By Matt Mueller Culture Editor Published Feb 02, 2022 at 6:56 PM

After last week's emotionally gut-punching diversion, Tuesday's "This Is Us" played like a light and lovely return to normal – a seemingly romance-themed episode just in time for Valentine's Day. Rebecca's out and about speed-dating and hitting off with pleasant single dads. Kevin's meeting back up with Cassidy, possibly rekindling the sparks from their past – all while Nicky and new arrival Edie flirt up a storm. Even Malik and Deja's uncomfortable family dinner with Randall and Beth started off less devastating and more entertainingly awkward. (This week's episode provided some outstanding line deliveries and laugh-out-loud moments – unsurprising considering resident goofball Toby himself Chris Sullivan was at the helm, making his directorial debut.)

Yes, after the heartbreak of last week, love was in the air ... until it wasn't, the love replaced instead with insults, slaps, foreboding ultimatums and realizations both brutal and bittersweet. Welp, so much for that light and lovely return to normal!

There's much to discuss from "Heart and Soul" – after Jack's solo showcase, we're back to covering the whole gang in an hour, for better and worse – so let's dig into this episode like a delicious serving of homemade gnocchi in brown butter sauce and talk about the five biggest takeaways from this week's "This Is Us" ... besides what is Kevin doing watching "Entourage" with the twins? Social services: called. 

1. Some real highs and lows for Rebecca and Kate, to say the least

This is going to surprise you because I NEVER say this in my recaps ... but once again I find myself feeling like Kate's storyline got a little slighted this week. Perhaps it's because she was sidelined for much of the subplot while Rebecca was off speed-dating – the time spent with inevitable dead-end Matt Dixon maybe better spent getting into teen Kate's headspace. Considering the monumental emotions involved – Rebecca dipping back into dating post-Jack, Kate really preferring that she not and the explosion that ensues, not even mentioning the present day developments – it's the kind of plotline that feels like it really could've cooked with more time to develop rather than rushing through it all. I loved last week's episode – but if a tangent like that can get a whole hour, it sure feels like this critical turning point in Rebecca and Kate's relationship, one more integral to where this final season's going, deserved the time to shine too. 

Even so, the writers made the most out of what felt like the least this week, delivering a truly jolt-inducing moment as well as a perfectly tender ending. 

Back in the past, Rebecca and Miguel are perfectly content on the couch watching "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" (fair) when Kate needles the two about being old bores. And while she may be a surely teen, they realize that she makes a fair point: At some point, Rebecca's going to have to get off the couch and live again, post-Jack. "You can't just sit here with me for the rest of your life," points out Miguel (having no idea that she totally can – and totally will). 

Miguel's solution: speed-dating. For the youths reading this piece, speed-dating was what people called Tinder back in the day – except it was in person, involved sitting down at tables and changing spots every 15 minutes, and there were a lot fewer guys with fish. But anyways, after getting dolled up and giving Miguel some very good advice about wearing dapper hats – the advice: don't – Rebecca comes along and takes her place at her table.

Summon the dates – and unfortunately summon a lot of talk from Rebecca about how her husband died. Not exactly ideal casual date banter. But just when the two are ready to call it a night, who gets rotated over to Rebecca's table but Matt Dixon, aka that random but nice single dad whose eye she caught back when the emotional wounds from Jack were far too fresh. You may have forgotten him – but Rebecca didn't entirely forget, and neither did he. In fact, they pick up where they left off while Miguel sweetly looks on nearby with satisfaction (maybe a little yearning too?) eventually agreeing to a coffee before he moves on, replaced by a guy who may or may not be Charles Manson's ferret-loving stunt double. I vote we go for the coffee now.

Thankfully, Rebecca survives and makes it to coffee with Matt, their connection increasingly as warm as their beverages. He seems like a good guy (certainly has a good strong first name) and at the end, the two plan to see each other again. Congratulations, Rebecca, for a great first night out!

