Regular readers of these recaps will know that my preferred form of "This Is Us" is the solo episode, focusing in on one character and diving deep into their story using the time-hopping structure. So yes, I was very excited for the start of the show's latest trio of solo outings – beginning with Randall, who, last we checked, had had better days ... and that was before coming face-to-face with an armed burglar creeping in his house. And after "A Hell of a Week: Part One," I'm happy to report my excitement was validated.
But let's pop on some movie scores and dive into the five biggest takeaways from Randall's bad night – and even worse week.
1. The burglar is just the beginning for Randall
For those expecting some big fight or thrilling excitement with the burglar from last week's startling cliffhanger, well, you probably shouldn't have in the first place. We all knew Randall would be fine – and plus, what show do you think you're watching, "24?" "This Is Us": famously an action-packed television show, basically "Jack Ryan" in the suburbs.
So indeed, with the help of a tossed money clip, threats of a silent security system (that, as we find out afterward, does not exist) and some calm but nervous negotiating, Randall fairly quickly convinces the knife-wielding burglar to scamper away. But that's truly just the beginning of the nightmare for Randall, quite literally, as the show dives into his deep-seeded anxiety issues – and then some.
In the aftermath, Randall does plenty to protect his family and the house, from sending the girls away the next night since the police warn him burglars tend to come back to targets the following night, to installing an actual security system so he doesn't have to bluff if there is a next time – complete with text updates about every leaf that blows into the yard that Randall clings to as a security blanket for his stressed brain.
Indeed, with all of his concerns and moves to protect what's important to him, what Randall fails to protect is his own mind and mental health. He tries to hop quickly back into work and back into normal, but distracted by his sleepless nights and security updates blipping up on his phone, he struggles to keep his constituents happy – especially with the community catching wind of the housing bill from the golf episode that he's supporting, potentially gentrifying the city and wiping out small businesses from the neighborhood. Once able to confidently compose his thoughts and speak to people's hearts, the terrified Randall can only feebly ask for trust at a heated community meeting while his personal world is collapsing – even worse so after he discovers that they're missing some jewelry items, implying the burglar didn't just get into the kitchen but made it all the way into their bedroom.
One of those concerned constituents is Malik's dad Darnell, who visits the alderman's office to chat about the bill but doesn't get to say much in between Randall's cell phone updates – not a good look for Ald. Pearson. Thankfully Darnell gets the full story from Deja and holds back at the meeting to instead grab Randall on one of his runs and chat with him about therapy. For those who remember, this isn't the first time someone's brought up therapy to Randall; back in the fall, at the end of the episode in which Tess has her panic attack, Beth proposed the idea to Randall only for him to slap it down without much of a thought. The conversation may be different this time, but Darnell gets the same results as Beth: rejection, as Randall's pride refuses the help.
After all, in Randall's mind, he's managed it (uneasily) on his own throughout his life – as we see in flashbacks to his college days, panicking about standard fire drills and having eerie nightmares of his mom gardening in a storm aloof to danger and the family having their Cornish hen dinner with Jack as if he's not dead. (The nightmare sequences are effectively unsettling and creepy, though I can't help wish that last week's director, Yasu Tanida, got a chance to use his unexpected and often hazily dreamlike approach from last week in service of more nefarious feelings.) Back then, Beth actually almost got Randall to a grief counseling session to discuss his fears about his dad's death, but a family emergency pulled him away at the last minute – surely not to Randall's disappointment.
Since then, however, he's just let anxiety build and bubble up inside – and after he violently stops a random purse-snatching in progress with his fists, it officially boils over into a breakdown on the bathroom floor, eventually calling Kevin as a desperate grasp for a life preserver. Thank the heavens Kevin didn't ask again about Randall's recent flight that DEFINITELY WASN'T TO HELP OUT THEIR SECRETLY MENTALLY DETERIORATING MOTHER, NO SIRREE! Certainly wouldn't have helped things – or actually, it probably would've instead of Randall still bracing all of that on his own. But I'm sure we'll get there.
Sterling K. Brown's delivered some excellent acting showcase moments over the course of this series so far, but the final frames of "A Hell of a Week: Part One" might land as some of his best, watching him tearfully collapse from the pressure internal and external. Brown doesn't play it as a full dam breaking, big and bombastic, but it's the first emotional cracks of a man finally breaking from the toxic masculinity that's restrained him emotionally and refused to let himself really open up and deal with his fears and insecurities. Toxic masculinity is often referenced in relation to the damage done on others, but it can do just as much damage to men, with preconceptions about they're supposed to behave or handle trauma handcuffing them emotionally and rendering them unable to cope with life's immense pains and pressures until they often explode – whether in violence, like Randall with the purse-snatcher, or in a mammoth mental breakdown such as the episode's finale.
