This Is Us recap: Kevin suffers a crisis of confidence in first Big Three trilogy episode
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Tonight's episode of This is Us brings us nearly to the midpoint of the show's final season. On the heels of the traditional Thanksgiving episode, tonight's installment – episode number eight – also marks the start of another series tradition: the Big Three trilogy, where each Pearson sibling gets their own spotlight episode. Kevin (Justin Hartley) is up first.
The episode explores incidents in three time periods where Kevin grapples with what he thinks of himself; he gets a swimming lesson around age 6, he drowns in his sorrows after the Thanksgiving Sophie break up, and takes the twins across the country to the cabin on his own, to spend a weekend with Nicky (Griffin Dunne), Edie (Vanessa Bell Calloway), Cassidy (Jennifer Morrison), and Cassidy's son Matty. The beginning of the present-day story is set to the episode-eponymous song "Guitar Man." The song is about a man who earns the adoration of everyone but is always moving toward some new place or goal seeking something. It's a perfect representation of Kevin's story, especially in the flashbacks and present story of this episode.
Let's dive in.
Little Kevin and the pool
In a flashback to one of the Big Three's family trips to the public pool, Kevin is determined to jump off the diving board in the deep end and touch the drain at the bottom, like the bigger kids. However, unlike his siblings, he doesn't yet know how to swim. Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) gets in the pool to try to help him finally learn.
After a while, Kevin impatiently asks again about going to the diving board. Jack says only if he passes a test – he has to swim from where they are in the pool to the wall. In the background, Rebecca (Mandy Moore) is trying to convince Kate to get in the pool, but she pauses in panic about Kevin. Jack says he has to learn since he's not going to be a little boy forever, but ultimately picks a struggling Kevin up and sets him out of the pool, declaring him not yet ready for the deep end. Frustrated, Kevin storms off.
Rebecca finds him sulking. When Kevin claims Jack tried to drown him, Rebecca explains Jack just wants to ensure he can swim before jumping off the board. She then says Jack is really good at building both houses and character, so Kevin should listen to him. Kevin says he's not like his father, but Rebecca insists he is.
That's all that unfolds then, but when Kevin makes that judgment of himself, you can tell that even by then, he'd already put his father on a pedestal he felt he himself could never reach. And that mindset never faded.
College-era Kevin and the pool
After the messy Thanksgiving dinner which was preceded by Sophie walking out upon learning of Kevin's infidelity, Kevin goes to the now closed-down public pool to drunkenly mourn. Randall and Kate find him there, and the three siblings sit by the deep end drain in the bottom of the empty pool.
Kevin says he'd always wanted to touch that drain, but he doesn't belong in the deep end because he's shallow and stupid. He says Randall does because he's a brainiac, and Kate does too — if she could get out of her own way. (A nod to Kate's quiet strength, as we've seen Rebecca do in recent episodes). He says the only solid thing he had was Sophie and he blew it; he himself has no foundation. He ponders quitting acting to become a builder like Jack, since Jack was so solid. Again, Kevin's thinking of himself as not enough — inferior to his siblings and especially his father.
Kate tells Kevin that while he is shallow and stupid and will probably be a screw up for a while, he will eventually figure it out, implying that while Kevin may take time to get to the same place as others, or reach his goals, he always ultimately succeeds. Kate's words seem to cheer Kevin up in the moment, but his crisis of confidence doesn't end there.
Present-day Kevin, the caregiver
This era's story begins with Kevin vowing to live his best life for Rebecca, per her Thanksgiving orders, followed by a montage of Kevin caring for the twins alone. Then, Kevin prepares to head to the cabin with the twins. His co-workers and siblings (and Nicky) all think he's crazy for going with them alone, which makes Kevin feel frustratingly "underestimated." However, the flight is indeed chaos, between dirty diapers and crying, and Kevin's misguided attempts to smooth things over with passengers.
Piling on the stressful day, when he arrives at the cabin, Kevin learns there's been a setback with the construction of Rebecca's house. He rudely demands an explanation from Cassidy, who accepted his job offer of overseeing the construction. The foundation was poured wrong and needs to be redone. (Metaphor alert — flawed foundation that needs work, like Kevin saw in himself). Kevin blames Cassidy's work crew, a team of other veterans. After snapping back at Kevin, Cassidy says his architect misjudged the scales for the back porch, though she takes the blame for not catching it sooner. When the men leave her, Nicky tells Kevin Cassidy's been having a rough time with her war trauma and Matty's reaction to his parents' divorce.
At dinner, Kevin and Cassidy make amends. Then they, Matty, Nicky, and Edie have a joyous dinner and game of Monopoly. As Edie and Nicky subsequently share a dance, Kevin looks adoringly toward Cassidy, while Cassidy seemingly zones out. That night, Cassidy disappears for a drive and gets into a car crash. Arriving at the hospital with Nicky, Kevin laments – in his quick-to-fault-himself way – that his rudeness may have drove Cassidy to drink and drive. However, the doctor says Cassidy was fully sober and had even refused pain medicine, for her sobriety.
Kevin is relieved to hear that, and that she only suffered a fracture and broken arm. But a more worried Nicky tells Kevin that Cassidy's military job in Afghanistan involved putting on a façade (manipulating villagers for support); people like Cassidy don't show when they're not OK and may never get over their war traumas — e.g., Jack and his secret drinking, Nicky being on the verge of suicide before Kevin literally barged into his life. Nicky says to help Cassidy, Kevin needs to just be there, and nothing more.
So, Kevin spends the night. In the morning, as he contemplates a gift for Cassidy, he remembers Jack comforting him after his broken leg. He then rambles to a stranger about how he'd stayed for Cassidy because it was the right thing to do and she's one of the only people he really cares about outside of family. He then suggests he feels like his life is just a performance and he wonders how people know if they really are who they are or if they're just acting like a certain type of person – e.g., the kind of man who does the right thing. Think imposter syndrome but with all of life.
Kevin then visits Cassidy's bedside. He vows to only sit and not ask questions. After a long silence, Cassidy says that thoughts of the people she lost or betrayed in the war, or who survived war but died back in the U.S. keep her from sleeping and she often goes for drives to try to shut them off. The weight of those thoughts is heaviest when her son leaves her to return to his dad. That night, she'd gone for a drive because the evening had been so pleasant, she wanted to live in it longer. As she then makes a deeply painful confession of suicidal ideations — she'd sped up the car as she let fatigue and thoughts of going "somewhere [she'd] never been" take over — and breaks down, Nicky arrives and takes her hand.
Nicky gives Cassidy the name of a readjustment counselor who helped him. Back at the cabin, while Kevin and Matty wait for Matty's father to pick him up, they paint a card for Cassidy. Kevin says he used to paint, but stopped because he was self-conscious over his limited skills (another confidence crisis). Now he's trying something new again: guitar, with a mission to be good at it (as if to make up for not being good at other things) — though he gives the guitar to Matty before he leaves.
To help Cassidy by preventing her from being alone, it's been decided she'll stay at the cabin with Nicky. When she and Nicky arrive back from the hospital, Kevin shares a big idea he's concocted: it seems he wants to start a construction firm like his father's dream, Big Three Homes, but build it around the idea of employing veterans for the construction teams.
The flight home with the twins goes significantly better for Kevin. When the flight attendant says Kevin's good, he says he's getting there. This response suggests he still doesn't think he's up to par but finally accepts he isn't just acting, but genuinely trying. And like Kate that night in the empty pool, he will get where he wants in time.
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