Another episode of This Is Us and another mystery buried in a flashback.
But before we go there, the episode itself was all over the place, although not necessarily in a bad way. There were multiple storylines in multiple timelines, and while each was fairly compelling (save for Kate’s time killing musical performance), the episode might have benefitted expanding some of those stories and punting others into their own episodes.
I have mixed feelings on the storyline from which the episode takes its title, “Toby,” as we flashback to his younger years and explore how he’s dealt with depression all of his life, using comedy to mask his sadness. His mother (Wendie Malick) was also depressed, and she was understanding — “The joy in you is as much a part of you as your sadness” — though his father, less so. “This sad sack thing that comes over you? You better find a way to get a handle on it, because this crap simply will not fly when you’re older.”
Now older and off his meds to improve his chances with IVF, Toby is spiraling, which comes to a head when he breaks down into sobs upon hearing that Kate is pregnant. My biggest issue with This is Us from week to week is that Kate never gets a win, and here, she finally does but it’s overshadowed by Toby’s depression. On the other hand, the storyline powerfully illustrates that depression gives no quarter to even the happiest of news, and I thought sacrificing Kate’s win to deliver that message was worth the trade off.
Miguel also got a well-deserved storyline this week, as we witness him help out Rebecca and her teenage kids after Jack’s death. He fixed the fridge; he helped Kevin after a night of heavy drinking; and he had some words of wisdom for 17-year-old Randall after his prom date’s Dad dismissed him because he is Black. Why was he so helpful to the Pearsons? Is it because he’s a saint? Maybe. Is it because he was in love with Rebecca? Maybe. Or is it because — as we learn in another flashback — Jack asked him to look out for his family in the event that he died? Absolutely. (Also, Miguel is definitely a saint who was definitely in love with Rebecca).
Present-day Randall is still angling for that city councilor job, but it is proving more difficult than he had initially envisioned. That’s because, though the existing city councilor has become complacent, he is also a close friend to the community, while Randall — running for city council by virtue of owning a building in the district while living miles away — is still seen as an outsider. This storyline is very much working from the Friday Night Lights template: Stack the odds and build up that underdog story before the ultimate win, though this one — like some FNL seasons — may only prove to be a moral one. But you can bet your ass that Sterling K. Brown will make it work. It’s also another story that returns to a common theme with Randall — that he’s caught between world, never quite fitting into either.
Beth had the more interesting storyline of that couple, however, and it’s one that I think deserves more attention. While she’s interviewing for a new job — and doing well — Beth tearfully breaks down in an interview, as the weight of being fired from a company she helped to build finally hits her. I am beginning to suspect that something more than “budget cuts” was at play, especially in an episode that dealt so overtly with racism.
In addition to the father of Randall’s prom date, that issue was also explored in Kevin’s storyline. He took a road trip with Zoe to meet Don, his Dad’s old Vietnam war buddy, and on the way, a woman at a gas station dismissed Zoe because she didn’t believe that Kevin would date a Black woman. Despite being raised with a brother who is Black, Kevin proved to be oddly oblivious. Ultimately, however, Zoe decided that she has enough affection for Kevin that he’s worth the effort to educate him.
Meanwhile, Jack’s war buddy, Don, didn’t feel terribly comfortable sharing with Kevin old war stories that Jack didn’t want to share with him, but he eventually gave Kevin some old letters from Jack, one of which contained a picture of a Vietnamese woman wearing the very same necklace that Kevin is now wearing. Cue the ominous mystery music:
Did Jack have a girlfriend in Vietnam? Maybe even a love child? I’m going to say no, it’s too obvious. That’s not something that Jack would hide from Rebecca nor would he give Kevin a necklace from his old girlfriend. I suspect, however, that she ties in somehow with Jack’s brother. Perhaps Jack’s brother died while saving her life in Vietnam.
That’s my theory, and I am sticking to it.
Header Image Source: NBC