Let’s Talk About… This Is Us Season 2, Episode 11: “The Fifth Wheel”

With another week comes another episode of This Is Us and my “refresher” and/or retrospective review.  Obviously SPOILERS for this episode and the entire series so far follow.  The title of this episode is referring to Kevin as he has always felt like the fifth wheel of the Pearson family.  To check out my review of the previous episode, click here.  If you want to see other previous articles, click here.

Now that the “number trilogy” is over, we are in new continuity with the various timelines.  This was a loaded yet straightforward episode with three main plotlines, so I am going to talk about them separately rather than how they unfold in the episode itself.  With all of that said, let us dive in to this episode.  The episode opens on dice being thrown on a monopoly game board and the infamous dog piece being moved.  It is revealed that a young Kate has landed on Rebecca’s railroad and it seems to be a game just between these two.

Randall walks in and now has his first pair of glasses and is shocked that he is able to see the numbers on the dice from the doorway.  He is worried that once he is back in school that the “Urkel jokes will start” and Kate confirms this despite Rebecca trying to dismiss it as nonsense.  Jack abruptly comes through the door with “big news” and announces a vacation to a log cabin that belongs to a new guy in accounting, for a week.  As Kevin is at football camp that happens to be close to the cabin, he does not arrive to the log cabin until days later after Jacks picks him up on Friday. This will obviously be a very complicated vacation.

Once Kevin does arrive at the cabin a few days into the vacation, he gushes about football camp and how got two trophies.  Rebecca warns him politely to not make fun of Randall’s glass, but everyone is happy that he has finally joined them.  Kate tells him how great it is and all of her examples involve food, which sets off an alarm for Rebecca.

Kate’s weight problem is developing, but Jack is there to comfort his daughter.

Rebecca is worried about Kate’s weight problem, but Jack defends her until she convinces him that she needs more exercise by being “active”.  However, Rebecca has a final statement in “no more daily trips to that ice-cream place either”.  We cut to Jack playing backyard football with Kevin and Kate, while Randall sits on a picnic table with his mom as they both are reading separate books.  Kate is getting exhausted and not enjoying the experience, but Jack tells her she needs more exercise with Rebecca’s words coming out of his mouth.

After she angrily storms off and Jack follows her, Kevin calls Randall “four-eyes” before throwing the football directly at him.  Rebecca reprimands him, but he drifts away into his own thoughts.  Jack later visits Kate hiding in the woods and she asks him if he thinks she is fat.  He tells her that he thinks that she is his “favorite-looking person on the whole planet”.  Back at the cabin, Randall cannot find his glasses and tells Rebecca, who instantly suspects Kevin.  He denies it and tells her that he hates her and that the family, the cabin and even her suck before storming out of the kitchen.

The two return home and Rebecca is upset because she had a “real day” with Kevin and then Jack admits that he took Kate too the ice-cream parlor against Rebecca’s wishes.  She then explains how she is the “family bad guy” (or just “bad guy”) and that Jack is the “good guy”, who does all the fun things with them.  Jack says he can try to be more firm and the “bad guy”, but Rebecca assures him that he can’t, “but that’s okay… plus I’ll give our kids something to talk about in therapy one day”.  This foreshadows Kevin’s therapy in the episode, but Jack think she has a good disguise for a bad guy.

After dealing with their own problems, Randall and Kate must deal with their brother’s.

In the modern time period, Kevin has been in rehab since his DUI from the last episode.  Through a conversation between Kate and Toby getting ready to visit him, we find out it has been a month since that incident and that nobody has talked to him.  Kate blames herself for not realizing what was going on with Kevin, but Toby reminds her that they had a lot going on too.  Kate coins the term “Katoby” in the vein of “Bennifer” and Toby approves and cements that their relationship seems to be the most stable of the “Big Three’s” on the show.  However, immediately after, Toby discovers empty boxes and wrappers of junk food in the trash.  Kate has been cheating on her commitment to eating healthier.

Randall and Beth are also preparing to visit Kevin at rehab, but Beth is not happy about it at all.  She would rather stay with her daughter with the sitter instead of visiting his “jack-ass” brother.  However, Randall explains to her that when he was at his lowest, Kevin was there for him.  He is committed to being there for his brother and will try to put his anger towards him away.  Everyone in the family has gathered to show support for Kevin at the rehab center.  After a warm greeting between them and a reminder that they have all had a rough month.

