This is Us creatives may have promised a fresher, brighter, more feel-good third season, but last night’s “Nine Bucks” felt more like an ominous rain cloud blocking our view of that promised silver lining. At least for now.
The theme of the night was all about taking chances, and the hour set out to explore the pros and cons of doing so in three individual storylines that played out against the backdrop of Kevin, Kate and Randall’s joint 38th birthday party.
The first story involved a flashback to Jack and Rebecca’s first date following their initial meeting at the very bar Jack was supposed to knock over earlier. With just nine bucks in his pocket, Jack is determined to show Rebecca a good time, but their date at a carnival (in the pouring rain) slides from awkward to awful when they discover they have very little in common, apart from a burning desire to reinvent themselves. To boot, Jack appears secretive and evasive when questioned about his brother and his own experiences in Vietnam. We’re not sure if it’s Jack’s preference for pepperoni over mushrooms on a pizza, or Kate’s preference for cats over dogs (not on pizza, presumably) that hammers the final nail into the date coffin, but the couple decide to call it quits. It’s only later when Jack is dropping Rebecca off at her house that he is prompted to take a chance and come clean about his finances, his employment situation and his feelings of guilt and loss about the war. His words work their magic on Rebecca and she begins to see potential in him for the first time. However, those assuming the Pearson love story would be all plain sailing from there were surprised to see a love-struck Jack turning up at Rebecca’s the next day only to see another man smooching her on the porch.
Will Jack find the courage to try again?
Meanwhile, back in the present day Beth is not happy. Her sister sense is tingling as she figures out Zoe and Kevin are sleeping together. Sparks fly as Beth confronts one, then the other. We assume her concern is for Zoe. After all, Kevin has the worst track record with relationships. However, we quickly learn Beth is more protective of her irritating bother in law.
“She will break you, Kevin. She eats men up and spits them out, and you won’t stand a chance.” she warns him, and we watch as his smile falters, but only briefly. Kevin is determined to see this one through. Like his mother, he sees something in this edgy contender that makes him want to take a chance.
But perhaps the biggest story of the night belonged to Kate and Toby, whose baby woes were kicked up a notch when Kate is told she has Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, and Toby is told his antidepressants have the side-effect of lowering his sperm count. Combined, their chances of conceiving a baby naturally are only 10%. However, it’s Kate’s blunt doctor who delivers the killing blow. She won’t consider the couple for IVF because of the health risks associated with Kate’s weight.
We’ve watched Kate suffer setbacks before over the course of the show, only to bounce back, regroup and try again. However, this time the setback threatens to crush her completely.
“It’s like this black cloud follows me around. Every time I get away from it, it catches up to me. I’m so tired of smiling and pretending it’s sunny out. When is the universe gonna give me a damn break?”
It’s a raw and very real moment, and Chrissy Metz nails the absolute anguish Kate is going through.
The universe may not be listening, but Toby is. Despite later being told her IVF application has been approved after all, Toby goes ahead and flushes his medication down the toilet. He’ll do anything to bump that mean percentage margin in the right direction. However, this is one risky gamble that may not pay off in the end.
And finally, on a happier note, Deja finally manages to lay some ghosts from her past to rest by confronting her birth father before deciding whether to be adopted by Randall and Beth or not. The show could have given in to the temptation to paint this one note character with warm, broad brushstrokes and maybe to even throw in a sympathetic flashback or two. However, the man who didn’t want to father Deja is given no lines, and we’re really all really ok with that. Instead, she returns from the sporting goods store he runs with a parting gift from him — a new pair of sneakers for Randall, and her readiness to become a Pearson.
The show is clearly moving towards the promised storylines seen in the flash-forwards of season 2’s finale. While we are still no closer to learning the identity of the mysterious “Her” that Randall and Beth are going to see (Old man Toby is briefly linked in, prompting us to think the “Her” in question may be Kate, but we know how this show likes to throw its curveballs.), we still have more from Jack and Rebecca’s early days to mull over, Kate and Toby’s baby plans, and how exactly Kevin and Zoe come to take a trip to Vietnam together.
Into each life a little rain must fall, as the old song goes. Right now the Pearsons feel too much is falling on them. However, we have faith the series will bring the sunshine over the course of the season to come.
This is Us continues Tuesdays (09:00PM – 10:01PM) on NBC.