Warning: This recap for the “Pilgrim Rick” episode of This Is Us contains spoilers.
The past has always influenced, informed, and affected the present on This Is Us, but in this Thanksgiving episode, the past intrudes on the present in explosive fashion when Randall learns the secret of Rebecca and William’s prior acquaintance.
The show’s flashbacks have always been illuminating in present-day storylines, like last week’s look at Kevin and Randall’s lifelong animosity. But the Pearsons’ Thanksgiving traditions are so rooted in the past — in one terrible but wonderful holiday — that it makes this episode particularly emotional. Not only does Jack’s absence in the present day loom large, but it brings up questions about who the Pearsons are now versus who they used to be and who they want to be.
And now that Randall knows the secret, it’s now likely to make him question everything about his past, his relationships with his parents, and his identity.
Here’s a rundown of this week’s episode.
Randall and Rebecca
It’s 6:30 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day, and Randall is up and at ’em like he’s 9 years old and it’s Christmas morning. He’s chopping, he’s sautéing, he’s stuffing — all with a grin on his face. This is clearly his favorite holiday.
The whole family is gathering at his house in New Jersey, and as the day goes on, it’s clear that the Pearsons have some unusual traditions, like a daytime hike, picnic blankets, hot dogs, an annual viewing of Police Academy 3, and the wearing of a hat.
Rebecca and Miguel arrive bearing pies, and Beth is finally able to corner her. Rebecca refuses to admit to knowing William’s identity on Thanksgiving, but Beth warns that she will spill the beans otherwise.
On the hike, Randall asks William how he spent his previous Thanksgivings, and William reveals that he used to attend a potluck with fellow musicians. They’d play and sing, and even record themselves. So, Randall decides to run down to Philadelphia to pick up those tapes. While he’s there, he finds a letter — in Rebecca’s handwriting.
Somber and near silent, he returns home just as dinner gets going. But when Rebecca tries to continue the next tradition — pulling yarn as they say what they’re thankful for — Randall just throws the yarn away. The kids are dismissed, and then Randall produces the letter.
As tears stream down both their faces, Randall asks his mother how she could keep his father from him. He storms off, even shrugging off Beth. And just like that, the Pearson family’s Thanksgiving traditions go bust.
Jack and Rebecca
The flashbacks reveal just why the Pearsons have these weird Thanksgiving traditions. A stressed-out Rebecca prepares cranberry sauce, which has to be totally perfect for her nitpicky parents and sister. Of course, disaster strikes as the kids (around age 8) bump into her and she drops it all over the ground.
Then, on the way to her parents’ house, their car gets a flat and goes off the road. They are forced to take a hike (!) to the nearest gas station, where they get the kids some hot dogs (!). When Rebecca calls her mom, she only gets grief about ruining dinner, so she says they aren’t going to show up.
Instead, Jack books them into the Pinewood Lodge across the street, where a creepy manager wearing a hat (!) calls himself Pilgrim Rick. Once they get into their room, the Pearsons discover it’s hotter than hell and the TV doesn’t work. Jack leaves to fix things, and when he returns, he’s wearing the hat and declaring himself Pilgrim Rick.
He decides to make the most of things. They’ll have a Thanksgiving picnic (!), make cheesedogs on the overheated furnace, and watch a copy of Police Academy 3 (!) on VHS. Afterward, Rebecca comes up with one more tradition: taking the yarn from Kate’s itchy, grandma-made sweater and saying what they’re thankful for.
Just before they go to sleep, Randall tells her that when he grows up, he wants every Thanksgiving to be like that one.
Kevin and Olivia
At rehearsal, Kevin asks Olivia if she’d like to come to his family Thanksgiving. She turns him down at first, but Kevin manages to persuade her to come to New Jersey by revealing how messed up his family is.
But Olivia is clearly out of her element, and when Kevin asks her why she hates the holiday, she reveals that her mom always made elaborate pies, but her cheating dad ruined the day before they could even eat them.
So, Kevin gets her a slice of pie, and she melts a little. But then, Miguel asks Kevin if he can wear the Pilgrim Rick hat this year. Kevin, who’s been snarky to Miguel all day, refuses. Suddenly, Olivia just can’t deal with all this family drama and calls an Uber.
But as she waits, she has a heart-to-heart with William. First, she bluntly asks him how it feels to be dying. He replies that it feels like he’s trying to catch pieces of life, like the feeling of his granddaughter falling asleep in his lap — but he’s too slow. He tells her that it may feel like she has all the time in the world now, but life is short. And when a nice boy offers you pie, say thank you.
Olivia returns to the house, thanks Kevin and gives him a big kiss. That spurs him to treat Miguel a little more nicely, and he lets Miguel wear the Pilgrim Rick hat.
Kate and Toby
At Kate’s weight-loss support group, the members talk about their favorite Thanksgiving side dishes. One woman who has had gastric bypass surgery mourns not being able to eat all her faves.
Later, Kate meets Toby for dinner, where he slurps up spaghetti and she picks at salad. He mentions going to New York for Thanksgiving, and Kate drops the bomb: She thinks they should take a break. Ever since he stopped dieting, she’s felt weak. She reminds him that she didn’t want to fall for a fat person. “But you did. You fell for me,” a shocked Toby says.
A tearful Kate talks about how she thought that if she met the dashing, kind, amazing man like in romantic comedies, she’d be happy. But she’s not happy, no matter how great Toby is. And her weight-loss journey is too important, more than he is.
On the plane ride home, Kate gets side-eye from her seat companion, even though she bought two seats. During the flight, they experience terrible turbulence, and she and her row-mate end up holding hands. The woman confesses that she’s decided to divorce her cheating husband because this incident showed her life is too short.
Kate arrives at Thanksgiving dinner, just as Randall storms out. She’s made a decision: She’s getting gastric bypass surgery. Because life is too short.
This Is Us airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on NBC. Watch clips and full episodes of This is Us for free on Yahoo View.