This Is Us Season 2, Episode 8 Recap: "Number One"

Photo: Courtesy of NBC.
On last week’s This Is Us, we learned a lot about Randall’s (Sterling K. Brown) adoption. We saw flashbacks of Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) and Rebecca (Mandy Moore) going through the process to legally adopt their son. We also saw a parallel flashback of William (Ron Cephas Jones) and his struggles with the law and how he turned into the William we met in season 1. With the rest of the Big Three, we saw Kevin (Justin Hartley) really struggling — his reliance on painkillers seems to be growing, and he broke up with Sophie (Alexandra Breckenridge) to save her from “40 years of disappointment.” Kate (Chrissy Metz) and Toby (Chris Sullivan) were excitedly telling more people about her pregnancy, and Toby proposed in the cutest gesture.
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Spoilers for this week’s This Is Us ahead!
According to the executive producer, the next three episodes of This Is Us are going to take a deep dive into each of the Big Three individually. First up is Kevin, “Number One.”
Present Day Kevin
We meet present day Kevin in a hotel room in L.A., and he’s in a dark place. Back at home following his breakup with Sophie, he’s mixing painkillers, alcohol, cough medicine, and it looks like he hasn’t really slept a lot. When housekeeping knocks, they mention that the “do not disturb” sign has been up all week.
He’s interrupted by a phone call from a high schooler, checking that he’s all set for the homecoming alumni honors ceremony tomorrow. Kevin totally forgot, but he promises he’ll be there and hops on the next flight back to Pittsburgh.
When he arrives back home, he asks the driver to take a detour past the Pearson’s old house. A new home has been built in it’s place, but we see Kevin flashing back to the burnt remains of the house following the fire we learned about in the first episode of this season. When he arrives at the school, Kevin seems pretty out of it. It’s noticeable how much his intake of the painkillers has increased during this episode as well. When he sees Kelly, the nice highschooler who is organizing the homecoming event, he can’t help but notice how much she looks like Sophie in high school.
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He walks through the halls and is having flashbacks to his high school days. We also see basically a shrine to him in the trophy cabinet, which is wild. He’s getting really lost in his flashbacks, where they almost feel like hallucinations.
In the “green room” (basically the high school gym) he totally blanks a girl that went to school with them. She plays it off as him being more popular than her back in the day, but it kind of shows a lot about how Kevin was. She also tells him that he made “us want to come to school;” it’s wild how much people loved him. I’m getting Jason Street in Friday Night Lights vibes.
During the awards, his former football coach introduces him. He’s kinda shady in saying “I had the pleasure of coaching Kevin for four, well...three and a half years.” The coach makes pretty nice speech in the end though, talking about how Kevin has caught some tough breaks but found success in a different path. His speech is a real reminder to fans about just why we love Kevin.
Kevin, who has been seeing the coach as his father during the speech, gets up and gives a heartbreaking acceptance speech. “I’m not strong at all, don’t love me.” he starts. He talks about how he thinks the other honorees are more deserving — he specifically shouts out Charlotte (Stefanie Black), the woman he was speaking to in the green room, who is a plastic surgeon and works with children. That’s all he says, but people are still loving it. All the kids are giving him a standing ovation and “whooping,” and all the adults keep telling him good job.
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Kevin begins to have a heart-to-heart with Charlotte — he tells her that he feels like he could literally be standing there naked and all anyone would see him in is his jersey. After Kevin pays a visit to the football field (where we see present day Kevin meet high school Kevin’s story in the flashbacks), it cuts to later that night and Kevin is in bed with Charlotte.
Her high school dreams are MADE, and she’s very open about it. Kevin, on the other hand, is not in good shape. He’s having withdrawals — he’s super out of it, sweating a ton, and eventually goes rummaging through Charlotte’s stuff to try and see if she has any painkillers on hand. Eventually, he finds her prescription pad, steals it, and runs out. Kevin heads straight to the pharmacy with his forged prescription but realizes in the line that he’s missing his necklace from his father.
