What, you thought it would be that easy? After seemingly burying their awful fight on the front lawn after the twins' arrival and after Randall's spiritual journey to find his birth mother, Kevin and Randall still had things to say to each other. A LOT of things to say – messy, tricky, complicated and just plain hard things to say. Like that Kevin's better as a comedic actor than a dramatic actor.
OK, obviously there are some significantly bigger fish to fry here beyond Kevin Pearson's IMDB page – so let's dig into the five biggest takeaways from Tuesday night's big (and hopefully final) confrontation.
1. Kevin vs. Randall: the final round
And here I was thinking Kevin and Randall were all good and chummy again several episodes ago. In fairness, they did seem pretty swell after Randall helped Kevin support Madison during the twins' birth – and this wouldn't have been the first time "This Is Us" pitched these two against one another only to have it blow over pretty quickly. But credit where credit is due: "This Is Us" acknowledged that a lifetime of anger, resentment, complicated emotions and accumulated microagressions doesn't disappear thanks to a few good phone calls and Zoom chats. And instead of Tuesday's big conversation feeling like dragged-out family drama hitting standard beats, it felt like the true finale for all the angst these brothers have felt over the years. It was messy, angry, awkward and, by the end, warm in a way that felt remarkably earned.
Randall's anxiously prepping for his brother's arrival, reminded by Beth that, considering their last fight ended with them viciously yelling on the front lawn, could things really get worse than that? A good point – although Randall heard just last week at his trans-racial adoptee therapy group about a woman whose family basically abandoned her after she was painfully honest with her feelings about being adopted, so I guess "worse" does exist. But things start awkwardly pleasant enough; Kevin and Randall start with some clumsy icebreaker jokes before the conversation truly begins ... one that Kevin decides to lead. Oh boy, maybe this won't go well after all.
Kevin opens with a big monologue about how he didn't do enough to support Randall, thinking back to their prom night as kids when his date's racist dad couldn't bear to see Randall take his daughter to the dance, and that if he ever played a part in making his brother feel alone or bad growing up, he's sorry. It's all very well-intended ... and not at all the conversation Randall's there to have, especially at the end when Kevin seems very eager to receive an "I forgive you" and a pat on the head from Randall. It's more about Kevin wanting absolution for noticing obvious racism and less about truly discussing and confronting his own smaller but still slicing behavior in the past – which Randall then digs into. You know the part in Kevin's soliloquy when he said he apologizes if he did anything to make him feel alone or bad in the past? Well, Kevin didn't want to actually hear about any of those times – but the two start getting into it, have a thrillingly nuanced and tricky debate about microaggressions, having to feel "grateful" and more.
Admittedly, not everything in this episode worked. Not that "This Is Us" ever needs encouragement to have more monologues and dialogue, but the hour kept popping in and out of Randall and Kevin's conversation to flashbacks – to Jack taking the two to a TV show filming as kids and a guys weekend that went awry as college kids in L.A. – that weren't quite as involving or exciting as the main conversation. They help show the slow build-up of microaggressions Randall's endured over the years, but each time we went away from the present day chat, I really just wanted to go back. Also, the modern day discussion comes packaged in a slightly sitcom-y story about Randall and Kevin accidentally locking themselves out of the house – which feels very much like the show cushioning this intense conversation with some silly plotting. (Why wouldn't Randall go out for air on his nice back patio space we saw a few episodes back? There's even IPAs out there!)
Maybe these interruptions feel so particularly fake and invasive, however, because the main conversation is just so real. The writing – as well as the performances from Sterling K. Brown and Justin Hartley – plays out painfully authentic, and there's something perfectly clumsy about the chat, a precise imprecision especially in Randall's case where he's trying desperately to convey emotions and feelings that even he himself is fully trying to wrap his mind around. He's frustrated with Kevin getting quickly defensive (despite his apologetic beginning), but he's also frustrated that he's not able to express these nuanced, complicated emotions clearly the way he wants. In a worse version of this conversation, it'd be didactic and preachy, but Tuesday night's episode finds the right balance, getting its points across without forgetting the characters and emotions behind them.
