September 25, 2018
Welcome back, Pearsons.
"This Is Us" returned for its third season on NBC Tuesday night in true form, with crying, hugging and more twists and mysteries than it really needs. Yes, the writers added layers to the existing puzzle-box storylines (Who are Randall and Tess visiting in the future? What happened to Jack in Vietnam?) and created new ones (Who is the man kissing Rebecca?). All this, plus at least one emotional monologue designed to get you sniffling.
This Is Us recap: Season 3 premiere is half frustration, half great
The series is remarkably consistent in its good and bad parts. The premiere had great narrative arcs, and reminded viewers why they love this family so much. But some aspects of the show are starting to grate. The obfuscation of the past, present and future is a "This Is Us" trademark but also increasingly annoying the further the series goes. The mysteries feel less exciting and more gimmicky now, since we know the characters well enough to be invested without bells and whistles.
Still, there are moments in the premiere, entitled "Nine Bucks," where "Us" subverts its audience's expectations in a good way, particularly when it comes to Deja, whose story has, so far, never veered into the cliche. If only the rest of the Pearson clan could stay the same.
The upbeat and fast-paced premiere mostly focused on the Big Three in the present, while checking in with Jack and Rebecca's first date in the past. And, because this show's writers never miss a chance to go over the top, we also check in with legendary football player Franco Harris, who gets a "This Is Us"-style back story for his "Immaculate Reception" in the 1972 Steelers versus Raiders football game. The event provides the literal backdrop for Jack and Rebecca's date, and more thematically, Kate, Randall and Kevin's struggles in the present.
The episode kicks off with a quick check-in with the siblings' summer vacations. Randall and Beth aren't having much luck with Deja's attitude problems, Kevin is secretly sleeping with Beth's cousin Zoey and Kate and Toby are having fertility problems.
As is tradition, the episode mostly takes place on the siblings' birthday, with Kevin celebrating with Randall on the East Coast and Kate celebrating with Toby and her friends in LA. Just before Kate's party, she and Toby visit an IVF specialist, who turns Kate down as a patient because of her weight, a move that appears to be partially based in medicine but also in bias and discrimination.
This Is Us recap: Season 3 premiere is half frustration, half great
Kate is understandably devastated and, in true Pearson fashion, has an outburst at her party. And although the doctor was stone cold in their first appointment, she eventually calls Kate and Toby back and agrees to take them on. Kate is elated, but the low odds of success and the dangers of the process scare Toby, and he makes the rather rash decision to flush all his antidepressants in an effort to get his sperm count up and boost their odds. I'm sure this will work out really well. (No, it won't, we saw it in the "next week on" segment.)
One Pearson who is doing great is Kevin, who is crazy in like with Beth's cousin Zoey, who he connected with in the Season 2 finale (and who we saw go with him to Vietnam in the flash forward). But when Beth finds out about their dalliance, she flips out, and instead of warning Zoey off of Kevin because of his issues, she warns Kevin off of Zoey because of hers.
Randall, meanwhile, has planned a grand speech to formally ask Deja if she wants him and Beth to adopt her. He drives Deja to the building where he met William and talks about how being adopted defined his life, yet he never had a choice in the matter. Now he wants Deja to have a choice.
It's the kind of speech that sounds great, especially when Sterling K. Brown makes it. But Deja is angry that Randall has tried to equate their experiences, especially as she's still mourning a mother who chose to give her up. When they get back home Deja sneaks out the window with a backpack, but just when you think she's going to run away, she instead goes to confront the father who never wanted her. She's there to tell him off and to get one favor: A pair of sneakers to give to Randall as a birthday present. When she gets back home, she apologizes and says she's ready to be adopted.
This Is Us recap: Season 3 premiere is half frustration, half great
Back in the past, the episode returns to the night Jack and Rebecca first met, and we see the full night, including a first date that takes a terrible turn because Jack only has $9 and he is afraid to admit it to Rebecca. Of course, once he opens up things start going better, and he tells her about his money troubles and the rough time he had in Vietnam, where the brother we've barely heard of died. The pair share their first kiss, and as Jack is returning the next morning with a bouquet, Rebecca opens the door to another man with his own flowers who kisses her. Jack sees and drives away. Won't these two crazy kids ever get together? (Yes, yes they will.)
And though that was an incredibly packed episode, it wasn't quite enough for "This Is Us." The final moments jump to the far future we peeked at last year, where Randall and an adult Tess are going to see a woman who is clearly important to them, but troubled in some way, too. Fans theorized that it could be Deja or Beth, but in the new scenes we see Randall calling Toby and asking him to join them. When the camera pans to Toby, he's sitting in a bed alone. With all that talk of the risks of IVF, does that mean something happens to Kate?
I would say that's the obvious answer, but "This Is Us" isn't obvious. OK, it isn't obvious some of the time.
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