Jack Pearson has long been known as the king of the grand romantic gesture. But as the illuminating beginning of “Vegas, Baby” reminds, it can be a tricky thing to be on the receiving end of one. We open in a bowling alley, on Rebecca and Jack’s first anniversary. She gets him a notebook because she always sees him scribbling; he essentially shuts down the whole alley for them as they take center stage and dance in the beautifully dimmed lighting. Then, on their fourth anniversary, Rebecca gets Jack a hammer with his name engraved on it; he gets her, well, a grand piano. For the anniversary that frames “Vegas, Baby,” however, Rebecca wants a break from feeling upstaged. She just wants to put the three kids to bed early and watch TV with her husband.
Of course, Jack not going all out for Rebecca feels plain wrong to the kids. Kevin asks his father why he’s not doing anything special, to which Jack replies, “I’m not allowed to this year.” The kids then decide to assume the anniversary duties: They’ll create a lavish set piece, prepare an elaborate meal, and handle all of the research and prep that goes into making a special night.
There’s an interesting thread here between the Pearson siblings as kids and as adults: In the episode, we that they’re blind to the desires and needs of those around them. In the past timeline, they assume their parents are headed toward divorce and try to remedy that in a panic, when in fact Rebecca just wants something low key — the very opposite of what the kids will ultimately deliver. In the present, things are much more complicated. So goes adulthood.
The main events are the bachelor and bachelorette parties happening for Toby and Kate, respectively — both in Las Vegas, but strictly separate. Kate’s new BFF Madison is totally dedicated to planning duties for the bride-to-be — her presence seems to be a source of mild annoyance for Toby — while Toby is anxious about befriending and impressing his soon-to-be-brother-in-laws. He’s flying out a few “fillers” too, but with his own younger brother not particularly interested in being there for him, Toby’s most invested in making these brotherly bonds happen.
Unfortunately, the Pearson boys are a little distracted. Last we saw on This Is Us before the Olympics, Deja had shown up on Randall and Beth’s doorstep. We pick up where we left off in that regard. Deja comes inside and confesses that her mother, Shauna, hasn’t been able to pay the gas bill and that they’ve been without water for weeks. “We need $89.34,” she admits. “I didn’t know where else to go.” Randall suggests setting up a direct deposit, but Deja rebuffs him, pleading only that he give them the cash to get them through before case worker Linda’s next scheduled visit. Randall obliges, but he’s not about to let it go.
Beth wants to have a good time in Vegas, leave behind the stresses of real life for a night, but Randall’s eyes are glued to his phone: He can’t get Deja out of his mind. As he and Beth drive on the strip, they start bickering, with Randall coldly suggesting he can’t “detach” from Deja like she can. “Deja is no longer a part of our home,” Beth retorts. “It’s not fair to anyone involved to keep acting like she is.” Whether or not she actually believes that, she makes clear that Randall’s comments hurt her.
And then there’s Kevin: Still in recovery, trying to stay on the straight and narrow. He enthusiastically greets a hotel maid at his Vegas hotel room, pointing out the minibar and counting the bottles of booze (27) before asking her to monitor his intake — or, ideally, lack thereof — whenever she goes to clean the room. “Coming to Vegas at this point in my life is like my Mount Everest, and I’m going to conquer it,” he promises.
Randall and Kevin greet an enthusiastic Toby and his “rat pack,” each equally oblivious to the roles Toby hopes they’ll take in his pre-wedding celebration night. At dinner, things start off smoothly enough. Kevin’s drinking soda with lime, and he hilariously reminisces about what he did for Randall’s bachelor party: Take him to a seedy club, only for Randall to convince two of the strippers to quit their jobs and go back to school in 20 minutes. “He takes care of people,” Kevin quips. Toby loves their back-and-forth, affectionately calling it the famous Pearson “rivalry.” But both eventually lose interest. Kevin, still preoccupied by his steep recent downfall, spots an old castmate and darts from the table. Randall’s still obsessively checking his phone and finally gets a call from Deja; he, too, leaves the table in a heartbeat. Suddenly, Toby’s left alone with the fillers. (Recap continues on page 2)
Kate, meanwhile, is more apprehensive about spending quality time with Beth. She notes she’s barely spent five minutes alone with her, ever, but at the same time her anxiety seems rooted in something deeper. At least Madison’s there to talk her way through any awkward silences. And in all honesty, the women seem to be having a ball by the time they’re at the male strip club — Kate’s cheering as Beth goes up to dance with the men, and the dollar bills are flying all around them.
