THIS IS US: “Number One” Discussion, or What is Kevin’s Problem?

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This Is Us began a trilogy of episodes focused on each of the Big Three, beginning with Kevin, “Number One”. Join Melissa and Ange as they discuss the boy Kevin was and the man he is today.

Melissa: Oh man, this was a difficult episode to watch. Kevin continued his spiral as he coped with…what? being adored? having parents who loved him? being talented at sports? discovering his father is human? I still don’t get what Kevin’s big tragedy is that’s fueling his angst. We saw in this episode that his arrogance and sense of entitlement started before his football injury, before Jack’s death. And even in that emotional scene on the football field (more on that in a minute), he failed to actually take responsibility for blowing his chances over and over. What am I missing about his story?

Ange: I think you kind of nailed it there with the mention of his sense of entitlement – not that I’m defending his behavior or anything but I feel like that Kevin’s problems stem from the fact that he is entitled. He said it himself, from a very young age he’s always been known as number one which pretty much fuels that sense of entitlement, I suppose. I mean when you’re a kid, you don’t know any better and as you become older those habits and mindsets are harder to break. We saw Jack being able to humanize him in the end at the hospital and I think once Jack died and wasn’t around to keep him grounded, that arrogance grew and then coupled in with Kevin’s inability to deal with his feelings leads us to the Kevin we have today.

Melissa: Jack was definitely a moral compass for Kevin, and I can see how Jack’s struggle with alcoholism could be a disappointment. But Kevin had an attitude problem long before Jack was gone. All of this still looks like Kevin making poor choices, Kevin being a jerk, for no reason other than because he could. Even the “I felt pressure to be number one” doesn’t work for me, because I saw nothing beyond normal parental pride and encouragement for Kevin to go for his dreams. Even now, with his acting, his family is supportive in a healthy way. I just…don’t get it.

That said, how spectacular was Justin Hartley in this episode? I may not be moved by Kevin’s plight – I didn’t even tear up during this episode – but it’s not because Justin isn’t bringing the goods.

Ange: So spectacular! Definitely his best work yet – the monologue on the field didn’t quite have me in tears but I was in awe of his performance. (P.S. I read that Hartley did that scene in one take!) However that scene on Charlotte’s lawn where he starts rocking back and forth begging for help, I totally teared up. I was already tearing up in the scene before with Jack telling Kevin he is his purpose at the hospital. Gah, the feels!

Speaking of feels, I did like that Kevin came to Randall with the intention of seeking help the following morning before Randall broke the news about Kate losing the baby – it was nice parallel to last season when Randall had his breakdown and Kevin left opening night to be there for him. I do wonder how Kevin is going to react when he finds out that Kate lost the baby and he had just ignored her calls – is it enough to be his wake up call or does he have further to spiral? I feel like he didn’t quite hit rock bottom yet, even though forging a prescription was a pretty stupid thing to do. (That being said, for a doctor – okay plastic surgeon but still – Charlotte wasn’t very smart either and I questioned the fact that she wasn’t even able to recognise that there was something clearly wrong with Kevin.)

Melissa: Yes, good point about Kevin going to Randall for help. And I do applaud Kevin for recognizing that he needs help; I hope he finds a good therapist who can work with him to get past whatever the eff is leading him down this path. As for Charlotte: she was clearly acting out a fantasy. Was it shortsighted and dumb? Yep. Was it understandable? Yep. Do I hope she realizes it was a poor decision and addresses the underlying reasons for going after her high school dream guy? Yep.

This was the first of three episodes focusing on each of the Big Three in depth. What do you think of this narrative structure? I feel like we’re taking a beat, pausing the action to do a deep dive, but at the same time the current day storyline continues. Masterful.

Ange: It’s almost a bit like a feature film in a way if you were to watch all three episodes in a row. I like it – I mean I don’t like the amount of tissues I’m probably going to go through by the end of it if the preview for next week’s episode is any indication, but I definitely agree with your description of it being masterful. I do think it’s going to be a powerful three hours, and I do like that the show chooses to take a beat and break up the narrative structure of the show, much like last season when they did the flashback episode to the pilot with the different secondary characters, again another masterful episode.

Melissa: This show plays with narrative structure so effectively. It’s one the reasons I keep watching, because I wonder what they’ll do next. (The Good Place is another example of creative narrative structure.) Bracing myself for next week, though. Kate’s story is going to hurt.

This Is Us airs Tuesdays at 9/8c on NBC.

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