This week, “This Is Us” delivered a second (arguably worse) gut punch, while “Young Sheldon” continued its downward slide in quality.
‘This Is Us’
The Kate-centered “Number Two” doesn’t offer a particularly flashy or dramatic moment like last week’s episode, which focused on Kevin (Justin Hartley). What we get from this episode is a more introspective and delicate portrayal of grief.
The central conceit of the planned Big Three trilogy is that each episode will explore the same day in the present and the same day in the past. Therefore, the entirety of the present-day plot in “Number Two” revolves around what happens with Kate (Chrissy Metz) and Toby (Chris Sullivan) while Kevin was having his addiction-fueled meltdown the same day. Similarly, in the past, we get to see what Rebecca (Mandy Moore) and teenage Kate (Hannah Zeile) were up to while Kevin (Logan Shroyer) was off being a jerk to his dad and getting himself injured during a football game.
We start the episode off in the present, with a clearly excited Kate fervently planning for her baby’s arrival. From preparing a hilarious list of baby questions for her doctor, to talking to the baby, to ordering a new bathtub, Kate is really turning into a Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson)-and-Rebecca-esque mama bear. While Toby looks over her baby questions with a wry eye, Kate goes to measure her bathroom to see if the new tub will fit. We then hear a loud crash in the background and next see Toby rushing to the bathroom. The fear that Kate has had since the beginning has sadly come true: She has miscarried.
For both Kate and Toby, the next few hours pass by in a blur-like haze. Kate, who is clearly not OK, tries to process the devastating situation by going to an ill-timed singing gig she agreed to a while ago. She is haunted by the memory of her recent trauma during the performance and leaves midway through. Attempting to numb herself, Kate goes to a nearby buffet and tries to eat through her pain.
She realizes she has to learn to cope better, however, and goes back home without taking a single bite off her plate.
Meanwhile, Toby, concerned for Kate’s well-being, sees that the bathtub they ordered is about to ship and goes to the distribution center to stop it from ever arriving at their apartment. After an exhaustive search that also involves an emotional breakdown in his car, Toby, through the much-needed help of a store employee, finds the tub and is able to intercept the delivery.
Thinking that Kate is still at her singing gig, Toby goes to pick her up, only to learn that she left before the gig was over.
The resulting confusion, along with Kate’s apparent indifference toward Toby’s fragile emotional state, causes them to have a huge fight. Kate doesn’t give any weight to Toby’s grief, and he calls her out for her apparent callousness.
Clearly, both of them are at a loss for what to do. Toby goes for a walk, giving Kate some time alone. But Kate doesn’t want time alone — she just wants a hug.
Enter the last person Kate expects support from: Rebecca.
To understand how Rebecca consoles her daughter in the present, and why their relationship is the way it is, we go back to the “Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) Has a Goatee” time period in the past.
Before Kevin’s fateful football game, Kate is working on an application for the Berklee School of Music. She hides the application from Rebecca and is generally closed off with her.
Rebecca, at a loss for how to get through to Kate, does the most mom thing possible and starts going through Kate’s stuff. There, she discovers the application and is delighted that Kate has an ambition that she wants to fulfill.
During Kevin’s game, Rebecca gives Kate the application fee, signaling to her that she knows about her singing ambitions. Kate tries to reject her mom’s olive branch until Rebecca tells her how proud she is of her singing and her decision to pursue music.
It seems like a reconciliation is in the works, until Kevin breaks his knee and Kate and Rebecca have to put their current conversation aside to help him. At the hospital, though, Kate begins to air out her yearslong insecurities, and Rebecca realizes that she has never been able to have the kind of relationship she wanted with her daughter.
Rebecca tells Kate that, no matter what happens, she will always be there with a warm hug if Kate ever needs her.
Back in the present, somebody is knocking on Kate’s door. Who could it be? Well, it’s Rebecca, arms outstretched with the hug she always promised Kate.
Kate wells up and fully embraces her mother. The two start to talk, and Kate asks Rebecca why she misses the baby even though she never got the chance to even know it. Rebecca tells Kate about how difficult it was for her after Kyle’s death and how she eventually became so emotionally flustered that she started picking fights with random people in the grocery store.
The two genuinely begin to cement a bond during the discussion, and the shared nature of their losses brings them closer together.
Rebecca finally advises Kate that she needs Toby’s support in order to move on, just as she herself needed Jack’s to move on all those years ago.
Kate listens to her mother’s advice and promptly makes up with Toby when he returns. The two vow to try to have another baby soon and start to help each other get back on their respective feet.
Until this episode, it really did seem like the writers backed themselves into a corner with Kate’s pregnancy arc. However, since the arc ultimately resulted in more character development for Kate, Rebecca and Toby, the ends somewhat justify the questionable means.
Only somewhat, though. Sure, the episode was as great a showcase as any for the acting talents of Sullivan, Moore and Metz, and maybe the writers did intend to explore a story that is all too often swept under the rug, but that doesn’t excuse how out of place the whole pregnancy arc feels.
If the arc had been developed later on in the show’s run — when we had gotten to spend a bit more time with Kate –– it would have been a more organic evolution for the show. Here, it feels like a very painful narrative device to mend Kate and Rebecca’s fractured relationship.
Hopefully “This Is Us” is not on its way to become the next trauma center for the soul, a la “Grey’s Anatomy.”
New episodes of “Modern Family” will air Nov. 29.
“A Solar Calculator, a Game Ball, and a Cheerleader’s Bosom” is a predictable half-hour of “Young Sheldon.” The gags are half-baked and derivative, and some of the characters have regressed back to their stereotypical origins.
The episode starts off with the whole family watching a football game. Sheldon (Iain Armitage), being the math whiz that he is, uses statistics to predict that a widely used football strategy may not be the best way to go.
George Sr. (Lance Barber) takes Sheldon’s advice to heart and implements it during his football game the following day. When George’s team wins based on Sheldon’s advice, he starts using his son’s talents for his own benefit.
Word of Sheldon’s talents quickly reaches the entire school, and he becomes an icon overnight. Tam (Ryan Phuong) tries to use Sheldon’s newfound popularity to his own advantage, while Georgie (Montana Jordan) becomes jealous of the increased attention that his father is paying to Sheldon.
Finally, Sheldon becomes exasperated by all the attention and thinks that his newfound role as his dad’s bona fide assistant coach is adversely impacting his academics. He promptly tattles to his mom, who makes sure to set everyone right.
Oh, and there’s also a weird plot about Meemaw’s (Annie Potts) gambling addiction and her dalliances with some kind of loan shark. For now, instead of being a necessary part of a narrative whole, this story arc just sticks out like a sore thumb.
Hopefully, after the recent dip in quality, “Young Sheldon” goes back to its promising beginnings next week.
Contact Arjun Sarup at [email protected].