By Amanda Ostuni
October 22, 2019 at 10:03 PM EDT
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On tonight’s This Is Us, “Storybook Love,” Pearson plot lines are woven around two mirrored dinners. One is set in the era when Rebecca is pregnant with The Big 3 and preparing the first dinner in her and Jack’s new house. The other dinner is in the era right after Jack’s death, when the kids are in college. The lesson embedded in the dinner plot: to move forward, you must embrace the past.

Let’s break down how the dinners portray that lesson:

THIS IS US -- "Storybook Love" Episode 405 -- Pictured: (l-r)Logan Shroyer as Kevin, Mandy Moore as Rebecca, Niles Fitch as Randall, Rachel Wilson as Beth, Hannah Zeile as Kate -- (Photo by: Ron Batzdorff/NBC)
Ron Batzdorff/NBC

THE DINNERS

In Pre-Kids Dinner, Rebecca is obsessed with making the perfect meal to start their new lives as a couple. But events around a playfully impatient Jack and a comedy of errors ensue. They’re broken down into meal phases: Hors d’oeuvres, salad, entrée, wine, and pizza, with an event shown in each phase for each dinner.

During Pre-Kids “Hors d’oeuvres,” Rebecca hands a complaining, hungry Jack a cheese stick and hot sauce and says that should tide him over. Cut to Post-Jack Dinner. Kate’s throwing shade at Miguel for being around, and talking smack about Kevin marrying Sophie — that’s the extra special occasion, dropped like a bomb in a voicemail at the end of last episode — and Rebecca’s worried about an appetizer garnish. Then Beth breaks out a housewarming gift: hot sauce. Everyone squirms because Jack loved hot sauce, and it’s painful for them to think about. But Beth forges on and happily tells them her late father loved hot sauce, too. Newlywed Sophie and Kevin then arrive, giddy.

In Pre-Kids “salad,” Rebecca hands a still-starving Jack celery for a “salad.” In the Post-Jack world, Kevin explains he proposed to Sophie after getting a sign: He was walking down the street in N.Y. and came across a theater playing their favorite movie The Princess Bride; at the same time, church bells across the street started ringing and a street vendor selling bracelets walked by. “In that moment,” says Kevin, “I realized I couldn’t wait another second to start our lives together.” Soon Kate’s record store co-worker Mark shows up, uninvited but sweetly. Kate lets him in and Mark introduces himself as Kate’s boyfriend. Later, in the kitchen, the siblings ask one another what they think of their dates. Kate says Beth is perfect, down to her adorable eye beauty mark, and Kevin says Mark is too old for Kate, which makes Kate even madder at her brother than she already is for his surprise marriage. But then Rebecca comes in and breaks up their bickering, demanding they enjoy the special dinner. Somewhere in the midst of everything, we get the first example of partners being on the outside of the Pearsons, which Miguel always talks about with Beth and Toby in the present-day. It’s punctuated comically by Mark asking Miguel who he is.

In Pre-Kids “entrée,” Kate burns the lasagna, but Jack remains optimistic, while in Post-Jack “entrée,” everyone eats quietly, tense. In Pre-Kids “wine,” Jack insists he’s still excited about the lasagna. Post-Jack Dinner Rebecca wonders to Miguel if the family will ever overcome Jack’s death. Miguel tells her, using a wine metaphor, to wait out the bad years and keep believing something better is coming. When we return to Post-Jack Dinner, Rebecca tells the kids what happened next in Pre-Kids Dinner (flashbacks included for viewers). She says that while trying to capture a bird that flew into the house, Jack knocked over the burnt lasagna. He and Rebecca broke out laughing. Rebecca tells the kids, “That’s when it became the perfect night — when we just let it be what it was.” She says they have to be able to remember Jack happily like that and to talk about him because that’s how they will move forward.

Then comes the aftermath of both failed meals: pizza. Jack and Rebecca laughing, kissing, and sharing pizza. Rebecca, the kids, and their significant others smiling in the living room as Rebecca plays a song from The Princess Bride on the piano.

There’s a deeper meaning behind each dinner phase. Hors d’oeuvres represent the introduction of an idea. Salad is the preparation. The dinner is when things go wrong. Wine is accepting that things go wrong. Pizza is the celebration that comes when we embrace how things turned out, the happy resolution.

