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'This Is Us' recap: 'Career Days'

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Ron Batzdorff/NBC

This Is Us

TV Show
Current Status:
In Season
run date:
Milo Ventimiglia, Mandy Moore, Justin Hartley, Sterling K. Brown
Dan Fogelman

Anyone who wasn’t an only child probably spent a fair amount of his or her youth trying to master the art of drawing attention to oneself. Children use a number of tactics to steer the spotlight in their direction. They want to be seen, heard, and understood. In some cases, this behavior puts them on a path they’ll follow for years. Insecurities are buried deep down so as not to deter from promising career goals. They have the choice to remain at odds with the unknown, or stare it square in the face. Welcome to adulthood.

Tonight’s episode opens with a montage of Jack worrying about money. The babies are expensive, and it’s clear he needs to give up his construction career in favor of a desk job. We watch him enter a cubicle and adjust a framed family picture… And with a few spins of his chair, the children are now 8 years old. Miguel has been promoted and wants Jack on his team. Jack has a different plan: Big Three Homes. He wants to strike out on his own.

Jack keeps the news from Rebecca, whom he finds sifting through report cards when he arrives home to a chorus of Kevin shouting, “Dad, dad, dad!” Rebecca informs Jack that Randall’s teacher has requested a meeting. As it turns out, even though Randall’s grades are average, he’s actually gifted. We’re talking special-school gifted. Jack balks, claiming Randall can’t attend a smarty-pants school because he needs his brother and sister as buffers. And by the way, all of his children are exceptional.

Rebecca persuades Jack to at least check out the school. As he suspects, “This school is whiter than Randall’s already pretty white other school.” He makes fun of the little kids carrying briefcases and even notes Randall will soon be conditioned to fluorescent classroom lights, which will cause the sun to burn his eyes when he plays outdoors.

RELATED: This Is Us: Before They Were Stars

It’s clear this conversation has morphed from Randall’s future to Jack’s unhappiness at work. He confesses his dream of building his own business, and Rebecca is completely supportive. She just wants her husband to be happy. Say goodbye to the expensive school with blonde-haired, blue-eyed kids. Randall will be just fine.

That night, Kevin repeatedly reminds his dad they’re supposed to build model planes together. Jack pats his boy on his head and confirms their date. Meanwhile, Kate finds Rebecca standing in the bathroom in nothing but a towel. She compliments her mother, admiring her beauty. When Kate hands Rebecca her size-medium shirt, she’s quick to check her own tag which reads extra-large. Cue the falling face.

Later that day, Jack picks up Randall from a play date at Yvette’s house. Not only did she help Rebecca at the pool, but Yvette has officially become Jack’s authority for a black person’s seal of approval. He explains Randall scored off the charts at school, but he doesn’t want to uproot him so he can attend a private academy with mostly white kids.

Yvette: “You want to hold him back because he’s black?”

Jack: “No! Randall is special.”

Yvette: “Then don’t deny him this special opportunity.”

Jack considers her advice as he sits with Randall at work. He asks Randall to figure out a math problem he’s “having trouble with,” and his son answers the difficult equation within seconds. Jack asks Randall to help a second time, but he clams up, claiming he doesn’t know how to work the problem. Jack’s voice becomes forceful when he asks Randall why he’s been pretending to be bad at math. Sweet Randall begins to cry: If he earns an “A,” he’ll get ice cream and his siblings won’t. He’s afraid Kate and Kevin will hate him. (I know this isn’t an actual thing, but someone please give this kid a child Emmy.)

In this moment, Jack realizes he’s been holding his son back. He’s worked for eight years to try and convince the world Randall is no different than the others. But he is different. He does stand out, in more ways than one. He encourages Randall to be as different as he can be. He’s exceptional. Don’t be afraid of it.

Cut to Jack accepting Miguel’s offer to come work for him, and later, Randall adjusting his little tie and waving to Jack as he enters his new whiter-than-white prep school.

NEXT: Piano man


In the present day, the Big Three are adjusting to growing pains in their careers. Randall comes home to find William playing the piano as his children watch, mesmerized. William also plays the trumpet! Tess invites her grandfather to be the speaker at career day. Randall immediately shuts down the idea. He will be speaking at Tess’s career day. Who wouldn’t want to learn about trading commodities based on long-term weather patterns? It’s going to be lit! (P.S. Randall doesn’t understand the context of “lit,” which makes him absolutely adorable.)

