This Is Us recap: Drama circles on a heated, fateful election night
The Pearson family is back — gathered for election night, seven weeks passed where we left them off in a twist-heavy midseason finale. It feels only fair — or, at least, par for the This Is Us course — that a mere few minutes into this next episode, we’re left on a few more cliffhangers to keep us hooked.
As a refresher, last year’s “The Beginning Is the End of the Beginning” revealed that Jack’s long-presumed-dead brother, Nicky, was actually alive and living somewhere unknown, while Randall and Beth’s relationship was put in the worst position we’ve seen it to date — with an ominous flashforward hinting that their troubles could be lasting. As we check in with the clan on Randall’s election night (he’s performing much better than anyone thought he would) we spot various points of tension: Kate, back home with Toby, crying for five minutes straight; Randall and Beth shooting each other looks from a distance, the state of their marriage unclear; and Kevin and new girlfriend Zoe back home and at the election party, but also in a bad place. Indeed, Zoe tells Kevin she “can’t do this,” and hands him back a keychain with a young John Stamos on the cover. Say what?
Suddenly we’re back seven weeks, right where we left off in 2018: Randall waking up on the couch the next morning, telling an aghast Beth that despite their heated argument, he still plans on running for City Councilman and giving everything he has to the election. She thinks back to his trip to Washington, D.C. with his father, just before Jack’s death — a memory that runs through the episode in bits. Jack tells a teen Randall, “What a great man you’re going to be,” and it’s a beautiful piece of encouragement — if also a sort of pressure for Randall to live up to what his father envisioned. It’s especially hard to do when “great” is so hard to quantify.
Kate and Toby had just learned they were having a boy, and now they’re in the next stages of baby-planning. First things first: Creating a nursery, which means clearing out their junk-room — including Toby’s “toys,” which he’d prefer to call “action figures.” She tells him to sell them. But she accidentally sells off a box marked “DNS” for Do Not Sell (she thought it was short for “donations”), and it’s filled with Toby’s most prized possessions — valuable collectibles, yes, but also figures from his childhood, which got him through so much, and which he’d planned on passing onto his own children.
Finally, there’s Kevin and Zoe — the final arc in the episode, meaning the only time-hopping going on this week is back and forth from election night. They’ve just returned from Vietnam, reeling from the revelation that Kevin’s uncle is alive. “I’m not going to tell my family a thing,” he says, fearing the intensity of the reaction. Zoe, meanwhile, makes herself comfortable on his couch, cheerily saying it feels good to be home. Kevin catches her phrasing and he twists the moment into convincing her to move in. He gives her an apartment key — and a chain featuring, you guessed it, young John Stamos.
“The Last Seven Weeks” is a layered puzzle even by This Is Us standards, working off of 2018’s twists as well as its own opening’s cryptic teases. This is particularly true of Randall and Beth: The hints dropped in the midseason finale’s flashforward and this week’s initial scene make watching their whole dynamic a guessing game, which doesn’t allow their scenes to fully breathe, or us to live in the pain between them. And unfortunately, the resolution ends up feeling a bit like a cop-out — for all of the warnings of trouble ahead, and one more mighty argument between the pair, Randall realizes he was wrong. He’s been staying overnight at the office working hard, taking his family for granted, at the moment he runs into Reverend Hawley at a bakery where he’s supposed to pick up the sacred “Booberry” pie for the Pearson New Year’s Eve. Earlier he’d been presented with bombshell opposition research on Councilman Brown that’d likely bring the incumbent down, but in a dirtier way than Randall envisioned. By the end of Randall’s conversation with Reverend Hawley, who encourages him to be a man he’ll be proud of on his deathbed, he’s apologized to his daughters and reconciled with Beth. Oh, and honorably thrown away the research. (That there’s no follow-up scene between Randall and his campaign manager on this is another indication that Randall’s storyline this week feels awkwardly stitched together.) (Recap continues on Page 2)
The Nicky mystery is more engaging, if only because it’s ongoing — and with larger implications. Kevin and Zoe head to the military records office where they’re informed that, without written authorization from a congressman or similar authority figure, they cannot unlock the secrets to Nicky’s life. Fortunately, Zoe has a connection — a congressman whom she says she dated. It’s vague, but Kevin is too excited by the idea of finding out the truth to care… at least initially. Once they actually meet with Zoe’s mysterious ex, it’s clear to Kevin things are a bit messier. The man agrees to release Nicky’s records to them out of decency but expresses profound hurt over the way Zoe ended things between them. He leaves, and Kevin prods her for more information. She says they were together for years, talked about living together, but eventually realized things weren’t right as they got closer — and called things off in an email.
