Kevin poses an even bigger question to his mother the next morning: Is she happy with Miguel? She takes her time with it, as it’s a tricky one to answer, before affirming that after years of profound unhappiness, she found joy with Miguel — and that now, he even makes her laugh. It’s our first real indication of how Miguel and Rebecca work as a couple, and what it took to get them to where they are now.
In the past, meanwhile, Miguel is bitterly divorced, and as he runs into Jack and teen Kevin at the mall, he’s just learned that his ex-wife Shelly is engaged. Jack and Kevin have separated from the rest of the bunch, but all of the Pearsons are at the mall for this particular episode: Kate is going dress shopping with Rebecca for the winter formal, a fact that absolutely delights her mother, while Jack needs to go suit shopping to up his professional game at the request of his boss, Walter. He brings Kevin along, who’s still injured from his football accident, to get him out of his mopey patterns. Randall tags along, too, crushing on a girl who works there.
Jack’s upbeat attitude doesn’t mesh well with either Kevin or Miguel, who are dealing with losses in their own way and want to wallow. Kevin explains he can’t watch football, which he used to watch for comfort, because it only reminds him of what he can no longer play. Jack tries to keep things positive; Kevin, irritated, tells his dad he can’t understand because he never lost something that he loved to do. Miguel disagrees — he says that there is in fact something Jack lost: “Big Three,” his proposed construction company, which he’d hoped to build from the ground up. Jack let the dream go when he had to raise three kids and couldn’t take the risk.
He and Kevin then go on to try suits while Rebecca and Kate go dress shopping. Kate takes three different sizes of the same dress, nervous about it fitting, and later sneaks out of the store, totally unbeknownst to Rebecca. This is contrasted with where we find Kate as an adult, trying to get back on track after her post-miscarriage binge. She says the traditional wedding dress doesn’t exist for her, but Madison, her group’s resident thin member, offers to take her out for a consultation — with no pressure to try anything on. Madison goes all out: She gets Kate a private appointment at a nice boutique and patiently looks through dresses with her. But when we see Madison totally zone out and then head to the bathroom, Kate realizes that there’s more to be concerned about than just wedding dresses.
She confronts Madison over her bulimia, and while she initially denies it, Madison later calls Kate over to her house for help after fainting. Madison tells Kate that she struggled with her eating disorder in middle school and relapsed a few weeks ago. She’s embarrassed; Kate says she understands. “Right before my dad died, I got really skinny,” she reveals. We see teen Kate back in that dressing room, fitting into the same dresses she told her mom didn’t fit. “But then I felt empty,” Kate admits in the present. “I was more comfortable being fat because I liked being mad at myself all the time.” Teen Kate peels off a dress that fits in favor of one too tight to zip.
Kate’s revelation fits into a scattered episode that’s a little all over the place, with some inelegant cutting between past and present and a lack of a cohesive feel. Fittingly, then, all of this character work is put on the brakes in the climax of “Clooney” for a gasp-inducing last shot that renders everything else suddenly unimportant. Jack and Rebecca return home from the mall in the episode’s final minutes. He tells her that he’d like to give the business another go, after talking through it with Kevin — giving himself a second chance, something to look forward to.
But at the beginning of the episode, Rebecca had asked Jack to remind her to get batteries. And at the end of the episode, she asks if they forgot something. They did. The camera then ominously pans to the smoke alarm — a foreboding image if This Is Us has ever provided one. Because, of course, we know the house eventually burns down, going back to the second season premiere. And in the context of Jack enthusiastically moving into the next phase of his life — moving forward in recovery, trying to start his own business — that he could die from such a small mistake makes the futility of his plans feel all the more tragic.