By David Canfield
October 01, 2019 at 10:00 PM EDT
Ron Batzdorff/NBC
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Way back at the beginning of its first season, This Is Us introduced “The Pool”: an episode in which the flashback component featured Rebecca, Jack, and the Big Three at the community pool, where family dynamics played out in beautiful, illuminating ways. Three seasons later, the show is returning there, with the kids older and a little grouchier. And in the current timeline, we get our first in-depth look at the Pearson siblings since season 3’s conclusion. Here’s where we find the family this week, past and present.

Rebecca and Jack

The return to the pool-frame on This Is Us allows for a relatively fresh exploration of the Pearson family, with the kids about to head into seventh grade, no longer feeling as attached to their parents. They go reluctantly, with none of the siblings eager to spend their last days of summer out with their parents, and things get off to a rocky start. Kevin runs off with Randall and his friends; Kate tries bonding with some of the other girls there.

Where season 1’s pool episode really initiated the show’s exploration of race when it came to Randall’s place in the family, this sort-of-sequel shows Randall feeling a little more comfortable in his skin, bonding with black peers and eagerly engaging in his school’s “read-a-thon” ahead of the new year. But as Kevin comes to socialize with Randall’s group, we once again see Randall on the outs. Kevin starts rapping to the song playing on the boombox, impressing the friends, and then Kevin tasks Randall to follow him — humiliating his sibling with glee. Randall later calls Kevin out for intentionally embarrassing him, leading Kevin to wonder if he’s a good person. Kate, meanwhile, is still trying to fit in with girls who dismiss her. This time she, too, is the target of cruelty, with the girls sending her off to kiss a boy she’s interested in. In reality, it’s a different boy, one who wants to kiss Kate but not the other way around. Nonetheless, Kate embraces the situation and kisses him; giggles echo in the background, but she works through it.

Gradually all three Pearson kids make their way back to Jack and Rebecca’s area, where they’d felt isolated, and reminisce on years past when they were at the pool, but closer. The episode juxtaposes the final shot of the five of them, sitting side by side, and earlier years, when they were all cuddled up against each other. Judging by the contentment on Jack’s face, there’s a different kind of intimacy here, but it’s just as palpable.

Kevin

Adult Kevin, as we’d caught a snippet of last week, is spending more time with Kate and his parents (new to L.A.). This episode introduces his new routine: He’s working steadily, having just completed an M. Night Shyamalan film — the director cameos in one scene, praising Kevin’s talent — and attending recovery meetings. His mother keeps telling him to keep working and keep busy in order to stay on the wagon; he feels at a loss with Baby Jack, who the family has just learned will grow up blind, but also compelled to be a central presence in his life.

Kevin gets a call that he’s booked another movie and will need to jump on a red-eye to Chicago to finalize the part. He’s uneasy about it. Clearly, he feels like he should go, but his heart is keeping him in L.A. After talking it through with Kate — who’s going through her own stuff, but more on that in a minute — he decides to get on a plane and be his “best self” in the coming years for Baby Jack. But the last we see of him is not in Chicago but on Uncle Nicky’s doorstep. After all, he’d been called after Nicky’s outburst at the end of the season premiere and never answered Kevin’s calls. Clearly Kevin will make sure they have a conversation.

Kate & Toby

With Kate and Toby having just learned that Baby Jack will grow up blind, it’s full steam ahead on how to adjust their lives for this. Kate is disarmingly, seemingly okay, which unnerves Toby, who’s a wreck — and losing weight fast. (He lies and says it’s because he’s stress-not-eating; a late-episode reveal shows he’s aggressively working out in the gym.) They’ve brought in a specialist to assess their home and determine what changes need to be made, given the new information.

They go through the sharp corners in the home, keeping the furniture layout the same, and so on, and Kate is fine through all of it — Kevin and her parents are also there and taking notes — until she gets to the TV she bought. She gushes about showing Baby Jack his first Steelers game, and only after realizes he won’t be able to see the action at all. She leaves the room in tears; Kevin comforts her, and she tells him that after so many doctors told her not to have a baby, this feels like her fault. But she works through it with him. She rejoins her family and tells them: “My son is going to live a life without limits.”

Randall & Beth

The waters are a little choppy in Randall and Beth’s part of the world. They’ve fully relocated to Philadelphia, and while their individual pursuits are moving along nicely — Randall enthused about rec-center windows, Beth designing her dance studio — the family dynamics feel off. Beth puts it simply: Her daughters are getting “mean.” And so when Randall suggests a classic Pearson fun day, well, he’s got some attitude to overcome.

And indeed the family has to go their separate ways to start. Beth takes Tess to get her haircut after the latter begged; Randall takes Deja on the bus as a “trial run” to see if she can take it to school alone. Both parents are tested: Tess suggests a haircut that Beth balks at before moving through with it anyway; Randall freaks when a “weirdo” sits next to Deja on the bus, a moment that’s enough to convince him he should drive her to school, which offends and upsets her. But on the famous Rocky steps outside the Philadelphia Museum of Art, when the family reconvenes, they play a game of “Worst Case Scenario” — Randall and Beth’s favorite. Out of this, they come back together: Beth loves Tess’ haircut, Tess says Philly “suits” her, Randall agrees to let Deja take the bus if she texts him when she arrives at school every day. Here’s a family, like the Pearsons in the past timeline, entering a new phase, and finding out what works — even if the kids are getting a little brattier.

Related content:

Episode Recaps

NBC’s beloved era-hopping drama tells the story of the Pearson family through the years.
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seasons
  • 4
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  • Tuesdays at 9:00pm
Premiere
  • 09/20/16
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