Or it was ... until she arrives home to Kate, still surly – and made no less so by Rebecca giddily talking about a date with a guy not named Jack Pearson. The two have some tense words about Rebecca finally moving on from her dead husband, reaching a stunning climax when Kate calls her mom a slut and Rebecca responds with a slap that even knocked me off my seat. And to think this episode was pretty cute and sweet before this wholly uncharacteristic and painfully low moment for the Pearson women – Rebecca for losing it like that and young Kate for being such a vicious brat. 

It's a moment that seems to reverberate into the present day, where Rebecca's helping Kate out with the kids while Toby's off directing the episode taking a yacht trip with the boss. Kate eventually invites her mom to bring the babies and come to work with her, happily watching her mom jam out to "Royals" with her students. Eventually, though, you can see her eyes going elsewhere – perhaps to this ugly memory. It sure seems that way, taking a call from Toby and talking about how she feels bad about the time they wasted being angry at one another over the years.

But then she mentions that she needs to tell her mom something that day. Maybe an overdue apology for her past brattiness? Nope – instead it's breaking the news to her mom that, because of her declining mental state, they don't feel comfortable with her watching the babies alone. And as careful as Kate tries to be, Rebecca can't help but be hurt and blindsided – especially when she puts it together that bringing her to school wasn't entirely for mother-daughter bonding time but because her daughter didn't entire trust her. Thankfully there's no big fight here – and definitely no big slap – but there's no lack of bruised pain as Rebecca charges out of the house. 

The bitterness is short-lived however – in both the past and present, actually. Back then, Rebecca calls Miguel for reassurance and to vent about how she has no idea what she's doing but now she's guilty for doing it so wrong – a conversation Kate tearfully overhears from across the hall, seeing things her mom's way. The two come back together in the current day, too, with Rebecca apologizing for being so defensive while Kate apologizes for the callous move – and for all of her callous moves over the years, never appreciating the time they had until now it seems almost too late.

It's a nice and tender moment – made even more so as both apologies are preciously sealed with music: some "Heart & Soul" in the past, a book of braille piano music for Rebecca to teach the twins in the present. Though they went through a lot over the years and certainly endured their hardships, music was always their bond – from infant Kate plinking "Heart & Soul" with mom in front of Jack's eager camera to now ... and to the close future, Rebecca and Kate playing that same classic piano duet with a toddler, the past in the past and the future out of mind, only warmly appreciating the time they finally have together.

A classic time-hopping "This Is Us" montage of echoes, the sequence is a lovely note to end the subplot and entire episode on ... but imagine how that note could've really sung if given just a little more time to play.

2. It wasn't exactly Randall's best night either – will there be ramifications?

Randall joined Kate and Rebecca in not exactly showing his finest colors on Tuesday night – and unfortunately he didn't have "Heart & Soul" to tide things over. Instead, he kind of made them worse.

Things seemed positive for the Pearson patriarch as he arrives home from a long week at work, ready for a romantic weekend with Beth and branzino. ("That's a sexy fish," notes Beth, another golden Susan Kelechi Watson line reading in an episode – and a whole damn series – full of them.) A dinner date with that sexy fish will have to wait, though, as instead Malik and Deja want to make a supper for the two, as an apology for her secret trip to Boston ... and as a prelude to an announcement.

What's this announcement? Randall and Beth don't know – and judging by the way Deja talks with Tess and Annie in hushed secretive tones about what's to come, it sure seems like something major. Which means it's time for America's favorite game: Worst! Case! Scenario! So, as they do, Randall and Beth banter the most nightmarish possibilities they can imagine back and forth – from a surprise pregnancy to a quickie Vegas marriage to a proposal right in front of their unprepared faces. By the time they reach "Deja and Malik move in with them and never leave," though, the worst case scenarios have gotten too worst case to bear, so that's the end of that. So much for America's favorite game. 

Worst of all, the game doesn't even prepare them appropriately for the news. In an excellently orchestrated bit of tense comedic drama, the gnocchi dinner evolves from hilariously overpolite – Malik carefully playing waiter, Tess asking about Beth's work, Beth and Randall buying none of it – into anxiously overheated as the young couple makes their announcement: Deja wants to drop out of school and move to Boston with Malik. As far as "dropping out of school to move in with my boyfriend and his child in a different state" plans go, it's not the most irrational proposition as Malik and Deja thought out the credits and classes – but Randall and Beth are having not one bit of it, especially hot off the heels of being deceived so recently. Call it the upcoming Jordan Peele horror movie, because this is a big NOPE.

