Jack and Rebecca hit a Valentine's Day snag

By Amanda Bell
February 14, 2017 at 10:00 PM EST
Ron Batzdorff/NBC
S1 E15
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There’s a lot to unpack here on this special Valentine’s Day edition of This Is Us. In the throwback era, Jack and Rebecca are inching ever nearer to that fateful moment when Jack leaves this world — and we might have just gotten a new hint as to how that might happen, thanks to a small romantic crisis the two endure. Meanwhile, Kate and Toby are finally starting to reevaluate the breakneck speed at which they’re heading to the altar, Kevin and Sophie are doing some soul baring as well, and Randall is starting to suffer the consequences of trying to salvage what’s left of William’s life at the expense of his own (and his family’s) well-being.

The wingman

Jack and Rebecca’s children may be teenagers now — which, from the brief flashback we saw of Jack’s funeral, is about the age when they’ll lose him — but they’re still hot for each other. They’re as devoted as ever to traditions like eating bacon cheeseburgers and onion rings at O’Shannon’s and calling each other “cool wife” and “hot hubby.”

But Rebecca’s dreaming a little bigger than the mom life lately. The kids aren’t exactly full grown, although since having sex with Sophie, Kevin sure seems to fancy himself an adult. What started as a few nights a week moonlighting at the piano bar has become a full-on touring opportunity, thanks in part to her pianist, Ben, who sees some big-lights potential for her.

Ben tries to suggest that Jack should be understanding “if” he loves her, but Rebecca barks back at that turn of phrase spectacularly by running through the laundry list (which includes actual laundry, probably) of super-heroic dad stuff Jack’s been doing just to keep her on the local stage these days. Her bark is worse than her bite on the subject, though, because she’s definitely interested in the prospect of taking her singing skills to the next level by Ben’s side.

Jack doesn’t like it, though he won’t tell her that… at least not yet. Privately, though, he admits to Miguel that he doesn’t understand why she’s gunning for a singing tour all of a sudden. “Who does she think she is, Janis Freaking Joplin?” he sneers. He also has a sneaking suspicion that this Ben guy has a thing for his wife, but Miguel assures him that not even Jeff Goldblum, despite his clever cellular courtship monologue in Jurassic Park, could attract her attention away from Jack. It’s an odd pop culture reference to serve as a sign of the times, but let’s go with it.

Jack being Jack, he doesn’t betray his disapproval of the situation to Rebecca, even as they’re forced to have “the talk” with Kevin over his relationship with Sophie, assuage Randall’s gnawing perfectionism over a Hamlet essay due at his ultra-competitive school, and who-knows-what-ing about Kate and her suddenly generous application of eyeliner. He’s got this, he assures her. Dream big and go for it. Classic Jack Pearson.

The erstwhile marriage of Miguel has Jack’s bestie in desperate need of Valentine’s Day plans, and since Jack’s already going to be attending Rebecca’s show solo, he invites Miguel to tag along and scout the bar for potential new lady friends. This goes well enough — Miguel makes eyes with a lovely woman across the room — but then things get extremely awkward once Rebecca’s set begins and she’s singing, and swooning, in Ben’s direction during her vocal tribute “to all the lovebirds.” Miguel suggests it’s just a bit for the audience, but Jack is already fit to be tied before Ben comes up to make small talk and drops the bomb that he and Rebecca dated when she was younger. Ruh roh.

Jack pulls the plug on his post-show dinner plans with Rebecca and confronts her about the fact that she’s not only been spending all her free time with her ex-boyfriend, but she never revealed their former romance — and now she wants to go on tour with this guy. Yeahhhh, Jack may have been overreacting before tonight, but he’s completely justified in his concern now. Rebecca says she didn’t tell him because she didn’t want him to get the wrong impression about her new career goals, but that does nothing to satisfy Jack’s rage.

Instead, he takes off and honors that restaurant reservation solo… well, not completely solo. He orders a drink to go with his traditional V-Day dinner. Yikes.

Could that be a hint at what’s to come? Could Jack’s return to booze become part of his downfall? There’s a hint in this backstory that they don’t really know what’s going on with Kate at the time, and she does seem to be the sibling most consistently affected by his death. Could she have had some kind of personal crisis that left her attentive dad rushing to her side when he didn’t have any business behind the wheel? Another theory for the bucket.

NEXT: Kate goes to Duke’s cabin, but not for the reason we expect

Deep dive

Last week’s episode left us hanging about whether Kate would take up slimy Duke on his offer to join him in Cabin 13 for a midnight rendezvous, but, thankfully, her decision to stop by his room has nothing to do with any interest in hooking up.

