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Spoiler alert! This story contains details from “This Is Us” Season 3, Episode 16, “Don’t Take My Sunshine Away.”
This doesn’t seem much like “This Is Us.”
Well, one part of Tuesday’s episode didn’t seem much like the family drama we’ve come to know and love. Between typical stories including a sweet middle-school flashback, Toby’s (Chris Sullivan) reckoning with his premature son and Kevin’s (Justin Hartley) contemplating a life without kids, we saw what may very well be the end of Randall (Sterling K. Brown) and Beth’s (Susan Kelechi Watson) marriage, and, worse, the end of Randall’s likability as a character.
It’s been happening most of this season, ever since Randall decided to run for city council, but this episode may officially be the moment he stopped being uptight but lovable and became just plain mean. His recently antagonistic relationship with Beth has felt wildly out of character, and may take the show down a path from which it can’t recover. And not even the great Jack Pearson (Milo Ventimiglia) would be able to fix that.
After forgoing a flashback in last week’s episode, the series returned to the Big Three’s middle-school years, and their first dance. It was mostly an excuse for Jack and Rebecca (Mandy Moore) to have a cute-couple moment, and to remind us about Kevin’s ex-wife and childhood sweetheart Sophie, who returns as an adult.
In the present, Kevin has thankfully gone back into recovery, and he and Zoe (Melanie Liburd) are going to couples’ counseling. But in one session, his addiction is not the problem; instead, it’s his declaration that he could settle down and have kids with Zoe. She’s set on a life without them, and wants Kevin to think hard about whether he’s OK giving them up.
His uncertainty leads him to the doorstep of Sophie (Alex Breckenridge) for advice, and we finally get some closure on their relationship. Sophie’s now happily engaged and she can see how much better Kevin is with Zoe. She points out that the golden boy has always gotten whatever he wanted, and now he has to make a real choice. Kevin chooses Zoe, obviously, and now they can focus on their relationship and his sobriety with this weight lifted off their shoulders.
On the other coast, Kate (Chrissy Metz) and Toby are dealing with the first days of parenthood in the hospital, with their premature son, Jack. Toby is having a hard time dealing with it all, from the tubes and tape to Kate’s seemingly unending optimism. After a talk with another struggling dad, Toby and Kate stop trying to put on a brave face and share how they’re really feeling: He’s scared, and she feels alone. She helps him see past their son’s medical problems and to be happy that they have him at all. So that makes two out of three couples dealing with their problems in a healthy way this week.
For Randall and Beth, things start shaky and get terrible pretty quickly. They try to maintain their new, conflicting schedules, but they’re both exhausted and have little time together. Randall nearly misses Beth’s first recital as a teacher, and she’s annoyed that he’s late. But her reaction pales in comparison to how Randall reacts when Beth is late to a dinner with a fellow councilman.
When she doesn’t show up on time and he’s unable to reach her, Randall assumes she chose going out to drinks with her work friends instead of his big dinner party, and leaves her a terribly cruel voicemail attacking her character. When it turns out she was just caught in traffic with a dead battery on her phone, he tries to keep her from listening to the message, but she’s already heard it. She asks him to sleep in his office, but instead he comes home to confront her. The episode ends with him slamming the door of the bedroom for what’s sure to be a relationship-shattering fight next week.
The deeper into this season we get (only two episodes remain this season), the more odious Randall becomes. Every time he and Beth face their marital problems, Randall makes the wrong choice. This time, he assumes her lack of contact is malicious. When she asks for space after the dinner, he refuses to leave her alone, demanding a confrontation when she has clearly stated she’s not ready for one.
Their marriage may recover, but will Randall’s relationship with “This Is Us” fans ever be the same?
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