This Is Us premiere recap: Hindsight is 2020 in 'Forty'
The real world has been particularly challenging lately. But Hollywood has found a way to still make fall TV happen, and that means the return of one of our favorite fictional families, the Pearsons. That’s right, at long last, This Is Us returned to our screens tonight, and the two-hour season 5 premiere wasted no time before tugging at our heartstrings… But first, a quick refresher on what unfolded last season.
After various events make Kevin realize how much he wants a family, he vows to be married and on his way to fatherhood by his 40th birthday in one year. Then he has a one-night stand with Kate’s friend Madison and she winds up pregnant with twins. Meanwhile, Kate and Toby go through a rough patch because Toby struggles to deal with baby Jack’s blindness. However, Toby turns himself around, and at the end of the season, he and Kate decide to adopt a second child. Elsewhere, Randall suffers another massive bout of anxiety issues and Beth convinces him to go to therapy. Therapy reveals Randall never let go of the idea that he or Kevin could have saved Jack the night of the fire, and that he has significant unrecognized issues with his mother — one of which is lingering anger that she kept William from him during his childhood. Speaking of Rebecca, she is diagnosed with what’s effectively early-stage Alzheimer’s. Randall wants Rebecca to do a clinical treatment trial in Missouri, but she wants to live out her remaining good days with the family. Randall pressures her, and when Kevin furiously confronts him about this, a lifetime of unresolved issues between the brothers seeps in, creating a catastrophic explosion. They trade insults and it ends with Kevin saying the worst thing that ever happened to him was his parents adopting Randall. This high-intensity verbal fight looms large in the season 5 opener.
What also looms large: the real-world events of 2020. With that said, let’s get into what went down in the season 5, two-episode premiere of This Is Us.
Things kick off where the finale left off, with Kevin returning to Madison after his fight with Randall. In this and ensuing scenes, it’s established that the Pearsons world is our world — coronavirus is a thing and masks and social distancing quickly become the norm. (This writer wishes they didn’t go this route, because, well, the philosophy that television is escapism, but alas, so be it). The virus postponed Rebecca’s trial so she and Miguel are quarantining at the cabin. In California, Kevin stands on Kate’s lawn and tells her he knocked up Madison with twins. Kate is happy for them, despite how strange the news is to her.
From this point, the show begins to diverge into its trademark multiple plotlines, each one forming around the 40th birthday celebration(s) of the Big Three.
Kate and Toby
Kate and Toby seem worlds away from their problems last year. The two are in peak relationship form. They join Kevin and Madison on a road trip across the country to the cabin to celebrate Kate and Kevin’s birthdays with Rebecca and Miguel (Randall doesn’t intend to attend). When they arrive, Rebecca asks if they have any adoption news yet, but Kate says they only just posted their video. However, toward the end of the episode, the adoption agency calls Toby about a match.
Kevin and Madison
Kevin and Madison decide to deal with quarantine rules and the pregnancy by having Kevin stay in Madison’s guest house. Later, they bond over the baby kicking and end up sleeping together again. When the spotlight returns to the new sort-of-couple, they have a scare over the health of the babies. While waiting for a doctor to perform a procedure to check on them, Kevin asks Madison if she trusts him and believes in him despite his broken parts. Madison says she does, and then Kevin comforts her about the babies. Then, in a roundabout, half-serious way, he suggests they get married. After they find out both babies are fine, Madison says she doesn’t see his issues as broken parts — just parts of him, and she thinks he’s fantastic. She then mentions the marriage proposal. Neither one commits to the proposal being real or fake, so technically, things are left in limbo, though Kevin later refers to Madison as his fiancée and tells Randall he thinks she might be special. Is Kevin deluding himself here, or is this potentially real? I’m still team Cassidy (or Sophie) but Madison could be here to stay. We shall see…
Rebecca’s health has improved in quarantine. In good spirits, she convinces Miguel and Kate to let her go get birthday cake in town alone. But, as we saw in a brilliantly misleading episode last season, this is the adventure where Rebecca suffers a bout of significant cognitive impairment and she loses her phone and gets lost. She's escorted back to the cabin by police. Randall arrives at the cabin to help after she’s already safely home, but realizes she probably suffered the setback due to a negative interaction between her cognitive impairment medicine and medicine she’s taking for poison ivy. Her doctor confirms this and the family praises Randall for his catch. The poison ivy, though, causes a diversion in a conversation between Rebecca and Randall in which he apologizes for pressuring her about the trial and she apologizes for keeping William from him. Rebecca clearly thinks they need to hash things out further. Perhaps another day…
Regarding her health, later, with Miguel, Rebecca says she’s most afraid of losing her memories of little things. Fueled by advice from Toby, Miguel comforts her by telling her they just need to focus on taking things one day at a time.
