I’m always impressed by the structure of episodes of This Is Us – the way the stories in the different timelines always seem to fit, albeit sometimes more loosely than others, round an idea or a theme, which means for all the stories and timelines are separate, the episodes hang together entirely coherently.
This week, for instance, the theme seems to be noticing and understanding what you’ve got, or what you don’t, while there’s still time. So in the 80s, Miguel and Shelly splitting up prompts Jack to bring the romance back into his marriage and jerk Ben being a jerk reminds Rebecca that her husband’s terrific. All of which is lovely, and just as well, because Kevin and Kate’s storylines are significantly less so.
Kevin’s pursuit of his ex-wife is, I guess, supposed to be romantic, and Justin Hartley does everything he can to try and make it come across that way, but it made me uneasy for reasons I couldn’t quite articulate – is it because it feels more creepy than romantic? Because it’s all about Kevin feeling lost and nostalgic rather than actually about his ex-wife at all? Because he’s blown up her life once before and here he is back to do it again? Or is it because setting up a fake Facebook profile to trick your ex into helping you spy on her is very, very bad indeed?
Perhaps it’s all of the above. It’s almost as if Kevin has been taking lessons from “great guy” Toby in how to mask controlling, annoying behaviour as “romance.” This week, the Tobester turns up at Kate’s fat camp to try and mess up her schedule completely, and when she refuses and her other controlling, annoying suitor Duke spooks him, Toby stays put, gets on Kate’s nerves – because God forbid she should be paying attention to anything but him – and is “a total ass.” For a brief, shining moment, it looks like Kate and the show have maybe turned a corner: she recognises Toby’s behaviour for what it is (INFURIATING) and calls him out on it. Hurrah! Normal service is resumed almost immediately, though: “I thought I was being myself,” he snits, before pulling the heart attack card, the loneliness card and the grandmother’s ring card, and hey presto! Kate’s the one apologising and in the wrong yet again. FFS. Of course, being Kate, this doesn’t make her want to avoid any more asshattery for the evening. Instead, she’s torn between making up with Ass No.1 and making out with Ass No.2, which is kind of like being torn between slapping yourself in the face and punching yourself in the gut.
Thankfully, however, the present timeline is redeemed, as is so often the case, by Randall’s storyline, as he struggles to balance work, home and his increasing fear of William’s approaching death. It’s not easy or even comfortable to watch, but it’s beautifully written, plotted and acted, with Sterling K Brown the treasure he always is and Susan Kelechi Watson and Ron Cephas Jones as wonderful as ever. Their scenes and their story are terrific.