What a beautiful episode.
The best hours of This Is Us do an impeccable job of juggling both the present and the past to maximum effect. They create parallels between the two timelines that illuminate our characters and bring out the deeper layers of their psyche. A Manny-Splendored Thing does exactly that.
I couldn’t be happier that the show is moving forward with Kate’s budding singing career. This subplot allows the show to continue to tackle her weight dilemma, but add an extra layer since it allows her to showcase one of her talents and overcome a different set of obstacles. Her present-day struggle is beautifully juxtaposed with an early talent show which she chickened out of after discovering that not only is her mother beautiful and thin, but she had perfect musical pitch too. Sure the script could have highlighted the past resentment a bit more, but both Chrissy Metz and Mandy Moore are so darn exceptional here that you overlook any minor quibbles. Moreover, the storyline allows Toby to have his best episode yet; he’s tremendously likable here, sticking up for his girl and telling her mom that he’s “Team Kate”, while providing some amusing laughs as he tries to please Miguel.
Elsewhere, we’ve got Randall predictably panicking about fostering a potentially traumatized teenager. It’s a valid concern, and the show wisely allows him and Beth to have a believable argument about the topic. The hour also succeeds in highlighting just what a complex and lovable woman Beth is; Susan Kelechi Watson is seriously delivering some marvelous work on this show, and I hope she gets recognized in the next awards cycle.
Kevin has often been the weakest of The Big Three in terms of storylines, so I’m also pleased to report that the writers tasked him with a winner this week. His return to the Manny’s 100th episode could have been a snooze-fest, but it thrives thanks to its focus on Kevin and Sophie’s relationship. Through some masterful editing, Kevin’s character gets a series-best moment as he realizes that all he’s ever wanted is to make Sophie laugh (whether it’s through impersonating Mr. T at a talent show, or parading around in diapers in present day.). If you didn’t smile here, you have no heart.
Finally, and picking up directly where we left off in the season premiere, A Manny-Splendored Thing beautifully explores Jack’s alcoholism and how he survived it the first time. Funnily enough, the flashbacks in this hour contain flashbacks themselves, as we jump back to the iconic bear hug night. It’s some very nifty storytelling, and it gorgeously builds towards the realization that Jack needs his family more than ever if he intends to beat the disease a second time. Also, Milo Ventimiglia deserves an Emmy asap.
– Sophie asking Justin to perform his meltdown from the pilot cracked me up.
– I found it a bit odd that the script built up Rebecca’s visit to Kate and Toby’s only to barely show us that scene. The same goes for the buildup to Randall’ s family trip.
– How touching was Kate putting her hands on Jack’s face and telling him it would all be okay? I love that it was a recurrent gesture.
– Young Kate looks really cute in that dress.
– Epic barb by Kate to her mom when she asks her if she “used to sing”. Dayum.
– We get our first look at Jack’s Vietnam days during the boxing session. I bet we’re getting a Vietnam episode soon.
– Randall and Beth used to pretend they were tired parents. Gotta say, that’s adorable.
– “Randalling out” is the most awesome verb. Hello urban dictionary!
– Great transition with Rebecca and Kate looking to the stage only for present day Kate to walk out.
– Although Kate wasn’t nearly as happy, I love that Rebecca finally got to see her daughter on stage. That “Landslide” performance was top-notch.
– How great was the scene between Kevin and Beth as she discovered he was responsible for her and Randall? I want more of these two please; it’s refreshing when the show explores new dynamics.
– Beth hopping into Randall’s lap in front of the girls was really awesome.
Sophie: (to Kevin’s ab) That one’s my favorite.
Kevin: I need people to love me the way they loved Clooney.
Sophie: This is your least attractive side. You know that, right? Yeah.
Randall: “Are you sexually satisfied by your partner?” What the hell does that have to do with what kind of foster parent I’ll be? What did you put for that one, by they way?
Beth: I put “Generally yes.”
Beth: “Except when I want a quickie and my husband needs – too much romancing.”
A poignant and sharply-scripted episode. Excellent!