Ron Batzdorff / NBC

This Is Us Jumps Into The Deep End Of The Pool

Tackling issues of race, class, identity, insecurity, history...ALL OF IT.

As his family is about to lose it from togetherness in the summer heat, Jack makes the ultimate Desperate Parent mistake of suggesting they go to the worst place in the world to relax and play: the public pool. No. It's the worst. It's too crowded; there are no chairs; and children are crazy and dangerous. I feel for Jack -- I can be Fun Mom -- but everybody knows there's no such thing as relaxing with three kids, and when Jack suggests otherwise to Rebecca, her "HA HA HA" is tinged with murderous warning notes he obviously should have heeded long ago.

I tip all the hats to This Is Us for so beautifully realizing its premise to this point. From the very first episode, the connected flashbacks and current stories have been note-perfect, when the whole thing could have been so cheesy. I can't think of any other show that has pulled something like this off with such fluidity. Nor can I think of one on a major network that has shone such honest light on the dualities and failings and frailties of human beings. Even our beloved Parenthood could get a little Yale Drama School at times. At least so far, the tone of This is Us feels very natural. I realize as I am writing this that I am overselling, hard, but the more I think about the nuance they're pulling off within these storylines, the more impressed I am. Like, sometimes I am thinking so hard, I don't even cry. (Most of the time I cry, though.) There are so many layers to all of it, in fact, that "The Pool" has caused the following questions to surface:

How close are we to finding out what happened to Jack?

Do they intend to make the answer to this the season finale? I can't wait that long! We're getting in deep now with the rest of the family, seeing some seminal moments and mistakes that shaped them as people. Yes, we know Jack drank -- and I got a sinking feeling in this episode when he casually threw out "you know I quit drinking," like, maybe he didn't -- but so far we're seeing how his actions or inactions affected the lives of everyone else. I'm getting a very sad vibe from it. My own father was a legend in his own time, the guy everyone loved but few truly understood. Is that Jack? If so, how did he get that way?

Who else feels guilty for thinking Kevin was just eye candy?

Oh, I really did. And I thought the same about Justin Hartley. Like, here's this shallow character played by a very pleasant actor, not getting in the way of the more serious stuff on offer. I was quite wrong. Something is going on with Kevin that is perhaps more relatable to me than anything else. This guy is frustrated by the comfortable identity -- "comfortable" in the sense that things have always come pretty easily for him -- he's been assigned by the world, and now he's befuddled by his own self-awareness. Landing a lead role in a play with a bitchy Tony nominee seems par for the course of Kevin's life. Hartley, who I mistakenly took for a pretty face, is doing some subtle stuff with Kevin's insecurities, and I suppose I am interested to see what happens with this play thing, but what I most care about is the opportunity for Hartley and Sterling K. Brown to bring the man tears.

That Care Bears bikini, tho?

Y'all. Don't Google "Care Bears bikini." You will see some Japanese women doing things that will make you upset. I have to steel myself every time Young Kate is going to be onscreen. Seeing Rebecca's complex and painful reaction to her own daughter in the awkwardly constructed bikini in question is the most heartbreaking thing I've seen on TV in a while. To see Rebecca decline to champion Kate for fear of embarrassing her further...that's far worse. Will we find out what happened in Rebecca's life that made her obsess over weight (I mean, what happened besides just being born female)? Parenting is scary as hell, you know? The big and little lessons we accidentally teach every day about the many situations in which we shouldn't make waves or shouldn't stand up for ourselves.... In any case, please trust that should my child ever receive such a note as Kate did at the pool, those little bitches would receive such a public reading they'd have to close the place due to thunder and lightning. Swim for your life, you little side-pony shrew.

Though the way all of this has manifested itself in Kate's adult life is terribly sad, Chrissy Metz and Chris Sullivan are so amazingly adept at injecting levity into these very real subjects, I managed to laugh at Kate's insane job interview with Toby's ex-wife. Who hasn't stalked the ex of a new boyfriend and then accidentally ended up employed by her? Toby seems so ready to move forward to something real with Kate, and the more she avoids believing that, the more I wonder...does she even feel the same for him?

Rebecca's new pool friend. What will she come to mean to the family?

We all saw, I'm sure, that photograph in Randall's house of the Pearsons with the African-American lady from the pool. It's lovely to think Randall grew up with black role models and friends, and comforting to imagine that Rebecca found someone she could lean on who could help her more deeply know her son. Did the families become entwined as the picture suggests, and how? The photo made me go to a conspiracy theory place where Jack had an affair with the other mom. I know, I know. It's early in the season and they love a twist up in here: you have to let me a crazy idea or two!

Paul Drinkwater / NBC

Paul Drinkwater / NBC

Can we get even more of Randall and his family?

Because I love them. (Rob Cephas Jones is killing it as William, and all, but I'm not even talking about him -- I'm talking about Randall and Beth. This is a heartwarming partnership between gorgeous people and I am here for it. Also, their children are too cute for words.) Randall's emotional angst watching his daughter play Snow White got me in the soul. He's nearly forty years old and still struggling with what his life even means, acknowledging all the defensive mechanisms he's put in place to justify his success, clearly feeling like an imposter in his own neighborhood. To see him need (and receive) reassurance from his biological father for "doing everything right" -- possibly the only time he's been able to hear these words from a parent and believe them -- If you weren't crying, you're made of stone.

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