Episode 2 has the Big Three at school age in one timeline, while Kevin struggles to extricate himself from The Manny in the other, and everything significantly less rose-tinted than last week’s in both.
Given how optimistic and full of love the pilot felt, I was surprised by how downbeat some of the themes of this ep were; the two boys have never really got on, Kate’s weight issues began in childhood and will plague her for her entire life, and Jack – tender, attentive Jack, sigh – has become somewhat resentful and more than a little unhelpful, spending more and more time in the pub, with his marriage and family suffering as a result.
In the modern timeline, meanwhile, Randall may be happy and well-adjusted (even if the biological dad thing makes for a challenging marital situation) but that’s not come without a price, and Kevin and Kate are both stuck – he in the contractual morass of “Ah, Showbiz!” as the glorious Toby calls it, and she in her own never-ending cycle of self-loathing. As someone who’s in the little teapot way myself (short and stout), the frustration and self-consciousness of trying to find flattering clothing in something bigger than a size slim is a familiar feeling, so it’s not that Kate’s story doesn’t resonate. It’s just that Kate’s story is so one-note. “I need to know that everything is not always gonna be about our weight,” says Toby. Me too, dude, me too.
With all that said, though, it makes a lot more sense that this family, the people in it and the relationships between them aren’t perfect – in real life, nobody’s are – and there’s still a lot of love and hope, and humour too, infused throughout an ep which, despite not being as terrific as the first, still made me laugh and cry. Again. The Big Three chant is a joy both times we hear it, Kevin and Randall’s phone call had me in tears, and the “pile-on” is adorable. The twist at the end, meanwhile, is almost as startling as last week’s, and suggests heartache ahead, but, again, nobody’s life is free of that either, so while it’s a brave move to REDACT REDACTED, and not one I like all that much as an idea, the writers deserve credit for risking it (and our hearts) anyway; This Is Us may be sweet and sentimental, but it’s clear there’s a real, sometimes devastating undercurrent of sadness there too.