It was a big night of big changes and big births on "This Is Us" Tuesday night, so of course we would start – where else? – in Albuquerque, New Mexico during the '60s. Obviously.
Somehow, though, the sprawl of "In the Room" not only worked on Tuesday, but served a lovely purpose as the Pearson family grew dramatically – and, in one particuarly long-delayed case, grew back together – while getting at a bigger, all-too-relevant theme on the night.
Let's talk about the five biggest takeaways from the birth-filled evening; but first, I need to finish buying myself a few of these Austrian good luck pigs.
1. Kevin made it – and so did the twins!
Life hack: If you ever forget your ID and passport at the airport, just be a handsome white famous person desperate to get home from his film shoot to his pregnant-with-twins girlfriend and also – on the way there – save a man from a burning car. It's that simple!
Indeed, after all his drama on the road last week, Kevin made it just in time for Madison and the twins. But while he was telling airport security and Canadian border control his insane story and maybe handing out a few bribes, Randall and Beth were there for Madison over video chat on the road, helping comfort her as she prepared for the birth and calm her down when a big terrifying needle arrived to the party. It's times like those, seeing that horrifying stabby torture device/epidural, when I wonder why the human race has bothered to procreate for this long. But thankfully for Madison, she's got Randall there to tell her stories for distraction – and Beth to convince Randall to tell BETTER stories for distraction. (Sorry, Randall, no one wants to hear about the Philadelphia Common Council.)
What Madison, and we the audience, want to hear about is a teen story about young Kevin getting hilariously hammered – so much so that, while Randall tried to hide his booze-soaked butt, Kevin stripped down and started belting "MMMBop" (as one does). Kevin had so much with his Keystone Light Karaoke that he drunkenly pitched Young Randall the idea of creating a sibling band – one that obviously never happened but one that I absolutely need an alternate universe episode about now.
But before we can get more into Pearson: The Musical Experience, Kevin arrives at the door – just in time to hear Randall lovingly tell their childhood story and, most importantly, just in time to be there for the birth of the twins. And while the show's logic had to do a lot of gymnastics to get Kevin there in time, I'm glad that it happened; we want to see Kevin get a win, and we certainly don't want another reason, as I feared last week, for Kevin to resent his brother.
Instead, everything goes wonderfully as Kevin, Madison and the world meets the twins: Frances, named after Madison's grandmother, and Nicholas... that's right, named after Uncle Nicky, who makes a very heartwarming and welcome cameo appearance via video chart to greet his new grandson.
It took a lot of sweat and stress to get there, but Kevin and Madison got their wonderful moment. Now for the hard part: what comes after ... but we can think about that later. After all, we've got another baby to greet! And lo ...
2. Kate, Toby and Ellie complete the new Big Three
With Kevin and Madison's pregnancy drama taking up a lot of oxygen, it'd be easy to forget that Kate and Toby have their own baby excitement happening in Los Angeles with Ellie the surrogate ready to give birth. Considering how much this plotline got pushed to the back-burner, I wondered if maybe "This Is Us" was saving the big drama for the birth. Perhaps Ellie would decide at the last minute or upon seeing the child that she wanted to back out of the deal and keep the child?
Instead, it was just lovely.
Because it is COVID times, Toby's stuck out in the parking lot, tailgating their child's birth, complaining to Kate that he's not getting personalized updates from her courtside seats and working on ... a list. Don't worry, it's nothing ominous. The two made a deal: Kate got room privileges while Toby got middle name privileges. But before he could end up picking Spock or McFly or some other terrible pop cultural middle name, he's interrupted by a grumpy man in a truck, demanding Toby move his car from his parking spot ... despite the empty field of parking spots around them. Toby explains that he's tailgating his child's birth – feeling like that's a pretty good emotional trump card to pull in a parking harrumph – but the old man actually has him beat. You see, his wife Rose is in the hospital fighting COVID-19 – and Toby's in her lucky number spot, their first house's address number and the spot he's parked in during her entire battle.
So, yeah, Toby moves – and in classic heart-tugging "This Is Us" fashion, the two bond as Toby learns more about this once gruff but now good-hearted stranger and his truck dashboard oddly filled with pig tchotchkes. Apparently, he and Rose went on a trip to Austria and learned about the country's love of good luck pigs, a tradition they brought home with them and grew to an adorable extent – and now one that they share with Toby and Kate, as he offers him a (wiped-down, sanitized and contact-free) pig to take as good luck for their growing family.
And this is the moment where it became obvious: That baby's middle name is going to be Rose. The only question is if Rose herself will live to hear the sweet news – and this episode's been short on sad moments, so ... gulp.
Meanwhile, Kate and Ellie are preparing in the hospital when the nurse accidentally calls the latter the mom, leading to some awkwardness as the two explain the situation then tenuously iron out the key detail of who gets to hold the baby first. At first, Ellie is all on board with Kate receiving the newborn first since she will be the child's mother – but when the baby officially arrives, Ellie actually wants to hold the baby too. This is where my "UH OH" alarm started blaring and I got my brain ready for several episodes of intensely emotional legal drama and courtroom proceedings. This is "This Is Us," after all, the show that treats heartstrings like one of those medieval torture implements that pulled people apart.
