Jack tries to cheer up his daughter when her birthday party doesn't go as planned
This Is Us - Season 1
Credit: on Batzdorff/NBC
This Is Us - Season 3
S1 E13
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It’s no secret that Jack’s death is going to happen sooner rather than later, but I still gasp out loud every time we start actually moving in that direction, because it’s going to be beyond gut-wrenching — especially when he’s in primo dad mode and using all of his emotional tools to try and blanket his children with love and understanding, the way he and Rebecca do in this episode. He promised to be an ace husband and father, and he is delivering. Seeing the way he responds to Kate’s needs in particular, it’s completely understandable why she’s been so emptied by his loss and why she’s attracted to such goobers who use similar silliness to placate her.

Speaking of which, Toby’s back with some moderate personality redemption — anyone who can wax poetic about Notting Hill deserves some cool cred. Unfortunately, Kate’s flitted off to weight loss camp, where she’s quickly developing a wandering eye for an even smarmier guy. You know what they say about the devil you know …

Here’s what happened on this week’s birthday-themed installment of This Is Us.

The Big Three Birthdays

The Big Three’s shared birthday with Jack has been the central focus on This Is Us from the start, and this time, we get a montage of many pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey-themed Pearson parties over the years. For their tenth birthday, though, the kids (well, Kate and Kevin) want to break with tradition and have their own individual celebrations. Kevin wants a Princess Bride-themed soiree so he can flex his already-developing acting skills by rehashing the Inigo Montoya scene a thousand times, while Kate just wants to dress up in crinoline skirts, play Madonna music, and teach the rest of the girls to vogue. Randall’s a little less gung-ho about the idea, but he casually caves when he learns that he can have a magician for his.

Rebecca would so much rather go to all this trouble than get them a dog, so it’s not too surprising when she douses Jack’s sudden interest in having another kid right away. His reasoning for wanting another child is that the kids are now into double digits, so they won’t need them much longer (oh, how wrong he is about that), and, well, babies are cute! But Rebecca kindly reminds him that the last time they got pregnant, they left the hospital as a family of five, and, besides, she’s exhausted as it is trying to keep up with the three they already have here.

“You are the love of my life, and my kids are everything,” she tells him before insisting, “I’m done having kids.”

Meanwhile, for a last-minute effort, the parties are actually pretty elaborate, down to the bedazzled gloves for Kate’s shindig and accurate costume replicas for Kevin’s. But it’s not all fun and games for all three little ones. Not only is Kate left sitting alone while her “friends” ditch her for Kevin’s section, but Randall’s crowd is sparse at best.

Rebecca is particularly plagued by the lack of company for Randall’s backyard bash, and she wonders if his race has anything to do with the cold shoulder his classmates have given him. Randall, ever wise beyond his years, assures her that he’s unfazed by it because he’d rather spend his day with his real friends, who did show up, and that he’s not one bit lonely at his new school. “I have three really good friends,” he says. “That’s a lot, and they all came to my party.” Even better, they all sit together at lunch to work on their group project: making a maze book like the successes-in-the-making that they all no doubt are.

Upon hearing this, Rebecca realizes that maybe she and Jack aren’t too shabby at this parenting thing after all. Maybe they should think about having more.

But now Jack’s the one who’s not so convinced. He’s found Kate sitting alone at her “party,” abandoned by her supposed friends, including Sophie, who just came to make eyes at Kevin. Jack tries to put on a happy face and let Kate school him on the process of voguing, which mollifies her for a minute, but in the end, she’s still brokenhearted about it all and just wants to be left alone. Even so, she’s clearly grateful for his earnest effort here. He realizes that the kids do need him, now more than ever, so he’s already got his work cut out for him with these three.

The day ends with a return to form, with all five trashing the place with a wrapping paper fight, playing their old game, and even bringing out the original sign that signified their birthdays past with “Big Daddy.” It’s bittersweet, knowing what we know, especially once we get a look ahead at the somber future when they’ll gather around his burial service — at which time the kids appear to be in their late teens. Brace for emotional impact, everyone.

NEXT: Kate gets a new source of release…

Kate’s camp

Seeing her new fiancé Toby go through heart surgery was a doozy for Kate. She’s waxing and waning about her decision to undergo gastric bypass surgery as a result of Toby’s close call, but her doctor discourages her from giving up on the motivation altogether and suggests an alternative: an “immersive weight loss experience,” which Kate pegs plainly as “fat camp.”

Why she has to go right away, while Toby’s still grounded in New York for recovery, is beyond me, but he’s supportive and drops her off at the remote Adirondacks locale. They do this saccharine exchange of “fiancé”/”fiancée” title teases, but even they know it’s much too much.

Kate’s surprised to find that this isn’t your ordinary militaristic weight loss camp; this place is instead all about yoga and serenity and “tackling the issues that lay beneath the weight.” Kate doesn’t like it, like, at all. She draws the line at the drumstick-slinging session and calls Toby to pick her up ASAP. Unfortunately, the resident horse whisperer, a sharp-tongued sassmouse named Duke, taunts her into putting the phone away while assuring her that walking away is the right thing to do right now. “It’s a joke,” he says of his workplace. “People don’t change. You know it, and I know it. That’s why you’re quitting.”