Kate begins to try and prepare them that Kevin might not be himself or look different, but is interrupted when he walks in nonchalantly.  “Hey yo!” says “Mr. Rehab”, as Beth titles him, as he walks into greet his family and give a gracious and awkward thanks for them being there.  His therapist, Barbara, insist that it should only be “immediate family” for the first session and “not the others”.  Beth, Miguel and Toby leave, while the family is about to be ushered into the session.

“The Others” or better known as “The New Big Three”.

Meanwhile in one of the best character pairing subplots for the whole show so far, during the session (we’re getting to it, but it is the majority of the episode) and at a nearby bar, “The New Big Three” (coined by Toby) composed of Beth, Miguel and Toby, who were allowed to leave discuss how they are outsiders to the family.  Beth brings up “The Pearson No-Fly Zone” that she encounters whenever she tries to talk to Randall about Kevin.  Toby says he’s “flown in hard” multiple times, but needs to talk to Kate about something and is wondering how the other two deal with it.

Beth asks if it is about Jack because that is an “air-strike zone” and he is “untouchable”.  “Easy” says Jack’s old best friend, Miguel, because they are “entering his no-fly zone now.”  Jack’s shadow hangs over all of them as someone that two of them could never meet, but they toast to Jack and make fun of his porn stache.  Later, we see that they are still day drinking while waiting and have started to play darts.  After the mention of order cheese fries, Toby reveals his awareness of Kate falling of the wagon with her junk food addiction.

He is insecure that she is keeping it from him and sarcastically says that maybe she will tell “one of the Pearsons’ on the inside”.  Toby then explains that when he was a kid that he was obsessed with “Star Wars” and that when you break it down it really is only about the “few people on the inside that know what’s up”.  He then says everyone else is basically “Chewbacca” and Beth asks if that means that in this story they are “Chewbacca”.  Toby looks at her in a very serious manner and says “if the Chewie fits, Beth.”

Miguel breaks in with “I married my best friend’s wife” and tries to explains to them why they are on the outside of the Pearson inner circle.  He says that “nobody talks about it, but everyone’s always thinking it” and that he “has been on the outside of this family” since he entered it.  He’s “not even Chewbacca”, but “one of the fighter pilots that doesn’t even have a name”.  He then explains that those four people (The Big Three and their mother) experienced a loss of “the best man that any of us will ever know, and that’s why they get to be on the inside” and he caps it off with “that’s why they get the lightsabers” to complete the Star Wars metaphor.

Kevin’s session is not what the family expected.

The session begins with Kevin delivering sincere apologies to everyone individually and is very polite with addressing his regret-full actions that affected each of them (Kate, Randall and Rebecca).  They all accept his apologies, with Kate even apologizing that she “took her eye of the ball” in relation to his addiction.  However, Barbara is not satisfied and felt like it was “a little polite” to her and wants to talk about “where his addiction might stem from”.  This when things take an uncomfortable turn after their father is brought up.

Kevin explains that throughout his childhood that he always came second to Randall and Kate with their mom and dad and that he has always felt like “the fifth wheel of the family”.  He feels that developed an inner thought in his head that he was not enough and tried to drown it out in any way he could.  First, it was football, then acting and eventually his alcohol and pill addictions.  To him, it was only a matter of time that he turned to this terrible addiction, because they are a “family of addicts”.

Kate scoffs at this, but then Kevin brings up that Jack and their grandfather were addicts (alcoholics specially).  Then, he goes on to admit that he is an addict and even Kate is an addict when it comes to food.  He believes that Jack influenced all of them to succumb to their addictions.  This starts to infuriate everyone as they believe it to be an unjust manipulation by the therapist to make the family upset.

Rebecca is no Jack, but she truly tries her hardest to be both of them.

After being questioned by Barbara, Rebecca says that she did not talk to her children about Jack’s alcoholism because they lost their father at seventeen and will have no new memories of him.  She was not going to “sit them down and talk about the one part of him that wasn’t perfect”, before she also attacks Barbara and defends Jack’s memory.  Therapist Barbara fires back by pointing out that she has specific examples for her other children, but not for Kevin.

