This Is Us
Photo: Ron Batzdorff/NBC
Wow, wow, wow has This Is Us been on a run of great episodes. Each chapter of the Big Three Trilogy not only offered up some stellar performances — from adults and teens alike — but also provided some much needed forward momentum for everyone involved. This show is sad enough, we don’t need to sit around and stew in it all the time, you know? And after episodes focusing on Randall and his anxiety, Kevin and his feelings for Sophie (SO MANY FEELINGS), and Kate and her flailing marriage (and strengthened relationship with her mom), the Big Three converge at the family cabin in an excellent episode that both has poignant character moments and does a nice job of setting us up for the final batch of season four episodes. You know I’m a firm believer that this show is always better when the Big Three inhabit the same space. There is no escaping each other in “The Cabin” and that is a very, very good thing.
In fact, all three of the timelines in “The Cabin” feature the Big Three at um, the cabin. In the fall of 1993, Jack is doing a very Jack thing and forcing his family to partake in a time capsule activity, and when the kids turn 18, they’ll open it up. At first you’re probably like, “Oh, what a sweet, wholesome activity!” But then when you realize that Jack dies before his kids turn 18, you’re definitely like “Damn this show and this stupid time capsule to hell.” You’re not alone!
The time capsule activity proceeds as you’d guess: Kate is into it, Randall is stressed about it, Kevin is like, uh, here’s a picture of me and Sophie. Meanwhile, Jack is off sketching the dream home he wants to build for him and Rebecca to grow old in, one that would sit on the hill overlooking their cabin, with big glass doors and floor-to-ceiling windows. If that looks and sounds a little familiar to you — good. Of course when Rebecca catches him, Jack is sheepish about it, but she tells him that if he says he’s going to do it, she believes that he will. I mean, Jack dies so, again, [insert expletive of your choice to direct at this show].
Anyway, this time capsule is obviously a Chekhov’s Gun situation and there’s no chance we get out of this episode without opening that baby up. That inevitable moment, however, does not occur in the late-’90s timeline; no, those Pearsons have much more important things to deal with, like how to get rid of the human stain that is Marc. It was around the time that Marc was “joking” with Jack’s “World’s Greatest Dad” mug and then “accidentally” dropped it that I wrote down “I hate this kid more than Olivia Maine and the Crock Pot combined,” and I stand by that assessment.
Because of a downed tree, Rebecca, Kevin, and Randall don’t make it to the cabin until the next morning. Kate answers the door as if things are fine and normal, but things are definitely off. Kevin asks why it’s so cold in the house, and Randall notices a broken window. Kate tries to cover with a story, but it’s clear she’s lying and her brothers are about to tear shit up. It’s Marc who finally tells the truth: After the mug incident, Kate and Marc fought and when she went outside in the freezing cold to get wood for the fire, he locked her out in the snow. She banged on windows and doors and screamed for him to let her in, but he just stood there because he’s trash, so she broke a window in order to get back in. Kevin doesn’t punch a hole through a wall in that moment, but based on the fire coming through his eyes, he totally could have.
Rebecca takes control of the situation. She holds back her sons from clobbering Marc, but gets right up in that kid’s face and tells him to get the hell out of her house. This will be the last day he ever sees her daughter. It’s awesome and Rebecca’s a queen and this totally makes up for that time when she apologized to her son for lying to him about knowing his birth father while wearing a plastic fedora.
Rebecca is also the focus at the cabin in the present-day timeline. The Sad Three gather and you know there is no way Randall and Kate will be able to keep their mom’s diagnosis a secret from Kevin. When they are backed into a corner and have to tell him the truth, he’s understandably angry. Angry that Randall came to L.A. and took their mom to a doctor behind his back, angry that his mom and his siblings don’t think he can handle the news. But it’s clear his anger is really masking the pain he feels. He storms outside to have a good cry about it in the snow.
