This Is Us recap: Kevin’s epic quest to be ‘There’ for Madison
After another unexpected — though fortunately brief — hiatus, This Is Us returned tonight with the season's seventh episode. While the last episode took us to New Orleans, where Randall finally learned the truth about his past, this week takes us to Vancouver to check in with Kevin.
The episode is all about the Pearson men being there for family and what that looks like in different scenarios — all in conjunction with Kevin's life circumstances, past and present.
Let's start with the present.
Adult Kevin is in Vancouver shooting the movie with the difficult, high-profile director, Jordan Martin Foster. On the phone with Kate, whose surrogate is about to be induced into labor, Kevin says he's nervous about an impending scene with Robert DeNiro and can't wait to get home to Madison and do nothing but await the babies' arrival.
But later on set, Kevin gets a momentous call.
Madison thinks she's going into labor six weeks early. Shell-shocked, Kevin tells Foster. Foster says he'll try to have him out by the morning, but that's not enough for Kevin. The soon-to-be-father up and leaves. (I'm frustrated with this narrative of Kevin sacrificing his career for family… let him have both!)
En route to the airport, Kevin asks Miguel to book him a flight home. In the meantime, Kevin's agent calls, angering Kevin when he suggests he go to the birth then return to Vancouver in the morning. Then Kevin takes a call from Randall — Randall's post-New Orleans reconciliation attempt — but he abruptly ends the conversation after venting about his situation. When Foster calls to demand he return, Kevin, in a huff, quits the film and hangs up. Distracted by all this, Kevin nearly gets into several driving accidents (making viewers anxious about a potential crash hinted at in previews). One near-miss involves a reckless driver cutting him off.
Soon, Madison informs Kevin that she was right — she's in labor. He assures her he'll be there in time. Miguel then tells him about a flight leaving Seattle in two hours. Kevin thinks he'll make it, but he vents to Rebecca about wanting to be tending to Madison already like… Rebecca finishes: "your father." Rebecca starts to say something about putting Jack on a pedestal, but their connection fails.
As the call drops, Kevin encounters a car accident (nice bait and switch, writers! Also, it's the same car that cut him off!). Despite his rush, Kevin stops to help. He can't get through to 9-1-1, so he frees the driver from the burning car and takes him to the hospital. To keep the man conscious, Kevin discusses his impending fatherhood. He stresses how much he wants to be what Jack was: "He was just there. Always. My dad was the most there person that ever lived. Everything that I do, I do with his voice in my head." (Duh!) Kevin says Jack would have saved the man and made his children's birth.
Kevin indeed gets the man to the hospital and still makes it to the airport in time, but he doesn't have his license — he dropped it during the rescue. Kevin pulls desperation and fame cards on the TSA agent, saying that not making it to his child's birth will break him.
His earlier speech in the car reveals why it will break him — he needs to be there for his family the way he believes Jack always was. Two flashbacks woven throughout the episode drive home this point.
Fathers and Sons
The episode opens on an adolescent Jack preparing to pitch a Little League baseball game, clearly feeling pressured by his father. Then, a middle school-era Kevin is getting ready for football camp. He, too, is struggling with pressure from his father.
Later in the episode, after his team loses, young Jack finds his dad drunk and ornery. When Jack insinuates his father is too drunk to drive home, his father orders Jack to drive them home, even though Jack (presumably) doesn't have a license. Throughout the drive, Jack's father berates him, until Jack tells him off.
Back in young Kevin's world, while driving to football camp, Jack tells Kevin about his Little League days and baseball dreams. In their hotel that night, Jack finds Kevin puking. Kevin admits he's sick with worry he'll fail at football, and that's the only thing going for him. When Jack asks why he thinks that, Kevin says it's because of the way he and his mom talk about him and football — he mentions hearing Jack say he's soft. Jack feels guilty. Then Kevin says his coach calls him stupid. Jack's face goes cold. When Jack later sees the coach at the bar where he and Kevin are having dinner, he confronts him in the restroom. Jack orders the coach to never again call Kevin stupid. His menacing demeanor frightens the coach into submission; he practically flees the bar. Seeing his coach leave in that state, Kevin asks Jack if he did something, but Jack plays innocent. Kevin doesn't press.
Perhaps he doesn't want to ruin the good vibes he has with Jack, thanks to their conversation prior to Jack's confrontation with the coach. Jack, in a rare moment of opening up, tells Kevin that the only thing his father always showed up for was his baseball games, but he always got drunk and turned cruel if things didn't go well, so he ruined the game for Jack. Yet, Jack says his father wasn't all bad. In a quote that suits the complex relationship Kevin has with his father and his father's memory, Jack says: "That's what makes our parents loom so large in our heads… they're a million things to us all at once." With this, we flashback to young Jack's father praising Jack's driving on the way, and Jack readily accepting the rare pat on the back. Back in the present, Jack expresses shame for pressuring Kevin; he's apparently become his father. Kevin insists Jack is a much better father, and Jack says Kevin will be even better.
In another flashback shown around the time Kevin is stressing to the TSA agent how important it is that he be there for his babies' birth, we see Jack and Kevin joyfully playing in their hotel room. It seems Kevin is no longer anxious about football because Jack figured out how to be there for his son in the right way.
When Madison first calls Kevin about potentially going into labor, she's home. She gets herself to the hospital. Throughout their ensuing update conversations, Madison seems upset and frustrated Kevin isn't there. (This feels unfair since she urged Kevin to do the film and he could not have predicted early labor).
Later, Madison stresses over the idea of going through the birth alone. The only people she wants to be there are Kate and Kevin, so she's out of luck.
But soon she gets a call from… Randall. He and Beth offer support while Kevin is en route. He says they can send food to her room or stay on the phone with her if she wants. Initially, she declines, pretending she's fine, but when Randall says she's family, she bursts into tears and accepts his offer to stay on the phone together. This is beautiful. Madison gets the family experience she apparently has lacked, and we see yet another example of the Pearson commitment to being there for family.
Now we just need to see if Kevin can be there for Madison himself, in person. Something tells me Jack Pearson's son will find a way.