This reads like a challenge to Kate, who decides to give the drumming ring another shot and finds it therapeutic after all. As she conjures up mental images of her lost father and all he did to try and make her feel loved, she screams (literally) in pain… or perhaps in release of that pain.

She thanks Duke for using his passive aggression (in her words, the “being a dick thing”) to convince her to stay, but he insists that was never his intention. He really was just annoyed by her cell phone use, and he really is a dick; but now that she’s here, he wants her to know he’s interested in her, fiancé or none.

Kate tells him that’s not gonna happen, but Duke insists it is. “I’m in Cabin 13 when you’re ready,” he blithely informs her, above her protestations. Will she cave to this curiosity? And what is it with Kate and these bossy boys anyway?! I get that she might find humor and grand overtures comforting, given how playful Jack was with her in her childhood, but the imposing nature of these guys is simply repulsive. Stahhhp, Kate!


NEXT: Kevin makes a decision…

Kevin’s conundrum

While Kate’s off flirting in the land of self-actualization, Toby decides to link up with Kevin and do him a solid. As we know, Kevin blew it with Olivia and Sloane, but he thinks there’s still a chance that he might be able to rectify the situation with at least one of them. But which one should he choose?

He’s still gauging the girls on all the wrong factors — he even repeats his insipid “pro” list for each, which mostly revolves around their individual sex appeal. Even though he chose Sloane, she rightly reminds him that he “basically called [her] the girl equivalent of wearing a seatbelt in a cab” and tells him they’re done, capital D.

Toby, self-declared “king of romantic gestures” decides to teach Kevin his ways because he (thinks he) knows a thing or two about how to court a woman. “See, while you were out seducing women with your master race bone structure and your perfect man bod, I was logging in two solid decades of actually doing nice things for women to make them like me.” He’s also proud of the fact that he’s done his research by watching every romantic movie ever made, which should be more up Kevin’s alley, but somehow he’s missed out on that aspect of the entertainment biz.

Toby coaches Kevin to do the old “close your eyes and picture it” trick to figure out who’s his one true lady love, and it works. It’s not Sloane or Olivia who really holds the key to his heart, it’s Sophie. Yes, the same little girl who basked in his 10-year-old glory days presentation of Princess Bride scenes while ducking out on her supposed BFF Kate’s birthday party.

Apparently, the two were once married but have been on the outs for a dozen years by now, probably due to some putzy behavior on Kev’s part. Even so, he shows up and declares that she’s the one with his three sentence speech, which includes spoken punctuation, like he’s never recited a prepared line in his life: “I was head-over-heels in love with you the moment that I saw you. I never should have let you get away. And it’s like you were part of me, it’s like you were my arm, and I when I lost you I lost my arm… dot dot dot it’s like I’ve been walking around without an arm for over a decade, you know? Comma, I really want my arm back, you know, because I never stop thinking about it, comma, not ever. Parentheses, you look amazing, by the way, end parentheses, period.”

It’s enough to get her attention. She agrees to meet him for coffee and see what happens from there. Of course, it’s not going to be casual. The man’s already declared that he’s been in love with her since the day he first laid eyes on her over a quarter century ago, so it’s not like they can meet up and make small talk. This is either going to be more consuming and without abandon than Toby and Kate’s quickfire engagement, or they’re going to crash and burn spectacularly. To be continued…

NEXT: Randall helps William live out his dream …

Randall’s ride

Both Rebecca and Beth warned William that his very presence was going to earn him instant top billing in Randall’s life, so when he wakes up feeling good for the first time in months — thanks to what Beth calls a “chemo boost” after stopping the meds — is he selfish to come in and monopolize Randall’s entire workday like he does? Or is this a moment of respite from pain that they both needed to have together?

Randall’s vying for a major project that requires his immediate and focused attention, but William hasn’t been walking on sunshine like this in a hot minute, so he wants his son to savor it with him by sunglass shopping and scouring the town for the perfect egg-cream shake.

He had a dream once, he reveals, to be like this cool guy he knew in Memphis who got to ride around in a fancy car with slick shades and his favorite beverage while listening to some tunes. Randall’s pressed for time, and reminds his dad of that on multiple occasions, but William doesn’t waver in his determination to live out his fantasy moment at long last.

Seeing how important it is to him, Randall of course obliges. What’s more, when he learns that William never learned how to drive, he decides to step up and role-reverse the parent-child dynamic by teaching him how to cruise around the parking lot.

He might not get the contract he wants, but this is bigger than that. “This is a dream come true,” William says to thank him. Randall knows what’s ahead with William’s inevitable health decline, and since he’s been through losing a parent before, he’s willing to put aside his own ambitions to enjoy this fleeting moment of fun with his father now. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: The man deserves a cape because he is a hero.

Episode Recaps

This Is Us - Season 3
This Is Us

NBC’s beloved era-hopping drama tells the story of the Pearson family through the years.

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