Tuesday’s episode of NBC’s “This Is Us” was a banner outing for the present-day Big Three siblings, all of whom showed remarkable personal growth at a time when it was sorely needed. Kate (Chrissy Metz), now pregnant and learning to help Toby (Chris Sullivan) as he struggles with depression, becomes more confident in her own decisions. Randall’s (Sterling K. Brown) run for city council in Philadelphia stops being a vanity exercise and starts being a source for good. And Kevin (Justin Hartley) realizes why he’s so obsessed with his father’s past.
Overall “Kamsahamnida” (which means “thank you” in Korean) was a stronger than usual episode of “Us,” but it illuminates a new problem with the series that promises to get worse going forward.
Like “Lost” and other flashback-heavy shows before it, “Us” is starting to enter the phase where the present is far more illuminating than the past. Although the scenes from this week’s early-’90s flashback show sweet moments between Rebecca (Mandy Moore) and Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) and Jack and young Randall (Lonnie Chavis), we’ve already seen plenty, including in this timeline.
As annoying as the big “Jack’s death” mystery was, there was something to be said for creating bigger stakes in flashbacks and avenues for learning more about the characters we already know so well. From here on out, I don’t think the flashbacks will be as dull and misguided as, say, that episode of “Lost” about Jack’s tattoos, but it will become more challenging for the writers to keep them relevant and vital.
Other than a brief foray into Jack teaching Randall to box, the episode stayed entirely in 2018.
The family is elated for Kate and Toby’s “maybe baby,” but concerned about Toby, who’s back on antidepressants but not improving. Kate is struggling with how to help him, either by trying to get him to be active or by letting him rest and get through this period on his own. She keeps turning to her mother for help, which just shows how much their relationship has improved. But when Kate and Toby’s dog Audio eats a rock and Kate has to make a big medical decision, Rebecca tells her she needs to get used to calling the shots.
Kate decides how to help Audio – and how to help Toby – after he expresses his fear that she’ll leave him once she gets sick of caring for him. She asserts her love for her husband and the commitment she made by marrying him, and that, more than anything else so far, seems to help Toby.
The other Pearson spouse really hurting this episode is Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson), who still hasn’t told Randall just how much getting fired affected her. After an ill-fated outing with her daughters to sell Girl Scout cookies ends with Beth shouting at them, Deja (Lyric Ross) helps her adoptive mother understand that she has to confide in her husband.
That husband is still, despite last week’s catastrophic attempt at campaigning, running his campaign. Randall heads into the city to attend a local church, only to be called out by his opponent for his outsider status yet again. (He lives in neighboring New Jersey.) But he discovers an opportunity when he takes Kevin to a restaurant in Koreatown. His opponent has never tried to woo voters there, and, thanks to Kevin’s movie-star status, he’s able to register several of them. But one calls Randall on the blatant tactic and suggests he won’t represent the interests of the people there if elected.
In response, , Randall starts speechifying, and for a moment it seems like it’s going to be as cringeworthy as his attempts at inspiration were last week. But instead of grandstanding and explaining how he’s the savior they need, he simply offers to listen. It’s a big step for Randall, and for his campaign. He wins over the crowd and his critic, who just happens to be a political operative. Now that he’s got a campaign manager and a constituency that’s listening to him, maybe this isn’t such a fool’s errand.
Before stumping and taking selfies for Randall, Kevin tells his brother about his search into Jack’s past. Randall is also shocked by the photo of the Vietnamese woman, but he thinks they should respect Jack’s wishes to keep his time in Vietnam a secret. But Kevin eventually convinces his brother to bless his investigation by comparing it to Randall’s own obsessions, including his political campaign. (The brothers are more alike than they’ll admit.)
When Randall gets home, Beth is waiting, more vulnerable than we’ve seen her before. She opens up about her pain, and he’s supportive, although he still tries to solve her problem because he’s still Randall. He offers her a job on his campaign, which she accepts, but only after Randall assures her it’s not a “pity offer.”
I’m not entirely sure that it wasn’t, but Randall certainly has a better chance with Beth at his side.