By David Canfield
October 08, 2019 at 10:00 PM EDT
Ron Batzdorff/NBC
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It’s a new day for many of the Pearsons in this week’s This Is Us, “Unhinged.” Let’s break down why.

KEVIN

The episode opens on Nicky, answering some of the mystery about where we found him at the conclusion of the season premiere. We see how he was on the road to recovery: bonding with his VA counselor, putting away the alcohol, and engaging in healthy habits — only for his counselor to be abruptly transferred to Arizona, sending him spiraling once more. It was in the immediate aftermath of receiving this news that Nicky threw the chair into the support group where Cassidy (Jennifer Morrison) was, and the beginning of the sequence of events which would lead to Kevin on his doorstep, as we saw at the end of last week’s episode.

Nicky, we learn, is facing $250,000 in fines and up to 10 years in prison. He could be pardoned if he’s permitted to resume treatment at the facility, which is what Kevin pushes for. Nicky passes his evaluation — during which Kevin encounters Cassidy for the first time in the waiting area, getting off to a rather icy start — but immediately heads to the bar. Kevin chases after him and gives him some tough love: They both need to go to an AA meeting.

They do, and Kevin shares with the group where his mind is at — feeling a lack of purpose, trying to be better for his nephew. But as he speaks about movie roles and sibling dynamics, the contrast of his experiences with Cassidy’s (present again!) and Nicky’s (who’s standing in the corner snacking) becomes too great. Cassidy starts laughing, hysterically, calling it all so “stupid;” then Nicky starts cracking up; and finally, Kevin does as well. Safe to say: These first meetings between Kevin and Cassidy will not be the last.

KATE

After wading through the more immediate shocks of new motherhood from last week, in “Unhinged,” Kate finds herself struggling through the new, slow grind. She goes out to dinner with Toby to help him woo some new clients, and she really notices the difference in weight between them. (At one point, he tries to move them to a different table in the restaurant by making up a random excuse; Kate eventually clarifies for the whole group, embarrassed, that it’s because she won’t fit in the booth.)

Toby admits to her that he’s been going to the gym — doing CrossFit, in fact — as much as he can. He’s minimizing the risks of another heart attack and trying to be healthier for his son. Kate is hurt by the secret-keeping, and also a little envious — and, perhaps, offended — by his reasoning and his story. She says she’s gained 10 pounds since having the child; Toby, meanwhile, reveals to her he’s basically becoming a “Vin Diesel body double.”

She works through these feelings, in part, via interactions with her new neighbor. He keeps scolding her for not telling Toby to move his car, which is blocking the sidewalk; initially, she’s stumped by his bluntness and apparent rudeness. But as he explains after she confides in him, he’s just survived a stroke — just as the actor who plays him, Timothy Omundson (Psych) has — and has had to relearn “everything.” Walking around the block is really important to his emotional and physical recovery, and Toby’s blockage makes it much more difficult to do so. So Kate hears him out. She finds a twofold solution: Removing the car from the sidewalk to allow him to walk undeterred, and joining him — to start a healthy new habit, and get out of her own rut.

RANDALL

Here we get our first in-depth look at Randall’s councilman life. And, true to form, he’s seemingly far too dedicated to the notion of constituent service. He sets aside enormous blocs of time for meetings with residents of all stripes, hearing out their problems on bus schedules and maintenance problems, and in turn, misses the kind of political networking events that typically take up a lot of time for someone in his position.

He and Jae-won have also bonded more deeply since we last saw them. Jae-won is running with him in the mornings, hanging out in the Pearson house, and asking Randall for advice of all sorts. Randall’s aide, Bernice, tries to make a play for Jae-won’s job, arguing he’s too naive and too much of a friend to keep him on the right track. But Randall fires her instead — even if she’s much more experienced, he’s valuing the people whose hearts are most in the job he’s trying to do.

DEJA

Also getting a bit of a spotlight this week is Deja, who’s still in a flirtatious back-and-forth with Malik (newly-minted series regular Asante Blackk). While Tess, on her first day, struggles with the renewed experience of being in the closet — she thought she wouldn’t have to come out, but when asked whether she thinks a football player is “hot,” nervously answeres in the affirmative — Deja gets a more dramatic surprise: Malik tells her he’s a father. She’s speechless, and he tells her because he likes her and wants to be up-front with her. But as she tells Tess in a tender bonding scene later on, she has no clue how to feel about it.

THE PEARSONS IN THE PAST

This week’s past timeline kicks off right where we left off, after the trip to the pool in which junior-high loomed. Randall is the first to go back, since he’s at a different gifted school, and couldn’t be more excited — researching his teachers, beaming as he walks the halls. Yet he learns that it won’t all be so rosy. His teacher, a black man of whom he’s quickly enamored, writes him a “yellow slip” for wearing Air Jordans and not complying with the dress code. “You want to be in a place like this, you gotta look the part,” he tells him, adding that he wears a suit like Arsenio Hall for just that purpose.

Randall begins having the kind of panic attack we know will continue into adulthood. He doesn’t know what to do. He calls the house — where Kate is doing aerobics with Rebecca, and Kevin is having some “me time” — and asks Kevin to get their mother for help. But Kevin takes matters into his own hands. He shows up, forges their mother’s signature, and calms him down.

Later that night at the house, the family comes back together. Jack had been out working, and nearly got fired for making a fatal mistake before Miguel saved him by going out on a limb. Kate — again foreshadowing her struggles in adulthood — weighed herself, in dismay, after exercising with her mother. Randall is still shaken by what happened at school. So Kevin gathers the whole family to watch Arsenio Hall and laugh together — a moment juxtaposed with Kevin, as an adult, making Cassidy and Nicky laugh in a far different context. Through their day-to-day troubles, the Pearsons find room for a little levity.

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Episode Recaps

NBC’s beloved era-hopping drama tells the story of the Pearson family through the years.
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