Warning: This recap of the “Jack Pearson’s Son” episode of This Is Us contains spoilers.
“Love hurts. Love scars. Love wounds and marks.”
Whether you favor a version by Roy Orbison, The Everly Brothers, Nazareth, Rod Stewart or Sinead O’Connor, there’s no denying that the lyrics to that classic heartache ballad basically summarize the events of the Valentine’s Day edition of This Is Us.
KATE AND TOBY
First, they settled up last week’s cliffhanger. Kate does indeed go to Duke’s cabin, but not for the reason fans feared. She actually just wanted to give him a piece of her mind. She blurts, “For a minute there you convinced me that I was like you — that deep down I was just damaged goods. Do I have issues? Yes. But deep down I’m awesome. Until you can figure out why you are such a jackass, you are going to wander this camp miserable and alone until the day you die, probably saying something snarky underneath your breath to a horse.”
It feels good to lay it all out on the table until Duke delivers the deathblow: “You ever wonder why I get away with saying whatever I want all day? My parents own this godforsaken place. You’re done here.”
His string-pulling was no idle threat, as Kate finds herself kicked out of fat camp. (We question that any smart-minded business people would dismiss a paying customer because she refused to sleep with their son, but for the sake of the show, we’ll engage our suspension of disbelief.) She shows up at Toby’s hotel and offers an apology. “You’re not the only one who can plan an awkward surprise visit. I was a jerk yesterday. I’m sorry. Between the classes and the therapy, I’ve been in a bubble and when you showed up it threw me.”
He’s relieved to hear that she told Duke off. “That’s a relief. I was afraid that you might fall for him,” he admitted. The usually “confident, carefree, and well hung” Toby realized he had become jealous of the “Jared Leto of fat camp” because he had no idea what her type was before they hooked up and because their relationship has been a wild ride between all the breaking up, reconnecting, and heart surgeries. “We’re talking about getting married this summer and we still don’t know much about each other.”
To resolve the unknowns, they plan the Toby and Kate deep dive, in which they ask each other burning questions like first celeb crush was (Kate had a thing for cartoon Aladdin), cats versus dogs (Toby prefers pups) while Toby shopped for an outfit to wear to Kevin’s opening night. Eventually, they got to tougher grilling. Kate wanted to know if his post-divorce suicidal thoughts were a one-time thing or something that happened before. Toby admitted he’d struggled with depression since his parents got divorced. When he got divorced, he hit rock bottom because he had sworn his marriage would be different than his parents’. “I didn’t go out and buy a gun,” he says, “but I did get really drunk and count the painkillers I had left from my wisdom teeth surgery.”
But thanks to enough therapy to finance his counselor’s Tesla, he’s in the “best place” he’s ever been. It was then his turn to ask the difficult question. He wants to know the exact details of her dad’s death. She tries but ultimately shuts him down per usual. Kate, still too scarred, says sadly, “I want to tell you, but I am just not quite there yet. It’s something I have blocked for a really long time.”
Toby tells her it’s fine to skip this time, but it bothers him more than he lets on. Before the play starts, he suggests they slow down the wedding schedule: “I think the woman that I marry should be able to talk to me about everything. Let’s take our time being engaged and when we’re ready, we’ll plan the wedding of the century.” Which apparently, in his mind, might involve a waterpark and a lazy river.
JACK AND REBECCA
Apparently, the vibe is still lovey-dovey from the passionate night in their old pad, as “cool wife” and “hot hubby” plan to hit O’Shannons for bacon cheeseburgers and onion rings, their traditional Valentine’s Day date night after her concert that night. That said, Rebecca still really wants to go on that tour.
In her guilt, she is making lists about debate team meetings, football schedules, and music lessons. Jack assures her he has met their kids and can handle everything in her absence. “For the next month, I am going to ply them with greasy Chinese and when the boys start to stink, I will take them out back and hose them down,” he quips.
But joking is really just a cover-up, which he admits when Miguel pushes the issue. Jack explodes, “Why the hell is she going on tour? I can deal with the piano bar a couple nights a week, but a tour? Who does she think she is — Janis freaking Joplin? We’ve got three teenagers. I can’t tell her it’s crazy because she’ll resent me forever.”
He’s also worried about Ben, who he can tell “clearly has a thing for her.” But Miguel flicks that fear aside. “It’s Rebecca. It wouldn’t matter if he was [Jurassic Park-era] Jeff Goldblum. She only has eyes for you.” (Guess it is 1993.) Miguel is also ready to get back out on the field and needs his wingman. Jack invites him to Rebecca’s show, assuring him that there will be plenty of lonely hearts in the audience in need of drinks.
While Rebecca is getting suitcases out of the hall unseen, the kids come home from school. Randall is already a stressed-out overachiever and Kevin is already bagging on him about it. Kate tells Randall to ignore their brother, as he thinks he walks on water now that he and Sophie are doing the deed. Rebecca is stunned by what she overhears and tries to talk about it. Kevin refuses to talk, and tells Kate she is de-twinned for tattling on him. Randall retreats to try to write his impossible essay.
When Jack gets home, he and Rebecca try to have the sex talk with Kevin. They only get as far as condoms and respect when Randall comes down the stairs in full panic mode, hyperventilating over how his Hamlet paper is not good enough. Jack swiftly kicks into superdad gear and calms Randall. When he returns from duty with his perfectionist son, Rebecca is freaking out about leaving. “Kevin is having sex, Randall is giving himself stress ulcers, and I don’t even know what Kate is doing. But she is wearing a ton of eyeliner. That can’t be good. I can’t go.”