Kate and Randall start making headway on the custom Pearson family photo puzzle and Kate confides in Randall about how upsetting it is that now, just when she and their mom are on good footing, she might lose her. She also reminds her brother that he doesn’t have to take care of this alone, she and Kevin are stronger than they look. Let’s hope Randall remembers this later.
It’s during this heart-to-heart that they discover the last piece of the puzzle is missing, and Randall realizes he knows exactly where it is: They need to go dig up that time capsule. In it, Kevin finds his picture with Sophie — you guys, he still loves her so much I’m melting over it — and Kate pulls out an old game of M.A.S.H. in which she ended up in a mansion married to Joey Lawrence. Randall says that Joey Lawrence “ain’t got nothing on Tobias” but not one person says “Whoa” and we’re all sad about it. Randall opens his time capsule bag and shows them the missing puzzle piece. Only, he didn’t put it in there: When Randall was so anxious about picking the right thing, it was Kevin who told him to relax, handed him a puzzle piece off the table, and told him it would be fine. It’s always Kevin who’s been able to walk Randall back from his episodes.
Reminded of this time, and how he’s been barely managing his anxiety for his entire life, he admits he’s not okay. He tells Kevin and Kate that he punched the mugger not because he needed to, but because he wanted to. It was everything he’s been burying inside coming out at once. It’s time for him to get some outside help. This time capsule is a miracle worker.
There’s two more bags in the capsule. First, they pull out the sketch Jack was drawing of his dream house, the one he never got to build. Then, they open Rebecca’s and find a mixtape. Only, when they go to play it, they realize it isn’t Rebecca’s item, it’s Jack’s — it’s a recording he made for them all. I can’t even imagine what it must be like to hear your dad’s voice again after him being gone for so long, but by the end of his story about throwing out his sketch because he was embarrassed by it and then realizing that Rebecca found it in the trash and put it in the time capsule because she believes in his dreams, we’re all crying. Like, sobbing. It doesn’t help that This Is Us has decided to play “To Build a Home” over all of this, a song that I now have a Pavlovian response to just cry as soon as I hear it since it is the same song that played over the Pearson house burning to the ground. So, thanks for nothing!
The recording is mostly Jack reminding his kids how “when it comes to people [Rebecca] loves, she does not mess around,” and while he’s saying this, we see Rebecca ushering her teens out of the cabin, being a hero, proving Jack right. And the Adult Big Three are crying, no doubt thinking about how much they are going to lose when they lose Rebecca.
Somehow, though, after this experience, the Sad Three don’t seem as sad anymore. Randall is going to get a therapist, Kate believes in her strength, and Kevin, well, Kevin decides he’s going to take his dad’s sketch and build that house.
You know why the house in that sketch looked so familiar? Because that house, with the glass doors and big windows overlooking the cabin, is the same house where the family has gathered in the flash forward as they come to say good-bye to Rebecca. We get a glimpse of Future Kevin returning with the food and talking to Future Beth. Kevin has built his dad’s dream house. Okay, now turn up “To Build a Home” because I need a good sob.
• Well, Baby Jack almost chokes to death under Toby’s care, but everyone is okay in the end and Toby starts to share Star Wars with his son through the sounds of the movie. This is a good sign for Ka-Toby, but it is still very strange that in the flash-forward — especially now knowing Kevin’s house is Jack’s dream house — that Toby has never seen it before. When does Kevin build this thing?
• The series of voicemails Madison leaves for Kate in which she can’t help but admit she slept with Kevin is amazing. It was a violation of “Lady Code” and Madison just couldn’t stand it. Kate is not amused by her brother.
• Randall’s face of delight when he learns Kevin slept with Madison is a true masterpiece.
• I’m happy we’re getting so much more (at least, it feels like more, no?) of the Teen Big Three in season four. Niles Fitch, Logan Shroyer, and Hannah Zeile are excellent in this episode.
• Randall, after learning the only movie options at the cabin are White Fang and Free Willy: “The ’90s really had a thing for ‘white boy befriends exotic animal’ movies.”
This Is Us Recap: Big Three, One Cabin