'This Is Us' recap: Another tearjerker

For The Baltimore Sun
"This Is Us" focused on parental relationship this week. So get ready to cry.

After last week’s revelation that Jack was dead, this week’s "This is Us" episode focused on parental relationships — and we got some genuinely tear-jerking moments that are sure to keep viewers satisfied, yet emotionally drained. 

We also got some more insight into Randall and Kevin’s psyches, surely building for some conflict in the coming weeks.  Without further ado, let’s get to this week’s episode, “Career Days.”

Opening on Jack’s life after becoming a father, we quickly see him give up his construction career and turn to a desk job with his high-rising friend (or frenemy) Miguel. When Miguel offers him a promotion and a solid career with him, Jack declines. He wants to strike out on his own.  

When he tells Rebecca the news, she’s completely supportive. But there’s one problem: They’ve discovered that despite all of their attempts to make Randall as normal as possible, he’s not. They’ve got an above-average little guy on their hands, and Jack’s desire to make him just a normal, everyday kid is holding him back.

After a playdate, Jack talks to Yvette (the mom that confronted Rebecca at the pool a few episodes ago) about his decision not to send Randall to a private school for gifted students.  Jack’s attempts to make him "normal" are stifling Randall’s creativity and growth, and using his race for a reason to not enroll him in an excellent school is a terrible excuse. 

After a lot of hand-wringing, Jack and Rebecca decide to make it work.   We get an especially poignant scene with young Randall where Jack tries to understand why his son is an average performer at school: He’s been getting answers wrong or acting like he doesn’t know things to fit in. Randall doesn’t want to be special because then his siblings will hate him. Jack gives him a powerful speech about wanting him to let the world know how special he is — he can’t be afraid of being different, he has to embrace it. 

Randall is going to find himself, and it’s going to be great. But first, Jack has to give up that dream of setting out on his own career-wise.  Private schools are expensive, after all.  He tells frenemy Miguel that he’ll take the job, and he takes that plunge into the suit-and-tie lifestyle to make a better life for his family.

Back in present day, the Big Three are going through their typical life struggles. Randall is dealign with the trauma of speaking at career day about his job that no one can understand. When his girls fawn over William’s piano playing and Kevin’s (he’s still there?!?) acting, Randall wants to show them how interesting he can be. He starts by using slang inaccurately (to be honest, I had no idea what “lit” meant, either) and planning the speech of the century.

He practices his speech for Beth and when he notices her boredom, goes off on a tangent about how he was meant to be a musician.  William played with some jazz greats, so clearly Randall would be an amazing saxophone player.  

When the speech goes predictably horribly (to be honest, I fast-forwarded the scene because it was painful to watch), Randall returns home, demoralized. The next morning, he confronts his family. He likes what he does for a living — it’s exciting to him, and that’s all that matters.  He tells the family, “My father put on a tie every day because he had to.  I put on one because I want to.” You go Randall!

Over in Los Angeles, Kate is trying to find a job despite her only experience being serving as her brother's assistant. Predictably, she gets what seems to be an awesome job, working for a socialite, Gemma, in LA.

However, it’s not great. She’s chauffeuring around Gemma’s daughter and is supposed to be acting as a sort of warning sign of what life would be if the daughter didn’t lose weight.

During the car ride from hell (yay teenagers!), Kate is at her boiling point already. She kicks the kid out of car and tells her how many calories she’ll burn on her walk home. Dang. My mom always threatened to do this but she never actually carried through with the threat! 

Later, back at Gemma’s, Kate is sure she’s going to be fired. After all, she left the boss’ kid on the side of the road on her first day. But no, she still has the job. She also got more responsibility and more visibility. I’ve now offered to drive my boss’ kids around and plan on leaving them on the side of the road — this is the surefire way to the top!

On the way out from Gemma's, she stops by the lounging daughter.   Kate tells her about her tense relationship with her mother. Kate was always chubby; her mother was always gorgeous. Now they don’t talk because Kate (and Rebecca) couldn’t deal with how different they are.   The kid should realize how good she has it and cut her mom a break.  It sucks not having one. Moms aren’t perfect, but neither are daughters (or sons).

Finally, Kevin. Ah, Kevin. We can always count on you for some awkwardly bad acting scenes and spontaneous trips to strangers’ funerals. Uh, what?

This time, his saucy co-star, Olivia (I used saucy because she’s British, you know), invites him to a “party” after a particularly awful rehearsal in which the girl from all of those AT&T ads yells at Kevin for not having any emotion at all. Kevin looks like he’s never experienced any loss, despite the loss that we know he suffered. At one point, Kevin tells the director it’s not his job to convince the director that he’s experienced loss. Uh, Kevin, you LITERALLY described the job of an actor. 

At the party, which turns out to be a stranger’s memorial service (how very British, Olivia), Kevin is caught alone with Grace, the wife of the man who had died. She’s struggling with what to do with all the food she’s been given. She starts to clear her late husband's pickles, his favorite food, out of the refrigerator. Kevin offers to take them, but then he gets offered suits, coats, ties and everything else. Grace's son doesn’t want any of his dad’s stuff.   

Kevin, for the first time in the episode not looking like a deer caught in the headlights, starts to wax poetic about his times with his dad, making model airplanes (always the one that took the longest, to get the most time out of dad). This reminded me of myself as a child, building models and doing any project possible to spend more time with my dad.

Kevin tells Grace about the death of his father but won’t tell us how old Jack was when he died. (Dang!) Kevin confesses that he threw everything away when Jack died and all he has left is the necklace that he still wears.

Later, in the bedroom with clothes strewn across the bed, Kevin is still struggling. As Olivia enters the room, he’s quick to attack her. This isn’t one of her plays, this is someone’s life. He’s gone through the loss, too, and it’s not right for them to be here. 

Olivia is somehow turned on by this, and they have sex. Way to ruin a poignant scene. The next day, Olivia reveals that this is all part of getting into character. Just like Kevin's character in the play, he will never have sex with her again. Daniel Day-Lewis would be proud — that’s some dedication to the craft right there.

Next week, we see a needed confrontation between Randall and Kevin, a startling revelation with William, and more drama with the rest of the Big Three. See you then!

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