Eventually, the two break back into Randall's house – and have a breakthrough emotionally as well. In addition to explaining how the years of Carlton jokes and "not being Black enough" digs really hurt him, Randall explains the premise of a "ghost kingdom" to Kevin – and heartbreakingly explains that he couldn't even have his imaginary family, a dream existence, without the Pearsons unintentionally cutting in and extinguishing his fantasy. By the end, Kevin starts to get it, how this dream childhood he imagined for his Black brother wasn't as magical as he assumed – and how he made it harder in many cases with his jabs, subconsciously done to hopefully bring his brother down to size.
They're maybe not completely healed – again, 40 years of repressed anger and frustration don't just go away – but the two have a genuinely close moment where Kevin truly apologizes, not just to get Randall's approval but because he truly feels bad, and Randall does as well for his comments on the lawn that day last season, saying that Jack was indeed very proud of him, not ashamed. And also, most importantly, that he's actually a good actor.
In the end, after seemingly wrapping this plotline up episodes ago, this was the conclusion Kevin and Randall's rift truly deserved – and a conversation where "This Is Us" truly shined.
2. It's a beautiful (and slightly testy) day in this neighborhood
The more effective of the two flashbacks from last night's episode took us to the Neighborhood of Make-Believe – which is to say Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood. Yes, thanks to a friend, Jack manages to swing tickets to a special meet-and-greet/filming session with the beloved children's show host for Randall and Kevin while Kate and Rebecca are off on a girls' weekend. (If I was Kate, I would never have forgiven this betrayal, and I would never have forgotten it. I would've brought it up in every single episode thus far.)
So Jack packs up Kevin and Randall, and head to the studio where a beautiful day in the neighborhood quietly but notably builds up some clouds. A production assistant is handing out lanyards to the children audience members, but after asking Jack how many kids he has with him, he hands a lanyard to Kevin ... and another unrelated white child next to Kevin that he confuses for Jack's other son. Why he would totally ignore Randall in that situation – he's right in front of the PA, who didn't give him a lanyard for the family prior, so who did he think this child was? – I'm not sure, but it subtly rattles the rest of the day for Randall.
In case it wasn't enough to be ignored and othered from his father and brother, Jack overcompensates by trying to get Randall better seats for the show – and therefore upsetting Kevin in the process, who thinks his brother's getting preferential treatment (that, as Randall notes in their argument, he never asked for). In the hopes of making things better for Randall, Jack just ends up making him feel even more othered – even as young child who probably didn't know the word for the feeling – as well as accidentally watering some seeds of resentment in Kevin that would grow and grow unexamined until their conversation Tuesday night.
Again, I would've loved an entire episode just with Kevin and Randall in the modern day, having their conversation and really tearing into these complicated subjects and emotions. But of the two flashbacks, this one was my preferred, more effective route. Maybe also because it had Mr. Rogers, the nicest man on the planet.
3. A trip to Randall's ghost kingdom
As is becoming a regular occurance with "This Is Us," Tuesday night's episode began with not with the Pearsons but with some strangers: a Black husband and wife with their young son, living in what appears to be the past. So would these people end up being neighbors of some kind? Perhaps historical figures, famed or unknown, that would tie into the episode's story by the end somehow? Distant relatives introduced for future plotlines? Or did I actually flip the television to the wrong channel this time and these are literally characters on a completely different show?
Nope to all of the above. In fact, after some pleasant cooking and galavanting around in the kitchen, it's revealed that one of them isn't a stranger at all: The young boy is Randall.
As it turns out, none of that opening was real; it was instead a trip to a different kind of Neighborhood of Make-Believe. That was a glimpse into Randall's "ghost kingdom," a concept introduced last episode during Randall's visit to a trans-racial adoptee therapy session. In very simplified terms, a "ghost kingdom" is their imagined version of their lives, the families they might have had. In Randall's case, since he didn't know who his birth parents were, he imagined his "ghost kingdom" with the TV weatherman and the school librarian – aka the only other Black faces he really knew, recognized and felt a bond with growing up.