Unfortunately, after yet another dinner of horrors this season, Randall takes bad and makes it worse. When Malik comes out to the front steps to check on Randall – now merely simmering rather than a full boil – the Pearson patriarch apologizes for storming off ... but also says that, if Malik cares about Deja and about his daughter finding her own successful path in life, he needs to break up with her. It's not a demand ... but it's damn near close, one that Malik takes with remarkable maturity, saying that he's gonna mercifully not to tell Deja about this because he knows it will utterly and completely destroy their hard-fought father-daugher relationship.

So that's the end of THAT conversation – but it's certainly not the end of this debate, one that Beth (and me!) is concerned might blow up their family. After all, no one seems interesting in budging here, and we now seen the lows (however understandable they might be) Randall's willing to go. So has Malik – perhaps to his benefit if he wanted to expose it to Deja, ruining one of her relationships for the sake of another. 

Remember back during the politician plotline, when we thought Beth and Randall were perhaps on the outs? Thankfully, it was revealed the campaign didn't wreck their family after all – but even so, there's still been something chilly about the interactions during those flash-forward sequences. Maybe it's nothing – after all, no one's gonna be THAT chummy when gathering for a family member's impending death. Or maybe ... we still have something to be concerned about.

3. Cassidy returns – and so do Kevin's misguided attempts at a love story

Kevin's always been on the search for his love story – and with Jennifer Morrison's Cassidy recently re-introduced into this final season, it seemed like perhaps this would be it. But instead of finding romance with Cassidy, Kevin and the audience got a crucial reality check. 

At least the episode started on a high note for Kevin, as he finally got one of those big parenting moments that he was concerned he'd miss, showing off to Madison that the twins are now doing this cute pointy ... nudgy thing to one another. Yeah, it's hard to explain – but trust me, it's adorable, and we're all happy for Kevin.

Unfortunately, that nice moment comes crashing down for Kevin when Madison's book club buddy Eli pops out of her bedroom, confirming to Kevin that he's definitely more than a book club buddy now – and also, unlike Madison, Kevin's still single and alone. Still, because he's a good person who accepts Madison's a grown single woman who's more than allowed to live her own life, he handles the awkwardness of discussing Eli taking the kids to the zoo and trading his phone number with the new boyfriend fine enough. Afterward, though, feeling sad and lonely, he calls up Cassidy for some relief – and maybe more, inviting her to his side of the country to help him out with the new family cabin. Also maybe sex. Yeah, probably sex. And since Cassidy's just stuck at home organizing her kid's Pokemon cards, sure, she's game.

"This Is Us" doesn't bring back many characters for no reason – so perhaps Kevin has found his love story in Cassidy? He certainly starts to think so after she arrives in town and chummily hangs out with Uncle Nicky and Edie at the new family cabin site – which I guess is underway? There's been some confusion about the Kevin construction storyline and where the cabin fits in – so it would appear the cabin is in progress in the current timeline, apparently coming together before Big Three Homes and Kevin the contractor get to work. The cabin, however, marks one of the rare moments where the show's usually precise timeline and storytelling has gotten muddled. (Perhaps a casualty of last year's surprise adjustments with COVID and Mandy Moore's real-life pregnancy – or simply just something that slipped through the audience's mental cracks in the gap between seasons.)

But back to ... a blooming romance? Kevin's feeling it, making lingering glances over at Cassidy while dining with Nicky and Edie, eventually asking Cassidy out for ice cream and some flirty alone time. Cassidy and Kevin do indeed have some chemistry, but it sure does feel – in traditional Kevin fashion – like he's less in love with Cassidy and more in love with the IDEA of being in love with Cassidy. He's seeing Madison and Eli come together; he's seeing Nicky and Edie cutely flirt over dinner. Now he's convincing himself that he's perhaps found his true romance too with Cassidy. Randall even called this before she even showed up: When Kevin told his brother about Cassidy's arrival, he poked fun at Kevin for being "the world's strangest serial monogamist," always falling hard for whatever love story is closest and turning one-night stands into twins and cancelled weddings. 