It's impressive that "This Is Us" tackled that complicated topic and those difficult emotions in smart and subtle ways (for instance, Randall getting a boxer's fracture from his altercation with the thief, showing how his approach to handling his stress is literally hurting himself in the process) without becoming a Very Special Episode, an after-school speech – something the show's had issues with in the past. It's even more impressive coming from an episode that, considering where it started with a burglar breaking in, could've just been about cheap soapy melodramatic thrills. Instead, it found the true life-or-death stakes in the situation – and turned the scenario into one of the show's more in-depth episodes and one of its character's most moving and heart-wrenching moments.
2. It's not therapy, but it certainly helps
To lighten the mood a little bit, I very much enjoyed the on-screen cameo of "The Great British Baking Show" as Randall's comfort background noise while staying in the house alone after the burglar's visit. Considering that show is an hour-long hug, it's one of the few smart and healthy choices Randall made this episode.
But seriously, Randall, talk to a therapist. There's only so much Paul Hollywood, Prue Leith and talk of creme pat can do.
3. The past is maybe best left in the past
I think we may have officially run out of storylines for Jack – at least, that's the vibe from the flashbacks from his era on "This Is Us." Make no mistake: His sequences – this week taking care of the kids on their first night in separate bedrooms and the night terrors that ensue, serving as the connective tissue between these three solo episodes – are charming and sweet, and I'm not going to complain about getting Milo Ventimiglia's kind and charismatic Jack on screen.
But ... I'm now going to complain about getting Milo Ventimiglia's charismatic Jack on screen, because at the end of every episode – especially the crowded ones where the story's hopping between all of the characters – I think about how the time spent on their sweet but generally unnecessary segments from that particular era could've been used to enrich the other, more pressing storylines. More often than not this season, these flashbacks always feel slight and inessential, more out of a feeling of requisite duty or, at best, some loose thematic hook or tie-in as opposed to a key cog in the machinery.
Maybe this will change with Rebecca's impending battle against her memory, with those moments hanging in the balance, but it sure seems like we've tapped Jack of all the stories his character has to offer. That's not the first time I've said this – and as much as it'll hurt to lose his consistent presence on the show, I'm hoping it's close to the last.
4. Sneak preview of Kate's pain
Remember Kate's greasy music store boyfriend Marc? And remember how, last we checked, everyone looked back at that era of Kate's life with sad glances on their faces? Well, we got the tiniest taste of what's to come with that this week, as teen Kate was briefly on the phone in the background of a flashback scene, bickering with Marc about little things like what movies they were planning to watch – maybe not enough to think there was something wrong but certainly just enough to know that something's not right. Things get more serious by the end, though, when Randall bails on the grief counseling with Beth because something's happened with Kate – and I think we can all safely predict that thing also involves Marc.
I assume that's going to be the focus in Kate's solo hour coming up in this current triad of individual episodes – and I assume we're going to end that hour wanting to launch Marc into the sun on a rocket ship made of dynamite. But first ...
5. Kevin in the spotlight next week
Kevin gets his solo episode first, which will reunite him with Sophie – but to what degree? We know what the call from the last episode was about now – and no, it wasn't some very random, very desperate booty call. Sophie's mom died, and Kevin appears to have been invited to the funeral, where he'll be reconnected with his childhood love and almost wife. (Oh boy, that's right; they're apparently getting married as teens. Oof, that's not going to go well.)
One thing's for sure: He definitely gets SUPER connected with somebody because, at the end of the episode, while Randall's on one end of the line pouring his heart out and getting his crushing weight off his shoulders, Kevin's laying in bed post-sexy times (we assume) with ... someone. I feel like if it was Sophie, though, the show would've revealed that now as the "oh snap" big twist – plus, that's too obvious for a show that rarely does the obvious. Then again, the preview of next week's Kevin-centric hour shows Sophie wanting to get away from all the funeral atmosphere and drama, so maybe this ends with a "High Fidelity"-esque hookup to escape the sadness of losing a parent for a few moments of brainless release.
Anyways, here's to things going better for Kevin than the last time we had a triple solo episode combo.
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.