This Is Us is celebrating the Big 3 with three consecutive episodes, each focused on one of the Pearson children.
Kevin (Justin Hartley) was the first to step into the spotlight, and while Hartley will undoubtedly be using this episode as his Season 2 Emmy submission tape, the glare of the attention didn’t actually do his character any favors. His first moment of true vulnerability this season came at the end of the episode but was immediately squashed by the news that Kate (Chrissy Metz) had suffered a miscarriage.
Let’s backtrack though. Fresh off his breakup with Sophie (Alexandra Breckenridge), This Is Us picked up with Kevin deep in the throes of his Vicodin and alcohol addiction. He had holed himself up in a hotel room to drink himself into bearded misery (sorry folks, it’s not just for a movie) until his high school alma mater called him up and asked him to return to Pittsburgh to expect an alumni honor during homecoming weekend.
The honor couldn’t have come at a worst time as depressed Kevin was forced to relive his glory days when he was the most popular guy at school and was cherry picking top of the line colleges thanks to his incredible football talent. The flashbacks looked at that period in Kevin’s life too, and frankly teenage Kevin was even more entitled than grown-up Kevin, even after his life-changing knee injury.
Kevin’s inability to live up to his dreams sent him in a downward spiral, including a one-night stand with a former classmate that led him to writing a fraudulent prescription for pain killers. It was Kevin’s douchiest move of the entire show until he realized he’d lost the necklace Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) had given him as a kid — the last item of his dad’s he owned — during the undressing phase of his ill-minded hookup.
Thus a panicked, strung-out Kevin returned heart in hand to the woman he literally walked out on after using her for a quickie to beg to be let back in her house to look for the heirloom. She rejected his begging to get back into the house, because Kevin seriously messed up and she’s a human. However, the rejection and the idea of Jack’s necklace being lost forever breaks Kevin down — and this is what we needed to see.
We’ve said it before, but we’ll say it again — Kevin’s problems are completely first-world. The grand kickoff to this spiral was one scene of an action movie being re-shot to accommodate Kevin’s injury. He wasn’t being recast. None of the other emotional scenes he was in were being cut. The production actually tried to work around his injury, but his ego — which we saw flare up in his adolescence in this episode — stopped him from taking the mature path. Ever since, it’s been a long wait to see Kevin hit rock bottom so he could realize his mistakes and get better.
Kevin’s breakdown in tonight’s episode was a moment of true vulnerability, and one of the first times that his pain felt universal. Most This Is Us viewers can’t relate to a popular sitcom star having to rework a scene in a Ron Howard film. They can relate to a man that feels like he’s run out of options and can’t stop the pain of life from punching him in the gut. This was a crucial moment for Kevin and the beginning of an important journey for him.
It’s increasingly important that when Kevin didn’t know where to turn he ended up going to Randall (Sterling K. Brown). The two brothers have been at odds since they were small children so this potential moment of connectivity is a huge breakthrough for them, but the significance of Kevin finally asking for help went unrecognized. Instead, Kevin’s confession was cut off with the news that Kate has lost her baby, which will be the central plot of next week’s episode, “Number Two.” Kevin’s downward spiral is dwarfed in the wake of that news and he will undoubtedly try to squash down his issues to be there for his sister, and he’ll fail because his issues are too big to ignore.
The question is, is Kevin’s hope for redemption squandered because his cry for help has gone unnoticed? Can he muster the strength to try again, even in the face of his sister’s tragedy, or will he continue on his path of self-destruction until there’s nothing likable or relatable about him? There’s no doubt that Kate’s story will be an emotionally encompassing one for the entire Pearson family, but it feels like Kevin might get left in the dust because of it.
This Is Us continues Tuesdays at 9/8c on NBC.