Jack again reiterates that he can handle it but mid-hug he doesn’t look so sure. Later at the show, he is irked by a lovey-dovey duet. Miguel tries to talk him off the ledge suggesting it is all for the crowd, but a post-gig conversation with Ben leads to the worst fight we have seen Jack and Rebecca have. Turns out Ben and Rebecca once dated, back when she was not interested in marriage, a fact that she has conveniently left out.
Jack is no longer up for greasy traditions and instead takes his wife straight home. He’s unusually quiet and she prods him to admit what’s wrong. “I found out you were going to go on tour with an ex-boyfriend. You shouldn’t have lied to me,” he hisses. Rebecca defends her lie by omission. She swears that dating for two months when she was 19 was nothing to her and because she was trying to keep Jack from getting “crazy and jealous. I didn’t want you spinning out.”
Jack’s brave face goes bye bye. He admits that he doesn’t want her to go. In fact, he’s never wanted her to go, but was “trying to be supportive and be a good guy. I thought you deserved something for yourself.” Rebecca thinks she still does. “For the last 16 years, I have put everything and everyone ahead of myself, you and the kids. I just knew you would spin out, and I needed to have something for myself without you getting in the way.”
The damage is done. “I never thought of myself as being in your way,” Jack says as he slinks away. He then proceeds to keep that date with beef and bun all by his lonesome and more shockingly, he adds a side of Maker’s Mark. Did we just get a clue about how he might meet his maker?
Randall’s out for a run when memories of his recent stressors — William’s illness, his mom keeping William from him his whole life, his setbacks at work — come flooding in and he has to take a break. Kevin is just behind him and jokes that he must be getting soft as he makes that run every day. Randall responds by challenging him: The last one home has to make the protein shakes.
Later he comes downstairs to emotional chaos. He was up late with William and didn’t have time to prepare the numbers for the video calls with the top clients the next day. As he’s trying to study the dividends, the kids are bickering over clothes, William loses his balance at the sink, and Beth gets a call about her mother slipping and breaking her hip. She has to head to DC immediately despite bad timing of Kevin’s opening night and William’s deteriorating health. Yet Randall insists they’ll figure it all out, all the while he is rubbing his head and squinting his eyes.
At work he gets chastised for arriving late, and then hears the bad news that his client has requested the meeting be moved up to that afternoon. His boss offers to put Sanjay on the call but Randall insists he can manage. Kevin shows up needing a pep talk. Before Randall can help his brother, he finds out that William has locked the nurse out of the house and he has to put that fire out. Kevin notices that he seems off, but lets it go.
At home, Randall clashes with William. “Sick old men need nurses to make sure they take their meds, eat their meals, and don’t die when nobody’s looking. I need you to let the nurse take care of you. I have to go back to the office.” William agrees but mopes, “My body doesn’t work right anymore. Every day is something new and I don’t know how much longer I can do this.” His son promises they’ll talk about it later, but has to get back to work.
Of course, Randall is late for the meeting and then can’t find the words or numbers, maybe can’t even read the tablet. Sanjay takes the device and Randall sheds a few slow tears, knowing defeat is upon him.
Kevin is a bundle of nerves as the play’s opening night has arrived. He’s having nightmares where an interview with Katie Couric quickly goes south as she asks him how sleeping with the lead and the playwright would help him be taken seriously. “Let me get this straight, you Kevin Pearson, a vapid pretty boy who made his mark pretending to breastfeed and infant from his pectoral, thought he could actually be taken seriously as a stage actor? Who is this guy?”
He wakes up just in time to grab Sophie’s with-regrets call. She won’t be able to make the play because no one would cover her double shift. Kevin sighs, “It’s probably for the best. My whole family will be there and not sure opening night is the right venue to reveal that my ex-wife and I … what are we doing by the way?”
Sophie labels it “cautiously dating,” which Kevin says he can live with.
At the theater, Sloane tells him to break a leg and makes his anxiety worse by telling him The New York Times reviewer will be in the crowd. When he can’t get a hold of Kate and Randall is obviously not available, he heads to his mom to “talk artist to artist.” Only problem is that Miguel is the only one home. Surprisingly, Miguel is a good sounding board, and gives even better advice.
“When I was nervous, I would talk to your dad. He was my person. He could steady you when the world was spinning,” Miguel explains. “You remind me of him; sometimes so much that the hair on my arms stands up. That’s why it breaks my heart that you don’t like me. When I am around you, it feels like I get a little piece of my best friend back. You are Jack Pearson’s son. You have him inside you. When you are nervous, all you have to do is remind yourself of that. Think about what he’d do, and you’ll be fine.” That’s just what Kevin needed to hear, and before hitting the road he assures Miguel that he doesn’t “not like” him.
With five minutes to curtain, he gets a weird call from Randall, who is experiencing blurred vision and sweats on the other end. He isn’t making much sense but manages to get out that he is not coming. Kevin tries to shrug it off but clearly knows something is very wrong.
As they stand at the side of the stage, Sloane says she is trying to picture the audience naked to calm her butterflies. Kevin is taking Miguel’s advice and thinking about what his dad would do. Sloane says her opening line but when there is no response, she turns and faces an empty stage. Kevin has made a run for it while remembering that Valentine’s Day of yore when he ignored his brother’s heaving in front of a computer screen on his way to the shower. He has decided to put his brother’s needs ahead of his own pride and career, showing real maturity and growth, and righting that historical wrong. He finds Randall on the floor crying, and he gets down to his level and comforts him silently in a truly beautiful scene.
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