"This Is Us" recap: Viva Las Vegas
After yet another hiatus this season (thanks a lot, Olympics), "This Is Us" came back Tuesday night with an even bigger stunner than Jack's much-ballyhooed death: an episode where I really, really enjoyed Toby. I know, I'm confused too; I had multiple LOLs thanks to him, resulting in several hours spent looking at myself in the mirror wondering who I even was anymore. But I found him to be a very charming aspect quite the charm offensive of an episode – though one still with its thorns.
The show gambles with a weirdly meta storyline in its return – mainly Kate and Toby, who talk about how it's odd they don't really have friends outside, well, the main cast of "This Is Us." Toby is especially concerned about this, not just because Kate is planning her bachelorette party with Madison, who is the worst (and, in the process, totally the best, the show's Sixth Man of the Year with all of her ill-advised nicknames and blind excitement), but because he doesn't really have anyone. As he drunkenly vented a few episodes back, he often feels on the outside of the Big Three's "Star Wars" universe while his unseen brother couldn't come up with excuses fast enough for why he couldn't make his bachelor party in Vegas.
Meanwhile, the newly rehabbed Kevin is eager to face the hedonism of Vegas, the latest Everest in his path – so much so he monologues at the poor hotel maid who just wants to know if he wants towels – and Randall is coping poorly with Deja's brief return. Her arrival last episode was just a quick visit, asking for money to help turn the heat back on at her mother's place before Social Services arrives again.
It's a quiet but clearly felt moral dilemma, but Randall being Randall, he gives her the money and sends her back home. While she's gone again, though, his concerns linger on all the way through an odd time jump forward a few weeks and into the Vegas trip. Worse yet, he thinks they're a pity invite on these bachelor/bachelorette parties – but Beth could not care less. Bring on the pity invites to Vegas, baby! BETH. WANTS. MAGIC. MIKE. LIVE.
She'd like it a lot more, though, if Randall wasn't being such a downer about Deja – to the point that he insults Beth about how she seems to have moved on without a care, that she's the head while he's the heart, a cold jab at a warm person. But you know what they say: What happens in Vegas ... lingers on emotionally and results in a shouting match in front of dancing man meat.
But first, let's have some fun – or, as the show nicely notes, the awkward fun of a bachelor/bachelorette party with friend groups smashing into one another in the name of debauchery. Toby has Randall and Kevin, but also four randos to fill out their Ocean's 7, while Kate has her support-group girls, kooky Madison (flame on you annoying firework, you) and an increasing boozed-up Beth. Surely this will end well.
But while Beth gets to have a good time for a while, even getting to go on stage for some bonus Magic Mike action, Toby's bachelor party takes a turn fast. After briefly swapping some fun past bachelor party stories, Kevin ditches the table for an old castmate from his Ron Howard war movie while Randall gets a missed call from Deja and quietly panics – leaving Toby all alone, reminded again he's on the outside with only Kate in his storyline's corner. And even with all the people and lights, Vegas is an easy place to feel alone, lost among the hustle – and unable to get into nightclubs because your footwear is too square.
While Toby's getting bounced, however, times are even worse for Randall and Kevin. Kev's castmate reveals that their war film got heavily edited, leaving her almost entirely out of the picture altogether – and his role a big question mark. And suddenly all those clinking glasses and sloshing drinks are getting awfully loud for our newly rehabbed star – though in a nice "This Is Us" zag-instead-of-zig, he doesn't tailspin and instead heads off to his room to distract himself with sit-ups ... though the mini-bar there is no less tempting.
Randall, meanwhile, is convinced something is wrong with Deja, despite her voicemail having nothing to say other than she saw Bill Nye on TV and thought of him. Still, there's just enough silence for Randall to fill with his fears, so he annoyingly hunts down Beth at Magic Mike Live for an ugly yelling match that's like watching your parents fight (while also man junk is dancing around in the background). Even though the lead-up to this is a bit contrived, the fight itself is suitably brutal on the emotions – even more so when Kate chimes in and lets it spill that she's harbored a bit of resentment toward Beth for taking Randall away from her.
That being said, this is "This Is Us" – and one of the fun episodes, not one of the tear-streaked episodes – so everyone thankfully talks out their problems quickly. Randall and Kate chat over the slot machines, with Randall reminding her that he'll always be there for her and Kate reminding him of that time they watched "Sex and the City" together after Jack's death. Because of course Randall did, because Randall is a saint (and also SUCH a Miranda). Kate then makes amends with Beth, who's in rough shape not only because of the fight(s) but because she does care about Deja, that losing her still hurt her despite her tough skin about it.
But what about my new main man Toby? Randall and a thankfully still sober Kevin snag him out of his room and drag him down into Old Vegas for a light show and a comforting talk about Toby's sibling woes and exciting about getting a new shot at a family. Plus, he tells Kevin to just call Ron Howard and rail him for axing him from his movie – terrible advice that, of course, Kevin follows. Dammit, Toby! Luckily, Ron's a good guy (because it's Opie, duh, he's a good guy) and lets Kevin rant before breaking the news that he's gone nowhere from the movie; in fact, in this new cut, he thinks he's created his masterpiece – with Kevin and Sly Stallone at the fore.
Is it all a little predictable and a lot over-the-top? Sure (of course not only was Kevin not cut but it's apparently the second coming of "Citizen Kane"). But it's nice to see Kevin get a win after hitting rock bottom for so long this season – and nice to see "This Is Us" avoid the even more predictable and tired trap of dropping Kevin off the wagon again, another nice example of the show sneakily subverting around your expectations to find a new way to devastate you.
Case in point: Randall and Beth's storyline, which ends with Deja needing help after all as she's found sleeping in a car with her mother. Looks like those silences were right, Randall.
But that's in the future; as for the past, well, after weeks of being the center of attention – for better or worse – "Vegas, Baby" doesn't have much for it to do. We travel across several wedding anniversaries, with Rebecca always getting outdone by Jack (who is still around, once again making the past season and a half's grand goodbye a little pointless). She gets him a bound book of his scribblings; he shuts down the entire bowling alley for a slow dance. She gets him a hammer; he gets her a piano.
For their latest anniversary, though, Jack promises to lay off the grand romantic gestures. It's just watching "The Commish" this year on the couch ... that is, until the kids find out AND ARE HAVING NONE OF IT. Bring out the Cornish hens, bring out the magical Christmas lights, bring out the candles from storage. So much for a quiet night – that is, until Kevin admits that he did all of this because he was afraid they were getting divorced and, after he gets reassured, immediately bails. At least the hens looked good. If I'd done this for my parents, undoubtedly it would've ended in an E. coli outbreak – and I'd only have cooked a Lean Cuisine.
Especially with the past part, the episode's massive web of connections and characters across time doesn't quite come together perfectly this week. There's a vague overall theme of people scared of losing others – even as tenuous as those relationships may be, in the case of Toby – but it doesn't quite tie together as well as past episodes (and, as always, I'll always say the more honed in an episode is, the more effective it is).
But after months of Jack Death Watch and the show stopping just short of cutting onions under your eyes in the hopes of wringing tears, it's nice to return with a funny, charming and toned-down episode. Like Toby, sometimes just being fun is enough to win you over.
This Is Sadness rankings
The show's return was much more light-hearted than the tear deluges of recent weeks, and while Beth and Randall's fight brought back any and all childhood traumatic memories, it still didn't turn on the sprinklers. So I'll give this week a Mildly Distraught Elvis.
So, like, a two out of 10.
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