This Is Us Recap: The Pearsons face hard truths and tough love
The last episode until January, episode 4 leaves us with no shortage of complex thoughts and emotions, plus two tantalizing mini-cliffhangers. Let’s dive into the hotbed of feels!
At the start of the episode, Kate and Toby are worrying about birth mom Ellie potentially changing her mind about giving them the baby. Kate remains calm and optimistic enough for both of them, though, even giving the baby a name: Chloe.
Later, Kate accompanies Ellie to a doctor’s visit. When Kate calls the baby Chloe, Ellie’s face drops. Kate thinks it means Ellie is having second thoughts after all. She questions Ellie after the appointment. Ellie tells Kate about a high school classmate named Chloe who nearly sabotaged her and her husband’s relationship before they ever started dating. So, yes, she doesn’t love the name, but she’s certain she wants Kate and Toby to have her baby. In getting this point across to Kate, Ellie again expresses her deep regret about the one-night stand that resulted in the baby. She says she considered abortion, but couldn’t go through with it. Adoption is the right alternative move, and Kate and Toby are the right fit.
That evening, Kate tells Toby that Ellie’s story reminded her of something from her past she’s never told anyone. She begins to talk about her relationship with Mark. There’s a flashback to when, just after Mark was kicked to the curb following the incident at the cabin, Kate opts to stay home from a family trip. Once alone, she takes a pregnancy test. It’s positive.
Based on the set-up, it seems that Kate had an abortion. What were the circumstances? How did the abortion impact Kate’s life? Cliffhanger No.1!
Malik shadows Randall at work for a school project. Malik arrives at Randall’s a little late. Then he dozes off while Randall talks councilman business. Later comes strike three. Randall tasks Malik with filling in for Jae-won in running his daily live stream for constituents. During the live stream, Randall talks about serving as city councilman to give back to the community that served as a family to Randall’s birth father, William Hill, when he had none. While Randall is talking, Malik gets a phone call about his daughter and misses his cue to cut the live stream. Unaware of Malik’s mistake, Randall starts changing his clothes. He’s stripping — and dancing — on a live broadcast. It’s a win for fictional and real viewers because, well, Sterling K. Brown is fit! Malik kills the live stream just before Randall is completely naked.
Afterward, Randall scolds Malik. Malik apologizes, explaining he's struggling at work because he's been putting his daughter first. Randall tells Malik not to let his dreams shrink for the sake of his family because dreaming big is better for everyone in the long run. Malik says that’s not a problem — he plans to attend an Ivy League school for business, then culinary school, then open up a superstar restaurant. Impressed, and seeing himself in Malik, Randall grants Malik an internship to boost his college applications.
That night, Randall learns his accidental striptease has gone viral. The video’s caption is merciful — “Buff councilman accidentally strips during Zoom update” — but will it take a toll on his job?
Three timelines are intertwined around Kevin in this episode.
Rebecca and Jack struggle with baby Kevin crying all night. Jack thinks they should let him cry himself out to break the habit, which Rebecca initially resists. Then, when Kevin cries yet again, it’s Jack who struggles to resist tending to him. Eventually, Kevin quiets down on his own.
Eighth-grade Kevin struggles with football, despite sacrificing sleep to study plays and work out. He soon resents the pressure from his father and wants to quit, but Jack only pushes harder (Jack flaw alert!?). Rebecca thinks Jack is being harsh, but Jack accuses Rebecca of letting Kevin quit things too easily, making him soft. Overhearing this, Kevin asks Randall to show him his colored index card study trick to help him learn football plays. The brothers sweetly bond (a rare occurrence, cue my happy tears) as Randall obliges. Seeing this, Rebecca realizes Jack might be right. Jack explains he pushes the kids because contrary to how his own father treated him, Jack wants his kids to know he sees greatness in them. Rebecca is moved. So am I — more tears.
Adult Kevin rehearses his new film with the director and his costar. The script includes this line: “When somebody says ‘to be honest’ or ‘if I’m being honest with you’ or ‘honestly,’ it usually means they’re about ready to lie to you.” The director is outright awful to Kevin, making him redo the scene over and over without providing feedback. It’s infuriating. When Kevin confronts him, the director insults him for needing verbal approval. He says Kevin is a good actor but to be great; he must work harder.
Talking to Kate, Kevin says dealing with the director is worth it because the part could get him an Oscar, and he wants Rebecca to experience that before it’s too late. He says he just needs to not give a “tired” performance. Kate notes that’s what Randall called Kevin’s acting in their big fight. Kevin vehemently rejects the implication Randall is in his head. Then Kate mentions her own fight with Randall, about his struggles growing up Black in their world. Kevin acknowledges Randall faced difficulty but insists their parents didn’t do anything wrong — they even favored Randall over him and Kate. This take honestly makes Kevin look quite ignorant/shallow. Kevin also doesn’t acknowledge Kate’s point that they never talked to Randall about his circumstances. A flashback shows eighth-grade Randall telling Kevin he works so hard because as the only Black kid in his school, he has to be the best. Instead of responding, Kevin just resumes his studies. Kate’s point is proven.
Also during this conversation, Kate says, in a meta moment: “We all have stuff from our past that we’re still dealing with.” Kevin asks what that means. Kate says: “Honestly, I’m just tired.” Thinking about the line in his movie, Kevin realizes she’s holding back. Does he think she’s implying his issues with Jack are affecting his acting? Why does he resent that?
That night, Kevin studies his script using Randall’s card trick, signaling maybe Jack’s pushing really was for the best. Kevin also receives a package from the director with an encouraging note, signaling that despite his struggles with his past, Kevin’s future might be looking up.
Before the episode wraps with baby Kevin quieting down, we get another piece of the puzzle with Randall’s mother. Randall is watching his viral video. It seems he’s obsessing over the part where he mentions being a councilman to honor William Hill, but then we see the person replaying that over and over is actually the Vietnamese man connected to Randall’s mother. As he plays the clip, he glances at a photo of himself and Laurel, clearly knowing who William is… To be continued in January, hopefully. Cliffhanger number two!
This Is Us
NBC’s beloved era-hopping drama tells the story of the Pearson family through the years.