This Is Us Review: The World’s On Fire

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If you were looking for a feel-good show, you might have been disappointed…until you weren’t.

During its two-hour premiere, This Is Us Season 5 Episode 1 and This Is Us Season 5 Episode 2 tackled the Pearsons’ response to the coronavirus crisis and to the death of George Floyd.

But while the stories didn’t allow viewers to escape real-world worries, This is Us delivered a message of hope and optimism despite the pain that might have resonated deeply with anxious fans.

The Big Three Turn Forty/Tall - This Is Us Season 5 Episode 2

This Is Us has never been the type of show to shy away from tough topics, and it exceeded expectations this time.

Of course, some aspects of these stories were already in the works before events turned the world upside down.  This Is Us is meticulously planned, and the series left off with the feud between Randall and Kevin, Rebecca’s disorientation at the cabin, and Kevin planning on celebrating his 40th birthday there.

But kudos to the writers for deftly weaving in references to COVID-19 and devoting a large chunk of the premiere to Randall’s struggle to navigate two worlds as a Black man with a White family. 

It was all so natural that it was impossible to tell that the stories had been tweaked to accomodate the world situation.

This Is Us has explored racial issues with Randall before, so it wasn’t surprising that it did so again, with sensitivity and understanding.

A Small Party - This Is Us Season 5 Episode 2

This particular installment skillfully connected Randall’s personal drama and his feelings as a member of the Black community. 

Randall: Did you watch the video?
Malik: George? Yeah, I watched with my dad, actually. Then we took a walk right after. That’s sort of our thing now, ever since Trayvon Martin. We take a walk every time.

Randall has always felt like an outsider because he didn’t know the story of his birth until he was an adult and because he was a Black child in a White family, and George Floyd’s death brought those feelings to the surface again.

His discussion with Malik about it provided a stark contrast with his conversation with Kate, who could empathize but who could not understand what it was like for Black people to see this happen to members of their community over and over. 

And when he decided to look for a Black therapist rather than continue with Dr. Lee, it made sense.

On a personal level, it seemed like Randall might have chosen a “white female therapist” because he subconsciously wanted someone who reminded him of Rebecca. 

The Rift Continues - This Is Us Season 5 Episode 2

But he also realized he needed to talk about the way his racial identity has influenced his anxieties, and he needed someone who had experienced that too.

These considerations influenced his rift with Kevin and how he dealt with it.

The relationship between Randall and Kevin has evolved from hostile to frosty now. Kevin seems more interested in reconciling than Randall does, despite Kate’s insistence that Kevin wasn’t doing enough to clear the air.

Kate: I have tried to stay out of this, but Randall’s acting all weird with me too, and he hasn’t even done our birthday chant.
Kevin: Kate –
Kate: No, Kevin. The world is on fire. This is enough. Fix it.

If Rebecca hadn’t disappeared, Randall would probably not have headed up to the cabin at all, and once he was there COVID was a convenient excuse for not bringing the family and not staying long.

But the sort of semi-cordial acquaintance-like thing Kevin and Randall had going on was satisfying. 

Rebecca Keeps Going - This Is Us Season 5 Episode 2

I didn’t want the brothers to make up too soon. Randall’s attempt to control Rebecca and the hurtful things he and Kevin said to each other aren’t the kind of problem that can be solved in just a few minutes.

So this coldness mixed with politeness thing they have going on was just fine with me.

The only disappointment here was that Randall again came to the rescue.

He interrupted Miguel on the phone with the doctor to tell him about the allergy medication, and while he was right about that, I didn’t like it. It felt like more of Randall’s over-controlling nature turned into him being the hero.

That irritated me. I’m still waiting for Randall to get some comeuppance for what he did to manipulate Rebecca into participating in the clinical trial, and it doesn’t look like that’s happening any time soon.

Miguel Supports Rebecca - This Is Us Season 5 Episode 2

The Toby/Miguel scenes almost made up for it, though. As we discussed in our pre-premiere conversation about This Is Us, Miguel gets the short end of the stick way too often, and it was a nice change of pace for someone to be supportive of him rather than pushing him aside.

Plus, Toby gave the best advice ever, along with a shoutout to the rebooted version of One Day at a Time.

I don’t know what it’s like to stare down the barrel of Alzheimers, but I do know what it’s like to look at all the things you wanted out of your life and have them all be unattainable.

Toby

I’m all in for more of Toby bonding with Miguel. It’s a much better use of Toby than all that secretly exercising stuff he was doing during This Is Us Season 4, and anything that gives Miguel screen time is a good thing.

Toby and Kate seemed to be getting along better, though the new adoption will probably test their relationship yet again, especially if the birth mother is as ambivalent about giving up her baby as it seems from the preview for This Is Us Season 5 Episode 3.

His Pregnant Fiancee - This Is Us Season 5 Episode 2

As for Kevin, he’s finally got a real, grown-up storyline.

No more drinking or jumping into bed with every woman he sees. Kevin is settling down, happy, and ready to marry Madison! And as much as I wasn’t sold on this couple initially, they were all sorts of cute this time.

I loved Kevin telling Madison to trust him and Madison telling him she doesn’t think he has any broken parts. Kevin’s definitely found his soulmate.

Thank goodness the twins were both okay, too. I couldn’t have taken the tragedy of Kevin and Madison losing one of their babies, and it would have been a weird coincidence considering that Rebecca lost one of hers.

Caught in the Middle - This Is Us Season 5 Episode 2

The flashbacks didn’t add a whole lot that we didn’t already know this time, though we did get more of a glimpse into William and Laurel’s complicated relationship and Jack and his father’s shared desire for Jack to do better than his father had done in life.

I don’t know what the heck that was with Laurel turning out to be alive after William took off. She responded the way overdose victims respond to Narcan, but there was no Narcan 40 years ago. Anyway, the bigger question, besides how long she lasted, is whether William ever found out she was still alive.

Beth: This pain is not forever. This moment is not forever. Nothing is forever. Except us.
Randall: We fight on.
Beth: We fight on.

In any case, This Is Us tied it all together masterfully with Beth’s comments to Randall about how he was born out of multiple tragedies and had made a life for himself anyway.

Many viewers might have needed that right now.

Unlike the Pearsons, some of us may not have seen family members for months because of COVID-19, and people are living with a ton of uncertainty about the future.

Supporting Her Brother - This Is Us Season 5 Episode 2

So Beth was talking to the audience as much as she was to Randall, and that turned this episode from an unwelcome reality check to a feel-good story after all.

Your turn, This is Us fanatics.

Hit the big, blue SHOW COMMENTS button and let us know what you thought about the rift between the brothers, Randall’s reactions to George Floyd’s murder, and everything else that happened!

Missed the premiere? Watch This Is Us online to catch up and then come back to tell us what you thought.

This Is Us airs on NBC on Tuesdays at 9 PM EST/PST. 

Jack Ori is a senior staff writer for TV Fanatic. His debut young adult novel, Reinventing Hannah, is available on Amazon. Follow him on Twitter.

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