Ron Batzdorff/NBC
David Canfield
October 31, 2017 AT 10:00 PM EDT

This Is Us

type
TV Show
genre
Drama
run date
09/20/16
performer
Milo Ventimiglia, Mandy Moore, Justin Hartley, Sterling K. Brown
Producer
Dan Fogelman
broadcaster
NBC
seasons
2
Current Status
In Season

We gave it a B+

Kevin similarly reaches a low point: He attends a party with his roommate, whom he’s jealous of for getting a part in a movie with a hot director, and cruelly tries to take his spot in a cringe-inducing conversation with said director. Both Kevin and Kate are left humiliated. Their feelings and experiences are reminiscent of where the siblings were when This Is Us began, if a little further back in the development stage — Kate, for example, is eating fast food in her car instead of working on getting healthier — and they mostly feel like elements rounding out an episode that’s fundamentally about Rebecca and Randall.

Things are getting increasingly complicated with those two. Going back to when the former was young and out for Halloween, Rebecca takes to heart Jack’s criticism that she’s too accommodating, noticing how rigid young Randall can be about following plans and doing things his way. After arguing over whether to go to a family’s house for trick-or-treating, she puts her foot down. “The plan is not set in stone,” she tells him. “We can change it. We can improvise!” Randall, upset, yells, “Fine!” and storms off, leaving her to follow.

After going on like that for some time, she finally sits him down and asks him what’s wrong. Randall reveals that the Larson family told him he was a “miracle” because his parents “lost” a third baby, which he thinks means they lost and never found him. It’s a huge moment. “Sometimes a baby dies right in the beginning,” Rebecca explains softly to Randall. “But your dad and I had all this room in our hearts for three babies, and we saw you. We met you. So yeah, you are a miracle. But you’re not instead of anything — you’re the way it was always supposed to be.” She then tells him what the other baby’s name was: “Kyle.” (Randall, heartbreakingly, notes that Kyle would “look like” the rest of his family, and that “nobody” looks like him.)

It’s a beautiful scene that seamlessly feeds into another beautiful sequence, this time from Halloween in the late 2000s. While Randall is still at the hardware store he gets a call from Rebecca: Beth’s in labor a day early. He rushes over, Rebecca informs them amid the chaos that the ambulance is five minutes away, and Randall proves himself to be the man Beth needs him to be. “This is now. I see you, baby,” he encourages. “We got this. I got you, okay? You’re doing great.” She gives birth at home. It’s a girl.

What follows is a wrenching scene — dare I call it a tearjerker — that is performed with stunning, raw acting by Mandy Moore. Rebecca is on the floor sobbing, ostensibly because she broke a mug but really because through all the joy of the birth, she feels something missing. “That was one of the happiest moments of my life, but also, your dad isn’t here,” she tells Randall while sobbing. “That’s just something I’m going to have to deal with the rest of my life — the happiest moments will also be a little sad.”

In the earlier timeline, after Rebecca tells Jack about her conversation with Randall, she says to him, “I wanted you to be there, because what’s Cher without Sonny? I don’t know how any of this would work without you.” The symmetry between this moment and Beth’s birth, broadly, is clear. But so too is the more specific aspect of her relationship with Randall — the son she’s most protective of. In both of these stories, Rebecca is helping Randall through a difficult time. In one, she has Jack to go back to; in the other, she doesn’t.

Beth is at the hospital, and soon Kevin and Kate are there celebrating the good fortune with their brother and sister-in-law. They’re fooled by appearances: Kate and Kevin agree that “everything is falling into place” for Randall (we know it’s more complicated), and then they both acknowledge that they’re at low points in their own lives. (Kevin even reveals it’s been close to a year since his last audition.) Kevin says Kate needs to move on from their dad’s death and go after “everything”; Kate encourages Kevin to keep pushing, to which he suggests joining a “crappy improv group.” We see them helping each other in the same way that they did when they were kids: Kevin on an improv stage and Kate laughing from the audience, cheering him on.

More notable is where we leave Rebecca. “The 20’s” is very much her episode. It’s about that awkward “middle” period that the Pearsons found themselves in after Jack’s death as they struggled to move on, and nobody was more stuck in place than Rebecca, the widow. In a gorgeous monologue — and another impressive piece of acting by Moore, in what’s certainly her biggest showcase episode to date — she talks to her new grandchild, Tess (named after, of all things, the fan Randall bought on the salesperson’s recommendation). Under the striking direction of guest director Regina King, the scene is intercut with new mother Rebecca introducing herself to baby Randall in the hospital, with Jack looking on from behind; with Tess, in contrast, she’s alone. But the joy in her eyes is undeniable. Standing over baby Tess, she speaks with the optimism of someone who’s had a transformative experience. “I thought my journey had come to an end, but I don’t know,” she says to Tess. “Maybe we’re both at our next beginning.” (For Mandy Moore’s thoughts on Rebecca in 2008, head here.)

The final sequence then shifts to Rebecca joining Facebook, smiling at new baby photos. Then, a direct message — from Miguel. “Congrats on your first grandchild!” it reads. “Hello from Houston — didn’t know you were on this! How’ve you been for the past eight years?” Rebecca fiddles with what to say — she types then deletes, “I’m hanging in there” — before opening a new door: “I’m good. How are you?” There, at long last, the mystery of how Miguel and Rebecca wound up together starts to come into place. In an episode about new beginnings and fresh starts, it’s a pretty fitting place to end.

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