This Is Us recap: Dreams and drama at 'The Cabin'
This season of This Is Us has had the same great twists and roller coaster ride of emotions that have made the show special since its debut. But there has been a marked shift from focusing primarily on Jack and his place atop the family pedestal to giving more attention to the equally deserving Pearson matriarch, Rebecca. Tonight’s episode, “The Cabin,” cements that theme with stories from different eras.
It also builds on Kate’s traumatic first relationship and Randall’s lifetime of anxiety — and yes, Jack still permeates throughout.
Let’s dive in.
The Cabin and the Time Capsule
The episode opens on a Big Three tween-era Pearson clan at their new cabin. Jack instructs the kids to pick one item each to bury in a time capsule to be opened on their 18th birthday.
Kevin quickly chooses a photo of him and Sophie, while Randall struggles to choose something that will “withstand the test of time.” He doesn’t want to make the wrong choice.
Later, Rebecca finds Jack sketching a drawing of a house he wants to build atop the hill on the cabin property — with more space than the cabin, for the kids and future grandkids, and with floor-to-ceiling windows and a glass door. He admits it’s a pipe dream since they don’t have the money, but Rebecca says, “If you say you’re gonna build us that house, I believe you’re gonna build us that house.” This is one of the most beautiful aspects of Jack and Rebecca’s relationship: that Jack is a dreamer, and Rebecca adores and wholly supports that in him.
In the present, the adult Big Three are at the cabin for their Sad Three retreat. Amid the unfolding drama of secrets and baggage, Randall and Kate work on a puzzle that’s a tween era family photo. The final piece — Jack’s eye — is missing. Randall knows where it is. He gathers Kate and Kevin outside to dig up the time capsule (presumably they never got around to it after Jack’s death).
When they unearth it, Kevin takes out the old photo of himself and Sophie, lamenting their lost love. Kate’s item is a M-A-S-H game that determined she’d marry actor Joey Lawrence, live in a mansion, have two kids, and live happily ever after. Randall reveals his choice: the puzzle piece. Cut to a flashback of tween Randall frustratedly giving up on deciding what to pick, saying he’d rather pick nothing than something he’ll regret. Kevin grabs a puzzle piece and hands it to Randall, insisting it’s the perfect choice because when they dig up the capsule, everyone will be happy the piece was found. (These moments of Kevin giving Randall what he needs are one of the best parts of the show.)
Remembering that crisis of indecision, adult Randall acknowledges his lifelong anxiety, and that he’s once again in a bad place. He says his anxiety never gets better. He admits his excessive fight with the mugger recently was him finally letting out all the bad feelings he’s kept bottled up. He mentions Beth’s suggestion of seeing a therapist and Kevin agrees.
Then the siblings realize there are two more capsule items. The first is Jack’s dream house drawing. The second is a tape recording by Jack. He talks about the time capsule — jokes that as he spoke, Kevin was wishing he was with Sophie, Kate was pouring her heart into her choice, and Randall was overthinking it. Then he mentions the dream house. He says he was embarrassed when Rebecca saw his sketch and so, instead of including it in the capsule like he planned, he threw it out. He had a change of heart since Rebecca said she believed in the house, but when he looked in the garbage, it was already gone. He assumed that meant Rebecca had already retrieved it and put it in the capsule herself. Cue tears.
He says: “By the time you guys hear this, you’re gonna be teenagers and probably harder on us than you already are. So, let me just remind you that your mom is the kind of woman who buries a crappy doodle because when it comes to people that she loves, she does not mess around.”
We see this in Rebecca through her Big Three college-era rescue of Kate from her cabin trip with Marc.
The Cabin and Kate’s First Love Gone Cold
In the episode’s second scene, college-era Kate and her seedy boyfriend Marc arrive at the cabin. He apologizes again for their fight and they exchange “I love yous.”
Cut to Rebecca and the boys driving to the cabin. Rebecca suggests she’s overreacting, but Kevin isn’t convinced, and scolds his mother for even letting Kate go off with Marc. Randall, in turn, chastises Kevin for not being around enough. Soon the trio encounter a bigger problem: the road to the cabin is closed until the morning due to storm damage.
At the cabin, Kate makes coffee. After one brief sweet exchange, things again go awry. When Kate asks Marc not to use her father’s mug, Marc antagonizes her by pretending to drop it, then actually breaks it (he claims accidentally but it’s unlikely). In an ensuing verbal dispute, Kate insults Marc for being unemployed. At this, Marc’s face goes cold and he bitterly tells her to shut up. She walks off to get firewood and as she does, he takes a jab at her weight. His cruelty doesn’t stop there. While she’s getting wood, he locks her out of the cabin. In a winter snowstorm.
