This Is Us recap: Randall and Kevin finally hash things out
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Tonight's episode of This Is Us focused on Randall and Kevin finally attempting to repair their relationship, which hit rock bottom with an emotional fight in the season 4 finale. The fallout was precipitated by a disagreement over how to care for Rebecca, but it was the culmination of a lifetime of tension and the blows were heavy. Randall insulted Kevin's acting and said Jack died ashamed of him, and Kevin said the worst day of his life was when his parents adopted Randall.
The brothers have since moved toward reconciliation, but another issue was recently brought to light — that Randall struggled with growing up Black in a white family. In last week's episode, Kevin said he wanted to discuss those issues before Randall serves as his best man at his wedding. So, he asked to visit Randall in Philadelphia, fittingly the City of Brotherly Love. And so, through this episode, titled, of course, "Brotherly Love," the two air everything out at last. Providing context to the conversation are two flashbacks — a day in Randall and Kevin's life at age five and a day in their late teens.
Let's explore what happens during these instances of brotherly bonding (or fighting).
The episode opens with an unfamiliar Black couple. A man discusses an incoming storm, a woman mentions the Dewey Decimal System. Their son is a young boy named… Randall… It's a fantasy.
In reality, 5-year-old Randall and Kevin are watching Mister Rogers' Neighborhood together. Rebecca is away with Kate for a girls' weekend. For their boys' weekend, Jack takes Randall and Kevin to a live taping of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood.
While in line for the show, a staffer assumes Kevin and another nearby white boy are Jack's children, overlooking Randall. Randall is clearly hurt by this mistake, but as the man apologizes, Jack brushes it off, saying it happens all the time. Then Jack tries to overcompensate by asking the staffer to give Randall the best seat. Kevin's annoyed by his brother getting that special treatment. He acts out the rest of the day, running off after the show into the studio, forcing Jack to chase after him. As Randall explores the set alone in the meantime, a puppeteer asks if he likes using his imagination. Randall looks around, then quietly says he has imaginary parents. The puppet implies that's not strange, and Randall smiles.
At home that night, while Randall, Jack, and Kevin have dinner, the weather report comes on the television. The meteorologist is the man from the fantasy, Randall's imaginary father. We learn more about the fantasy through Randall's present-day conversation with Kevin.
College-era Randall and Kevin
In the Big Three's late teens, Randall visits Kevin in Los Angeles while in the area for a college Model UN competition. Upon his arrival, Kevin calls him the Fresh Prince. In turn, Randall insults Kevin's apartment. Kevin laughs it off and convinces Randall to party with him. The boys start drinking.
Later, Kevin grabs the fake IDs he got. Randall notes his is an older man who looks nothing like him. Kevin says, "He's a Black guy, you're a Black guy, it'll be fine." This comment bothers Randall, but he doesn't say anything. Already drunk, they get in a cab heading to a party. On the way, Kevin is obnoxious to the Black cab driver. Embarrassed and annoyed with Kevin, Randall says he doesn't want to go out anymore and Kevin angrily says he had to get drunk just to enjoy his brother's company. The driver kicks the boys out and they begin to fight.
When they later return to Kevin's apartment, Kevin admits he was being a jerk, and Randall notes he was being a jerk to their Black cab driver. Kevin says he's rude to all cab drivers, regardless of race. They further clash over the situation, but soon Randall drops the issue. It's a heartbreaking example of Kevin making Randall feel their racial divide and Randall choosing not to address the problem.
Randall even winds up comforting Kevin as Kevin admits things aren't going well for him. He says he's going nowhere while Randall has everything — Beth, a huge future. Kevin feels like the family failure. Randall says he doesn't see him that way. Randall's support means a lot to Kevin, which explains why, in the moments past and present when Randall is critical of him, it feels so biting.
Present-day Randall and Kevin
Randall stresses about formally discussing with Kevin, as Beth puts it, his "racially charged childhood." Beth insists the conversation must happen. She's taking the girls out to give the brothers privacy. Trying to comfort Randall, she says the conversation can't go worse than the big fight. Randall disagrees.
When Kevin arrives, they share an awkward greeting. Kevin's initially distracted, waiting on a call from Robert DeNiro — apparently leaving his movie for the twins' birth didn't cost Kevin his job.
Soon enough, though, the brothers begin their conversation.
Kevin acknowledges Randall faced challenges growing up Black in a white family. He earnestly apologizes for not defending Randall when a girl's father mistreated him for being Black. He then says, "I'm genuinely sorry… if I played any part in ever making you feel alone or bad." Randall thanks him, but doesn't extend forgiveness. He thinks Kevin fails to assume any personal responsibility.
Talking heatedly, the brothers lock themselves out of the house. The fight continues as they retrieve a key from Randall's neighbor and return home. At one point, Randall says Kevin inflicted racial wounds on him that weren't intentional, but were thoughtless and willfully ignorant. Thinking Randall's calling him racist, Kevin becomes indignant. But flashbacks in this and earlier episodes support Randall's point — Kevin consistently performed microaggressions. Randall thinks if he'd been white their relationship would have been different. Kevin says his cruelty was only ever about jealousy. Randall thinks Kevin resented his Blackness.
Randall says the day he was adopted was bad for him because he lost his birth parents. Kevin accuses him of being ungrateful to Jack and Rebecca. Randall says he is grateful, but never being allowed to express his feelings about losing his birth parents was an emotional prison.
Kevin asks if Randall wishes he was never adopted. Randall explains a concept from his support group: Ghost Kingdoms. Adoptees imagine the life they would have had if they weren't adopted. In Randall's kingdom, which he created when he was 5, he imagined the local meteorologist as his father and the local librarian as his mother since they were the only two adults he consistently saw that looked like him. Randall adds that he felt guilty for loving his family too much. The Pearsons were always in his kingdom, too.
Eventually, the brothers exchange kind words and hug in apparent reconciliation, even though Kevin still hasn't really taken ownership of his racially charged actions. But the conversation continues. Kevin asks Randall if he still thinks about his Ghost Kingdom. Randall says he does, and despite finding William and Laurel, it still features the meteorologist, the librarian, and the Pearsons, as if he's stuck in the past.
Then, at last, Kevin admits that maybe he did resent Randall's Blackness growing up because he tied the special treatment that he thought Randall received to his race, and wanted to put Randall down because of it. "I overlooked things that I shouldn't have. I took shots at you that I shouldn't have taken, and I was more jealous of you than I should have been," says Kevin. This is the responsibility-taking Randall wanted.
Just then, Beth and the girls return, so the conversation ends. But that night, Randall has a new Ghost Kingdom dream: he's 5, with William and Laurel instead of the meteorologist, librarian, and Pearsons. Even though he still imagines an alternate reality, his birth parents' presence suggests maybe his conversation with Kevin has unstuck him. Perhaps being able to picture his birth parents without the Pearsons, as opposed to strangers and the Pearsons, will help Randall's healing. Hopefully, when Randall stands beside Kevin at his wedding, their complicated past will give way to a hopeful future of brotherly love.