This Is Us loves a good twist. In fact, it’s kind of built on them. Remember, 58 boxes of tissues ago, when you didn’t realize until the final seconds of series premiere “Pilot” that the three adults you were watching were actually the exact same three people whose tragic birth you were seeing unfold in 1980? Of course you do, because that also probably made you cry, too. Well, the NBC family drama led its audience down another purposeful misdirection, only to throw a curveball at them by the end, with Tuesday’s night’s “Still There.” Kate Pearson (Chrissy Metz) is pregnant, and that’s great news. While the pregnancy twist is the height of This Is Us-iness, it’s also the kind of plot development Kate sorely needs.
The “Still Here” misdirection is what makes Kate’s eventual pregnancy reveal feel all the more comforting and monumental. Her brother Kevin (Justin Hartley) lives at the heart of the episode, as he gets surgery to fix a tear in his knee and later starts trying to speed through recovery. When he realizes his movie is shifting around production to give him time to heal, therefore whittling down his make-or-break role, the actor starts popping painkillers to get back on set. Knowing the Pearson family’s history of addiction, and Hartley’s tease of Kevin’s upcoming “dark path,” it’s pretty likely the movie star is about to get hooked on opiates.
Unfortunately, at the same time, This Is Us suggests Kate, who is just as prone to addiction issues as her brother, is turning to extreme, dangerous methods to lose weight. The entire episode builds the case that Kate is becoming consumed by the need to lose weight before her first big gig as a singer. She is working out all day, every day, stares at the world’s healthiest muffin, but won’t eat it, and in the most alarming moment, looks meaningfully at a pharmacy aisle reading “Laxatives, Weight Loss.” She intently peruses the products and looks like she’s seconds from picking one up.
Immediately, fans everywhere are convinced they’re going to have to watch the Pearson twins, as racist Grandma Janet (Elizabeth Perkins) calls them, descend into the depths of drug abuse at exact same time. Amid the morbid intrigue of Jack’s still-unknown death, Kevin’s all-but-confirmed impending pill problem, and Randall Pearson’s (Sterling K. Brown) heartbreaking foster parenting missteps, yet another legitimately serious Pearson family complication feels heavy handed, even for the unapologetically melodramatic This Is Us.
On the other hand, the news Kate is pregnant is an actual step forward for the character, and a way to keep This Is Us from getting far too dark. Over 22 episodes, it’s felt like Kate has only experienced two forms of storylines: ones that involve her weight, and ones that involve her guilt over Jack’s death. Yes, a pregnancy will unquestionably deal with the singer’s body, but, it’s not solely about her fretting over the number on the scale. Kate’s behavior this episode proves as much. While her fiancée Toby Damon (Chris Sullivan) believes Kate is working out nonstop to lose weight for a performance, that doesn’t exactly the case.
Instead, I’m pretty sure the whole “I really need to fit into this dress” panic was a ruse to cover up Kate’s “I really want to keep this baby” panic. As she says in the final scene at her gynecologist's office, “It’s just because of my age and my weight, I want to follow the instructions.” Doctor Dr. Arroyo (Arianna Ortiz) responds that Kate is doing everything can to stay healthy, signaling all the workouts and yoga and muffin-avoiding has nothing to do with weight-loss goals.
In actuality, Kate's new-found focus has everything to do with wanting to have a level of health that will help her bring a child into this world. That's why she's tossing out anything in the kitchen not marked “organic” — it's bad for the baby! Whether or not she can fit into a dress only matters if it also means she's the right size for pregnancy. That’s why she’s not even happy about the performance gig dress fitting perfectly. Her actual concern is whether her baby is still alive and growing. Thankfully, Kate is in luck; her poppyseed is now the size of a lentil. She’s six weeks pregnant.
The only Pearson daughter’s pregnancy also gives more meaning to the flashback portions of “Still Here.” Originally, it seemed as though the episode is only shining a light on where Kevin’s near-dangerous drive to seem “tough” came from, along with Randall’s own issues with othering in relation to his newfound connection with foster daughter Deja (Lyric Ross). As usual, we're led to believe Kate's appearances in the 1990s scenes are just tied to her body image issues. At one point, Grandma Janet introduces the idea of a “goal dress” to the child; minutes earlier, that kind of fat-shaming construct is exactly what Kate is now seemingly obsessed with.
But, a huge chunk of those scenes also investigate mothering: how mothers differ, where their relationships fracture, and why they are the way they are. Three generations of mothers who came before Kate are mentioned, from her great-grandma all the way down to her mom Rebecca Pearson. By the end of the episode, we learn Kate is actually joining that line of women. Will she make the same lentil soup for her child that Janet taught Rebecca? Did Kate ever pick up her great-grandma’s recipe for green bean casserole? That's wildly unlikely — green bean casserole sounds anything but organic — yet, Janet’s comment to a 10-year-old Kate about one day having “children of her own” now takes on a totally different meaning.
Although it’s been an important step forward to have a plus-size woman have a leading role in a television show, Kate’s entire life shouldn’t be solely tied to her weight. It’s the same way Randall deals with being a Black man in a mostly-white world, but he’s also allowed to combat parenting and relationship problems that have absolutely nothing to do with the color of his skin. Now, it seems Kate will finally have that opportunity. And, I’m going to guess it’ll be a roller coaster. In the teaser trailer for next week’s “Brothers” alone, Toby looks less than enthused to learn he’s going to be a dad.
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