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Spoiler alert! This story contains details from “This Is Us” Season 3, Episode 15, “The Waiting Room.”
Well, that was unpleasant.
As good as “This Is Us” can be in delivering both heartwarming and heartbreaking moments, the hit NBC drama tends to fumble when it comes to conflict. Writers struggle in walking the fine line between making Pearson family arguments emotional and relatable without making them cruel and grating. Fights don’t often lead to character development or move the plot forward. There’s just a lot of yelling, and then a lot of hugging, without a lot of explanation in between.
Tuesday’s episode, “The Waiting Room,” was an ambitious story that fell completely flat. It’s set entirely in the present – and in a hospital – as the family waits for news after Kate (Chrissy Metz) goes into premature labor. Novel for “Us,” it also gathers nearly all of its main characters in the same room for most of the episode.
Free of time-jumping and other plot developments, it was an opportunity to focus on characters, but instead it was an excruciating experience that only succeeds in making everyone more uncomfortable, like walking in on your parents when they fight:
The episode had four major conflicts: Between Randall and Beth, Kevin and Randall, Kevin and Zoey and Miguel and everyone else. Randall (Sterling K. Brown) and Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) hopped on a plane to L.A. in the middle of a major relationship dilemma, after Randall had asked his wife to delay her dream of teaching ballet to take care of their daughters. Randall is also angry with Kevin (Justin Hartley) over his relapse, and Kevin is punchy, antsy and (as we eventually figure out) still drunk. Zoey (Melanie Liburd) is concerned about her relationship with Kevin because he lied about his drinking. And Miguel (Jon Huertas), trying to diffuse the tension, is sick of being dismissed by Randall and Kevin.
And what came out of all that conflict? A whole lot of nothing.
First, Randall tried acquiescing to Beth, saying “I’m only happy if you’re happy,” which Beth found a selfish way to frame it. Then he tried asking Rebecca (Mandy Moore) and Miguel to help out, but Miguel revealed that they had been considering moving into a retirement community in Los Angeles to be closer to Kate and the baby, which sends Randall into a tailspin. (It also leads Kevin to observe that Randall had Rebecca’s attention for the last 30-plus years, and now it’s someone else’s turn.) The conflict ends with Randall and Beth in the same position they were in at the start, without a childcare solution.
Kevin and Randall fight because they always do. Anything one of them says sets the other off, from trying to get information from the nurse about Kate’s status to Kevin’s relapse. At one point it rises to a shouting match, and poor Miguel tries to calm them down. That just leads to more shouting until Rebecca cuts in, delivers a monologue about the waiting room in the hospital the night Jack died, and then everyone calms down. It’s an incredibly clumsy way to shoehorn Jack into the episode (without an appearance from Milo Ventimiglia). A much better parallel might have been reminiscing about when Rebecca lost a baby herself, considering her daughter is now in danger of losing hers.
Meanwhile, Kate’s pal Madison (Caitlin Thompson) pops in with donuts and peppy questions, and is shouted away by Kevin because she’s not family. But as she confides to Miguel, she’s there because Kate wanted her there, to help with the birth and to bring a Ruth Bader Ginsburg doll for the baby. Miguel explains how tough it is to get in with the Pearsons.
When the episode finally shifts its focus to Kate and Toby, we discover that their baby boy was born prematurely at 28 weeks. Kate is thrilled and celebrating, while Toby is worried beyond belief. They name the baby Jack (of course), and Kate promises everything will be OK.
As the family finally disperses from the waiting room, Kevin tells Zoey how much he relies on her and how he’ll get through his relapse. Only problem: There’s vodka in his water bottle.
Everyone is right back where they started at the beginning of the episode. Kate and Toby’s baby is in danger. Kevin is drinking. Randall and Beth are in conflict. Perhaps we could have just done without this episode altogether?
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