a broken arm, and some pretty nasty bruises. The doctor notes that the pole took the brunt of it, and you can immediately see Nicky work out that Cassidy did this on purpose. It takes Kevin a little longer — and a reminder about how Jack covered up his pain from the war his whole life, how Kevin witnessed the way that Nicky’s almost destroyed him — to catch up.
When Nicky suggests that Kevin stay at the hospital, Kevin doesn’t think he’s the right person for the job. But Nicky tells him to just be there — not try and fix anything — that’s what Cassidy needs. Kevin has to sit in the lobby until the morning, and you can see him trying to wrestle with his own self-doubt in real time. He goes on a wild rant to another guy in the waiting room — can you imagine what this guy says to his wife when he finally goes to see her? Honey, let me tell you what just happened with me and the Manny — about trying to do the right thing and trying to be the right person versus just being that person. He wants to be the person who does the right thing, not act like he is. He’s unsure if he is or if he’ll ever be, but once he gets into that room with Cassidy, it’s clear that he has become that guy whether he believes it fully or not. He just sits there and lets her know he is not going anywhere. Finally she opens up to him about what happened — Jennifer Morrison is really moving here — and he just listens. She needs to talk about the suffocating guilt and how this wasn’t the first time she thought about doing something to get away from it. When Nicky walks in and takes her hand, she sobs.
Kevin makes sure Matty is okay, he gets in touch with his father, Kevin and Matty work on a card for Cassidy — Lord, this show will never give up on Kevin and his painting — he and Nicky set up a more permanent room for her in the cabin, and Nicky gets her in touch with someone at the VA who can help her. Kevin also has a big idea: He wants to start Big Three Homes (finally!), and he wants to hire more crews of vets to do it. On his flight back home, he seems much more at ease taking care of his babies alone. So it seems like what Kate said all those years ago inside the empty pool turned out to be right: that he would figure it out eventually. I mean, it still seems legit insane to take twin babies on a cross-country flight by yourself, but, you know, Kevin has always had to learn the hard way.
This Is the Rest
• The way Randall winks at Kevin over video chat when Kevin says that Cassidy will be at the cabin is so good. Randall is very enthusiastic about Kevin’s love life, and I will always be here for that.
• It does not get old to see Nicky so in love. Not one bit.
• Wow, Rebecca and Jack are super-excited about those swim goggles, huh?
• I swear that laugh Niles Fitch does after telling a truly cheesy joke — Randall loved those jokes even in college, you better believe it — sounded just like an early version of Sterling K. Brown’s laugh, and I remain amazed at the casting of the Teen Big Three even six seasons in.
• Kevin’s go-to move when he realizes he’s disturbing everyone on his flight with his crying, pooping babies is to repeat the phrase “Celebrities, just like us, right?” And the guy in the seat next to him who responds “You already said that, and I don’t know who you are” is a goddamned national hero.