Ron Batzdorff/NBC
February 05, 2018 at 02:00 AM EST

This Is Us

TV Show
run date
Milo Ventimiglia, Mandy Moore, Justin Hartley, Sterling K. Brown
Dan Fogelman
We gave it an A-

If the past season and a half have taught us anything, it’s that Rebecca isn’t really wrong when she says this is going to ruin her kids’ lives. In the present, Kate punishes herself by watching the VHS tape of Jack watching her record her audition; it’s one of the things he saved from the fire. She does this every year, but she’s going especially hard this year to commemorate the 20th anniversary. It nearly destroys the tape. Luckily, Toby “knows a guy” who restores it and even backs it up to the Cloud — an upgrade Kate objects to but eventually accepts.

The experience prompts her to thank Toby in a grand speech for not only changing her life but “saving” it. This, for me, is the low point of the hour — not only because I’ve never fully warmed to Toby, but because Kate is still drawing her sense of self-worth from someone else, and she doesn’t need to. “The night that my dad died,” she recalls, “I thought to myself, ‘We are done. We won’t come back from this.’ And then I thought, ‘Okay, maybe they can, maybe one day.’ Not because they needed him less but because they were built of stronger stuff than I was.” What Kate doesn’t acknowledge is that she, too, is built of strong stuff; she survived a miscarriage, and while she didn’t do that alone, she did it. Toby is a part of Kate’s story, but he isn’t the whole story. While Kate thanks her fiancé, the scene flashes back to Rebecca taking “two minutes” for herself, driving to the remains of the house, and breaking down in tears, as we saw in the season premiere. She rummages in the belongings Jack saved and pulls out her crescent moon necklace, which she puts on. Like Kate, she’ll find it hard to let go of what Jack chose to save.

In the present, Rebecca says that every year since Jack’s death, the anniversary has been marked with some strange coincidence, some sign from him to keep laughing. This year, she gets Kevin. The prodigal Pearson son, who heard from Kate that their dad had died while he was partying in the woods, finally crosses the last name off his list of people he needs to make amends with: He goes to the tree where some of Jack’s ashes are scattered and tells his father how sorry he is. “I haven’t turned out to be even close to the man that you…I just think you’d be really disappointed in me,” he admits. After opening up about his own addiction, Kevin promises his dad that even if it takes him another 20 years, he’s going to make him proud. And then he calls his mother and admits he’s not sure he’s at the right tree. At least he’s not avoiding his issues anymore.

All of the Big Three are shaking up their usual Super Bowl routines this year. Randall explains how it usually goes: “Kate wallows, Kevin avoids, but this is my dad’s favorite day, so I celebrate him.” He’s even invited a bunch of the girls’ friends over to watch the big game, even though Tess insists her friends only care about the halftime show. But Randall’s home always seems to be housing a makeshift funeral, and today it’s for a lizard named Mr. McGiggles. Annie accidentally lets her new lizard out of the cage, and Beth steps on him (line of the night: “He ain’t giggling now”), prompting Randall to eulogize the pet and stumble into his own grief. Losing someone unexpectedly, he says, is “like a lightning bolt you can’t even see reaching inside of you and tearing out your guts.” Beth jumps in and saves the day with the Puppy Bowl.

But Tess is upset, and not about the lizard. “You found Grandpa,” she tells her father, “and then you found Deja, and then you found a new job. It’s like you want a new life.” Randall insists that Tess is his whole world: “Even if we get another foster kid, even if we get one tomorrow, you will always be my number one. And you will live with me ‘til you’re 25. And even after you move out you’ll have dinner with me once a week in your fancy office, and you will tell me everything.” It’s a pretty speech, but if she’s feeling neglected, she’ll need actions to back it up. Randall has been veering a little too close lately to his father’s reckless heroism, and as Jack proved, that sort of behavior eventually hurts more than it helps.

For now though, Tess will have to be happy with that speech. The phone rings. It seems like adorable youngster Jordan, the boy we met a while back and are reintroduced to tonight, is destined to be the family’s next foster child. But it’s actually Deja on the phone; she’s right outside the house. As Beth and Randall talk to her, Tess watches — and Jordan meets his next family. While the couple, who seem nice enough but are not Beth and Randall, sit down with the boy, Jordan’s sweet social worker gets a visit from her dad: Randall. The social worker is Tess, all grown up and carrying on the Pearson family tradition. It seems like Randall will give his eldest a positive association with fostering after all, to say nothing of weekly dinner dates. In an hour of painful twists, this one is a balm, a reminder that the whole family didn’t stop moving on the night of the Super Bowl in 1998. As a certain doctor once said, it takes the sourest lemons life has to offer and turns them into something resembling lemonade.

Head here for Milo Ventimiglia’s thoughts on this ending for Jack.

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