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This Is Us fares well when it stops relying on its trademark twists

Illustration for article titled This Is Us fares well when it stops relying on its trademark twists
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I knew I was going to like “The Right Thing To Do” when Dr. K didn’t even put down his newspaper to discuss how triplets spell out bad news for a new couple, and that he was glad that the expecting parents — whom he would get to know at various points later in both of their lives — wasn’t one of his patients. It’s these kinds of tricks, these weaving together of different plot threads to the greater story, that I like about This Is Us. An episode like “The Right Thing To Do” was a lowkey entry that demonstrated why This Is Us works on its basest level: It’s a sweet and funny show about a family.

For the first time in quite a few episodes, This Is Us turned it down a notch, and kept it down. That’s hard for a show that has established itself as subsisting on twists and turns, to pull off, especially after the midseason finale that saw Toby felled by a heart attack. There were certainly unknowns drawn out to keep us guess and/or forcibly tug on our collective heartstrings, but “The Right Thing To Do” felt like it leaned less on those gaspworthy moments that I’ve wondered if we’d grown wary of than previous episodes. And you know what? I liked this episode quite a bit. It was funny and took its time. It moved purposefully, advancing the plot without forcing shock and feelings. So many feelings.


“The Right Thing To Do” worked in that it had its ensemble moments — the scene with Kate, Randall, and Kevin trying to distract themselves while in the hospital waiting room was what I had hoped “The Trip” would be — while still allowing each character to go off and participate in their own storyline. These characters didn’t feel as much like they were isolated, even if they only had a few scenes outside of their normal pairings.

The big news of the episode is that Toby didn’t fucking die, as I was previously afraid of. Instead he decided to get a post-heart attack follow-up surgery at the urging of Kate, who later professes her undying love to him. This episode was really the first time that Kate got to be someone other than the fat person. She got to be a girlfriend this time around, and while that’s still a far cry from having the fleshed-out inner life of a three-dimensional character, at least it’s not all calorie-counting and scale-fueled meltdowns. There is certainly still time to kill Toby off. I don’t think that he’s out of the woods just yet, but felling Toby at this point would have meant that This Is Us had become too blatantly transparent when it comes to its own emotional manipulation. For a show that has never been subtle about such things, even that would be too far.

Kevin’s plot is the origin of this episode title. He tells the returned Olivia that they can’t actually date anymore because being with Simone is the right thing to do, even if ti’s not what he wants. But why does he want to be with Olivia either? When Kevin describes Olivia as potentially mentally ill, I wanted to reach into the television and yell that she’s just poorly conceived. She’s self-centered to the point where she put hurt feelings above the fate of the show she starred in. She went from potential free-spirited love interest for Kevin into this villain (now complete with bad dye job) in a matter of episodes. It’s enough to give you whiplash, but not enough to make her coherent. Perhaps I’m projecting because I’m firmly on #TeamSloane, repping for the cerebral Jewish girls with glasses, but Olivia doesn’t seem to exist to do anything but do crazy, outlandish things when called upon to do so, and there doesn’t seem to be any motivation for Kevin to be at all enamored with her, considering her vision quest near ruined his life.

While “The Right Thing To Do” gave each Pearson triplet equal screentime, it was Randall’s plot that I wish I had more of. Randall finds himself jealous of Jesse (Denis O’Hare), who is now the receiver of William’s affections and energy, even if Randall doesn’t know the real reason why. A great deal of why I wanted more from Randall and William is because of Sterling K. Brown and Ron Cephas Jones are so fabulous together, but also because there’s an emotional richness in Randall feeling like he was pushed aside in favor of Jesse that this episode just began to scratch the surface of. It’s a plotline we see in children a lot; kids are worried about their parent’s new significant other. But rarely does a grown many have a reason or excuse to feel the same way. Randall was given both.


Meanwhile, back in the ’70s, Rebecca and Jack go back to before the triplets are born, and explored their own parents. There had been some talk of Jack and Rebecca’s parents before, but here we got to meet them. Rebecca’s mother and Jack’s father explain why a strong familial unit is important to both of them, while simultaneously exploring how they financially got their start. Rebecca and Jack’s story was largely uneventful, but it did play into one of This Is Us’ worse habits. I understand that getting news about triplets must be difficult, but everyone around Rebecca and Jack acted as if one of they had just gotten a death sentence. Are triplets truly that horrible? That people apologize before showing any sort of excitement about the babies about to be born? It’s a way to up the drama for drama’s sake when, in fact, this episode did fine without any extra drama sprinkled in.

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