Well, if you were expecting This Is Us to ease you back into the emotional roller coaster that is the Pearson family, you are sorely mistaken. The dove right in and gave us one of the best episodes of the series to date. It brilliantly unpacked so much Pearson baggage without feeling overwhelming and has set up so much story for the back half of the season, that I already know it’s going to be a wild and tear-filled ride.
Here are our top 5 moments from this week’s episode, “The Fifth Wheel”.
5. The New Big Three
Dating or being married to a Pearson is hard work. Just ask Toby, Beth or Miguel who find themselves ousted like “The Others from Lost” from Kevin’s therapy session at his rehab facility. The trio find the closest bar, and the irony of drinking on family day at rehab is not lost on them, and dig into just how difficult it is being with a Pearson.
Beth’s up first and vents about how anytime she tries to mention Kevin’s DUI to Randall he doesn’t really listen – she’s hit the “Pearson No-Fly Zone”, something that Toby and Miguel are very familiar with. You see, the Pearson No Fly Zone is when you mention something that any Pearson doesn’t like and therefore doesn’t want to discuss further. Number 1 Pearson No-Fly zone topic? Jack, or as Beth likes to say ‘Jack is an airstrike zone.’ He’s untouchable and the saint that none of them will live up to. Toby knows the sentiment all too well, remembering the time he told Kate that Jack’s mustache looked like a 70s porn star as does Miguel who obviously struggles the most with the Jack pedestal.
However, when Toby later opens up about he knows that Kate been sneaking junk food and will most likely tell one of the Pearson’s on the inside first as opposed to him, it’s Miguel who steps up and defends the family when he had the perfect opportunity to chime in a complaint.
I married my best friends wife. No one talks about it, but everyone’s always thinking it. I’m used to being on the outside and I’m okay with it. Those four lived through something very unique together, they lost the best man that any one will ever know.
It was such a touching moment, mainly because this man could have easily sided with Beth and Toby, but instead, he chose to defend Jack and the Pearson family, and admit that he’s okay with being on the outside of his own family. Although the dramatic moment is quickly relinquished when Toby asked Beth ‘how drunk is Miguel?’
While definitely the lightest scenes of the episode, The New Big Three gets 1 Crying Randall because I feel bad for Miguel, which is something I never thought I would say. With very little screen time, the show has managed to completely quell any of my negative thoughts towards him. He’s a good man who understands the Pearson’s and just what they need exactly.
4. Rebecca as The Bad Guy
While “The Fifth Wheel” was clearly about Kevin, I believe that in a subtle way it was also referring to Rebecca. Kate’s struggle with her weight plays a big role throughout the episode and it starts with Rebecca telling her that she can’t have any more cookies, which visibly upsets Kate. Of course, shortly after this exchange Jack comes bouncing in and announces that they’re all going on vacation for a week, sending the kids into a stratosphere of excitement. While Rebecca handles it cool as a cucumber, the fact that he didn’t bring it to the table as a discussion and something they could announce together was bothersome.
Later in the episode, Kevin begins to act out from a lack of attention by throwing a football at a distracted Randall, which results in a heated lecture from Rebecca while Jack is off with Kate. Then when Randall’s glasses go missing, Rebecca accuses Kevin of taking them, which sends Kevin off into a slew of “I hate you! This Family Sucks! You Suck!”
So, when Jack comes home later that evening she opens up to him about how he always gets to be the good guy and she’s the bad guy. She’s the one that has to be strict with Kate about her eating, where he’s the one who takes her out for ice cream. Or she’s the one who Kevin yells that ‘he hates’ whereas Jack is the one who takes them on secret trips to Toys-R-Us.
While he wants to try harder to be the bad guy for her, Rebecca knows that it’s just not in his nature. “I’ll give our kids something to talk about in therapy someday,” she tells him, which holds some significance to her overall story because she’s kind of pointed to as the bad guy in Kevin’s session as well when the therapist questions whether or not she ever spoke to the kids about Jack’s addiction, but we will touch more on that later in the recap.
It came off to me in a way that sometimes Rebecca felt like a fifth wheel, in that while she had a great relationship with Randall, she struggled with Kevin and Kate, but Jack had fantastic relationships with all of them.
Rebecca gets 2 Crying Randalls because while I really feel terrible for her, there’s always a good cop and a bad cop in the family.
3. Kate vs. Jack vs. Food
Kates weight storyline took a very interesting turn this week. While a lot of the focus has been on young Kate comparing herself to her mother and having resentment towards Rebecca for making her weight a topic of conversation, “The Fifth Wheel” takes some time to hone in on Jack’s involvement in it and to be honest, it’s going to open up a whole new, and extremely relatable, chapter to her story.
