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BWW Recap: Pearsons are Strong as Hell on THIS IS US

BWW Recap: Pearsons are Strong as Hell on THIS IS US

On a show as consistently weepy as "This is Us," it's sometimes difficult to remember in the interim how STRONG its characters are. This week's episode serves as a huge reminder.

Witness the return of the younger versions of the Big Three! It feels like we haven't seen them in a while. In this flashback, Jack comes home from the gym with a black eye--and I know I've got to stop drawing parallels between this show and Gilmore Girls, but I couldn't help but wonder if he got it from a swan.

He didn't. Obviously. He got it from boxing a guy at the gym, which upsets Rebecca, who then bans boxing from her household.

Little baby Randall sees the ban as optional. He asks Jack if he'll teach him how to fight so he can defend himself against a bully, a new kid at school who's been picking on him. Jack is receptive, and they work at some jab-crosses until Rebecca walks in and puts an end to the whole charade.

They go into the other room and argue a little, until Jack tells Rebecca that Randall wanted to learn to fight because of a bully. Rebecca immediately calls the school to see what's up, and discovers there was never a bully at all. What's with that!

I knew immediately, because of a little moment at the beginning of the episode where Kevin physically overpowered Randall in some brotherly wrestling. Jack asks Randall why the lies, and Randall says it's because he feels secondary to Kevin. Randall is Jack's son, but Kevin is his "son-son." Randall needs to learn how to fight to supplement his lack of Pearson DNA.

Jack won't hear this, obviously. He tells Randall that he doesn't need to know how to fight--he is ALSO his "son-son," and his secret weapon strength is his brain! The brain that concocted this whole lie just to get some father-son time! It's a very sweet moment.

Jack told Rebecca earlier on that that boxing helps him quiet some of the bad voices in his head (presumably the PTSD from Vietnam). Turns out the ban on boxing was way more about Jack's and her children's safety than it was about anything else--she buys him headgear, so he can continue to box but do it safely. The gesture touches Jack deeply, and he tells her a RARE story about growing up with his baby brother (about their connection to boxing, and why it's important to him).

Back in the present, Randall is proving his worth as a tough, smart person. He returns to Philadelphia, this time for church, where his city council opponent, Sol Brown, essentially calls him out from the pulpit. It's a passive aggressive, targeting gesture masquerading as an act of welcome, and Randall doesn't like it one bit. (By the way, Randall, if you're gonna pass judgement about whether or not your daughter likes Whiz on her cheesesteaks, you should probably stop calling them "Philly cheesesteaks." Love, A Philadelphian).

Somewhat defeated, he answers a phone call from Kevin, who's insistent on coming down to Philly to see him and talk to him about his new obsession: the mysterious photo of Jack and an unidentified Vietnamese woman.

They go out to lunch far, far away from any area where Randall can be seen with his white, movie star brother--it's Koreatown, where Kevin is immediately recognized and given free food in a restaurant. He explains it's because his old TV show, The Manny, was THE most popular show in South Korea... Which gives Randall a sort-of-morally-dubious idea.

See, VERY few people in his intended district actually come out to vote--particularly, VERY few people in the Korean community come out to vote. If he can get Kevin to promote his campaign, he MAY be able to register a bunch of voters that make up a huge percentage of the district population! It's genius!

Or is it sort of icky? I'm going with sort of icky. While Randall and Kevin are out registering voters, a young man approaches Randall and tells him what he's doing is sort of icky--to admit failure to capture Sol Brown's neighborhood section of the district and instead target another community he does not belong to, to sort of manipulate them into voting for him by using his celebrity brother. It's not great.

But because Randall is Randall, he gives a rousing speech about why he DOES care about this neighborhood, and how well he'll be able to fix it if elected. Randall is massively charismatic and massively convincing. He even gets the kid who called him out (Tim Jo) on board as his campaign manager by the end of it. I don't really buy it. To me, it feels like "This is Us" teetering on the edge of a social issue without actually exploring it full force. They've been doing it a lot this season--particularly with Zoe's decision to hand-hold Kevin on matters of racism, but it's sort of all over the place, lazy answers to big questions.

He gets home in a great mood to see Beth, who's in a sad mood. Beth has been pretending to be okay for a pretty long time after being fired, and it all came to a head earlier that day when she yelled at her daughters in public. There's a great scene between Beth and Deja, where Deja insists Beth talk to Randall about how she's been feeling.

She takes the advice and tells Randall that she's not okay. Randall insists she join his campaign, which is a beautiful moment and a great idea. The race continues in the next episode, I hope.

Kevin sort of took a backseat in this episode, mostly there to help Randall (in a really gorgeous moment, the brothers validate each other and give each other blessings to continue doing what they're doing). He rushes into Zoe's alone time (rude, actually) and asks her to go to Vietnam with him so he can continue unfolding Jack's mystery. She agrees! We knew she was gonna, because of that flash-forward at the very end of last season.

And then there's Kate and Toby, who are struggling to balance a household that contains a depressed person and a pregnant person.

Kate doesn't know how to coax Toby out of bed. She keeps asking him to join her and their little dog, Audio, on walks, and he keeps saying no. At the dog park, Audio swallows a rock, which sends Kate into panic mode and the dog to the vet.

She calls Rebecca to get advice on how to proceed--Rebecca tells her what to do, but insists that Kate knows better than she thinks she does how to get by in the world. She's confident that Kate will make the right decisions in every area of her life without guidance.

While this is happening, Toby is trying his best to get himself out of bed. He does it! He gets up, gets showered, and gets dressed. To the untrained eye, it may look like things are looking up--but I am not an untrained eye. I intimately understand Toby in this moment, as he attempts to go through the rituals of being okay without actually being okay.

Kate gets home and sees showered-and-dressed Toby. She's thrilled! This means things are starting to get better, right?

We know it's not like that. Toby tells Kate that he's afraid she's going to leave him--not now, but eventually, when things get to be too much. Depression is who he is. It is what he is. He's supposed to be taking care of her, the pregnant person, and he feels terrible that he's not in a place to do it.

Kate insists Toby come for a walk in the park, where she tells him she's in it for the long haul. It doesn't matter how sad he gets.

Kate's extremely self aware. She knows she's needed to be taken care of a lot of times in her life--by her dad, her mom, her brothers, and now Toby. One thing she knows is that she's strong. She's capable. And it's her turn to take care of Toby.

And just like that, Audio poops out the rock! To be crude, the blockage is over. Toby's not going to be immediately okay and that doesn't matter, because he has Kate--his rock, if you will. (Sorry. Sorry, sorry, sorry).

I don't know what I'll do without "This is Us" for the next two weeks, but I do know I'm going to be thinking about Toby's face in that bathroom mirror for a really long time.

Photo by: Ron Batzdorff, NBC

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