[Warning: The following contains spoilers from Tuesday's episode of This Is Us. Read at your own risk!]
This week's episode of This Is Us decided to weight itself heavily in the past and dig into the childhood scars that helped form Kevin (Justin Hartley), Kate (Chrissy Metz) and Randall's (Sterling K. Brown) adult selves. A broken air conditioner forced Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) and Rebecca (Mandy Moore) to take their three kids to the pool which dug up very serious issues for each of them.
The day at the pool became a historic one for Kate because it was the day all of her friends told her to stop hanging around them because they were embarrassed by her weight. It's the first time that Kate had realized other people saw her as heavy outside of Rebecca's tampering with her food. She was an otherwise confident 8-year old until these girls took one carefully aimed, fatal shot at Kate's self-esteem. Their tactless note was the start of Kate's downward spiral of shame and comfort eating, which eventually led to her adult obesity and insecurities. In the present timeline, Kate's lack of belief in herself led her on a stalker mission with Toby's (Chris Sullivan) ex and almost cost her the healthiest romantic relationship she's ever had.
The pool trip wasn't the start of the baggage for Kevin or Randall, but it was the first day that baggage was revealed to their parents. Randall suggested that specific pool because he knew there would be other black kids for him to play with. Since Kevin ignored him, Randall had been desperate to find kids that would accept him, and growing up in an all-white neighborhood made him feel like a constant outsider. When a black mother pointed out to Rebecca that Randall's neck rash was actually razor burn, it was a wakeup call that Rebecca's colorblind love for her adopted child wasn't enough to make up for their cultural differences. In the present, Randall revealed to William (Ron Cephas Jones) that despite all of his success, he still experienced the ostracism of being the only black guy in a predominantly white upper-middle class world.
The episode may have been the most important for Kevin, though. The pool visit shed light on Kevin's extreme adult need for attention. As Jack tended to Kate's punctured self-esteem and Rebecca sought out play dates for Randall with kids of his own race, Kevin almost drowned attempting to retrieve a football from the deep end of the pool. There wasn't a dramatic rescue by a lifeguard or Jack jumping into save him — Kevin had to fight his way back to the shallow end to find air and when no one noticed, he became distraught.
Since his younger siblings needed more attention from his parents, he felt like he's been left to fend for himself, which is understandable coming from an eight-year old in this particular situation. It's no surprise that Kevin grew up to become an actor and is so desperate to make a mark in the world that matters. It's been a mystery why Kevin, who has already achieved great commercial success, is so dependent on his sister for survival. The episode in the pool revealed a lot about why Kevin needs the adulation of those around him and has a need to feel like he's important. In a lot of ways, he's still that little boy trying to make himself noticed over his siblings who have taken his parents' attention. Kevin's journey isn't actually to find "legitimate" success, but to believe in himself without help from anyone else. Learning how to do that may be the only way he survives being cast in this new Broadway play.
For the show overall, this week cemented even more than last that This Is Us doesn't need surprising reveals or hidden secrets to make it work or to pack an emotional punch. The characters have been built up enough that the past flashbacks work more like peeling layers of an onion to give us more insight into the people the audience has become attached to. It was important to know why Kate can't believe Toby when he tells her that she's amazing, why Randall could fit every definition of success and still feel like he's missing something and why Kevin needs Hollywood accolades to feel like he's genuinely achieved something. Understanding these scars only builds a deeper connection as they continue on their respective journeys.
What did you think of "The Pool"?
This Is Us airs Tuesdays at 9/8c on NBC.