If you thought family drama This Is Us (Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET on CTV) was going to ease us back into things with its big winter return on Tuesday, you definitely had another thing coming. In fact, not only did the first new episode of the year, “The Fifth Wheel,” plunge us back into all of the Pearson craziness, but we may actually need an intense therapy session just to get over what happened between the Big Three and Rebecca during their own therapy session.
In case you hadn’t guessed, the episode’s title wasn’t the name of a bad reality show or a date gone wrong; it was in fact a deep and dark look into Kevin’s childhood that had us experiencing even more sympathy for him than we did back in November’s “Number One” episode, in which he completely spiralled out of control.
It all picked up about a month after the scary car incident, in which a completely intoxicated Kevin was arrested for a DUI with stole-away Tess in the backseat. It turns out the judge let Kev go to a fancy rehab instead of jail, and since then nobody—not even Kate—has spoken with him. Naturally, that meant everyone had pent up their own emotions about the ordeal. Beth was still angry, Randall was trying to be compassionate despite his rage, Kate felt guilty that she didn’t pick up on the signs, and Rebecca… well, it was kind of hard to tell what she thought of the whole situation.
So all of that culminated in a pretty awkward reunion at the home, especially with rehab specialist Barbara (Grey’s Anatomy’s Kate Burton) at the helm and Kevin being all “Mr. Rehab” about it all. Luckily, Barbara quickly insisted that just the immediate family members convene for some group therapy, sending Toby, Miguel and Beth out so that she could focus on the main clan and really dig into their issues.
Meanwhile, that left the three “outsiders” at a bar where they partook in some good old fashioned day-drinking at the local pub, where they talked, over darts and drafts, about Pearson “no-fly zones,” and how closed off the family is to outsiders. Seriously, we never get enough of these characters together, commenting on what it’s like to be welcomed into this family.
Anyhow, back in therapy things got real. Through more telling flashbacks we got to learn about the time Jack took the family to a cabin and Kevin had to meet everyone halfway through since he was at football camp, creating an instant divide in the family. The episode perfectly showcased what it must have been like to grow up as the “normal” one in the family, the one who didn’t bond with mom or dad, and was often by himself while his parents’ attention was on the other two.
Up until this episode we’ve only had hints of a 10-year-old Kevin’s point of view, like the time he almost drowned in the pool and no one noticed, or when he sacrificed his Halloween candy in order to make his sister happy and have the boy she liked hold her hand in the haunted house. But this episode gave us a mega-load of it through Barbara’s guidance and those flashbacks, showcasing just how lonely Kevin has always felt.
Thematically, in the grander scheme of things, the episode also hit on addiction in a way that it hasn’t before. We’ve all known that Jack had serious problems, as did his father before him. Kate has them too in the form of food, and it’s come back in a big way since the miscarriage. But somehow it took Kevin pointing all of that out, reminding everyone that just because Jack was a great dad didn’t mean he didn’t have demons, for the entire Pearson clan to unfold, “white people level repression” styles, as Beth would say.
The resulting “blame game” that ensued was uncomfortable, honest, and made us have more feels than the time Jack and Rebecca screamed at each other in the first season finale. That’s why it wasn’t entirely surprising that the session didn’t end in hugs and kisses, rather an awful truth bomb from Rebecca about how Randall was just the easier child who didn’t hate her and leave her when Jack died.
Well, ouch. We guess some parents do have favourites after all.
At least the episode wasn’t all doom and gloom. Aside from getting some fun moments with Toby, Miguel and Beth (because when are those three ever together?) we also got a nice little ending with the Big Three in the present day making up and forgiving each other, and then again with Rebecca and Kevin. Just when we thought the entire relationship between those two was doomed, we flashed back to one of those “moments” Rebecca was referring to, when Kevin slept on the cabin floor and Rebecca went to join him, cuddling her son in the wake of the storm.
And that, if nothing else, served to remind us to treasure the little moments. Because sometimes – just sometimes – you may need to remember them later on in a heated therapy session, when things get a little too real.
Now if you’ll excuse us, we need to go stock up on tissues for next week.