In Movies & TV

Family dinner at the Pearsons. (Don't eat the Cornish game hen.)

What's up with Kate's new boyfriend and four other takeaways from "This Is Us"

Who needs one dysfunctional family dinner when you can have a whole bunch of dysfunctional family dinners! That's the premise of last night's episode of "This Is Us," which served up a full menu of charm, family warmth, Pearsons making the best of bad situations and some really questionable food options. (Everyone at that flashback family dinner DEFINITELY got food poisoning from Rebecca's Cornish hens, right?) But most importantly, "Storybook Love" served up potentially our first big mysterious drama of the new season.

So let's dig into this new episode (and not into that brutal quadruple burnt lasagna) and talk about the five big takeaways from Tuesday's new "This Is Us."

1. Is this how the show will break our hearts this season?

For a show that became infamous for breaking audiences' hearts, devastating viewers on a weekly basis and singlehandedly rejuvenating the Kleenex industry, season four has thus far been pretty kind to its fans. There's been almost none of the former "tragedy porn" of the Jack death years, and in general, the first few episodes have been just charming and thoughtful episodes about our characters navigating their circumstances. It's been really nice!

But it's only been a matter of time before things got serious. And while "Storybook Love" was a generally good time, playing around in the comfortable comedy of dysfunctional family meals and gatherings, the end of the episode laid the groundwork for at least one of the season's big threads and potential mysteries: Kate's new boyfriend.

In the post-Jack college years, the Pearsons are throwing a family dinner to celebrate Kevin's wedding that nobody knew about until after the fact. But their cutesy naivety is just the start of the romantic awkwardness because Beth's also there meeting the rest of the family – and making everyone feel sad all over again on accident by gifting Rebecca with some hot sauce, one of Jack's favorites. And in case that wasn't enough, Marc, Kate's flirty co-worker from the record shop (Austin Abrams, who you may recognize as the bully from "Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark"), arrives as well introducing himself as Kate's boyfriend. Add in a splash of Miguel, and you've got a situation so uncomfortable that the Pearson house may ignite on fire all over again from the pure heated tension of the whole affair. Thankfully, it doesn't – and thanks to Miguel, a bottle of wine with a good story and a strong dinnertime speech from Rebecca, things go well.

BUT WAIT! In the present day, Kate receives a special gift from her fellow Pearsons: a piano, the one Rebecca played that night (the song from "The Princess Bride," the inspiration for Kevin and Sophie's very advised marriage) while everyone was snapping Polaroids and having a nice night. And Kate even finds the old photos inside the piano bench – what a pleasant surprise, right? Or ... not? Kate seems really uncomfortable looking at the old photos of her and Marc, and when Rebecca gets a look at the images, she talks about how she had no idea something was wrong under the surface. Kate didn't know something was wrong either. And the viewers sure as hell don't know what was off as well, because we just met Marc a week ago and we're just finding out about all of this now.

Folks, I think we've got our first real mystery of the new year – and if we're making predictions, I think this will be the bigger dramatic and intense emotional threads of the season.

Obviously something sad or unpleasant happened between these two – Marc's never been referenced until now and, again, Kate didn't look happy or even remotely nostalgic to see those old photos. Another addiction storyline would feel redundant since we've already got the Kevin-Cassidy-Nicky triumvirate, plus Jack's fight against alcoholism in the past, so my guess is either Marc struggled with depression and suicidal thoughts, or that Marc turns out to be an abusive boyfriend. And maybe it's just his recent role as the bully in "Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark," but I'm leaning toward the latter.

No matter what it ends up – and the show does tend to zig when you expect a zag – I have a feeling these happy halcyon days on "This Is Us" are coming to an end.

2. Randall's doing Randall things again

In case the mystery of Kate's new boyfriend wasn't ominous enough, it sure looks like Randall's about to Randall all over this season now, letting his pride cause some more problems in the family.

