With its second season 3 episode, "A Philadelphia Story," This Is Us continues to start the season off on a quieter note, which is oftentimes when the show finds its most beautiful character moments. It doesn't hurt that this episode sees the return of Ron Cephas Jones as Randall's biological father, William. He is so good in the role that it's always nice to see him.
Randall and William
It's also nice that the show can find an organic way to include William. He's a tricky character because his present storyline has come to an end, but he doesn't have flashbacks with the family the way Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) does. But inventing some tenants whom Randall (Sterling K. Brown) knows in the present and William knew in the past is a clever way to tie the stories together.
Approximately 15 years ago, William meets a pregnant immigrant woman moving into the building. He can see she's on her own, and he tries to help her out, especially after the baby (Skye) is born.
In the present, Randall notices Deja (Lyric Ross) isn't really getting involved at school, so he introduces her to Skye (Drew Olivia Tillman) because they're about the same age. They hit it off, but Randall notices how run down the local community center is, so he talks to that ward's councilman and gets a major problem at the center fixed, plus fixes a few other minor problems himself. It's a wonderful thing to do to honor both his late fathers because it's exactly something both William and Jack would have done (and that will be important later).
It's also a strong parallel between the teen kids flashback, which shows us how Randall (Niles Fitch) started down the path of being the Pearson kid who didn't abandon Rebecca after Jack died. Do you remember when she tearfully blurted out why he's her favorite in that amazingly well-done group therapy session last season? This episode gives us a glimpse of Rebecca letting Randall see how she's barely hanging on, and he decides she needs him more than he needs to go to Howard.
But that also dovetails back to Randall's savior complex, which he gets called out for in the present by Skye's mom. He sees the community center and becomes so focused on its problems that he doesn't take any time to even start to get to know the residents. Randall is perpetually caught between two worlds, and both Brown and Fitch play that so incredibly well. And then the hit when he hears from Kevin that Kate made an off-hand remark about being the only Pearson kid who can pass on a piece of their father — oof. That is a dagger. Randall looks so hurt and gobsmacked it made me tear up a little.
Kate and Rebecca
This Is Us can sometimes suffer from not having a great connection between the present day storylines and the flashbacks. Look, it's tough to do that all the time — Orange Is the New Black and Lost are both examples of shows that do it beautifully sometimes and not-so-beautifully other times. But luckily, in addition to the Randall storyline, this episode also draws a nice parallel with Rebecca (Mandy Moore) that connects the two timelines.
In the post-Jack's death flashbacks, Rebecca is swamped with her own grief and therefore not paying as much attention as she could be to Kate (Hannah Zeile) and Kevin's (Logan Shroyer) problems, i.e. over-eating and drinking, respectively. It's not that she's completely blind to what's happening, but she knows they're acting out of grief, and that makes her afraid to tread too heavily lest she make it worse.
We all know Rebecca already sees herself as the bad guy, and that Jack was the good guy in the family, but that doesn't mean she can ignore these serious problems. Of course, teenage Randall calling her out by saying she just doesn't care is grossly unfair, though probably in keeping to how a teenager would handle something like this. And to his credit, he does apologize later, and Rebecca confesses to him how much of a struggle it is for her just to get out of bed every morning. It's not an excuse, but she can't help it — she's grieving, too, and everything is so hard right now.
This dovetails nicely with present-day Rebecca, who definitely wants to tell Kate what she should do about her IVF treatments and surgery. Rebecca is incredibly concerned about the risks, which you can tell comes from a real fear of losing her daughter, but she goes about talking to Kate in that way moms do sometimes that is the absolute worst — like she knows everything and it's her way or the highway.
It's a strong juxtaposition of widow Rebecca versus present-day Rebecca and how far she's come without coming quite as far as she needs to. Thankfully, she eventually tells Kate that it was so hard to lose Jack that the thought of anything happening to one of her kids paralyzes her with fear, which she kindly says Kate will understand one day when she has kids of her own.
Kevin and Zoe
This is all taking place, by the way, as the family gathers for Kevin's movie premiere, which is kind of funny. But it also lets Kevin be involved in the episode without really giving him much storyline — and that's OK. The kids don't have to have equal screen time every single week.
But the main thing with Kevin is that he asks Zoe (Melanie Liburd) to come to his premiere, and she says no because she wants to keep things casual, but later she's kind of sad that she didn't go with him. And Kevin laments that Jack never saw him act, which gives Kevin a small moment without having his storyline get unnecessary screen time.
Odds & Ends
Toby's deadpan "I'm a heroin addict" after Kate's fertility drugs fall out of the fridge in front of Miguel (Jon Huertas) and Rebecca was maybe the funniest thing this show has ever done. Chris Sullivan's delivery was impeccable.
Speaking of Toby, he's having withdrawal symptoms because of going off his antidepressants cold turkey. I love how they are sprinkling this in without making it a huge thing. The audience knows what's going on and it's definitely present, but they aren't making a huge thing out of it yet, which is a good choice. It needs time to breathe as a dramatic storyline.
Randall: "What?! White people go to this school?"
Deja: "They got a club for milk enthusiasts."
Randall: "That's my kind of club, sign me up!"
"Eloise" and "Plaza" are the most 2018 names for twins. Well done, This Is Us writers.
I loved the way they sprinkle Jack's voice into the flashbacks and then reveal Rebecca and Jack had looked at another house a few weeks before the fire. Survivors play that horrible game with themselves for a long time as they grieve, and it is heartbreaking to see Rebecca's face as she thinks about how if they had just bought that new house, her life wouldn't have fallen apart.