Let’s just cut straight to the chase. We still don’t know how Jack died. At the end of last week’s premiere, the This Is Us team threatened to take us all out by showing the charred remains of a house and Jack’s watch, wallet and keys in a plastic bag. If that weren’t enough, the guttural sob Rebecca let loose just before the show cut to the credits nearly sent fans into therapy. Did he drink himself to death? Did he start the fire? Did he die trying to save someone else’s life? We still don’t know, but after admitting he has a drinking problem, Jack decided to do something about it.
This week we got a break from the speculation about Jack’s demise and the scores of “OMG! I can’t stop crying!” tweets that normally accompany each episode. Instead, the show’s writers seemed to realize we aren’t quite ready to process the truth and gave us a bit more information about the Big Three and their complicated histories.
While I love watching This Is Us, so far, the show’s writers have yet to make me care about all three siblings equally. Kate (Chrissy Metz) is still struggling to get over her hangups about her weight and her strained relationship with her mother; Randall (Sterling K. Brown) is attempting to push past his need to be perfect and succeed at everything in life; and Kevin (Justin Hartley) is trying to be taken seriously as an actor. I guess it was inevitable that some of the characters’ stories would fall through the cracks, particularly because the show flashes back in time to show how they came to be the people they are today. But the weakest storyline so far belongs to Kevin.
Though the show’s writers gave Kevin a few fascinating tidbits last season that made him a little more interesting —his meltdown on the set of “The Manny” and his complicated relationship with Randall, for instance— he remains the least fascinating character on the show next to Miguel, who barely gets any screen time. Tuesday night’s episode was no different. Once again Kevin was treated as little more than a vehicle to bring his family together so they could begin sorting out their own issues.
During the show, Kevin returns to “The Manny” despite wanting to be taken seriously as an actor. While the drama’s writers could have taken him through a gamut of emotions —anger for being back in a place he despises, fear that he could jeopardize his new career by returning to the humiliating role, or even embarrassment— the show glazes over it all. Instead of emotional depth and a reason to root for (or even care about Kevin at all) viewers are left waiting for the narrative to switch to another character. Even on the show, Kevin’s family bails on his big return to “The Manny” to deal with their own lives. Kate leaves to perform in her first real singing gig, Randall and Beth step out to discuss their decision to adopt an older child, and Rebecca and Toby hurry off to support Kate. If Kevin’s own family don’t seem to really care about him, why should viewers? The Is Us writers have yet to give us a reason.
On the other hand, Randall is by far the most compelling character of the series so far, and Tuesday’s episode once again reminded us why. Increasingly, I find myself wishing the entire show revolved around Randall and Beth (with Jack and Rebecca thrown in for good measure), and I know I’m not alone. Last season’s “Memphis” episode in which Randall and his biological father, William (Ron Cephas Jones), took a road trip to his dad’s hometown, included one of the best moments I’ve seen on TV in some time. Add to that Randall’s struggle to hold it all together while his father dealt with terminal cancer, and it’s no surprise he is a complex and thoughtful character fans love.
After convincing Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) that adopting a child would be great for their family, Randall is having second thoughts. He’s worried about bringing a foster child into their home that may have a history of abuse. As a perfectionist, Randall is unsure a stranger, who may have experienced trauma, will fit seamlessly into their lives, but Beth is unfazed. After a few tense conversations— and not enough screen time because Kevin’s storyline took up a chunk of the show— Beth tells Randall, “You and me, we can do anything.” And because they give us weekly#BlackLoveGoals, we totally believe them.
This episode also saw Kate finally taking center stage. After last week’s failed audition, Kate committed to getting better as a singer and it paid off. While the family is at Kevin’s TV show taping, Kate gets a call to perform at a nightclub and leaps at the chance. Toby (Chris Sullivan), her fiancé, heads off to support her and her mother, Rebecca (Mandy Moore) tags along.
Through a series of flashbacks we see Kate’s insecurities about her body and talent have a lot to do with her mother. They both have beautiful singing voices, but Kate feels like she can’t compete with her mother, who she feels has been patronizing her since childhood. The conflict comes to a head when Rebecca congratulates Kate on her performance, calling it “incredibly beautiful,” but Kate feels like her mother doesn’t actually mean it. Kate admits she’s been comparing herself to her mother her entire life because her mother is thin and beautiful, everything Kate feel she’s not. During the episode we also see that Kate was fiercely protective of her father, Jack. Though we don’t know how he died, we do know his passing affects Kate particularly hard and she’s still feeling his absence today.
The history of The Big Three continues to loom large over their present, but it doesn’t have to define them. As they continue to wade through life, hopefully they will let go of the pain of the past to embrace the beauty of the future.