This Is Us Season 2 Episode 11 Recap ‘The Fifth Wheel’


The new year is here, the Pearsons are back, and if you thought your festive family gathering was awkward and tense and laced with unresolved emotional baggage, just wait until you see Kevin’s group therapy session with the fam!

There are a lot of unexpected things to process in this winter premiere, which picks up a few weeks after the midseason finale: some overdue home truths about Jack, a deeply weird but fun Beth/Toby/Miguel trio, and…Randall being kind of terrible?

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Here are 25 of my thoughts and feelings from “The Fifth Wheel.”

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1. So I’ve been listening to a lot of true crime podcasts over the holiday break because I know how to get festive (shout out, My Favorite Murder!) and as a result, the Pearsons all going to a remote cabin in the woods together is making me nervous in ways it’s probably not supposed to. We still haven’t entirely ruled out murder in the Jack’s death sweepstakes.

2. How much time have we jumped here? Kevin and Kate apparently haven’t spoken in a month, but they’d already been out of touch for a while before the midseason finale, so maybe Kevin’s been in rehab for about two weeks?

3. Let’s all take a moment to appreciate how hard Sterling K. Brown committed to that pratfall, as Randall pretends to drop dead from horror when Tess says the sitter makes better brownies than him. (I also refuse to believe that anybody makes a better anything than Randall.)

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4. “Cut him some slack. He didn’t know Tess was in the car.” Randall defending Kevin to Beth even though he’s also quietly mad at him makes me happy. You can talk all the shit you want about your own siblings, but nobody else can come for them.

5. “I was raised by white people–” “Everybody knows.” Susan Kelechi Watson deserves a goddamn Emmy for her perfect comebacks this season.

6. Kevin. Kev. My dude. Don’t say “blessed.” Especially don’t say “blessed” while making that uber-douche prayer hands gesture. We can see that he’s initially trying to be sincere, then retreats into bullshitty actor mode once he gets an awkward reception from Randall and Rebecca, but still.

7. YES, Barbara, kick Toby the hell out (dear God, can you imagine anyone worse to sit in on your therapy session than Toby?!?). It’s extremely weird to me that Toby, Miguel, and Beth ever expected to be a part of Kevin’s group therapy session—it’s nice that you all came to support a Pearson, but you’re the plus-ones here. Back off.

8. Is Kevin just somehow not in pain any more? I know this is a blurry line to draw, but my sense was that he was less addicted to Vicodin than he was dependent on it to mask the pain of his unhealed knee injury—when he’s withdrawing, he always talks about how much pain he’s in. Also, he’s in pain because he went back to work way too soon after the surgery—because he couldn’t bear to feel like a failure or admit weakness or not finish the shoot. That seems like a very relevant thing that should be coming up in this therapy session, but right now everybody’s basically acting like he just started popping Vicodin for kicks and got addicted. (Which, maybe they think he did? I can’t imagine Randall being this judgey if he knew the medical backstory.)

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9. Watching Jack and Rebecca mutually have no idea how to handle Kate’s food issue is rough. There’s such a fine line—Jack errs on the “good cop” side of just giving Kate everything she wants, while, for all that the show wants us to think otherwise, I think Rebecca does a great job walking that line. She doesn’t ignore the problem, but she also doesn’t humiliate Kate, and tries to be supportive.

10. Randall and Rebecca side by side, buried in their books while the rest of the family plays sports? It. Me.

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11. “The new Big Three”? Caaalm the F down there, Toby. It’s funny to pair Beth, who everybody loves, with Miguel and Toby, the show’s two most divisive characters (although I actually love Miguel, don’t @ me, he’s a sweetheart).

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12. “He did kind of look like a porn star.” I mean, yes, this is unfortunately a truth we all must come to accept about Jack Pearson. That moustache was his true fatal flaw.

13. So, Kevin didn’t hide Randall’s glasses and is going to get the blame for it anyway. But this is exactly the kind of dick move he would pull, so I don’t feel bad for him, honestly.

14. “We’re a family of addicts.” It’s about time somebody said this. And when Kevin added, “I can’t sit here and pretend that the only reason I’m messed up is that [Jack] died,” I almost stood up and applauded. The fact that this family can all talk about Jack’s death only in the broadest strokes, while never mentioning his alcoholism at all, is not great.

15. Hmm, so Kate says that Jack “beat” his drinking problem, which suggests it didn’t play a role in his death. *Moves some colored strings around on my Carrie Mathison-esque wall of Jack Death Theories*

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16. It is very strange how rarely anyone will acknowledge that Jack was anything less than a literal saint. The halo effect definitely happens after loved ones die, but the Pearsons take it to the next level. If I didn’t know this show so well, I’d think all the “perfect” references in this episode were building up to some kind of huge twist reveal where Jack actually showed a much uglier side shortly before he died. But that would be wildly out of character and cheap, and I don’t think that’s where we’re going. Still, there are just so many heavy-handed lines about his perfection this week.

17. I love Randall more than most things on this earth, but he’s being a real jerk. He’s so rigid and self-righteous with Kevin, and doesn’t seem to be able to empathize at all if he thinks someone’s pain is less meaningful than his. You don’t get to invalidate someone else’s experience of their childhood, dude.

18. “You’re not an addict. The only thing you’re addicted to is attention.” Jesus, Randall. I mean, there’s definitely some truth in the accusation, but it’s so cruel and diminishing to deny someone’s addiction, especially when you’re not bothering to ask any actual questions about it. And the knee going unmentioned is now really bothering me.

19. Rebecca finally snapping and admitting that Randall “was just easier” is so tough on so many levels. Hard to hear for Kevin and Kate, but also it’s sad because Randall probably felt like he had to be as easy and amenable as possible and never cause problems, because he was adopted and deep down felt at risk of being abandoned again. Pretty heartbreaking.

20. Wait, is Randall the only kid who didn’t move away after Jack died? I guess so, actually—Kevin and Kate are both on the west coast when the show starts, while Randall and Beth have obviously been in New Jersey for a long time.

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21. Ew, the mental image of Toby crying during Kevin’s therapy session is giving me some bone-deep discomfort. “It would have been too much.” “Way, way too much.”

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22. Thank god Randall showed up to join this Kevin/Kate scene, because I can NOT deal with the Big Three being on bad terms. But specifically Kevin and Randall, to be honest. The brotherly feels are very strong.

23. Uh, Kevin considers himself a movie industry person and he never saw Boyhood? K. More of a Birdman guy, I guess?

24. “Last year when I was at my lowest, I was crying on the floor and I was shaking…” Oh sure, fine, This Is Us, let’s just casually reference that Randall/Kevin scene like the very memory of it isn’t going to make me teary. But, wait for it…“I did a bad job today, and I’m sorry.” YES. Randall is obviously incapable of being a dick for longer than an hour.

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25. This final scene is sort of backing up Randall’s assertion that Kevin’s childhood was not the absolute worst. Sure, there was no room for you in the bed, but his mom got down on the freezing cold floor to cuddle with him instead. But it is still genuinely tough to be the kid nobody ever worries about, the kid everybody just assumes is fine all the time. #JusticeForKevin, so long as he never ever uses the word “blessed” again.



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