The terrific juxtaposition between the past and the present this week is all about mothers — how Rebecca (Mandy Moore) became the mother she is now, how Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) got his mother out of his abusive house and how badly Kate (Chrissy Metz) wants a biological child. It's a lovely bit of storytelling — so much so that I actually wish the Kevin (Justin Hartley) and Randall (Sterling K. Brown) storylines had been cut down a little to make more room for the main thread. It would have been nice to see more of Jack's mom, Rebecca's home life as a kid/teen and Kate interacting with her younger selves. But it's still a strong episode.
Let's dive right in.
The show wastes no time introducing us to the mystery man who was kissing Rebecca at the end of the season premiere. His name is Alan (Hunter Parrish) and he was Rebecca's high school boyfriend. He seems terrific — totally supportive of her, with great parents (played by the outstanding Jane Kaczmarek and Jim Meskimen) who love Rebecca and also support her singing dreams.
But you can tell that if Rebecca ended up with him, she would be settling. Not because Alan isn't a wonderful guy; he is and he obviously thinks Rebecca hung the moon. But there's no spark there. Rebecca's situation — take a chance on the spark-inducing new guy or settle for the perfectly pleasant guy who doesn't light her fire — parallels both her upbringing (which we get a glimpse of) and Jack's house and the different situations women find themselves in, especially all those decades ago.
Rebecca considers Alan's offer to move to New York where she can pursue singing and he can be a writer, but eventually, she sees Jack in a store and the chemistry between them is off the charts. Seriously, it's quite a feat that we know the ending of this romance and Moore and Ventimiglia still make it incredibly compelling. Jack telling Rebecca about his dream of a "house that feels nothing like the one [he] grew up in" was a gorgeous moment. How does she not just marry him right there in the grocery store? And if not there, then what about later when he does the dishes?! My goodness. Hottest. Chore. Ever.
Then she asks him to go to Los Angeles with her and they might as well have just made their vows over the kitchen sink. I thought my heart would burst from the crackling heat and love between them. Wow.
Contrast this with Kate, who has a man she is crazy about and wants a biological child with, but when she goes under the anesthesia for her egg-retrieval surgery, has a conversation with her younger selves about whether she should even be having kids. It's all about the different choices women make and even if the storylines don't fit perfectly together, it's a strong running theme for the episode.
Also, I love it when This Is Us finds these situations for the adult kids to interact with their father and adding the touch of Metz getting to share the screen with the two actresses who play her younger versions is great. If the show did this all the time, that would be a bit much, but they use it judiciously and it is very effective when they do.
So while she's under the knife, Kate's teen self (Hannah Zeile) talks about how much of a trainwreck she is and how ill-equipped she is to have kids of her own. Jack shows up and takes all three girls out for ice cream as teen Kate urges adult Kate to just stay there with them because it's nicer there. Adult Kate says she can't stay but tells her younger selves that good things are coming for her. It's nice — I wish there had been more of it, especially between adult Kate and Jack.
But it makes her feel better about the surgery and the pregnancy, which Randall brought up to her in the opening moments of the show — one of the strongest scenes in an episode full of strong scenes. Randall is rightly very hurt that Kate would say he can't pass on a piece of their dad, but he comes at Kate from a place of getting on her a bit about adoption. Randall has some very personal issues with her choosing a dangerous surgery over adoption and he's not wrong because there are risks, but Kate is also right when she says she shouldn't have to defend wanting a biological child and pointing out Randall had two biological children before he adopted. He also shouldn't make the money an issue — adoption is basically as expensive as IVF, so it's not like it's really the cheaper option.
Stuffed in beside all of this are the threads where Kevin realizes he doesn't know anything about his dad's time in Vietnam, Randall dealing with his feelings toward Kate and her surgery and dealing with the community center, and Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) getting fired. They aren't bad threads at all! This show rarely misfires with the meat of its storylines. But some episodes try to do too much, is all. The attack on Skye (Drew Olivia Tillman) outside the community center was gilding the lily. It sets up Randall's run for city council (somehow... he lives quite a ways from the community center's neighborhood), but it's just too much.
Odds & Ends
Beth: "Oh my god, Miguel is so on point."
I would give my left arm to see the text chain between Beth, Miguel (Jon Huertas) and Toby (Chris Sullivan). The three of them should have webisodes or something. Also, I realize that Jack is the center of the family even if he's no longer with them, but I desperately want more info about Miguel in general and Miguel and Rebecca's relationship.
Jack: "You can pack your things and I'll get you settled someplace new. Or you can stay and I'll kill him. But one way or another, this ends right now."
Jack's a-hole father blaming him for his brother's death in Vietnam might be the worst thing he's ever done.
Love, love, love Kate making Toby promise he'll find someone new if she dies — as long as it's not Madison (Caitlin Thompson) or Stink-Eye Sharon from work. LOL.
While I do think the Kevin storyline could have waited until next week's episode, Hartley's expression when he realizes he never asked about his father's time in combat is superb. It's a small moment, but he made it count.
Is there any way to keep Alan's mom around in flashbacks? She's kind of amazing.
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