Instead, however, Ellie talks to her child, sweetly and touchingly says hello and goodbye with her story, and hands her over to Kate where she knows she'll have a wonderful life. And the baby's name? Hailey – you guessed it – Rose. And Rose even gets off the ventilator and gets to see both her relieved husband as well as the baby that now honorably carries her name over video chat. It's all good news on "This Is Us" this week! (God help us next week; they must be plotting something ... )
3. Kevin and Randall are officially back together.
It's been inching toward this for a while, in a way that felt all-too-accurate to real family fights – the two parties taking steps toward peace because you can't NOT talk to family but definitely doing so on tip-toes, an unspoken tension still sitting in the air between them, blocking them from fully embracing each other like normal. But between Kevin's clear-eyed new perspective on the world as a fresh dad (and everything that happened to him along the way), Randall's spiritual rebirth with his birth mother and the way the two came together to help Madison, the two finally put the bad blood from last season's finale to bed, apologizing for what they said that fateful afternoon. And now they've got a lot to catch up on, from Randall now owning land in New Orleans to Kevin having saved a guy from a burning car, maybe not having a job anymore and surely looking for some parenting advice.
It's nice to have Kevin and Randall fighting now finally in the rearview mirror – and hopefully out of it for a while, considering how often it's been rolled out in the past. Each season's pretty much brought out one bickering between the two, but with the depth of the digs the two busted out in that finale, and the time needed for the wounds to heal, this was the fight to end all fights – hopefully literally now that they've forgiven each other. Now they can focus on more important things .... like making Pearson the family band actually happen.
4. Rebecca's fighting a particular kind of cabin fever
The good news: We finally got a proper check-in on how Rebecca's doing! The less-good news: Rebecca's having a hard time – thankfully not with her health and memory but with being away from everyone during this massive life moments. And while Miguel is charming company, is an excellent board game competitor and makes some boozy business drinks at the cabin bar, she can't help but feel like she's left out, her family moving on without her – and disappointing Jack in the process.
You see, back in the past, Jack and Rebecca went on a solo trip up to the cabin – and while that sounds relieving considering the kids are all teen hormones and angst, it's not by choice. They planned a family vacation, but the kids all want sleepovers with their friends, so they go it alone. And clearly Jack's not pumped about it – and not just because the ceiling at the cabin's started leaking all over old childhood paintings and art pieces. And also not just because Rebecca's poking fun at the kids a bit; after all, they're parents and they do that all the time to help get by and cope with the chaos. No, Jack's bummed because he feels like the kids are outgrowing them, leaving them behind as they grow up and become adults of their own. And while that's life, Jack can't help but feel hurt that they seemingly no longer want them in their lives.
It's a nice moment that gets at that bittersweet parental feeling of seeing your kids become their own people in their own lives – even though, as Rebecca points out with the help of a convenient accidentally metaphorical water-stained painting, your lives will never completely stray apart. Much like the water blobs, though each one's gone in separate directions and unexpected ways, they're still connected to one another. They've become their own unique things, but still are unified – and while they may have outgrown the need for parents as guardians, they still need them as friends, confidantes, allies in the crazy path of life.
Or so that's what Rebecca thought. Now, alone and disconnected at the cabin in the middle of some of her children's biggest moments, she doesn't feel like their parent nor their friend, confidante or ally. She's ... gone, her colored circle no longer connected to the rest of the family – devastating to her and, she imagines, devastating to Jack.
OR SO SHE THOUGHT! Instead, she receives joyful video calls from Kate and Kevin both sharing the good news of the new Big Three. Their colored blobs are blissfully interlinked still after all – and somewhere, Ghost Jack smiles. And Miguel smiles because now they can go back to playing Battleship without a care.
5. These '60s people are fun ... but, uh, who are they?
This was a big, packed, sprawling episode of "This Is Us" – and it didn't start with Kevin, Randall, Kate, Madison, Rebecca, Miguel, Rose, her grumpy husband, Young Kevin's old football coach still reeling from Jack's verbal smackdown last week or anybody we've ever seen before.
Instead, it opens with a young Indian man named Nasir and a young Argentian woman named Esther flirting outside a dance in Albuquerque in 1963. Over the episode, we see them have a baby and start a family together, eventually building to a tense night in which the two fight about his dedication to his very intensely mathematical (and very confusing) work. It's all engaging and sweet ... but this being "This Is Us," all the audience is thinking is "how do these people tie to the story?" Are these Miguel's parents? Are we going to learn more about him now? There is some talk in the cabin about how different families have different approaches and experiences while he's talking to Rebecca. The timeline there doesn't quite work, though, so scratch that. So ... what's their deal?
Much like the Franco Harris segment from the season three premiere, the connection here ends up much more tangential: Nasir Ahmed – a real person, as the end credits note, who married the very real Esther Pariente and who are very really together to this day – would go on to invent the technical algorithm necessary for video and image communication. It's a long walk for what seems like a cute and clever, albeit unnecessary, tie – but cut to the Pearson family, to Rose and her husband, reuniting and sharing these key moments and connecting thanks to video chat, and the subplot's purpose suddenly sneaks up and really hits: It's a lovely tribute to staying together even when separate, despite it all.
We've heard and seen a lot during COVID about togetherness to the point of becoming eye-rollingly trite. "In the Room," however, manages to make the emotions of these overdone, sometimes insincere slogans feel true and sweetly, movingly mean something again. In the end, not only did Tuesday's new hour pull off making its sprawling storylines – usually a bugaboo of mine – cohere into a purpose, they pulled off making a very special COVID-era episode without it feeling treacly like a very special COVID-era episode.
So good work, "This Is Us" – and especially good work to Nasir and Esther (though, no offense, I never want to see a video call ever again after this pandemic).
As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.
When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.