It’s not that often that characters on This Is Us fail in their endeavors. Kevin quit his successful sitcom after a career-ending meltdown and still managed to land a feature film career. Kate did the impossible and managed to get pregnant despite all the odds stacked against her. Randall won a political position in a city two hours away that he had no business winning. The Pearsons are all about going after their goals, and while they are often derailed in those efforts, they almost always ultimately succeed.
But you can’t win ‘em all, and you can’t save everyone, as Kevin found out in this week’s episode. The sibling road trip to meet Uncle Nicky turned into a mother-son affair when Kate and Randall quickly gave up on Uncle Nicky and returned home, leaving Kevin and Rebecca to try and “fix” or “save” or improve the life of Uncle Nicky. But Nicky has spent way too many years stuck inside a trailer with a bottle of booze in his hand and a death wish in mind to succumb to an easy fix. A VA center holds no appeal for Nicky. A couple of nights in a clean hotel doesn’t do much for him, either. Nicky doesn’t want to change. He’s too far gone. And more importantly, he just can’t with the Pearsons. “You and your family, it’s just too painful.”
It’s understandable. His brother rejected him. I wouldn’t want to be a project for the family of his brother, either, no matter how well-intentioned they might be. I suspect, however, that this is not the last we have seen of Uncle Nicky. The series has invested way too much in this storyline to drive it into a dead-end, even if — realistically — it’s where it would probably lead.
Also, while Kevin couldn’t fix Nicky, it appears as though Nicky dragged Kevin back down with him, as Kevin had a relapse in the episode and began drinking again.
Meanwhile, the flashbacks return us to the 1992 weekend in which an out-of-sorts, upset, and angry Jack returned from visiting his brother. He can’t bring himself to take Kevin to the mall to get his John Smiley rookie card signed, so he sends Rebecca. Meanwhile, he hangs back to collect himself but ends up losing his cool in front of 11-year-old Randall and Kate, who he had left in charge to buy their own pizza. Present Kate only remembers the fun sequin fight that ended the day, while present-day Randall still remembers the plate that Jack threw in frustration.
“We all have bad days as parents,” present Randall tells Kate. “All you can do is try and pack the days with as much good as possible and hope that it outweighs the bad. You hope that it sticks.” Ain’t that the truth, Randall.
Meanwhile, I’m not sure exactly what Becca’s trip to the mall to meet John Smiley illustrates, except that Kevin is a sneaky, kind person. Ostensibly, he wanted his baseball card signed by John Smiley but, in reality, Kevin wanted to share some research he did of things to do in Minneapolis in case Smiley were to get traded there, as was the rumor. In reality, John Smiley was traded to the Twins in 1992 (inexplicably), although it came as a complete shock to Smiley at the time (there were no rumors of trade before it happened). In this fictional world, hopefully, Smiley was able to find a good bowling alley. Good guy, that Smiley. His career reminded me that of Steve Avery’s in the same era: Future superstars in the making who just kind of flamed out.
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