It's a fascinating perspective – one that ends with a final visit different from the first. With Kevin gone and Randall now in bed trying to sleep, he imagines a "ghost kingdom" with two new parents: Laurel and William. And he smiles. It doesn't end the episode on a note of closure – 40 years of angst, confusion and contemplation don't just evaporate, after all – but it does conclude on a moment of peace and joy, even if it's just in Randall's mind in a kingdom far, far away.
4. Kevin's career: not so dead after all!
Kevin may have saved a guy on the side of the road a few episodes back (remember that? What a weirdly casual thing that happened!) but that very same hour, it sure seemed like he was leaving his acting career for dead. Last we checked, Kevin barged off the set of his big lawyer drama to see the unexpectedly early birth of his kids, upsetting up-and-coming director
Snobby Spielberg Jordan Martin Foster and probably an unseen Robert De Niro. And if there's one thing I've learned from watching Robert De Niro movies, it's don't upset Robert De Niro.
So that was the end of Kevin's career, right? Not so fast! Who do you think he is: an actress turning 40!?
Indeed, while Kevin and Randall have their intense conversation, the former's also waiting on a call from De Niro to talk about what happened and to line up reshoots for the movie – and while we don't really get to hear much of the chat (and obviously don't hear any De Niro), it sounds like Kevin's back on the callsheet. Now, this could just be due to the fact that the project filmed too much with Kevin to turn back without him now, and Kevin's doomed to remain gig-less until the 20th anniversary "The Manny" reunion special – but he's not dead in Hollywood quite yet! Who knows; maybe another Golden Globe nomination is in his future. (That's right: We found out Tuesday night that Kevin actually earned a Globe nomination for his war movie – though come on, "This Is Us," even the Globes aren't giving away noms to a Stallone film, no matter how I much I petitioned them for "Bullet to the Head.")
5. A season of change
We've been used to rocky schedule this season of "This Is Us." The biggest shake-up, however, was saved for last as Tuesday's end credits teaser for the next episode revealed that not only would we have to wait for almost a month (May 11) for the next chapters in the Pearsons' saga, but that there would only be three more to wrap up this fifth season.
Yes, instead of the original 18 episodes ordered from the network, "This Is Us" will call it a season with only 16 episodes this year, wrapping up on May 25 (at 9 p.m., by the way, instead of the usual 8 p.m. slot). And here's news that'll really make you cry those big "This Is Us" tears: Next season is expected to be the show's final run, according to hints and teases from creator Dan Fogelman. Hopefully we get those two episodes that we lost this season attached to next year.
With the end now in sight, it's fair to say this has been one of the stranger "This Is Us" seasons – fitting considering this has been one of the stranger years in our lives, to say the very least. As I've pointed out before, besides Randall's racial and familial awakening in the wake of last year's brutal war of words, there's never quite been a narrative hook to this year – not a significant problem, but one that, combined with the sporadic schedule, has made for a disjointed season.
But as Tuesday night's episode showed, while it's been an odd season, "This Is Us" is still one of television's most thoughtful and incisive shows. The drama may not have the flashy headline-grabbing twists or the shiny prestige drama sheen to it anymore, but the kinds of conversations and moments that happen on "This Is Us" – honest, emotional, nuanced – are rarely found anywhere else on television. Where else are two brothers having these kind of complex, tricky, soul-delving discussions about race, adoption, guilt and more – while being this astute and accurate. And don't forget enjoyable! Instead of falling into Very Serious Important Television one-note grimness, "This Is Us" balances its darkness with light, its heavy conversations about casual familial racism with jokes about Kevin's acting choices and Beth's love for cereal milk. (If that was Cinnamon Toast Crunch milk Randall poured down the sink, that's an actual crime, and I expect fines assessed.)
"Brotherly Love" was an imperfect episode in an imperfect season of an imperfect show – but its colossally high points also show that, even with everything going on in the world screwing with its schedule and shooting plans and potentially even storylines, almost five seasons in, few are doing it better than "This Is Us."
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.