[Warning: The following contains spoilers for Episode 2 of This Is Us so read at your own risk!]
In its second episode, This Is Us pulled off another big twist after giving us a whopper of a twist the week before. The audience was introduced to Rebecca's (Mandy Moore) current day husband Miguel (Castle's Jon Huertas) — who we learned earlier in the episode was Jack's (Milo Ventimiglia) best friend in the 1980s timeline.
The episode's past-timeline scenes focus on Rebecca and Jack's marriage when the children are eight years old and the couple has hit a rough spot. Miguel is there to tell Jack that he needs straighten up. "You married way above your station," he warns. "If I were you, I wouldn't give her a reason to notice." Later, Miguel calls Jack to apologize for overstepping, which makes it that much more interesting to learn that it's Miguel that Rebecca is married to in the present day.
The reveal mirrors what the show did in its series premiere by dropping several tiny hints that led to a major reveal at the end. The premiere twist, and now this one, are what made headlines, but they aren't actually the strength of the show. In fact, they can distract from those strengths and they're not sustainable.
The strength of the show is the character stories and what Episode 2 was also able to prove was that it doesn't need a high-risk labor or full-fledged meltdown to keep the emotional stakes high. William (Ron Cephas Jones) continued to subvert expectations when Randall (Sterling K. Brown) and Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) discovered he wasn't disappearing all day to relapse on drugs, but to take care of his cat he had left behind in Philadelphia because their youngest daughter has asthma. It wasn't a big twist, but the relief of the revelation comes in waves because the show has done such a good job of making us want Randall to have a chance to know his father, and for William to be able to be there for his son in his last days in a way he wasn't able to do in Randall's first.
It's a television show though, which means that everything can't go right all of the time. Jack and Rebecca were once again the storyline with the sourest lemons as they struggled to find a parenting balance since Rebecca stayed home with the kids and Jack went off to work — and often stopped at the bar afterwards. Rebecca's confrontational speech added some weight to her character after Moore was left with little dialogue after the opening scene of the pilot, and showed you why Miguel said what he did at the bar. It also added credibility to why Jack would come back and promise to be a 12. Who wouldn't try and be a 12 for an out-and-proud mama bear willing to do anything for her children?
While Rebecca was raring to go, Kate (Chrissy Metz) felt stuck in the same weight-loss rut from last week, but that's what makes Toby (Chris Sullivan) such an important — and quickly rising fan favorite — character. Toby continues to push Kate to try having experiences without looking through overweight lenses. Her honest confession that she'll never be able to think about anything but weight was a powerful moment, coupled by the flashback scenes that showed her struggling with diet control even at 8-years old, and demonstrated a real-life struggle that bigger women face: Being able to crack that mold and see the world outside of the "fat girl" prism that she's been squished into this season. Having Kate recognize that will help push the character forward and allow the audience to see more sides of her than her weight-loss agenda. Character development is a really, really wonderful thing, you know?
Then comes Kevin (Justin Hartley), who continued his plight to recover his artistic integrity in light of his epic meltdown. Giving up a 3-million-dollar-a-year gig feels even more self-indulgent this week when Kevin has to go toe-to-toe with his agent (Katey Sagal) and the head of the network (Brad Garrett), who aren't really concerned with the state of his soul or artistic conscience. They call it show business for a reason, and Kevin isn't helping to bring in the coin anymore so it's hard not to see their perspective. However, when Kevin checks back in with his family — specifically a long-distance phone call with Randall that reveals the two have never really mended their broken childhood bond — we see a different and more endearing side of him. He brings back "The Big 3" chant from the triplets' childhood, bringing in a wave of nostalgia and the realization for Kevin that he needs to do better.
The second episode demonstrated even more than the pilot that the show's wiser investment is in its characters and pushing them in new directions rather than twists that can come off as gimmicky if employed too much. Luckily, we've had the fortune of getting to see Episode 3 and can say with confidence that This Is Us realizes where to put its money as well. More on that next week, but rest assured it gets even better from here.
This Is Us airs Tuesdays at 10/9c on NBC.
Editor's note: The story was edited to reflect changes made to the show's first episode before public airing.