Ron Batzdorff/NBC
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January 24, 2018 at 12:00 AM EST

This Is Us

type
TV Show
genre
Drama
run date
09/20/16
performer
Milo Ventimiglia, Mandy Moore, Justin Hartley, Sterling K. Brown
Producer
Dan Fogelman
broadcaster
NBC
seasons
3
We gave it a B+

We are still just over a week away from This Is Us’ big post-Super Bowl episode, in which the full story of Jack’s death will finally be revealed, but “That’ll Be the Day” is plenty revealing in its own right — culminating in a fire blazing through the Pearson household that was started by, of all things, a faulty Crock-Pot. It’s an insanely dramatic way to end things, not least because the rest of the episode progresses in a much lower key.

“That’ll Be the Day” is fittingly framed around the idea of time running out: Kevin is on a mission to make his amends, Randall is doing too much too quickly in his new business/personal venture, and in the past timeline, Jack is trying to get “Big Three Homes” off the ground, a direct continuation from the hopeful place where we found him last week.

The Randall section of the episode feels the most superfluous, if only because its real function seems to click into a sort of thematic puzzle. We kick off where we left him in “Clooney,” taking over William’s old building and vowing to fix every tenant’s problems, one at a time. “I suddenly realized I can do this,” he tells Beth. “My dad was in construction. It’s in my blood.” Beth’s cynicism is again well earned here, imploring Randall to take things slow, but he doesn’t — or maybe can’t — listen. He tries to do a month’s work in a day: fixing washing machines, correcting heaters, plunging toilets. And he’s mostly successful. So too, for that matter, is Kevin, who joins his brother for the day in an effort to distract himself from making amends with the person he’s most scared to face: Sophie. Kevin’s even more obsessive than Randall is — he enthusiastically takes up one woman’s request to tear a wall down in her apartment.

Of course, things don’t go according to plan. Randall leaves a hole in an area where he was working, and an infestation of roaches appears almost immediately, forcing him and Beth to relocate the residents to a motel temporarily. Kevin won’t even leave the building, still destroying a wall even as the rest of the building has been evacuated. Randall goes to get him, and it’s only here that the story line really connects. “I’m almost 40 years old and I’m starting a new career,” Randall confesses to Kevin. “Feel like I’m already running out of time.” He then adds: “It’s hard to picture myself outliving Dad.”

Kate struggles with this in a different way. Suspecting Toby of watching porn, she instead finds that he’s hiding an aggressive dog hunt on his laptop — pictures of cute puppies, links to animal shelters, and so on. He admits he wants a pup, acknowledging in the process that he knows it’s a “sensitive issue” for Kate. (More on that in a minute.) But in “That’ll Be the Day” we see Kate try to push past that pain. She visits an animal shelter, where a lovely employee played by Master of None’s Lena Waithe introduces her to Audio — basically the cutest dog in existence. Kate is smitten immediately upon making eye contact with him. She goes through with adopting the dog after plenty of reluctance — including a teary scene, played beautifully by Chrissy Metz, where she tells him she won’t be able to take him home, saying, “You come with a lot of baggage that isn’t your fault” — and you feel it’s a real breakthrough for her. (Though if she didn’t adopt him, I totally would have signed up for a Waithe-Audio This Is Us spinoff.)

In the past, meanwhile, we’ve come a long way from that ominous season 2 premiere image tease of teen Kate comforting a previously unseen dog at the time of Jack’s death. We’ve since seen how he was adopted and brought into the fold. This episode’s direction lays on the mystery of the dog’s significance a bit thick — so many random shots of the pup — but you can be sure he’ll figure prominently into whatever happened to Jack, and why.

It is Super Bowl Sunday circa 1998 in the Pearson household, and we find the family, at long last, where we caught glimpses of them in the season premiere, when big clues of Jack’s passing start coming in: Randall with his redheaded girlfriend Allison, Rebecca in a Steelers shirt, Kate with the pup. There’s a sadness to it, as Jack proclaims it the final Super Bowl Sunday for the family, but he only means it in the sense that his kids will soon be going off to college, living their own lives. And they’ve already drifted. Randall leaves to go see Titanic with Allison, Kate is immersed in working on her audition tape for Berklee College of Music after making it to the final round, and Kevin is still irritable and broken over his injury. After a fight with Jack, he leaves in a huff — and let’s not forget, he wasn’t at the house with the others in that season premiere tease. In other words, this is it. (Recap continues on page 2)

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