After Toby shows up at camp with another one of his surprise grand gestures — a romantic night at a hotel room with some “low impact,” doctor-approved sex — she blows him off. Toby gets a whiff of something he doesn’t like when he comes into contact with Duke in the parking lot, but after Kate lays the verbal smack down on Duke, she gets kicked out of the camp. His parents own the place, so apparently he has to power to get her booted for turning down his salacious advances. What a guy. It’s a wonder he hasn’t gotten the place sued out of existence by now, but anyway. Enough about him (finally).

Kate apologizes to Toby for the brush-off treatment, and he admits that he had some concerns about whether she and Duke were going to become a thing. He’s ordinarily a pretty self-confident guy (and “well hung,” he jokes), but he realizes he really doesn’t know that much about Kate. Maybe she likes insipid creeps like Duke. She assures him that’s not the case and opens up a “deep dive” Q&A session between them so that they can actually get to know one another before they, you know, commit to spending the rest of their lives together.

The questions start out pretty superficial, with subjects like their first celeb crushes and fashion preferences on the table. But eventually, as these things tend to do, the talk escalates to more serious matters like Toby’s mental health struggles following the collapse of his first marriage. He tries to find out what exactly happened to take her father’s life, but she clams up. She wants to discuss it with him someday, but she just can’t yet.

Toby’s wise enough to offer Kate some more time to get to the point of being ready to talk about that sensitive subject, but he recognizes that there’s still a divide between them that no ceremony is going to bridge. Maybe they should hold off on the quickfire nuptials and just enjoy being engaged for an extended period of time instead. Okay? Okay. That’ll work for them both (and pretty much everyone, phew!).

NEXT: Kevin takes a leaf from the Jack Pearson playbook

The booth

Kevin’s decision to drop in on Sophie did get her attention and when she agreed to a second “date” after that, it’s now officially official. They’re going to give it another go — “cautiously dating,” as she phrases it. In Facebook terms, that’d be, “It’s complicated.”

Surprisingly, it’s not at all awkward between Kevin and Sloane as they prepare for opening night of their play. They exchange some cordial congratulations that smooth things over well enough. He’s masking some significant pre-show jitters — he’s even been having a recurring dream about a Katie Couric interview that ends with her walking off to play golf with other journos instead of pumping the new career path of the good-pecks guy. But ultimately, he finds some unexpected comfort in the form of Miguel.

Miguel knows Kevin’s not fond of him — after all, this is the man who took his late father’s wife after a lifetime of best friendship — but he points out how similar Kevin is to his dad. It’s hard to see what Miguel means, exactly, considering that his dad was a family man who’d never walk out on a job or cheat on his wife, but he insists the hand gestures and such make Kevin a dead ringer.

Kevin takes that advice to heart when he goes to his show, which he’s sure he’s going to bomb right in front of that New York Times reviewer. As the show is about to begin, in a last-ditch effort to quell his fears, he tries to think of what his father would do. When the lights go on, though, Kevin’s nowhere to be found, because…

NEXT: Randall loses control 

The numbers

Randall’s always taken on too much. We see that in the flashbacks when he’s sobbing at his computer over his English paper, which is due just as a big football game that might make the difference for his team’s championship hopes draws near.

In real time, William’s health is fading, and he’s resisting help from a nurse. Randall has got a major presentation coming up for work on one of his biggest client accounts, and whad’ya know, the meeting gets pushed up a whole day to boot. Randall insists he’s still the point man on the project, but Kevin is in his office looking to kill some time, William’s kicking his nurse out of the house over her refusal to let him have Coca-Cola, and Sanjay is quickly becoming his boss’ office VIP instead of Randall.

Beth warned us once before that when Randall gets this overwhelmed, it starts to affect his health significantly, specifically his eyesight. When he arrives to the meeting late and is put directly on the spot, he chokes. Either he can’t see the facts and figures on his tablet or he just can’t focus enough to speak words — he’s certainly been exhibiting such jumbled confusion on the home front. It’s enough that Sanjay has to step in and finish his portion for him, while tears silently stream down Randall’s face.

He calls Kevin to apologize for not being able to make it to the show, and his grief is audible. Kevin told Sophie that he’s a new man, and it is true that the old Kevin would have walked on by with a sneer if he saw his brother crying like he did when they were young. So, given the call to become more like his dad, he takes off and heads straight for Randall’s office to comfort him, leaving Sloane to wallow in her aloneness on stage. Poor girl.

Looks like Kevin’s wearing a proverbial WWJD (that’s What Would Jack Do) bracelet now, and just in time. Because William is not long for this world, and Randall is going to need his brother more than ever soon. But still. Poor Sloane.

Episode Recaps

NBC’s beloved era-hopping drama tells the story of the Pearson family through the years.
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  • 4
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  • Tuesdays at 9:00pm
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  • 09/20/16
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