After more than half a season of hurt feelings, harsh words, tears, weirdness and anger, This Is Us‘ Randall and Kevin directly addressed their problems in person in this week’s episode. But did the hour (full of really nice work by Sterling K. Brown and Justin Hartley, by the way) actually bring the Pearson bros any closer? Read on as we break down what happens in “Brotherly Love.”
WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR?| In a flashback to when The Big Three were toddlers, Rebecca and Kate are away on a girls’ weekend while Jack stays at home with Kevin and Randall. A co-worker pulls some strings to get Pearson and his boys in to see a taping of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, which films in Pittsburgh. Before the show, a production assistant mistakenly thinks that Randall is there with some other family; when Jack corrects him, Papa Pearson goes out of his way to make sure that Randall feels special and loved… which has the effect of making Randall feel othered, and Kevin feel less-than.
After the show, Kevin runs off, and Jack has to chase him to find him. So Randall moseys up onto the set and sees the Daniel Tiger puppet, who talks to him about imagination. “I have imaginary parents,” little Randall confesses.
This tracks with a scene from the very start of the episode, in which Randall fantasized that his parents were a TV meteorologist (played by Brandon Victor Dixon, Power) and the local librarian (Janora McDuffie, Grey’s Anatomy). We’ll get more on that later.
PARTY FOUL | In another flashback, Randall visits Kevin for the first time in Los Angeles when both are college-age. Randall is there with his Model U.N. team but agrees to slip away for a night out with his brother. They drink a lot to pregame, but then the microagressions start coming hot and heavy from Kev. He hands Randall a fake ID for a much older man, saying, “He’s a Black guy, you’re a Black guy, it’ll be fine.” And later, when they’re in a taxi, Kev is such a jerk to the driver, who is Black, that Randall wants to call off the entire evening. Kevin, angry, says he had to drink so much just to be able to stand being with his own brother. Randall says he drank so much because he’s “a drunk.” They start to beat on each other a little, and it escalates to the point that the driver pulls over and orders the two yahoos out of his car.
After they’ve scuffled a bit, Kevin can’t find his keys. And by the time he realizes they’re actually in his pocket, the brothers have calmed down a little. They return to Kev’s apartment, where he sadly admits that he’s a failure who can’t book a job. “You have everything, Randall: Beth, a huge future,” Kev says. Randall tries to make him feel better, and in the process, they don’t really talk about all of the hurtful, racist things Kevin did and said earlier in the evening.
THE MAIN EVENT | OK, now we’re at the present day. Beth and the girls go ice skating for a while in order to give Randall and Kevin the space and privacy they need, and the guys get right to it after Kevin arrives. It’s striking how much of the talking Kevin does at first, and how much he says he’s sorry IF Randall felt alone, and IF he ever played a role in making his brother feel bad. Kevin also singles out how Randall’s prom date, Allison, had a racist dad, and says he’s sorry for not saying anything at the time.
When Randall says a quiet “Thanks” and that he appreciates the sentiment, Kevin quickly grows irked. “It doesn’t really seem like you do,” he says. Randall calls the speech a “beautiful monologue,” then steps outside for a little air while Kevin follows and demands to know what more Randall expects him to say. As they sit on the brownstone’s front steps, Randall lets his frustration show, saying that it feels like Kevin is “apologizing for a miscalculated tweet” and “after all these days, you’re still so tone-deaf, man.” Then Kevin’s cell rings — he’s waiting on a call from Robert DeNiro, whom he ticked off by walking off set when Madison went into labor — and both of them realize the phone is inside the house… and the door is locked.
So they keep arguing. Randall points out that Kevin just wanted “the perception of doing the right thing,” and Kevin spits back that Randall’s childhood was “glorious” because he was always singled out for being special. Randall tells him that all he wanted to do was blend in, but his Blackness didn’t allow for that — and Kevin played a large part in othering him. While Allison’s dad was a jerk, “you were just thoughtless, and wilfully in the dark, which actually somehow hurt more.”
‘WILDLY UNGRATEFUL’ | They go to a neighbor to ask for the spare key she holds. While they’re waiting, Randall questions whether they’d have the same relationship if he were white. He goes a step farther by asking Kevin to admit that he resents the fact that Randall is Black, and whether he’d ever considered that the day he became a Pearson was also the day that he lost his birth mother and father. Kevin lashes out, calling Randall “wildly ungrateful.” But Randall says he is very grateful — but having to always show that, all the time, is “a prison.”
Randall’s neighbor hands over the key and rags on Kevin’s Sylvester Stallone movie in the process (ha!), telling him he’s better at comedy. The interlude has taken a little of the heat out of Kev and Randall’s conversation; once they’re back at Randall’s house, Randall tells Kevin about his “ghost kingdom,” aka the fantasy reality in his mind “where you have the life you would’ve had if you were never adopted.” Yes, the weatherman and librarian are his parents there — “they were the only two adults that I consistently saw that looked like me” — but his ghost kingdom also include Rebecca, Jack, Kate and Kevin “because I felt too guilty, because I loved you guys too much.”
BROTHERLY BREAKTHROUGH | That seems to get through to Kevin, who offers another — very heartfelt and “if”-free — apology for everything he missed growing up and still might not see. It makes Randall cry. “You are my brother, and I love you. You’re the only brother I’ll ever have. You’re my best man,” Kevin continues. Then Randall makes Kevin cry. “Dad didn’t die ashamed of you,” he says. “And the only reason I said it in our fight was because it was a cheap shot. I’m sorry. He was proud of you. I am proud of you, and I’m sorry that I ever let you think otherwise.” They hug and say that they love each other.
But we’re not done! Kevin talks to DeNiro, who’s not mad. Then he admits that he did resent Randall, because he viewed his brother’s special treatment as being “mixed up with you being Black, and I wanted to take you down a notch.” As Randall starts to cry again — who could blame him?! — Kevin apologizes for being super jealous and taking terrible shots at his brother over the years. As Randall is wiping his face, Beth and the girls come home, and they’re excited to see Kevin.
That night in bed, Randall dreams not of WeatherDad and LibrarianMom mashed up with the Pearsons, but of Laurel and William cooking in the kitchen while Nina Simone’s “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free” plays in the background — and it’s the first time that’s ever happened.
Now it’s your turn. What did you think of the episode? Sound off in the comments!