In the morning, Kate is surprised when Rebecca and the boys arrive at the cabin, but she doesn’t protest. Marc is displeased. Kate doesn’t say anything about their fighting, and even still talks Marc up. But her brothers wonder why the cabin is so cold and soon Randall discovers a broken window. Eventually, Marc admits he “briefly” locked Kate out and she cut her hand breaking back in. In the fiercest Mama Bear tone, Rebecca demands Marc leave the cabin and forbids him from seeing Kate again. Marc hesitates but doesn’t resist. Neither does Kate, letting herself break down in Rebecca’s arms.
The Cabin, the Sad Three Secrets, and Baggage
During the adult Big Three’s sibling retreat, Randall’s anxiety comes out around the puzzle piece and he starts panicking about not hearing from Beth about their home security.
Meanwhile, Kevin’s baggage — sleeping with his sister’s best friend because he was sad about Sophie — comes out, too. Kevin and Madison had agreed that morning not to tell Kate since their tryst was accidental. But a guilt-ridden Madison left Kate multiple messages confessing. However, Randall’s issues keep Kate and Kevin from discussing the incident, beyond Kevin apologizing and saying at least he didn’t sleep with Sophie. Not a good look Kev…
Kate’s own reason for being at the cabin, Toby’s problem, is addressed with scenes of Toby at home with baby Jack. Kate was nervous to leave Jack with Toby since they haven’t spent much time alone together. But Toby insisted on being given a chance. Then Toby’s worst nightmare happens: Jack chokes on food. Toby does the Heimlich and saves his son, but he’s horrified it happened at all. In a later scene though, a doctor assures him he did everything right and Jack will be fine. At home with Jack after, Toby picks up his Star Wars action figures and begins playing with them with Jack, focusing on sound effects — Chewy’s roar, the robots’ voices, the lightsaber noise — to engage Jack. It works, and father and son are both joyful.
Toby’s scenes are juxtaposed throughout the episode with Marc scenes, which is representative of a larger season trend; having both stories unfold together spells a theme that Marc, Kate’s first love, was no good, but Toby, her last love, is a good man. In this episode, it seems Toby’s proved that by coming to a good place with Jack — and the point is driven home by a comment from Randall. When Kate shares her M-A-S-H time capsule entry, Randall says that Joey Lawrence has nothing on Toby.
It seems Toby and Kate might be okay now, but a few flashforward scenes earlier this season suggest trouble is still to come.
Besides all the sibling drama unfolding at the cabin, there’s also Rebecca’s secret.
Thanks to a slip in conversation about his own stress, Randall is forced to confess to Kevin about Rebecca’s diagnosis. He tells Kevin that Rebecca wanted to spare Kate and Kevin the stress of knowing since they were each already coping with a lot (i.e. Kevin’s sobriety and Sophie heartache). Kevin first goes into denial, insisting their mother was fine last time he saw her. Randall says her signs are subtle — which Kevin takes as an insinuation he’s an inferior son for not noticing. A second reference to Kevin not being as attentive. But Kevin then becomes the first to acknowledge aloud what Rebecca’s diagnosis means: potential Alzheimer’s. Distraught, and feeling betrayed, he storms off.
As Kevin processes, Kate and Randall do the puzzle. Touching on something from Jack’s message, Kate acknowledges she was hard on her mother and regrets that it took so long for them to get to a good place. Referencing her newly realized strength, Kate then tells Randall that the three of them will get through their mother’s fate together.
Several scenes later, the adult siblings are leaving the cabin. Kevin wistfully eyes the time capsule drawing of the house and the hilltop spot designated for it.
A time-lapse flashforward shows the house being built. Then a grey-bearded Kevin arrives at the finished home. Beth welcomes him, saying everyone is in with his mother. This must be where we saw Rebecca sick in bed last season. We see a framed picture of Jack’s drawing in the entryway. The episode ends.
Jack’s legacy looms large this episode but instead of overpowering, it amplifies Rebecca’s place in it. That’s what the Pearson story is: a family so deeply connected to one another that each member is a part of the fabric of another’s story. It’s beautiful, and heartwarming, even as we’re barreling toward more painful journeys.
- In a meta move, Kevin is annoyed he didn’t make a magazine list of Hollywood’s hottest hunks — and Elijah Wood did. LOL.
- Beth calls Randall Batman for thwarting the home invasion. A precious moment between the second-best Pearson couple.
NBC’s beloved era-hopping drama tells the story of the Pearson family through the years.