By Amanda Ostuni
March 10, 2020 at 10:02 PM EDT

In the latest This Is Us episode, the flipped-script theme continues. Throughout the season, Rebecca has at last held the spotlight, with Jack still ever-present but not the predominant Pearson parent. Kevin has gone from an arrogant hot mess addict to doing well in recovery and truly striving to be his best self, and Randall’s established image of near-perfection has been challenged by his actions and given more backstory.

I’ll elaborate on the above as we get into the thick of things. But first, a quick synopsis of the episode’s actual plot. Titled “New York, New York, New York,” it’s of course about the Pearsons visiting New York City. During the pre-teen Big Three era, they spend a day there before going to Randall’s debate tournament upstate. In the college-age era, Rebecca, Randall, and Beth visit to see Kevin’s acting showcase. In the present, elderly Rebecca and adult Kevin and Randall attend Kevin’s movie premiere.

The three visits have in common Rebecca and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This connection is first established via the opening scene of a young girl staring at something in an art gallery (it gradually becomes clear it’s young Rebecca in the Met).

For more on the connection and everything else, let’s jump in.

The Pearsons Take New York

For the Pearson’s pre-teen New York City adventure — everyone’s first time there except Rebecca —the kids each get to pick one thing to do. Inspired by Home Alone 2, Kevin picks a big toy store. Randall picks the Museum of Natural History. Kate wants to drink tea in a fancy hotel like children’s book character Eloise. Rebecca wants to go to the Met. Jack doesn’t know his choice yet.

Rebecca reminisces about going to the city with her parents as a child. Her dad made it feel magical because he knew everything about the city. She and her mother called it “Dad’s City.”

While heading to their first stop, Jack, ignoring Rebecca’s guidance, makes a subway navigation error and the family ends up in Queens. Lost in Queens, Jack again refuses to listen to Rebecca’s directions. Stepping away from the kids, she insists Jack listen to her since she knows the city. Soon Jack admits hearing how “cosmopolitan” her father was made him feel insecure that he’s never been to New York before. Rebecca says Jack offers a different trip than her father did, and that’s what she wants. Jack feels better but is worried they won’t have time for all their stops now. Rebecca says they will, but first lunch via cart pretzels (my personal favorite). Kevin declares to his siblings that his dad fixed things as usual. It’s a frustrating statement because the real hero here was Rebecca — proof she’s an unsung element behind Jack’s perceived greatness.

They make it to all the kids' stops, but because the kids are tired and it’s getting late, Rebecca heads to the Met alone. She arrives too late, though, and it’s closed, so she goes back to the hotel. Jack feels bad and suddenly gets inspiration for his “one thing.” Next thing we know, the Pearsons are in a horse-drawn carriage eating the roasted nuts Rebecca loved as a child. Jack got the carriage idea from Home Alone 2. He’d always thought it looked cheesy but still wanted to do it with his wife. He and Rebecca kiss, to Kevin’s discomfort and Kate’s admiration.

Concrete Jungle Where Dreams — and Sibling Fights — are Made of

In the college-age era, Rebecca, Randall, and Beth go to New York to see Kevin perform in an acting showcase. (Kate, who’s post-breakup with Mark, stays home.)

After Kevin’s showcase performance, Kevin asks Randall what he thought of it. To his disappointment, Randall gives a lackluster response. (These moments where Kevin is vulnerable with his brother feel rare and precious.) Kevin introduces them to his acting coach Kirby (Dave Annable). Rebecca and Kirby share a flirtatious exchange before Kirby walks off.

At a celebratory dinner where all the showcase participants have gathered, Kevin orders food for the family but Randall claims Rebecca wants something else. Beth breaks the resulting tension by asking Sophie about New York. When Sophie mentions Kevin studying his “craft,” Randall rolls his eyes. Kevin then invites Kirby to join them. Kevin talks about Kirby being a musician and his mom being a singer. Playing into the obvious set-up, Kirby and Rebecca again flirt. But upon becoming aware of her flirting, Rebecca suddenly excuses herself, insisting she must go to the Met. Kirby excuses himself, too.

Randall then bugs out at Kevin for trying to set up Rebecca. He insists she isn’t ready to date just a year after losing Jack. Kevin says Rebecca is a grown woman and Randall can’t be worried about her forever. He adds that Jack would want Rebecca to be happy. Randall insists he knows Rebecca’s mindset better because he’s there for her, unlike Kevin. He takes another jab at Kevin’s acting career, making it clear he thinks it’s a joke.

