This Is Us recap: The new Big 3 is born
In tonight's This Is Us, COVID and technology loom large. Though I don't love shows slapping us with real-world drama, especially COVID, these themes are intertwined and woven into the plot in a heart-warming way that drives the episode's emotional depth. The connective tissue is the notion of being, as the episode title indicates, "in the room" — an echo of last week's theme of being there for people.
The story revolves around the Pearsons wanting to be in the (hospital) rooms for the birth of Kevin's twins and the baby Kate and Toby are adopting from a surrogate named Ellie. But due to COVID, Rebecca can't be with her children, and Toby can't join Kate in Ellie's room. Randall and Beth are with Madison virtually while Kevin tries to get to her in person.
Let's unpack all of this.
Kate & Toby
While Toby is camped out in the hospital parking lot awaiting the baby, an older man arrives and demands Toby move parking spots. The man's wife of 55 years is hospitalized with COVID, and he can't be in her room due to safety restrictions. He always parks where Toby is, space 157, because that's his wife Rose's favorite number — it was the address of their first home — and she's superstitious. Toby surrenders the space.
Later, Toby asks about the pig figurines covering the man's dashboard. The man says while he and Rose were in Austria for their honeymoon, they learned Austria celebrates pigs on New Year's because they believe pigs are good luck. Ever since, the couple has collected pig figurines whenever they needed luck. The man then gives Toby a figurine. Moved, Toby decides his daughter's middle name should be Rose, after the man's wife (and, fittingly, a Star Wars character).
Meanwhile, Ellie is frustrated about her slow labor. Then, when a nurse calls Ellie "mom," she fervently notes Kate is the adoptive mother. She instructs the nurse that after the birth, the baby should be given right to Kate.
But when Ellie finally gives birth, she wants to hold the baby… and then asks for time alone with the newborn. Kate fears Ellie's having doubts about giving away the baby, but she obliges both requests. Ultimately, Ellie tells her newborn that although giving her up is the hardest thing she's ever done, it may be the best. She's eager for her to meet Kate. With that, the nurse brings the baby to Kate. She video calls Toby so they can gush together over their daughter, Hailey Rose.
When we first see Madison, she's still talking to Randall and Beth, waiting to give birth, unsure of Kevin's whereabouts. The nurse comes in to give her an anesthetic. Madison panics when she sees the giant needle, and Randall distracts her with a story about Kevin coming home drunk after junior prom. Madison doesn't love being reminded she's having babies with a recovering alcoholic, but Randall continues: After Randall escorted Kevin to his room, he left him to get water. Randall returned to find his brother naked belting "MMMBop," jumping on his bed and playing air drums. Kevin stopped singing and said he and Randall should have formed a brother band. Then, Randall starts singing "MMMBop" to Madison, and she joins. As they're singing, at last, into Madison's room walks Kevin (TSA apparently let him through). He's touched by Randall helping Madison. Cue tears.
Once alone, Kevin tells Madison their family is his life and he will no longer work away from them. Madison tears up.
They name their babies Nicholas and Francis, after Uncle Nicky and Madison's grandmother.
Kevin & Randall
After the birth, Kevin calls Randall. Following congratulations, Kevin mentions Randall helping Madison. "I was terrified that I wouldn't make it in time and… that she would be alone, and when I walked in that room, man I heard your voice and… after everything that we've been through recently… I did say some pretty horrible things to you, Randall, and the truth is you are… the best person I know…" Then Kevin hints at the racial issues Randall faced growing up but Randall interjects. He says he's happy to have that conversation with Kevin one day soon, but at the moment, Kevin should focus on celebrating.
This is the reconciliation we've been waiting for since the brutal fight at the end of last season, and it's beautiful.
The New Big Three
Due to Madison's early labor and Ellie's slow labor, Ellie and Madison end up giving birth at the same time. This is showcased with a beautiful birthing montage, and the point is clear: Kevin's twins plus Kate's baby-via-Ellie means there's a new generation of the Pearson Big Three. Kate herself notes this. Might there be a spinoff series… This Is Still Us?
Rebecca & The Painting
While the births unfold, Rebecca is at the cabin with Miguel, frustrated she isn't with her children. Miguel notices she keeps looking at a framed child's painting of colorful blobs.
Flashbacks provide a backstory.
In the early teen era, the kids tell their parents they've planned sleepovers with friends to get out of a family cabin trip. Rebecca likes the idea of going alone with Jack, so Jack accepts the new plans.
At the cabin, Rebecca delights in not having to hear Kate discuss 90210 (throwback!) or Kevin and Randall bicker. Jack seems displeased by her comments. Then they discover a leak in the living room ceiling, right over two boxes. While assessing the damage to the boxes' contents, Rebecca finds the kids' old artwork, including a painting that now looks like five blotches. Rebecca quips that they weren't masterpieces, and Jack suddenly rebukes her for "rippin' on the kids" all day.
When Rebecca has a chance to ask about his outburst, Jack admits he's upset they're running out of time with their kids. He's afraid once the kids go to college, he and Rebecca won't be part of their lives, since he and Rebecca themselves left home and never looked back. Rebecca asserts that she and Jack are nothing like their parents, so it's not the same. She shows him the blob painting. It was the kids' handprints above their own. Noting the handprints are now blended, she casts the painting as a metaphor to say the family will always be together, even if not always in the same way. She and Jack won't miss anything.
Back in the present, Rebecca tells Miguel she and Jack framed that painting to remember the promise. She feels she's letting Jack down by not being with Kate and Kevin. Miguel starts to say something but she interjects. She thanks him for putting up with the complexity of how Jack's death affects him, Rebecca, and their own marriage. (This is a nice nod to Miguel and Rebecca's story but I wonder if this indicates more on Miguel is coming, or if it's the writers' way of addressing that plot without further exploration).
Anyway, about not missing things… while geography ultimately separated the Pearsons, staying connected became easier over time thanks to technology...
Nasir & Esther
The episode opens with an Argentinian woman named Esther approaching an Indian man named Nasir outside a networking event for international students at a university in New Mexico. Esther asks Nasir about the book he's reading. It's about advanced computer programming. After he rambles about it, she admits she couldn't follow but loves hearing him talk.
The two become a couple and have a baby. (I wonder if these are Miguel's parents?)
Four years later, Nasir arrives home from work late and Esther is furious. He never comes home in time for dinner with his son. Esther demands he tell her, in a way she can understand, what he's working on that's more important than his family.
He says he and his team are trying to optimize a form of data compression that will allow people to, through a network of computers, share more than words — images, and eventually movies, even video calls instead of just phone calls.
Following this revelation, there's a montage of Kevin and Kate video calling the family to show off their newborns. With Rebecca gazing at the handprint painting at the end, the message is clear: video calling has allowed them to be part of each other's lives, even when miles apart.
Bringing that message into the real world, the episode ends with a frame of real-life Nasir Ahmed, who led the team that created the compression technology in the 1970s. It's an unexpected, fourth-wall-breaking history lesson, but one we can gladly embrace. After all, even without COVID, there are many reasons to be grateful for being able to video call people… like having someone to weep with over heart-breaking moments on This Is Us.