Randall practices his speech in front of an uninspired Beth. She’s confused about why her husband is so passionate about proving himself worthy on career day. The answer, Randall says, is genetics. He has an entire artistic side that was never explored in his youth. Instead, he was always a math geek. This must be why he’s secretly wanted to play the saxophone. Beth smiles as if to say, “Bless his heart.”

That smile slowly morphs into “do not make eye contact” when Randall takes the stage at career day the next afternoon. He sits behind a piano and bangs out a horrific original piece about corn crops and weather investments. He never had a chance following Kendall’s mom, the firefighter.

Randall puts on a suit the next morning and addresses his family at breakfast. “My dad put on a tie every day because he had to,” he announces. “I put one on because I want to. It’s important you know that.” Also, he’s going to start piano lessons and hopes everyone can support him during the spring recital.

Annie: “What was that about?”

Beth: “That was a midlife crisis, baby, but just a little one. Eat your waffle.”

While Randall jumps back into the world of weather commodities, Kate conquers a new job as a socialite’s right-hand woman. Using her organizational skills and personal insight into the Hollywood lifestyle, Kate excels. She even agrees to drive the lady’s daughter around. Gemma, a typical millennial tween, enters the kitchen, gloating in the fact her mom chose “the fat one.”

Gemma treats Kate like an intern, demanding she chauffeur her around town. She’s completely disrespectful and laughs that Kate actually thinks her thin, beautiful mother hired her for any reason other than to teach Gemma how to live in a big-girl world. Kate slams on the brakes and kicks her employer’s kid out of the car. But before she drives away, she gifts Gemma with some helpful advice: “Fat girl to fat girl, you can burn 417 calories an hour walking.”

Kate is not fired, nor does she quit after finding out she got the job in part because she’s overweight. Kate finds Gemma and casually says she knows exactly what Gemma is going through. It’s hard to have a mom who is skinny and gorgeous. Kate admits she and Rebecca barely talk, because it’s impossible to not compare herself with her perfect mother. (So this is why we never see them together!) But moms aren’t perfect. And neither are daughters.



You know who else isn’t perfect? Kevin. He can’t seem to grasp the pinnacle of grief his character experiences after losing his wife. Olivia decides to help him by inviting him to a party. And by party, I mean a memorial service for a stranger named Frank. Olivia stuffs her face with bereavement cheese while Kevin freaks out about crashing a funeral. When Frank’s wife, Grace, asks how they knew her husband, Olivia delivers a lie with an exorbitant amount of details. All Kevin can do is look dumbfounded.

Later, Kevin stumbles into the kitchen and finds Grace struggling with what to do with Frank’s favorite food — pickles. Kevin agrees to take them off her hands. She laughs, offering her new friend sport coats and holiday ties. Her 15-year-old son, Jeremy, doesn’t want anything to do with them.

An odd look flashes across Kevin’s face, and I was sure he was about to admit his own father died when he was 15, too. Instead, Kevin begins babbling about model planes and how he used to build them with his dad during their alone time. When he died, Kevin threw them all away. Grace asks Kevin how old he was when his father passed. It was a long time ago.

Kevin pulls out a necklace from under his shirt. It’s the only thing he has left. He used to not want to wear it, but now he can’t take it off. Suddenly, Kevin is crying into the pickles as Grace comforts him, snot and all.

He finds sanctuary in a bedroom. When Olivia barges through the door, asking where he’s been, Kevin is quick to point out he’s been with the widower. This isn’t a play. This isn’t make-believe. This is a real woman who just lost a person she loves. Olivia watches as Kevin’s walls break down. His dad died, and he hated him for it.

Olivia encourages him to use the pain. It’s a part of him. She can feel it. Then she feels his tongue in her mouth as they fall onto Frank’s (or is it Jeremy’s?) bed. This is the definition of inappropriate.

The next day, Kevin forgives Olivia for taking him to Frank’s funeral. The trick worked and he’s ready to tackle his character. Olivia warns him there was another lesson during their field trip. Just like the script in which she plays Kevin’s wife, who happens to be dead, they will never have sex again. Now that’s what I call method acting.

Episode grade: B+