On the TV twist-o-meter, this week’s This Is Us revelation probably ranks around a 4. That compared to the series’ first two episode shockers which came in at solid 8s. And let me tell you: I’m so glad for a 4 episode. A twist-of-the-week conceit feels much more suited to heightened-reality programing — Scandal this is not — so a little grounding was in order. Let’s dive into “Kyle”:
The episode opens back in the late ‘70s, but this time, William is our point of entry. We watch as he boards the city bus, poetry journal in hand, and makes eye contact with a beautiful stranger across the aisle. As the montage continues, the two become closer — and William’s handwriting becomes more erratic. Finally, sadly, William rides the bus alone with his newborn son cradled in his arms, bound for the fire station doorstep we already know he’ll be abandoning him on.
A few days later, Rebecca and Jack are ready to leave the hospital with their three babies. “This is the scariest part,” Dr. Katowsky tells them. “Some people think the scariest part is coming to the hospital to have a baby. Nah, the scariest part is leaving the hospital with the baby.”
“Babies,” Rebecca corrects him, before Jack excitedly reveals the tots’ names to the doctor. They’re Kevin, Kate, and Kyle. (All Ks as an homage to the fatherly physician.) And, yep, not a Randall to be found.
Fast-forward to the present and Kyle/Randall is trying to figure out how to tell his mom that he not only found his biological dad but that he’s been living with him. She seems to take the news in stride but is insistent she meet him, and when she’s left alone in the room with William he remarks, “You look well.”
The scene of Rebecca leaving the hospital explains this: As she’s being wheeled out, she notices a black man standing at a distance from the hospital, watching the entrance. Thinking he may be the father of her new baby, she calls out to him. But he disappears onto the bus. (Did this read slightly off to anyone else? I mean, I’ve never been to Pittsburgh, but I have to imagine there’s more than one black man there, right?)
The plot thickens when Present Rebecca delivers this reminder to William: “We had a deal.”
“I won’t tell him if that’s what you’re thinking,” he replies.
“It will break him,” she says. “Knowing that he could have known you and I kept him from that.”
NEXT: Manic Pixie Dream Dude
Meanwhile, Toby is trying to be the most charming boyfriend known to man. (One staffer in the EW office has already dubbed him a Manic Pixie Dream Dude.) He wakes up on Kate’s couch following their big night of SHOW BUSINESS and hears Kate sweetly singing in the shower. He stands outside the door listening until she flings it open, and startled by his presence, socks him in the face. “Luckily I have all this fat to soften the blow,” he muses.
Over breakfast (and after confirming that they did not, in fact, have sex) Toby asks about Kate’s singing aspirations. Apparently she used to sing all the time (Cyndi Lauper was her favorite). But as she grew up, she worked to avoid the spotlight. Which probably explains why, instead, she’s helped her brother court fame all these years from behind the scenes. And why she’s now faced with a big life decision as her brother insists on his plan to move to New York.
But Toby has plans of his own, returning to Kate’s house with a limo and red carpet and snapping paparazzi pics like she’s Kim Kardashian. “Give me just one day, one day where you’re the star,” he says. But even with this preamble, his motivations are a bit unclear. Is he trying to keep her from moving to New York with her brother? Or just prove to her that she should be a professional singer? Or both?
As she and Toby ride off to some unknown adventure, Kevin calls and calls and calls her cell phone because he needs help packing himself and his beanie mannequins. He wants Kate to call that packing company Jason Momoa recommended. (Dothrakis know a lot about hauling stuff.) But Kate, smartly, doesn’t answer and enjoys the moment with Toby instead. That is, until he announces she’ll be performing in front of a live audience… at the adult care center where his Aunt Dolly lives. She balks, but he reassures her: “Most of them lived through World War II, so no matter how bad you are they’ve seen worse.”
With her arm sufficiently twisted, Kate takes her place in front of a room of senior citizens and begins tentatively warbling to a boom box backing track of “Time After Time.” And in keeping with basically every scene you’ve seen like this, her confidence begins to grow and her voice finally strengthens to a beautiful trill. The performance leaves her exhilarated… and turned on, apparently, because the next thing we know she and Toby are going at it in a broom closet. But then her brother calls, and just like that sad lady from Love Actually, she halts her makeout to pick up. As it turns out, Kevin was so overwhelmed by the move, that he reunited (sexually) with a woman by the name of Insane Elaine. Now he needs Kate’s help to get her out of his house.
Kate makes to leave as Toby, clearly stung, tries to stop her. “I’m not some nut job who performs grand gestures for every girl that I go on a few dates with,” he tells her. “I like you, Kate. I like you a lot, but I can’t play second banana to your brother.”
“You have to,” she replies. “Everyone has to.” And with that, she’s off to rescue her brother from his closet hideout. But when she arrives and explains her whereabouts over the past few hours to her brother, he’s befuddled that she even answered his call. He makes a tough decision: “You’re fired,” he tells Kate, saying they should make a go of it separately for a while.
“I don’t really know who I am if I’m not your sister,” Kate says.
“I do,” Kevin replies. “You’re gonna love her.”
And just like that, Kevin is off — alone — to New York. Will his path now cross with brother Randall and mother Rebecca? I’m guessing yes.
Meanwhile, Kate heads home where she invites Toby over to offer up an apology — and a condom.
NEXT: Say My Name
Back in the past we get an explanation for Rebecca and William’s acquaintance. Rebecca is having a hard time with the testy infants, especially Kyle who she just can’t seem to bond with. So she goes in search of the mysterious man from the bus, describing him to various drivers until recognition dawns on one.
“You mean Shakespeare?” the driver asks, beckoning her onto the bus. Rebecca ends up tracking William down to his sparse apartment, wanting to know more about his background. But when William ventures to ask if he can visit the baby from time to time, Rebecca is firm in her no: “I need to know that you’re not going to come back for him,” she says. “I need to know that I can move forward.”
William understands (albeit reluctantly) and suggests that perhaps the first step to moving forward is giving Kyle his own name — not the name of a baby that never came to be. Rebecca agrees and asks who his favorite poet is. He hands her a well-loved tome by Dudley Randall.
Rebecca returns home to Jack, who dutifully took the children to their doctors appointment alone and was worried she ran off. “I would never run off to Mexico and abandon the kids without you,” she says, then admits she can’t stop thinking about the baby they lost.
Jack says he feels the same way, to which Rebecca seems surprised. She then tells him that Kyle needs his own name, and hands Jack the copy of Randall. He just nods. (Did they really not have a discussion about this? No, Where did you get this book from? No, So were you thinking Dudley or Randall? Nothing?
So that’s the story of how Randall got his name and how Rebecca knows William. And, for now, William keeps his word and doesn’t tell Randall the true story. But he clearly feels guilty, about everything, and so tries to escape ahead of his oncologist appointment. But dutiful Randall runs after him and insists he get in the car. “I’m starting to not feel so bad about leaving you at that fire station,” William quips, before obliging.
At the doctor, the news is as expected: His stomach cancer has metastasized and there’s not much to be done. Randall is, of course, devastated and muses about how he should have looked for his dad years ago. But there’s no going back, only forward, so he announces that he will tell the kids who their grandfather is in the morning. And, in the meantime, he has a question for William:
“How did you meet my mother?”
Episode grade: B
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