Photo: Ron Batzdorff/NBC
For a show that is happy to cram down our throats the fact that THIS IS THE FINAL SEASON, it doesn’t seem very concerned with any sense of actual urgency. To be fair, This Is Us has never been too concerned with urgency — for all its love of twists and reveals, this is not a plot-driven series for the most part — but we have a finite amount of episodes left and (have you heard? This is the final season!) what seems like a lot of maneuvering of pieces to match up with the flash-forwards to which we’ve been privy.
First, there is that glimpse of that jump in which the Big Three are 45 (they just turned 41 this season), and Kate is about to get remarried. There is also, of course, the jump further into the future — Tess is in her twenties — where the Family Pearson is gathering at the new cabin as Rebecca is about to die. And we’re not even counting the flash forward-forward-forward, a future where Adult Baby Jack is a music star and has his own baby with his favorite waitress-turned-wife-turned-chef. We have a lot of things to get into and only a few episodes in which to do so! And still, we’re given an episode that is mostly full of meandering table setting until we get a few story beats hinting at where things are going. While I obviously love talking about dads, especially hot ones (most especially hot Thanksgiving ones), “Four Fathers” needed a little more oomph.
The storyline with the most momentum in this tasting menu of Pearson and Pearson-adjacent dad stories belongs to Kate and Toby. That’s a great thing since we’ve spent five seasons building this relationship, and we know that its destruction is imminent, and This Is Us has some ‘splaining to do. As much as Kate and Toby keep saying Toby working four days a week in San Francisco is fine and they are strong and doing okay, uh, they aren’t fooling anybody. It seems to be benefiting exactly zero people. Toby ends up home for a weekend, and the two have big plans to go to a recital Kate helped put on at her school, get fro-yo, and then have sex, I guess? It’s depressing. And even more depressing: It never happens. Toby is overcompensating for not being home by bombarding everyone with gifts, insisting he’s totally fine to watch the kids while Kate gets pampered and doesn’t need any instruction because He’s Their Dad. It all blows up in his face when the kids get completely off-schedule and meltdown just as the babysitter arrives. I blame this a little bit on babysitter McKenna who, although young, could be like, even 10 percent more helpful. No one really fights it too much when Toby says he’ll stay home and make sure the kids are okay, sending Kate to her recital alone.
This incident has two significant consequences: First, Kate and Phillip share a bonding moment after the recital in which Kate vents about everything going on, and even though Phillip absolutely did not ask for that, he offers up some surprisingly comforting words; He tells Kate about how in his marriage it was when he stopped complaining about the problems that he realized the problems were too big to fix, so the fact that Kate is complaining about her situation with Toby is a good sign. See? They’re becoming friends! Things are happening. Watch this space, etcetera, etcetera.
The other consequence of this disastrous weekend is that Toby gets it in his head that he needs to do something to fix their current situation. He doesn’t want them to look back on this time in their lives and only have bad memories, so he suggests they … buy the Big Green Egg smoker? And become barbeque and smoker people? I don’t know; the men on this show make wild choices. Now, you might be like, why do we care that Toby wants to buy a Big Green Egg to save his family aside from the fact that on paper that sounds legit ridiculous? Well, we travel to the far, far “Adult Baby Jack is a huge music star” future where he and his wife Lucy are sunning on the deck of their gorgeous L.A. mansion, and Adult Baby Jack is smoking some meats in that very same Big Green Egg (the sentences this show forces me to write!). It turns out that his very first memory has to do with some sort of accident with the smoker that leaves him with a scar on his head and a very specific aversion in which smoked meats remind him of divorce. “It’s the literal symbol of the day your parents’ marriage blew up,” Lucy says. What a fun and cool anecdote. Anyway, it seems like we’ll be getting that EGG blow-up eventually this season (in ABJ’s memory, we hear Toby’s voice and also Rebecca yelling for her grandson). Obviously, we don’t know the details yet, but it just seems like after a crockpot murdering their dad and a Big Green Egg destroying a marriage, all the Pearsons should be strictly sticking to take-out, you know? Like, why invite the heartache?
Toby’s reasoning behind his EGG purchase is to make good memories; The desire to create positive lasting memories for and with their kids is threaded throughout all of the Pearson dad stories in this episode. It’s normal for any parent, but still, seen in bulk, it seems like the Pearson men are especially obsessed with legacy. Back in the 1980s, Jack has been working much longer hours and doesn’t want to be “that dad,” so he plans to take them to see their first movie at the theater. He falls asleep during An American Tail, and Kevin leaves, only to end up at Mall Security with Rebecca, who they called because she had written their phone number on the inside of Kevin’s shoes. At home, Rebecca reminds Jack that the day isn’t over and he can turn it around, so now they’ll remember that as the day they made sundaes in the kitchen and had a movie marathon in the living room.
In the present day, Randall, too, is looking forward to spending time with Deja as he takes her out for her first driving lesson. They are making memories, bonding, and then listening to a text message from Malik about how he can’t stop thinking about their weekend together and that his bed feels smaller now!! Oh friends, you gotta turn your Bluetooth off when you get into the car with someone you do not want to hear your private texts even if the chance this could happen is minuscule! Again I ask, why invite the heartache? Obviously, Randall and Beth are livid about the lying and taken aback by the implied sex thing. So, Randall’s day of memories with Deja ends with him pouring his heart out to her about how he’s having a hard time seeing her as a grown-up because he missed the first 12 years of her life, and he’s stalling for time. He also tells her that there is no way in hell his high school junior daughter is visiting her boyfriend up in Boston again, to which Deja tells him is “going to be a problem.” Does anyone else want to throw something at the wall upon hearing this? The youths on this show really make me feel so old. You are IN HIGH SCHOOL, and this is YOUR FATHER, and please don’t be so disrespectful!! So, yeah, not like the best set of memories to carry along with you for the rest of your life.
And then there is the Final Dad: Kevin. Kevin is not adjusting well to his new life outside of Madison’s garage. He’s missing out on his twins growing up, and to make it worse, the job that he took to be able to stay close to them — a truly hellish Manny reboot — is soul-sucking. When he misses Franny’s first steps, Kevin spirals. This isn’t what he signed up for; this isn’t what he thought fatherhood would be. Madison tries to explain that they aren’t together, so someone will always be left out. While this is very true, it is said with a tinge of self-righteousness that’s hard to take because you just know if things were flipped, Madison would not be taking it well. Let the man have some feelings for like one minute!
The way Kevin handles this situation is certainly another example of him evolving as a human adult, even if he’s only taking baby steps. He realizes that the little dream of what a family would look like for him isn’t his reality — before, he might have been self-destructive and in denial. Instead, we see him begin to process that idea. And rather than making some truly bad choices, like hooking up with his 25-year-old Manny reboot co-star, he makes a healthy one and calls a friend to help him with what he’s going through — that friend is Cassidy. These two have to be reuniting at some point soon, right?
• The 1980s storyline isn’t the most engaging, but it does end with a big moment that makes the day a memorable one, just for the wrong reason: Jack gets a phone call and learns that his mother has died. Get ready to have your heart broken one thousand times as Jack processes that next week!
• This Is Us usually takes itself pretty seriously, so it’s nice when it can poke fun at itself, like with Kevin simply asking, “what the hell are you talking about right now?” after Toby’s big speech about families and sturdy shapes. That speech could easily have been one we were supposed to take with a straight face.
• Beth making Randall take a huge sip of her wine so that she can tell him she’s putting Deja on birth control is Relatable TV.
• Randall’s face when he hears Malik’s text messages is why Sterling K. Brown wins Emmys.
This Is Us Recap: This Is Dad