Randall’s premiere drama revolves around both his fight with Kevin and another real-world issue, à la coronavirus: the murder of George Floyd and the social justice actions and discussions that followed. Randall learns about George Floyd shortly after congratulating Kevin on the babies. Later, while he and Beth are watching protest coverage with their daughters, Kate texts Randall pictures of “baby Jack’s first protest” and asks which Black cause to support. Beth and Randall are not pleased. It’s clear Randall is deeply reeling from what’s going on. Through conversations he has with Deja’s boyfriend Malik and then with Kate, Randall reveals he dealt with all the George Floyd-type incidents that happened when he was growing up on his own because his family never brought them up and Randall never did himself because he didn’t want to make them uncomfortable. But he tells Kate he’s not going to worry about that anymore because he’s tired of putting others before his mental and emotional needs. Kate is devastated but understands, and tearfully lets him go spend his birthday just with his wife and kids. When Randall is back with them, he tells Beth how sad he is about everything and she gives a trademark badass speech that ends with a real-world rallying cry echoing the line “we fight on.”
Regarding Kevin, though the brothers do interact this episode and some of the friction over Rebecca seems dissipated, it’s clear Randall is not ready for reconciliation yet. We can only hope it will happen eventually.
The Past Imperfect
Woven throughout the episode are flashbacks involving Randall’s roots and the day the Big Three became the Big Three.
After present-day Randall makes a comment about not knowing what really happened when William left him at the firehouse, we see a young William holding a newborn Randall. Randall’s mother Laurel is unconscious — or worse — from an overdose. William calls for help and soon EMTs arrive. When one of them implies Laurel is dead and calls on the radio for police to come to address the drug and childcare issue, William bolts with Randall. Interspersed with this scene are scenes of William and Laurel talking with their friends about fighting for Black rights, Laurel telling William she’s pregnant, Laurel making plans to get a better job and apartment for their baby, as well as scenes of Jack taking Rebecca to the hospital to give birth. Later in the episode, William leaves Randall at the firehouse, has second thoughts, and goes to a hospital to find him. When he finds Randall, he goes to the hospital chapel and apologizes to God for giving Laurel drugs after the birth to ease her pain and for not keeping Randall. Pre-birth Laurel doesn’t get the promotion she wanted, her and William's friends are arrested, and things are looking bleak when she asks William to promise to give Randall a good life if she can’t be the mother he deserves. When Rebecca has labor troubles, Jack goes to the chapel — passing William on the way in — to reflect on his father and lack of religious faith, and how he’s always tried to be a better man than his father. He calls his father and the two have a mostly tender conversation and some reconciliation. A significant takeaway from this is the juxtaposition between Jack, who dedicated himself to being better than his father, and Kevin and Randall, who dedicated themselves to living up to their father. William gets on a bus and doesn’t go home.
In the present-day, Randall says he doesn’t want any surprises for the year.
In the past, the second EMT tries once more to revive Laurel. It works. She takes a breath, and the episode ends.
And with that typical This Is Us wild twist ending, it appears the main story/mystery of the season will be the return of Randall’s mother. Tune in next week to see where things go from here, and as this premiere reminded us, better stock up on tissues for the ride!
This Is Us
NBC’s beloved era-hopping drama tells the story of the Pearson family through the years.