This Is Us recap: 'A Long Road Home' hints at roads not taken
After a nearly two-month hiatus, This Is Us returned tonight with the fifth episode of the season. Things picked up where they left off, with Kate dropping a bombshell on Toby, Kevin and Madison struggling to navigate their circumstances, and Randall on the cusp of learning an explosive truth about his mother.
The episode title, "A Long Road Home," could be a nod to everyone making progress toward a place of truth and happiness. But there's an adjacent theme, too: "the road not taken." The episode reveals a pivotal moment in each Pearson's past that could have completely changed their lives. Let's see what those roads are/were, starting with Kate.
The episode opens with Toby digesting Kate's bombshell: when she got pregnant by Marc, she had an abortion. He wonders why she didn't tell him sooner, but doesn't judge her or get particularly mad. The morning after their conversation, Kate asks Toby to come with her to San Diego to confront Marc.
In a flashback, before Kate's abortion, she visits Marc. At first, Marc seems sweet and remorseful, but when Kate explains she's not there to reunite, his mood sours. Still, Kate doesn't immediately leave. Marc turns on the television. When he scoffs at the movie Airplane! — a Pearson family favorite Kate fondly remembers watching with her father — that's the final straw. While Marc's distracted, she disappears without telling him about the baby.
In the present, while Toby waits in the car, Kate confronts Marc outside the music shop where he works. It's quickly made clear, in their interaction, that Marc doesn't have much going for him. Kate asks him what he remembers of their relationship. After a typically rude initial response, he says they were in love and that Kate was "broken in all the right places." CRINGE! He brushes off "intense" moments as normal kid stuff. Kate notes she was a kid, but he was 24 years old. She calls him out for taking advantage of her youth and vulnerability, and for treating her so terribly. But then she says she's found the love she deserves, and that it is Marc, not her, who's broken. She "gives back the disease" he gave her, and leaves. I'm surprised the abortion goes unmentioned, but I suppose the story with Marc was his overall abuse, and that's what's dealt with powerfully here.
Kate beams with relief and pride on the ride home, and thanks Toby for his support. Kate's road not taken was the baby with Marc, and the home she's found at the end of her long road is Toby. He's the cure to the pain she's experienced in her life. Proving that, later that night, she and Toby watch Airplane! and Toby loves it.
Early in the episode, Kevin learns the movie he's been working on (the one with the harsh director) is shooting in Vancouver to mitigate COVID-19 risks. Kevin is hesitant to go because of the incoming twins, but Madison supportively insists. The two share a kiss.
However, Madison becomes irate when she learns Kevin envisions Madison and the twins joining him around the world on movie shoots. That's not the life she envisioned. Kevin asks if she wants him to quit acting right when he's finally reached the level he's always hoped for. In a sweet moment, they each express their love for the idea of their family, but before Kevin leaves for Vancouver, Madison urges him to take time to decide how, and if, she and the babies really fit into his life. I am FURIOUS she's implying he must choose between career and family. Can television shows cancel this trope?
The "couple" share the world's most awkward half-kiss goodbye. It seems that, while they love the idea of their family, they aren't in love with each other. Will they continue to force it? Actually fall in love? Or agree to just co-parent? If the latter, will Sophie return?
Speaking of Sophie, in a college-era flashback, Kevin is planning to go to Los Angeles for television pilot season auditions. Randall advises him that going to L.A. could ruin his relationship with Sophie. Kevin dismisses the concern.
Juxtaposed with this flashback is a scene in which adult Kevin calls Randall for advice about Madison, suggesting the Madison predicament is similar to his situation with L.A. and Sophie. But is it, if he doesn't love Madison like he loved Sophie? Kevin's road not taken is staying in New York with Sophie. What home will the road he's on now take him to?
On the phone, Kevin tells Randall that in sticky situations, he often thinks "what would Randall do?" Randall is flattered, and soon the brothers share a form of apology for what was said in their blowout fight. Kevin expresses regret over Randall having had to face his identity struggles alone throughout their childhood. Randall is moved, but then realizes he must do something (more on that later), so he hastily ends the call. The abrupt goodbye makes Kevin think Randall is still mad.
I think Randall would have an interesting take on the Madison situation, but we'll see if Kevin tries again to seek his advice.
When Randall arrives at work, his staff greets him with a surprise: they dance for him in muscle suits, poking fun at Randall's accidental viral strip-tease. Then Jae-won delivers a different surprise: a man from New Orleans has written Randall saying he thinks he knew Laurel. The man is Hai Lang, whom we were introduced to in the season premiere and who we know has a picture of Laurel.
The letter includes a picture of William and Laurel, and most importantly, it claims Laurel didn't die after Randall's birth, as William had said. Hai says she died of breast cancer in 2015. Shaken, Randall leaves work early. At home, he shows Beth the letter but refuses to believe Hai, because it would mean William lied to him.
Later, when Randall discusses the letter with his therapist, the therapist points out that knowing where he came from has always been extremely important to Randall. So, he should want to take the risk and see what Hai has to say.
That night, Randall is deliberating when Kevin calls. Hearing Kevin say he can't imagine having to go through Randall's identity struggles alone, Randall realizes he must speak to Hai. Randall ends his conversation with Kevin and calls Hai with Beth at his side.
After an awkward introduction, Randall asks Hai if William lied about Laurel's death. (In a flashback, William tells Randall that Laurel worked hard to get clean for Randall, but relapsed and died of an overdose because the pain from the birth overcame her). Hai thinks William told Randall what he believed was the truth. Beth and Randall decide to go to New Orleans to meet Hai to learn more about Laurel.
Randall will soon learn more about the road not taken — the mother he might have known if things had worked out differently — and get one step closer to a form of home he's always sought: knowing where he came from.
See you next week for whatever wild rides are in store for Randall and his siblings!