Meanwhile, Kirby finds Rebecca struggling to hail a cab. They end up talking about Kevin’s set-up attempt, then about Jack’s death, Kirby’s divorce, and how they and their kids should feel about moving on. Rebecca thinks she had love once and now should be happy with just her kids. Rebecca invites Kirby to join her at the Met. He accepts, gladly, but suggests they walk through the park to get there. Rebecca agrees.

They’re enjoying their time together, but then Kirby calls a passing horse-drawn carriage lame and Rebecca is reminded of Jack. She abruptly abandons Kirby and her plans to visit the Met and heads back to the kids — leaving Kirby confused and disappointed.

Broken Promises

In the present, Randall tells Kate and Kevin he wants Rebecca to do a nine-month clinical Alzheimer’s-related trial in St. Louis. Kevin doesn’t think she should be away for so long. Randall insists it’s what’s best. Kate hesitantly supports Randall. Kevin resists but ultimately relents.

Kevin flies Rebecca first class to New York for the premiere and gets her a room at the Plaza Hotel. They walk into the hotel together joyfully. The next morning, while Rebecca’s giddily dressing for lunch, Kevin quietly asks Randall — who’s joined them — not to mention the trial until the next day so Rebecca can enjoy the night. Randall agrees to wait.

That night, Kevin and Rebecca walk the red carpet together and she revels in the excitement. Afterward, Kevin introduces Rebecca and Randall to his agent.

Kevin leaves them briefly. While he’s gone, Rebecca forgets the name of her hotel. She vents to Randall about her frustration with having good stretches interrupted by forgetting simple things at embarrassing times. At this, Randall breaks his promise and mentions the clinical trial. Predictably, this upsets Rebecca further. Kevin notices the unhappy exchange and rejoins them. He attacks Randall for mentioning it. Rebecca initially defends Randall, but when the boys continue to bicker, she angrily storms off. Kevin accuses Randall of refusing to accept that he might know better what Rebecca needs. Randall says Kevin’s only just started spending time with her while Randall’s been taking care of her alone for 20 years. Kevin replies that’s only because he won’t let Kevin and Kate help him because he has a superiority complex. Kevin isn’t wrong, and again, it shows Randall’s caretaker act is in some ways more about himself than Rebecca.

Randall notes Kevin’s career has made him unreliable, and Kevin points out his career — which Randall looks down on — is paying for Rebecca’s care, especially since Randall doesn’t make much anymore. Randall then storms off to find Rebecca. Kevin follows. Rebecca’s missing but she texts them about where she went.

She’s in the Met, and as Kevin and Randall arrive to find her, there are flashbacks of the little girl in the museum, staring at something. When the boys find Rebecca, she’s staring at a painting of a woman in a black dress. Rebecca tells them that once when she was a child, she saw a woman staring at this painting. Young Rebecca stared at the woman staring at the painting and vowed to return to the museum as an adult so she could look at the painting and see what that woman saw. That’s why Rebecca was disappointed she couldn’t get to the Met during those other trips. “My life has been full of next times,” she says. With that realization, and knowing her days are numbered, she doesn’t want to do the trial because she wants to spend all her remaining time with her family. The boys accept this decision, though Randall does so quite reluctantly. They then join her in staring at the painting.

Cut to Randall saying goodbye to Kevin. Randall says he’s spent the last 20 years wondering if he could’ve saved Jack, and now Kevin’s ruined his chance to save their mother. Kevin lovingly assures him he couldn’t have saved Jack. Randall asks if Kevin ever wonders what life would’ve been like if Jack survived. Kevin doesn’t. Randall does constantly. Randall’s clearly never gotten over losing Jack. It’s impacted him in a way beyond how Jack’s death impacted the other Pearsons. Randall’s lived in the past, with all the anxiety and other issues that come with that. Hopefully therapy will help him cope better.

Kevin leaves Randall to an image he’s clearly played in his head over and over. It’s the night of the fire. Jack’s on the roof about to go in after the dog. Randall imagines yelling that if Jack goes in again, Randall will follow him. This makes Jack stop, get down off the roof and rejoin the family, and thus, presumably live. Would that have really worked? Poor Randall to have been living with this idea in his head for so long. Tissues, please.

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