Ron Batzdorff/NBC
November 14, 2017 at 10:01 PM EST

This Is Us

TV Show
run date
Milo Ventimiglia, Mandy Moore, Justin Hartley, Sterling K. Brown
Dan Fogelman
We gave it a B+

Nobody started this season of This Is Us with more promise than Kevin Pearson: He’d just won back his ex-wife and caught the biggest break of his career. But as season 2 has moved forward, no one has fallen quite so hard. Kevin’s gone from the cusp of movie stardom to complete and utter disaster, blowing up relationships left and right and struggling mightily with addiction. The show has been unsparing in its depiction of his descent — and at times, it’s been downright unpleasant to watch.

The challenge of “Number One” is bringing Kevin down to rock bottom without melodramatizing his pain. The episode is the first of a trilogy centered on the Pearson siblings — each episode will take place on the same day in the present and the same in the past, focusing on one member of the Big Three at a time. We begin with Kevin, the firstborn, and open on Rebecca and Jack filming him as a toddler — the first of the triplets to walk. Unfortunately, that adorable stumble is the steadiest Kevin will be in the episode, from toddlerhood to adulthood.

The episode juxtaposes Kevin’s ongoing downward spiral in the present with the agonizing buildup to his high school football knee injury that forever altered the course of his life. While in L.A., adult Kevin is a complete mess: He’s had a “Do Not Disturb” sign outside his room for a full week, keeping himself prisoner in his elegant suite. A housekeeping employee named Martina finally gets past the sign and offers to clean Kevin’s sheets or get him new towels, but all he wants is “a refill on all things alcohol related.”

Kevin then gets a call from the “homecoming coordinator” of McKinley High: He’s set to be honored as part of his high school’s alumni honors ceremony, and it’s tomorrow. The date snuck up on him, but he agrees to get on a plane and head out to Pittsburgh. “You guys want to honor Kevin Pearson?” he asks, trying to sound upbeat. “Let’s honor him.”

Meanwhile, teenage Kevin is anxiously awaiting the arrival of a coach from the University of Pittsburgh. Kate is moodily listening to music, Randall filling out a Harvard application — details that will no doubt be fleshed out in their respective episodes — but Kevin is the focus, with Jack and Rebecca pulling out all the stops for this potentially life-changing evening. Kevin is in a strange mood: He arrives in the kitchen in Sophie’s crop top, at which point he’s promptly told to put on “a collared shirt and a nice pair of pants” by his mother, and he asks that they get “Dad’s AA stuff” out of sight. (Rebecca says Jack has been going to meetings for six months.) When the coach shows up, Kevin is shockingly rude. The coach gushes, “You will be taking a lot of snaps next year,” to which Kevin responds nastily, “Well, am I gonna start?”

Rebecca and Jack apologize for his rudeness, but it’s no use: Kevin keeps pushing, and the night ends on a sour note. “Get out of my sight,” Jack snaps at Kevin when the coach leaves. “That man — he takes time out of his day, he comes to our home, he sits at our table,” he says, revealing the coach offered Kevin (“a C+ student”) a full ride. Kevin maintains his arrogance, however, and insists, “We can do better.” He boasts, “It’s not luck, it’s talent.” Jack tells him to go to the basement and write an apology letter. When Jack tells his son, “It was embarrassing to watch you behave just like you did,” Kevin gets in a harsh dig in response to his recovering alcoholic father: “I know the feeling well.”

It’s a sharp contrast to where Kevin is as an adult. In the present day, he flies out to Pittsburgh, where fans snap selfies with him. On the ride to the high school, he asks the driver to take a detour to his childhood home: It’s newly restored and pristine — idyllic. He momentarily flashes back to the sight of it burned down and torched, which we saw back in the season premiere, then flashes back again to playing football with his family in the yard. But he’s jolted back to reality when the home’s new resident emerges and looks at him, skeptically, asking why he’s there. Kevin leaves and goes to his high school.

Outside of McKinley High, Kevin downs more pills. He watches the students outside of the building, joking and laughing in that carefree way — in his drugged-out haze, he thinks one teenage girl is the Sophie of his high school years. She comes closer and it’s the homecoming coordinator again, telling him he’s got a green room with “LaCroix water and WiFi.” (The Manny treatment.) Kevin, completely out of it, instead muses that he’s going to walk the halls. He enters the building, drifting through the homecoming decorations in a slo-mo sequence like he’s in a dream, and flashes back to his teenage years: strutting down the hallways in his football varsity jacket, scoring fist bumps and kudos, Sophie rushing toward him in her cheerleading uniform. He was on top of the world. Not like where he is now. He can only stare at the display case of his former life — his “Number One” football jersey, which the school has retired, and a commemorative photo of him on the field.

Mingling gets underway in advance of the ceremony, and Kevin — after suffering through the many handshakes and waves with excited fans — runs into an old classmate: Charlotte Everly, who’s also being honored as a distinguished alum. She’s a plastic surgeon who works with burn victims and helps kids in need. (He remembers her so little he botches her last name, pronouncing it “Eberly.”) Kevin’s not interested in speaking with her, but she offers him her “terrible” wine, which he drinks happily, and tells him she had a huge crush on him even though he barely spoke to her. She then mentions the news of his and Sophie’s divorce. “But then we managed to get back together!” he exclaims…before adding, “And then I screwed that up too.” Kevin’s also getting calls from Kate and Toby while at the school but is too distracted to answer them. (Recap continues on page 2)

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