How Did 'This Is Us' Follow Up Its Twisty Premiere?

Ranking the emotional punches on the second episode of NBC's new Dan Fogelman family drama.
Ron Batzdorff/NBC

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from episode two of This Is Us.]

In a world rife with spoilers it’s a nice surprise that the twist at the end of the pilot for NBC's This Is Us wasn't ruined before last week's series debut. Given the inherent nature of the show and creator/showrunner Dan Fogelman’s plan to give audiences “the good cry” in subsequent weeks, the creative team now has a tall order ahead.

After revealing that Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) and Rebecca (Mandy Moore) are parents to Kevin (Justin Hartley), Kate (Chrissy Metz) and Randall (Sterling K. Brown), the drama used its second episode to flash forward eight years to a weary couple trying to raise three children. Meanwhile in the present-day story, the narrative followed Kevin’s job woes, Kate’s struggle with weight loss and Randall’s reactions to meeting his birth father.

Here are seven of the big emotional punches from “The Big Three,” ranked.

7. Kevin’s Crisis

Contracts can be a bitch. At least that’s what Kevin found out when he was confronted with some harsh truths courtesy of his agent (played by Katey Sagal) and the network head (Brad Garrett). When faced with whether he should Manny-up and ride the show out for two more years or risk being ruined financially and professionally, he stuck with his convictions and left the show, determined to move to New York and take a stab at theater. The real punch came when he reached out to Randall and admitted he’d never been a great brother, leaving audiences with the feeling that a new door had finally opened between the two.

6. Kate’s Breakfast

A big storyline this season is Kate’s quest to lose weight now that she’s on the other side of 35. But as viewers witnessed in the episode, being heavyset has always been a narrative in the character’s life — the struggle is nothing new. While Kevin and Randall enjoyed the sugary cereal all children in the '80s woke up to every morning, Kate’s breakfast consisted of fruit. Later, when Kate revealed to her mom that all she ate all day was fruit, it was an insightful look at how minds and habits are formed so young. Rebecca’s speech to Kate about figuring out how to find a healthy balance together was heartfelt, but probably also resonated with a lot of viewers out there who grew up having a love-hate relationship with food.

5. “Webster”

Adoption and race relations remain touchy subjects in 2016, but they were handled quite differently in the '80s. As a black child adopted into a white family Randall always had trouble fitting in, even with his own brother. When the other kids called him “Webster” (thanks to the popularity of the TV series back then), Kevin was quick to join in despite Rebecca’s insistence that brothers should stick together. Watching the boys get off the bus and Kevin immediately ditching his baby bro during a crucial moment explained a lot of the strained relationship between the pair in the present day, along with Randall’s constant need to be “perfect.” That didn’t make it any less heartbreaking, of course.

4. Clooney the Kitten

William’s shady ways throughout the episode would have made anyone question his motives for moving into Randall’s house, so it’s acceptable that Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) wanted to protect her husband. Constantly asking for bus fare and then disappearing all day pointed to signs that his “vice” had returned, but as it turned out he was only going to take care of his ugly and ironically named cat, Clooney. He knew Randall would insist on bringing the cat home despite his daughter’s allergies, which is why William didn’t say anything in the first place. The secret led to a heartfelt scene between Beth and William, however, one that gave a lot of exposition about Randall’s constant need to be everything to everyone. It’s a storyline that could have gone another way; as it stands now the more audiences get to know William the harder it will be when the cancer does eventually take his life.

3. Jack’s Drinking

If Jack was the ideal family man in the pilot, he was anything but eight years into the future. A little worse for wear under the stress of raising three kids, Jack began coming home later (and drunk), leaving Rebecca to fend for the family by herself. It was a sad turn of events for viewers expecting to clink celebratory glasses of lemonade after the pilot, but one that probably showcased the character in a more realistic light. It also allowed Rebecca to deliver a beautiful monologue about their collective seven-out-of-ten parenting skills, one that was convincing enough to have Jack sleeping in guilt on the floor outside their bedroom. Maybe that good guy from the pilot was still in there after all.  

2. The Big Three

“First came…”

“Me!”

“Then Dad said, ‘Wee!’”

“Then came…”

“Me!”

“And mom said, ‘Gee!’”

“Then came…”

“Me!”

And there’s the episode title in a nutshell, “The Big Three.”

1. Introducing … Miguel

It may not have carried the emotional weight of the big pilot reveal, but the revelation that in the present day Rebecca is with Jack’s best friend Miguel (Jon Huertas) was probably gut-wrenching for any viewer holding out hope for Jack and Rebecca in the long run. It’s safe to assume the question of what happened to Jack will be revealed in the third episode; until then it’s important to note that Rebecca is still wearing that moon necklace Jack gave her.

This Is Us airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on NBC. What did you think of the second episode? Sound off in the comments below.

Twitter: @amber_dowling

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