Eventually, Randall and Kevin go at it as he finds the favoritism of the other two “typical” and Randall can no longer sit by and “hold his tongue” for his brother.  Kevin is annoyed that his brother and mother are so co-dependent that they refuse to admit they have a closer bond than with him.  He criticizes their mother for taking Randall’s side, while he is chastised by Randall for being spoiled and privileged.  He dismisses Kevin’s addiction as a cry for attention rather than facing the pain that Kevin feels every day.

Kevin lashes back by asking why Randall thinks that his daughter was hiding in his car?  This takes Randall off-guard as Kevin tells him that “she was avoiding the Randall show”.  He begins to point out Randall’s head-strong and regretful actions, which causes Randall to move for the door with their mother following him.  This causes Kevin to mock it as “predictable” and he tries to get his mom admit that she loves Randall the most of all of her children.  She eventually breaks down and says he was “easier” because he was not as stressed and abrasive.  It is also revealed that Kevin “abandoned” his mom shortly after Jack died, which I assume was for a college football scholarship.

The Big Three have reconciliation at the end.

After the session, Kate comes to sit with Kevin on a bench outside while it rains and says “that was tense”.  Kate says that she was glad Toby was not here for that and they both agree that Toby would have cried the entire time.  Kevin tells her that he likes that he cries, but they agree that it would have been way too much.  He finally admits to her that losing their dad is a huge part of all of them and then Randall shows up and joins them on the bench.  He says it would’ve been “sweet” if someone documented their entire childhood “Boyhood-style”, but Kate hates the movie and Kevin never saw it.

His actual point is that they would not have to argue as much, because they could easily pull up the videotape documentation to show what objectively happened.  He then goes on a fantastic monologue that starts with him talking about him being fit for glasses and how he never realized how blurry the world was before they stuck him into the “better machine”.  As someone that has terrible eyesight, had to get glasses as a kid and also did not realize how blurry the world had been; I connected to this in a way that anyone with even passable vision could not.

The main metaphor that he is trying to convey is that the varying lenses are like everyone’s different perspectives or memories.  Randall apologizes for not being there for him during the session like Kevin was for him when he was at his lowest.  They all reconcile despite that arguments that had during the therapy session and they are the “Big Three” again.  Even as Kate says she loves her “crazy-ass brothers”, Randall has to get a snarky comment in no matter what though:  “Just to clarify, it’s official… I’m mom’s favorite right?”  In the end, Kate comes clean about her junk food problem and hiding it from him, before he is able to bring it up himself.  She thought that her “issues were kind of obvious”, but has realized that she needs to let people know about them rather than hide them.

I still have not seen this film (shame me).

We flashback to the cabin and see Kevin in his bed, reading a Batman comic book during a storm.  Rebecca comes to visit him, give him dinner and tell him that she believes that he did not take Randall’s glasses.  He essentially blows her off, but later that night the storm gets rough and he gets awakened slightly frightened.  As he looks for his siblings, he notices the glasses under Randall’s bed.  He grabs them and walks into to his parents bedroom to show that he found them, but just sees his siblings sleeping with their parents in a bed together.  He is the outsider of the family, even at this age, and puts the glasses down before laying down on the floor next to them.

In the present, Kevin comes to his room to find his mom waiting for him.  She talks about his first day at kindergarten and how he was the only one of the three not to be scared about leaving their parents.  “I never worried about you because I didn’t think that I had to” she tells him, but now she realizes that she really did neglect him.  We flashback to the past and see the younger Rebecca wake up during the storm in the cabin.  After she sees him lying on the floor by himself, she gets out of the bed and lays next to him in a very heartwarming moment.  “I know we had moments, you and me, Kevin… I feel it in my bones.”

I loved this episode for multiple reasons, but Kevin sharing his feelings of his place in the family really hit home for me.  Who has not felt like that they have been overlooked or underappreciated?  Randall’s adjustment to glasses and learning from it is something that all of us visually impaired people go through.  Kate finally telling the truth without having to be confronted was also a fantastic example of humanity.  Overall, I would say that this was a great episode to bring back the show after the break and remind us why the fans love it so much.

Here is the preview for the next episode entitled “Clooney”, which is a reference to George Clooney who Kevin has made a previous reference to about his acting ambitions:

What did you think of the episode and the series so far?  Sound off in the comments!