Each adult Pearson kid, particularly the Pearson men, in this episode, goes through the same journey, interwoven with the dinner scenes.

KEVIN

Kevin’s episode arc is both about his relationship with Nicky and his relationship with Cassidy. He drags Nicky to a hockey game honoring Cassidy for her service, but Nicky storms off during the game. Also unhappy to be there is Cassidy’s soon-to-be ex-husband Ryan, who likewise flees midway through the game. Kevin’s vowed to help Cassidy win Ryan back. (About this, Nicky says to Kevin: “You really do have the strangest relationships with people.” Could anything more perfectly describe Kevin… or all of the Pearsons?) Anyway, Ryan seems to want nothing to do with Kevin or Cassidy.

Kevin’s “hors d’oeuvres” are his ideas for helping Nicky and Cassidy. His “dinner” is the moments Nicky and Ryan leave, angrily. But in the end, both work out to “pizza” level.

When Kevin drops Cassidy and her son off, he confronts Ryan. Ryan tells him he was angry about being at the hockey game because it honored “the thing that broke” his favorite person, Cassidy. Then he tells Kevin to stay away from his wife, and storms off. Cassidy walks up and finds Kevin smiling. Kevin tells her Ryan still likes her. Their mission might work out well after all.

Later, Kevin shows up at Nicky’s. A sober and softer-than-usual Nicky tells Kevin he hates storytelling and people, but he takes out a block of ice cream, in reference to a story Kevin told him earlier in the day about Jack cutting ice cream blocks for the Big 3 like cake. Nicky tells Kevin the ice cream thing came from Nicky and Jack’s father and grandfather. It’s one of the only kind things his father ever did with them. Even Nicky has his “dinner” moment here… he’s embracing the past to honor the present and future, to meet Kevin halfway in building the bond Kevin seeks.

RANDALL

Meanwhile, Randall gets called away from council duties — that’s sure to boil over soon since it’s the second time he’s had to bail on his political work — for an incident with Tess. She had a panic attack at school. Once at home with Tess and Beth, Randall starts telling Tess about his panic attacks growing up — cue flashbacks — but she says she doesn’t want to be anything like him and storms off.

When we return to Beth and Randall, Randall tells Beth that because he didn’t grow up with people who shared his DNA, it was especially exciting for him to see what he’d share with his kids. But he hates that his anxiety issues turned out to be one of those things. Then he also storms off, saddened.

Beth is left to recall that after Randall’s panic attack breakdown in season 1, William told Beth he’d had the same issues growing up. His mother’s solution was to have him look at the bubbles in a glass of seltzer until they all settle.

Soon, Beth drags her husband and daughter back together. She says the thing they both hate having, anxiety, makes them who they are. It’s what makes Randall caring and Tess loyal and determined, so she doesn’t want to hear anything bad about what made “three of her favorite people in the world” so great. Then Beth shows them William’s Seltzer trick.

Sadly, that happy “pizza” moment resolution isn’t the end of the Randall-Beth plot. When Beth tells Randall she found a therapist, he supports the idea for Tess but rudely snaps at Beth, insisting he doesn’t need one. Beth is stunned and upset by his cold dismissal of her concerns. Here comes the next hitch in their sometimes-near-perfect marriage…

KATE

This episode is light on adult Kate. She spends the whole day waiting at home for a baby gift from Randall and Kevin. It turns out to be the piano they had in their first post-fire home, the one Rebecca played during that Post-Jack Dinner.

That’s Kate’s whole storyline — until she claims the episode’s last-minute huge cliff-hanger. Adult Kate goes through the photos taken that night of the dinner. Rebecca’s looking over her shoulder. Then Kate sees the photo of her and Mark. Rebecca says, “I was trying so hard to hold it together… I wanted to believe so badly that you kids were happy, I didn’t see what was happening.”

Kate says she didn’t see it either.

Did Mark hurt Kate in some horrid way? Or are they simply referring to some wedge bubbling between the family members? How long until we find out what that’s all about? In any case, it seems adult Kate’s “dinner” and “pizza” moment is yet to be revealed…

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