In their storyline, an obviously stressed-out Tess snaps at Randall that she doesn't want to be like him. It's devastating for Randall because, as an adopted child, he's never known what he would pass down to his children, and now he sees his worst, most hatred trait – panic attacks – in his own kid, hurting her. After things hit the bottom with Tess having an actual full-fledged panic attack at school, Beth takes both her husband and her child to the kitchen table for a La Croix-aided chat, talking about how her favorite people – including flashbacks to William, which are never unwelcome – battle the same fights, before using the bubbly beverage as a calming agent, letting the fizz relax them and massage them into talking their stresses out – in Tess' case, her ongoing battle with coming out and her self-confidence.

All's well, right? Uhhhhhh.

Even after their chat, while Randall is very encouraging of Tess going to therapy to help talk out her stresses, he strongly rejects it for himself – even while he's feeling increasing pressure on the job, which isn't going well as he cancels yet another meeting with a fellow representative who's clearly nonplussed by his new colleague. (*nervous gulp*) Randall and Beth's marriage just survived a whole season of his pride. I think it might just have to survive another one.

3. Kevin plus Nicky equals the best

I'm still not sure about where Kevin and Cassidy's relationship is going. I would really prefer if "This Is Us" kept things platonic, both for the characters and for the storytelling, which I don't think needs another tortured romance with Kevin. And considering Kevin's giddy reaction to her husband's defensiveness about hanging with her and their 9-year-old son, I think he agrees.

But here's something I'm absolutely sure of: I love the Kevin/Nicky dynamic. Justin Hartley and Griffin Dunne have really funny and authentic on-screen chemistry together; their scenes together breathe in a way that feels really raw and authentic, two people who may still be strangers but are growingly familiar with feeling out each other's quirks and needs. A storyline about recovering alcoholics and past wounds could easily become trite, treacly and preachy, but their easy dynamic – and the script and direction, which subtly got at Nicky's stress being around beer at a hockey game without hammering it home to the point of cliche and obviousness – makes this storyline one of this young season's greater pleasures.

I'd be very happy if an episode soon just parked a trailer next to these two and hung out with them for 60 minutes.

4. Paging Jack ...

Milo Ventimiglia actually stepped behind the camera for last night's episode – which is good because he hasn't had a whole lot to do in front of it this season. Jack hasn't been unwelcome or distracting in these episodes, but his flashbacks have increasingly felt not entirely necessary. As with the rest of the leads, he was barely present the premiere or in the last episode, his job woes in "Unhinged" were superfluous and while last night's flashbacks to their first meal in the original house tied in nicely with the rest of the story, he still didn't have much to do.

Not that I think Jack will ever be entirely gone from the show, but after last year's Vietnam storyline, "This Is Us" may have wrung all of the drama it can from this character – and maybe that's for the best. After all, it'd start feeling a little ridiculous if somebody came out and said, "Oh, but wait, he also had THIS incredibly influential moment in his past that we never spoke about until now."

5. What are the Pearsons eating!?

OK, we cannot leave this undiscussed any longer: What is the deal with the Pearsons' eating habits? Sure, some of their bizarre dining choices were less choices than cooking mishaps; Rebecca both burns a lasagna and serves up Cornish game hens that manage to be both raw and overcooked, so that doesn't really count. (Though I'm feeling relatively like an accomplished cook right now.) And as odd as the slicing ice cream thing is, that seems plausible – plus it's just satisfying to watch, like one of those videos of cutting kinetic sand.

But that's by no means all! For a quick bite, Jack puts hot sauce ... on string cheese? Is that normal? Is that a standard snack procedure? I have questions. But that's not even the worst: Deja, who I've had nothing but appreciation for on this show, apparently prefers a breakfast of ... one-third Corn Flakes and two-thirds Cheerios? That is so much effort for a very boring and bland bowl of cereal! Are these real eating habits? Or is this just Hollywood writing trying too hard to be quirky and create unique personalities? I HAVE QUESTIONS!

Forget Kate's new boyfriend: This is the great mystery of last night's episode.

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