It’s a sharp contrast to where we find the bachelor side of things. Kevin goes off to speak with Emma, a co-star in the Ron Howard film he made — the release of which he calls “the beacon of light” for what’s been an otherwise immensely difficult period for him. But Emma informs him that she was cut from the movie after Howard decided to take the movie in a different direction — especially worrying to Kevin, since a good half of the scenes he shot were with Emma. And so, another setback: He informs Toby’s friend he’s not feeling well and rushes back up to his room, where he obsessively works out while eyeing the minibar, trying to discipline himself.
Randall, meanwhile, takes the call from Deja. She says she was just checking in, that she saw something on TV she remembered her old foster dad loved. Randall maintains his serious, concerned tone — asking if the heat’s back on, if they’re getting by, if she needs anything. “It’s just hard to call when my mom’s around,” Deja says somewhat cryptically. “We’re making it work.” Randall is hardly convinced, and a brief glimpse of Deja on the phone outside, in nervous anticipation, indicates he’s right not to be.
Randall crashes the male strip club; by the time he gets there, Beth’s flat on her back on the stage, ogling the dancers around (and above) her. She finally makes it back to the party in a delighted haze, only to see her husband waiting for her. “I didn’t expect to see you getting your freak on with Magic Mike,” he says after she questions why he’s there. He tells her that Deja called, but that she said nothing was wrong; just that he could hear, between the silences, that there was something she wasn’t telling him. Beth is having none of this: “I sit inside of your anxiety every damn minute of every day,” she snaps, pleading for one night away from it. Their blow-up gets deeply personal and ugly. Kate tries intervening, which only makes things worse — Beth asks her to butt out, Kate refuses, and suddenly the fight is going three ways. “He’s my husband,” Beth reminds her. Kate’s reply stings: “I know: He’s made it perfectly clear who’s more important to him.” And you thought Toby’s bachelor party was going south?
If Kate’s outburst seemed to come a little out of the blue, it’s in service of some surprisingly rich character work that’s bound to be fleshed out down the line. Randall goes to find Kate, who’s alone at a slot machine drinking cosmos, to apologize and figure out what she meant. Kate says she prided herself on knowing Randall was “the coolest” before anyone else — in a brief moment from the past timeline, we see Young Kate marveling at how at home Randall seemed in the public library — and what it felt like to “lose” him to Beth after they’d bonded so intensely in the year following their dad’s death. (Look forward to learning more there.) “You will never lose me, not even if I tried,” Randall tells her in a sweet moment. Kate later goes to apologize to Beth, admitting she’s had an insecurity issue around “strong women,” and they find some common ground — with Beth, in a tearful speech, admitting just how hard Deja’s absence has been on her, even if she doesn’t show it. Randall, Kevin, and Toby spend time together too; the Pearson brothers find and take a walk with Toby after Kate explains to Randall why it was wrong of him to leave Toby behind.
Toby particularly gives Kevin some tough advice: Call up Ron Howard (he’s in his phone!) and tell him he’s making a mistake. Kevin’s initially reluctant but musters the courage, saying exactly what Toby told him to. Fortunately, Kevin misunderstood the situation based on Emma’s comments. Ron informs him that his father-son scenes with Sylvester Stallone — remember those days? — emerged as the heart of the film, and that he’s still prominently featured. He tells him to buy a tuxedo: Good things are coming.
The same cannot be said, exactly, for Randall and Beth. “Vegas, Baby” delivers another solid, realistic showcase of marriage’s difficulties, as while we knew there was more to what both Randall and Beth were going through, they struggled to open up to one another. They finally do, a reminder of their tenacity as a couple. Beth even suggests they swing by Deja and Shauna’s place to check in — but when they do, they’re informed they don’t live there anymore. They step outside, a little in shock, and then see Deja’s head against a car window, sleeping. They knock on the window and Deja wakes up, alarmed at the sight of them. Her mother’s in the front seat, too — looking ahead to the finale in two weeks, this is clearly an unnerving plot point to watch.
In an episode in many ways about the struggles of communication — Kevin teetering on the brink after misunderstanding something; Randall and Beth feuding as they conceal their true emotions; Kate’s complicated feelings about Beth being left unsaid for years — we go back to Jack and Rebecca, in the past timeline, as a model of how to make things right. They enjoy their cornish hen prepared by Kevin on the roof, and Rebecca admits she didn’t like not getting Jack an anniversary gift — even if it’d ultimately be upstaged. Jack then muses on the meteor shower, reciting what Randall taught him about their science. “Meteors are always up there, whizzing around — we just never notice them,” he says. “It’s only once in a while that we actually see one, just how spectacular they really are.” He then turns to Rebecca with the kind of sweeping, touching romantic gesture that everyone could’ve used in this episode of light emotional bruising: “I don’t need anniversaries to see you; I see you every day. You are my daily meteor shower.”