Jack was always Kate’s safe space. When Rebecca mentions the cookies and she becomes upset, it’s Jack that comes in and gives her something to be happy and excited about, while still leaving those feeling of hurt pointed towards Rebecca. Then later in the episode, Rebecca confronts Jack at the cabin about Kate’s obsession with food after she only tells Kevin about how great the vacation is in terms of S’mores and popcorn. He’s is in clear denial saying that she still has some baby weight to lose and that her doctor is basing his findings off of charts and not genetics. This conversation has been had before and after Rebecca says that she’s worried about Kate’s growing size, Jack agrees that he will find something more active to do with her and promises to stop taking her to the local ice cream place every day.
Jack starts up a game of football in the yard with Kevin and Kate, and when Kate starts to complain about having to play when she doesn’t want to, Jack finally says something to her and you can absolutely see the hurt on his face as he works up the courage to do so. When he tells her that she’s been having a lot of sweets and that exercise is important, Kate looks absolutely devastated. You can tell that in that moment the one person that she had always counted for solace, just made her trust falter for a split second. She takes off visibly upset and Jack who is also upset takes off after her.
While in the woods, Kate asks Jack if he thinks that she is fat to which he responds that she is his “most favorite looking person in the world”. He doesn’t want to hurt her and therefore cannot be honest with her in his concerns about her health. So, what does he do? He takes her to the ice cream parlor because he can’t handle one of his kids being upset towards him.
It’s that decision that solidifies Jack as somewhat of an enabler, making Kate always think back on those times as him reassuring her that everything was okay and she was okay when instead he was just giving more into the issue as opposed to facing it head-on. “I have a lot of things mixed up with food and I thought they were kind of obvious. Now, I don’t know,” Kate tells Toby after Kevin’s therapy session. I think that Kate is going to learn over the back half of the season that Jack may have more of an effect on her weight then she first realized throughout her childhood rather than it stemming from his death.
Jack and Kate’s scenes added such a huge layer to their relationship that it surprisingly ended up being more thought-provoking than tear-inducing. However, they still get 2 Crying Randalls because the weight is always a hard thing to talk about and the hurt they both felt and showed in their scenes, especially Jack when he takes Kate to get ice cream, really hits home for a lot of people.
2. Young Kevin
We’ve finally made it to our fifth wheel, Kevin Pearson. The episode immediately kicks off with him living this truth as he’s away at football camp while the rest of the family is home for the summer and then later shows up a few days after his family has already been having a blast on vacation without him. Not to mention one of the first things that Rebecca tells Kevin when he walks through the door is not to say anything about Randall’s new glasses because he’s already so self-conscious about them. Similiar moments continue throughout the trip and Kevin notices that Randall and Rebecca are reading together at the picnic table and Jack is focusing on Kate staying active during their pickup game. No one is really giving him the time or attention despite the fact that he’s been away at camp.
He takes his anger out by throwing his football at Randall and immediately Rebecca is up yelling at him and asking why he is acting out the way he is, oblivious that she completely blew him off a few minutes earlier when he asked her to watch his spiral he’d been practicing. Shortly after, Randall can’t find his glasses and Rebecca assumes that Kevin stole them, which results in another outburst from him. Later that night Kevin wakes up in the middle of a storm to find that he’s the only one he’s the only one in there. A flash of lightning illuminated the room and he caught a quick glimpse of Randall’s glasses under the bunk bed, proving that he was not the one who took them.
When he goes into his parent’s room to give them to Rebecca he sees Randall and Kate snuggled up in the bed with no room for him. He gets a pillow and a blanket and lays on the floor next to them all, which honestly is the most heartbreaking thing to watch. I predict this being a big half of the season for the eldest Pearson. Kevin really found his stride in the last few episodes of the first half and its become very evident that he’s the one who has repressed the most both about their father and his childhood.
1. The Therapy Session
Wow. That’s really all there is to say about this epic scene that put all four Pearson’s in a room to talk about things that have never been brought up before. While the show’s use of montages and voiceovers has always been a beautiful way to connect storylines and timelines, this therapy session was probably This Is Us’ most effective and heartbreaking scene to date. This Is Us has always been grounded in its mirror of reality, making it easy for a viewer to pinpoint something happening and relate it to their life, and this scene just raised the bar. So often do families suppress vital and valid feelings and when they’re forced to face them it’s as if a volcano of decades of history, disappointment, and anger explode and that’s exactly what happened here. Even family members with the best of intentions can still unknowingly hurt the ones they love and they have to learn to listen and respect those feelings when confronted with them.
At the start of the session, Kevin is hesitant to share with Randall, Kate, and Rebecca the things that he’s been sharing with Barbara, his therapist, and Kate still believes that it has to do with his inability to grieve about Jack’s death, but Kevin eventually shares with the three of them that his issues go so much deeper than that.
“My entire childhood I always felt like I came in second to you two with Mom and Dad. Like I was the fifth wheel of the family.”
