What does happily-ever-after look like for the Pearsons? “Don’t Take My Sunshine Away” contrasts expectation and reality, and finds each of the Big Three making compromises and accepting life’s imperfections. It’s the kind of This Is Us episode we’ve seen before — with a rather slight flashback and a neat montage to close things out — but a well-executed one that ends on an intriguing cliffhanger.
Picking things up from last week’s dreary episode, “Don’t Take My Sunshine Away” begins back in the hospital, where Kate is singing to baby Jack and Toby is looking on nervously — he’s still struggling greatly with the circumstances. And as the episode rolls on it becomes too much for him to take. “I can only see tubes and tape and needles and pain,” he tells Kate. After the doctor takes Jack’s blood and urine and moves toward a catheter, Toby leaves the room, anguished. He spends some time in the waiting room — if I never see that place again it’ll be too soon — where he catches up with another father having a hard time. Toby laments he’s been there for six days; his new friend, Kevin, says they’ve been there for six weeks, and still another couple’s baby isn’t even coming home with them due to organ failure. The scene could be depressing; instead, it fits the episode’s theme of taking what life throws at us and making the best of it. Toby makes it back into the room with Kate and the baby, holds him, and apologizes. “Jack, this is your dad,” she says to their new son.
We check in on Kevin, meanwhile, in couples therapy with Zoe. The show seems to drop the ominous thread left last week when Zoe told Beth about Kevin having vodka in his water bottle while they were waiting on Kate. She addresses it with their therapist but they work through it — Kevin’s deceit, Zoe’s anxiety — and quickly we’re on to a new problem: Kids. (Yes, this show moves fast.) Zoe says she doesn’t want them; Kevin sort of assumed he did. And so Zoe puts the pressure on him: He needs to think through what he wants, clearly. The ultimatum is implicit: Zoe or kids.
Headed around AA meetings in New York to find the one that works best for him, Kevin winds up at the one in Park Slope after this conversation with Zoe — and it happens to be right by Sophie’s place. We haven’t seen her since their ugly breakup last season, but as Kevin wanders outside her apartment late at night in the rain, there she appears — utterly puzzled by his presence. He tries explaining the trail of events which led him there but it’s a little eyebrow-raising, to this viewer anyway.
They grab a coffee after Sophie reveals she’s engaged — it’s safe, in other words, to socialize — and they exchange updates on where they’re at. Sophie appears happy as she can be, seemingly moved on from Kevin and ready for the next chapter in her life. Kevin presents his kids-versus-Zoe dilemma, admitting he doesn’t know what to choose. She tells him he never needs to make a choice because he always gets what he wants — and while she nudges him toward Zoe, saying she’s good for him, she leaves him with a foreboding bit of advice. “Decide what you want,” she says. “You always get it.” He comes home and makes his decision, telling Zoe kids are nothing compared to her. It’s all lovely and sweet. Then he sends Sophie an email buying her and her fiancée two Billy Joel tickets as a belated engagement present. Is this tying a bow up on things, or his (long-demonstrated) self-destructive tendencies creeping in again? The former is the nicer, perhaps more obvious option, but I wouldn’t rule out the latter. In any case, here’s Kevin, like Kate and Toby, not getting the picture-perfect ideal of what he wants, but making a claim for what’s available and makes him happy. (Recap continues on Page 2)