This Is Us recap: Drama circles on a heated, fateful election night

The Pearson family is back — gathered for election night, seven weeks passed where we left them off in a twist-heavy midseason finale. It feels only fair — or, at least, par for the This Is Us course — that a mere few minutes into this next episode, we’re left on a few more cliffhangers to keep us hooked.

As a refresher, last year’s “The Beginning Is the End of the Beginning” revealed that Jack’s long-presumed-dead brother, Nicky, was actually alive and living somewhere unknown, while Randall and Beth’s relationship was put in the worst position we’ve seen it to date — with an ominous flashforward hinting that their troubles could be lasting. As we check in with the clan on Randall’s election night (he’s performing much better than anyone thought he would) we spot various points of tension: Kate, back home with Toby, crying for five minutes straight; Randall and Beth shooting each other looks from a distance, the state of their marriage unclear; and Kevin and new girlfriend Zoe back home and at the election party, but also in a bad place. Indeed, Zoe tells Kevin she “can’t do this,” and hands him back a keychain with a young John Stamos on the cover. Say what?

Suddenly we’re back seven weeks, right where we left off in 2018: Randall waking up on the couch the next morning, telling an aghast Beth that despite their heated argument, he still plans on running for City Councilman and giving everything he has to the election. She thinks back to his trip to Washington, D.C. with his father, just before Jack’s death — a memory that runs through the episode in bits. Jack tells a teen Randall, “What a great man you’re going to be,” and it’s a beautiful piece of encouragement — if also a sort of pressure for Randall to live up to what his father envisioned. It’s especially hard to do when “great” is so hard to quantify.

Kate and Toby had just learned they were having a boy, and now they’re in the next stages of baby-planning. First things first: Creating a nursery, which means clearing out their junk-room — including Toby’s “toys,” which he’d prefer to call “action figures.” She tells him to sell them. But she accidentally sells off a box marked “DNS” for Do Not Sell (she thought it was short for “donations”), and it’s filled with Toby’s most prized possessions — valuable collectibles, yes, but also figures from his childhood, which got him through so much, and which he’d planned on passing onto his own children.

Finally, there’s Kevin and Zoe — the final arc in the episode, meaning the only time-hopping going on this week is back and forth from election night. They’ve just returned from Vietnam, reeling from the revelation that Kevin’s uncle is alive. “I’m not going to tell my family a thing,” he says, fearing the intensity of the reaction. Zoe, meanwhile, makes herself comfortable on his couch, cheerily saying it feels good to be home. Kevin catches her phrasing and he twists the moment into convincing her to move in. He gives her an apartment key — and a chain featuring, you guessed it, young John Stamos.

“The Last Seven Weeks” is a layered puzzle even by This Is Us standards, working off of 2018’s twists as well as its own opening’s cryptic teases. This is particularly true of Randall and Beth: The hints dropped in the midseason finale’s flashforward and this week’s initial scene make watching their whole dynamic a guessing game, which doesn’t allow their scenes to fully breathe, or us to live in the pain between them. And unfortunately, the resolution ends up feeling a bit like a cop-out — for all of the warnings of trouble ahead, and one more mighty argument between the pair, Randall realizes he was wrong. He’s been staying overnight at the office working hard, taking his family for granted, at the moment he runs into Reverend Hawley at a bakery where he’s supposed to pick up the sacred “Booberry” pie for the Pearson New Year’s Eve. Earlier he’d been presented with bombshell opposition research on Councilman Brown that’d likely bring the incumbent down, but in a dirtier way than Randall envisioned. By the end of Randall’s conversation with Reverend Hawley, who encourages him to be a man he’ll be proud of on his deathbed, he’s apologized to his daughters and reconciled with Beth. Oh, and honorably thrown away the research. (That there’s no follow-up scene between Randall and his campaign manager on this is another indication that Randall’s storyline this week feels awkwardly stitched together.) (Recap continues on Page 2)

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