Picking up right where the winter finale left off, after Thanksgiving dinner at Randall’s, the mid-season premiere of This Is Us is dubbed “Light and Shadows.” It’s an apt title, as the episode tackles moments in the Pearsons’ lives where they are each on the cusp of dark times, fighting to find or to stay in the light.
The nature of the struggle differs for each Pearson, but the theme is clear — and the stories all play out over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays. Let’s break down the light and shadows each Pearson struggles with in tonight’s episode.
Kate and Toby
The show opens on Kate and Toby arriving home from Philadelphia. Kate is quietly fuming over a text she saw from Toby’s female cross-fit friend Kara. When Kate confronts him, Toby insists Kara isn’t a threat.
Later, as Kate’s shopping with Kevin for the surprise birthday party she’s throwing Toby, she tells Kevin she plans to befriend Toby’s cross-fit friends as a show of support to help mend their relationship.
However, during the party, Kate learns Toby switched gyms two weeks ago. All party long she stares coldly at Toby. When the party ends, at Toby’s insistence, Kate confronts him. Toby confesses that Kara tried to kiss him so he figured he shouldn’t spend more time around her and thus, moved gyms. He says he didn’t tell Kate because he felt bad he’d been wrong about Kara and didn’t want to cause another fight.
Kate then accuses Toby of avoiding being home with her and Jack. If it’s not about Kara, she doesn’t understand what it’s about. Toby finally admits he’s been so distant because he can’t look at baby Jack without feeling sad about all the things Jack won’t be able to do because he’s blind.
Kate’s horrified but later that night she and Toby share a moment of joy when Jack reaches for the lights Kate had hung up for the party. Like the doctor had predicted might happen, Jack can at least see lights and shadows. They have hope.
Elder Rebecca & Miguel & Randall
Randall pulls strings to land Rebecca an appointment with a neurologist as soon as possible. He flies to California to go to the appointment with her and Miguel, who thinks Randall is overreacting. (The other Pearson kids are not there because they don’t know about Randall’s concerns — Rebecca thinks they have too much on their plate so she swore Miguel and Randall to secrecy.)
The doctor gives Rebecca a series of memory tests.
After the tests, the three stay at the hospital to wait for results.
The results aren’t great. The doctor says Rebecca has “mild cognitive impairment.” She says they’ll have to do blood tests and an MRI next to learn more before diagnosing anything more specific.
Miguel apologizes to Randall for not having been concerned sooner, and the two embrace over their shared fear. Randall tells Miguel they’ll take things one step at a time.
Pre-Marriage Jack and Rebecca
Interspersed with elder Rebecca’s medical assessment, we get flashbacks of pre-marriage Jack and Rebecca.
First, Rebecca and Jack are driving home from Rebecca’s parents after the disastrous golf outing with Jack and Rebecca’s dad (Dave). Rebecca drops Jack off at his place, and as he walks in, the landlord calls him out on being late on rent.
A few scenes later, Jack is alone at home looking through newspaper classifieds. Then, he’s at dinner with Rebecca. She’s talking about her father’s upcoming birthday party when suddenly Jack breaks up with her. He doesn’t think Rebecca belongs with a part-time mechanic who can’t afford to buy her dinner. He walks out, leaving Rebecca devastated.
When Rebecca arrives at Dave’s party without Jack, her mother, Janet, is sympathetic. When Rebecca says she loves Jack, Janet says Rebecca hasn’t been with Jack long enough to know that. Then Janet says enduring love isn’t necessarily about flashy love involving spontaneous road trips. It’s more about the small things; your partner should be reliable and dependable — that’s why she loves Dave. Janet says knowing Jack isn’t reliable in terms of a career scares her and Dave, but she knows Rebecca has the right to live her life as she wants. So, she admits Dave told Jack he wasn’t good enough for Rebecca. Before Rebecca runs off, Janet says that if Rebecca chooses a dark, complicated man like Jack, she should make sure he at least gives her a “great love story — one for the ages.”
And here it is folks: the premise upon which the show was built, shared by an unlikely source in a most endearing scene.
Rebecca shows up at Jack’s mechanic shop and says she doesn’t care about his job situation or anything — all that matters is she loves him. Jack lets himself accept her love, says the words back to her, and the two share a kiss, welding sparks creating a romantic backdrop and thus, an iconic scene for viewers to feast their eyes and hearts upon.
This surely marks a turning point in Jack and Rebecca’s courtship; it’s the moment they overcame shadows of doubt to jump headfirst into the light.
Having had the epiphany during Thanksgiving that what he wants most is to start a family and find the same love his parents found, Kevin has returned to Los Angeles and hired a professional matchmaker. His first date is too smart, his second date is a bigot.
Then, when he’s with Kate at a coffee shop the day of Toby’s party, he declares that he’s giving up on the matchmaker and letting the universe do the work. Immediately afterward, he locks eyes with a pretty brunette (hello my One Tree Hill love, Sophia Bush) and thinks it’s a sign. Kate leaves him, and Kevin approaches the brunette.
In a classic rom-com meet-cute, Kevin’s approach causes the woman to drop something — her phone. They bond over the fact that the dog on her lock screen is named after Rocky Balboa. Then they sit down and start chatting about their favorite foods, music, etc. Sparks fly and Kevin appreciates that even though the woman, Lizzie, knows he’s a celebrity, she’s not consumed by it… though that doesn’t stop him from using his fame to woo her right away.
To give her a good time before she leaves L.A. for her home in Chicago, Kevin takes Lizzie to an emptied Hollywood Bowl, where he’s gotten her favorite singer John Legend (for real, Legend is in the episode as himself) to perform for them — piano and all. Upon arriving at the Bowl, Kevin tells Lizzie about his parents’ epic romance. No pressure, random girl he just met.
Kevin and Lizzie have great chemistry but when Kevin kisses her, she stops him and reveals she’s married. She only entertained the date because Kevin is her celebrity hall pass. She doesn’t want to go further, though, because she thinks her husband changed his mind about allowing it. She apologizes and leaves. Kevin is crushed.
When he’s at his M. Night Shyamalan movie reshoots that night, he rants to a film crew member about his love life, saying that maybe he isn’t meant for a love like his parents had. He then gives his phone to the crew member so he won’t be distracted, and as soon as he walks away, who calls but… SOPHIE.
Kevin’s shadow is his unlucky love life and uncertain future… perhaps Sophie is about to be his light. (Though, for the record, as much as I love the idea of him and Sophie once and for all, I’m now fully team Cassidy so… here’s hoping the call isn’t what we think it is.)
As Rebecca settles in for the night with Miguel after the doctor’s visit, Randall goes home to Pennsylvania. He gets to his house, checks on his daughters, wakes up Beth with a kiss — clearly feeling the weight of Rebecca’s condition. But soon, that’s not his biggest present problem.
He walks downstairs for a drink and encounters a man in a hoodie, armed with a gun.
The episode ends with Randall breathing heavily in fear as time seems to stand still while the intruder and Randall register one another’s presence, shadows bearing down on each other in the dark.
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