He runs back to Charlotte’s and is begging her through the window to let him in so that he can find the necklace. When she refuses to let him in (he did run out, so, valid reaction), Kevin breaks down in her front yard. “Please, I’m in pain out here. I just need it to stop. I just need somebody to help me.”
The next morning, Kevin shows up at Randall’s looking absolutely broken. When he goes to tell Randall about his addiction, Randall says he already knows — but then breaks different news. Kate lost the baby.
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High School Kevin
To really show us how present day Kevin got to where he is, we see a lot of background on high school Kevin’s life up until they both collide in one big moment — his knee injury.
We meet up with the senior in high school Big Three while they’re all working on college; Kevin is dreaming of playing football at Notre Dame, Randall is applying to Ivy League schools, and Kate is unsure (Rebecca is asking her to make a list). The power flicks on and off a couple of times, which hauntingly reminds me of these major theories around Jack’s death.
High school Kevin is cocky. Like, extremely cocky. He refuses to get dressed up for the coaches’ visit because it’s “just Pitt.” He’s rude to his father about his AA stuff, calling it lame. He’s rude to his siblings a few times as well. He just gives off the vibe that he thinks that he’s untouchable.
When the coach comes, Kevin is extremely rude to him. When he leaves Jack is NOT happy — Kevin “a C+ student at best” is being offered a full ride to a good school and is only being rude af about it. Kevin thinks he can do better, mentioning that “it’s not luck, it’s talent”. He’s also super rude to his father about AA, mocking the 12 steps. When Jack says he’s embarrassed about Kevin’s behavior, Kevin tells him he “knows the feeling well”.
On Friday, Randall and Jack are going to visit a school for Randall in DC and missing Kevin’s game. Kevin ensures them that he’s “got enough fans in the stands” and Jack is “really glad that speech sunk in.” Watching it, there is already an eerie feeling that this is when it all hits the fan for Kevin. Again, really getting Jason Street vibes here.
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After the injury, we see the family at the hospital. The doctor calls it “catastrophic” and says that his football career is over. Kevin is, naturally, distraught.
In this moment, Jack gives him a talk that definitely still sticks with Kevin to this day. “You have such a beautiful talent, but I know, in my gut, it’s not the only one that you have.” This is also when Jack gives his son the necklace (which, IRL, is lost at Charlotte’s house post-homecoming). The necklace is from Vietnam, and Jack got it during a “very hopeless time in his life”. It’s the Buddhist symbol of purpose. When he gives it to Kevin, he says that he knew right after his birth (before the other two arrived, because he’s “number one”) that he was his purpose, and that he knows Kevin will find his same feeling in his life.
The Big Moment
Throughout the whole second season, we’ve seen just how much of an effect Kevin’s high school knee injury has had on him, even into his adult life. In this episode, we finally see exactly what happened.
Present day Kevin is having a moment back on his high school football field, and he starts replaying the play where it all happened (he was in a rough tackle and it totally wrecked his knee.) It’s pretty brutal, and you can instantly tell that he’s badly injured. He’s pretty upset about everything that has happened since that specific moment. He injured his knee, but he managed to get better just in time for his father's funeral. He is upset with himself for never being punished for the times he’s messed up — when he cheated on Sophie, he got The Manny. They got back together and he got the big movie. But then he injures the same knee, and he needs painkillers. He feels like no one takes him struggling seriously — “even when he tries to tell people how pathetic he is they don’t hear it.”
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It’s really hard to watch the 30-year-old Kevin grapple with all of this, but this heartbreaking episode really does give the background on Kevin that we’ve been needing this whole season. After a handful of episodes where he’s been a completely different version of himself, we see some parts of the Kevin that we met back in season 1 here too, especially when he shows up with Randall.
I’m hopeful that things will be looking up for him, but hope that he does get the chance to really talk to Randall about what’s going on with him.
Next week focuses on Kate and her journey, especially after the heartbreaking announcement that Randall made during this episode.
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