About a week later, Kevin gets the records and is frustrated by their contents or lack thereof. Nicky, we learn, was medically evacuated, sent to get a psychological evaluation, and then discharged a few months later, signing his papers “Clark Kent.” That Kevin is disappointed by the sparse details only compounds his anxiety over Zoe’s revelation. She still hasn’t unpacked her boxes and appears unwilling to do so. “I told you I’d move in to make you happy,” she says. “Every step of this relationship has been you pushing me.” She tells him she needs space.
This is the last we see of Kevin and Zoe before election night. As for Toby and Kate, once more their story feels a bit less pressing from the rest of the action — though it’s affectingly played by Chrissy Metz and Chris Sullivan here. Kate tries to track down where she sold the prized box of toys, but she winds up at a New Year’s Eve college party, running into a kid named Gabe who will not budge — even after a deeply emotional plea from Kate explaining the collectibles’ significance to them. Back home, she and Toby agree they’re starting a new family, and they don’t need pieces of nostalgia. “We come with us,” as Kate explains it. But in a powerfully emotional moment, Toby reveals to Kate a stunning recreation of the football stadium her father built for her, placed in the center of the nursery. They’ll have something from their childhoods to pass on after all. And there, readers, is the reason for Kate’s tears. Good tears.
Yet this is ultimately a Randall-centric episode. Our last glimpse before election night is of him and Beth, back in bed together, intimate and loving. He says he’s not going to make a final push in Philadelphia; she’s puzzled by this. “You are a man who cares too much and tries too hard,” she says. “It’s who you’ve always been. It’s who I married: a great man. I will not let you forget who you are.” Randall once more remembers what his father told him on that night in Washington — how they talked about balance, and what the universe plans for you.
And so we go to election night, where the results are ridiculously close — aided by some surprise support from Reverend Hawley, no doubt, but more importantly a testament to Randall’s grit throughout the campaign. Randall makes a speech thanking all those who came out, before giving them permission to go home — results will be coming home late, and there’s no sense in people waiting around nervously for hours.
Kevin is the first to walk out, quick and upset — still reeling from Zoe effectively ending things. But she follows him outside. In a tender moment, she reveals the root of her commitment issues. “You’re one of the only people that knows what my dad…” she says, referencing the abuse she withstood which she told Kevin about in Vietnam. She works through her trauma before affirming she wants to live with him. “Even though you might be the most pushy person I have ever met, I think I like what you’re pushing for. I’m in love with you,” she says. “And I want John Stamos back.” Doesn’t get more romantic than that. Later, as they unpack boxes — finally — they come across a postcard. It reads: “Jack, last one. —C.K.” Addressed to Kevin’s dad, from a man in Bradford, Pa., with the same initials as Clark Kent. They take this as proof that Jack knew Nicky was alive. A new mystery: Why did Jack hide that for the rest of his life?
We end on Randall and Beth in bed once more, Randall contemplating his past, his future, the ghost of his father. “Sometimes I feel like a big old puppet, and he’s pulling the strings from up there, tugging me around wherever he wants me to go,” he says. “Sometimes it feels like there’s been a plan for my life from the beginning. Maybe everyone feels that way. Maybe I’m not that special and this is just what it is to be a person.” It almost reads like the thesis statement of This Is Us — a sense of cosmic forces pushing up against everyday life, a question of one man’s purpose. His melancholy is interrupted, though, by the phone ringing. He answers. He takes in what he hears. And he tells Beth: “I won.” It’s a moment of confusion, joy, and tension. This pair will likely be tested again. And Randall will face a new challenge to live up to — for his family, for himself, and for his late, great father.
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