Everyone’s first and natural instinct was to get defensive and try to invalidate Kevin’s point but he goes on to explain that he constantly had this voice repeating “you’re not enough” in his head and that he tried to drown it out with football, acting, and fame, but he knew it was only a matter of time before he turned to something worse.
Kevin: Because we are a family of addicts.
The Pearson’s, and us as an audience, have always put Jack on such a high and perfect pedestal that Kevin’s statement sends a shockwave through the room. “We are going to need to talk about your family, and even some things about your father that were not so perfect when he was actually alive,” Barbara tells the family and the look that Rebecca gives her could cut glass.
As Kevin starts to talk about Jack, and their grandfather’s history of addiction he turns to Kate and bravely tells her that he thinks that she also has the addiction gene…to food. It’s fascinating to watch as they all attempt to wrap their heads around the things that have only begun to be said and put up their defensive walls. He then drops such an intuitive truth bomb that he’s not messed up because Jack died, he is messed up because they never talked about any of the real things that were happening when he was alive, such as his addiction.
The therapist puts Rebecca on the spot and asks if she ever sat down and talked to the kids about Jack’s drinking problem and she immediately tries to defend her decision not to.
Barabara astutely points out that Rebecca only gave examples for the moments in Kate and Randall’s lives that Jack would miss and not for Kevin to which Kevin replies is “typical” and that’s when Randall chimes in to defend Rebecca, which is also “typical”. Randall then takes out all of his pent-up aggression on Kevin saying that he’s not an addict and that he’s only addicted to attention. It’s a huge stumble for his usual empathetic character but understandable considering just terribly wrong the situation with Tess could have gone. When Rebecca tries to follow Randall out the door, Kevin yells at her and pleads that she just admit Randall was her favorite.
It is without a doubt the most important scene of the episode and was beautifully acted by Moore. Rebecca has so many layers that the show has only just begun to peel back. All of the angels and demons that she’s had to carry and hold close to her heart over the years are starting to show and despite how hurtful what she just said to Kevin was, it is the first real breakthrough in their relationship. Now that the wound is open, they can begin to heal, which they do at the end of the episode when Rebecca goes to visit Kevin’s room before she leaves.
As the two talk, Rebecca reveals to Kevin that she always felt like she never had to worry about him when he was growing up. He was so independent and always doing his own thing, but now she sees how wrong she was. Then we are treated to our usual This Is Us montage as Kevin tells her that he didn’t have a bad childhood, but Rebecca now knows that it wasn’t as great as she had always thought it was. She’s aware that she had different relationships with Kate and Randall, but she can feel it in her bones that she and Kevin had special moments as well, even if they’ve forgotten them.
We then flashback to the night of the storm at the cabin where Rebecca wakes up to see Kevin asleep on the floor. She gets up and goes to lie next to him and falls asleep with him in her arms – a forgotten moment.
Obviously, this whole part gets 5 Crying Randalls because it was one of the most beautifully acted, raw, and effective scenes from the show to date.
Still with me? That was quite a lot a lot to digest and I don’t even think I covered half of it!
- I feel as though it’s becoming more and more apparent that This Is Us is about to start to enter unperfect Jack territory, which is something that is certainly going to be hard for viewers to watch after a season and a half of building him up as the world’s best dad. However, after this episode, we know that we will be in good company because the characters are going to be forced to do the same thing they’ve also been living blindly in this perfect world where their father could do no wrong.
- Mandy Moore is by far the most difficult character to play on this show. Now more than ever she is playing young Rebecca and old Rebecca in the same episodes. She has to do the scenes with characters her own age but act 30 years older than them. She is essentially playing two completely different characters when she flips timelines and the work she is doing is just incredible. I’ve said it before, but when Mandy cries, I cry.
- Can we take a moment to just relish in this exchange? I absolutely adore Beth and her perfect comebacks.
Beth: That’s some white people repression, babe.
Randall: Well, I was raised by white…
Beth: Everybody knows.
- “So many variations and lenses, each one sharper or blurrier, the world shifted like 12 times in less than a minute. I think everyone sees their childhood through different lenses. Different perspectives.” This was a fabulous line spoken by Randall and is so true.
- While the Big Three all finally made up for what happened in their therapy session it doesn’t go unnoticed that they have barely touched the surface on the things that Kevin said about Jack. It’s almost as if they are pushing it back under the rug…for the time being at least.
Check out the This Is Us aftershow where the cast and crew talk all about the things that went down in “The Fifth Wheel”.
Be sure to come back to Fan Fest for all of our This Is Us coverage this season!
Having studied Media & Writing at James Madison University, I always knew that I wanted to do some type of creative writing, but being able to write about zombies, Starks, and superheroes on a daily basis for Fan Fest is my actual dream. While I probably shouldn’t be as proud as I am to be so similar to Nick Miller, I do hope to one day write my own “Pepperwood Chronicles’.