And indeed, walking out of the ice cream shop, Kevin goes for a handhold with Cassidy – a breach of their seemingly simple and carefree arrangement for the weekend that receives a big ol' nope from Cassidy, pulling her hand away and clarifying that sex, not feelings, were on the table for this trip.

Kevin tries winning her over with some big grand statements – greeted with a miniscule but marvelous moment from Morrison right before he starts, her eyes briefly veering away dead with dread as she realizes, "Oh god, I'm about to get a profession of love, aren't I? What have I gotten myself into?" She quickly snaps back into the conversation and delivers a critical reality check, for Kevin and for viewers: Kevin's a relationship mess – or, in her words, "a big handsome wrecking ball," one who can't even figure out which of his former flings he's supposed to pursue but sure feels like he's supposed to pursue one of them. And if that wasn't enough, Cassidy still has her issues – ones that adding a romance-blinded actor with twins and a brutal track record of relationship faux pas living on the other side of the country certainly won't solve.

As much as Kevin's grown over this series, he's still an addict in a way – just now for love, for a satisfying narrative, for what he sees others have. And while it's not as self-destructive as his past alcoholism, as Cassidy points out, his desperate hunt for his Hollywood ending has normally been anything but for the women along for the ride.

It's OK, though, Kevin, because while you didn't find romance this episode, you did potentially find a bromance! After his night with Cassidy crumbles, Kevin sends a classic late night "u up?" text. Thankfully it's not a booty call, but a buddy call – to Eli of all people, who immediately responds with a phone call while driving home with the twins. And instead of holding on to Madison and resentments, Kevin lets go and has a nice chat with Eli, sharing notes about cute twin things and even passing along some thoughtful relationship advice to his ex's new boyfriend. It's not the episode ending he wants – but it's the episode ending he still needs. 

4. Nicky and Edie: SOLD!

Kevin and Eli weren't the only pleasant connection from this plotline, as we got to spend some quality time with Nicky and Edie over dinner as well. And it was quality, indeed. 

I was a little concerned how well this brand new couple would play, considering the sub-optimal introduction (disgruntled airplane passenger causing problems: not the most adorable meet-cute one could pitch for these current times!) and how little show is left to rewardingly and convincingly bring the two together. But I underestimated Griffin Dunne and new cast member Vanessa Bell Calloway. In just a few minutes together on Tuesday night, I was totally sold me on the duo, flirting over salad, charmingly jabbing at one another about their "Manny" takes and cutely prepping for their first overnight together. Classic "This Is Us," bringing actors together with effortless chemistry – whether familial or romantic – and making them feel utterly at home in the show with ease.

Maybe there's hope for Mr. Grumblytrousers McBritish after all ... nah, never mind.

5. See you on the other side of the Olympics!

An important public service announcement: When you tune in to NBC next Tuesday at 8 p.m., no, "This Is Us" did not suddenly take its biggest twist yet and add a bobsledding Big Three storyline. Thanks to the start of the Winter Olympics in Beijing this week, the NBC drama is going into hibernation – but don't worry, it'll be back by the end of the month (Feb. 22, to be specific).

In the meantime, we'll just have to ponder over the subplots and storylines, and try to predict where "This Is Us" is going next on this final journey. Will Kevin find love after all – and when does he fall in love with construction enough to build Big Three Homes? Will Deja, Randall and Beth have the mother of all fallouts because of this dropout drama? What happened to future Jack with the Big Green Egg – and how did it put the final nail in Toby and Kate's relationship coffin? And on that note, when will Mr. Grumblytrousers McBritish win over Kate and the audience? (Well, I know the answer to that mystery: NEVER!) Most importantly, though, how will Rebecca and the show say goodbye? 

We'll get some more answers (and, knowing this show, almost certainly more questions too) in a few weeks. But for now, it's "This Is Ice Skating" time in NBC.

Matt Mueller Culture Editor

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.