Only the This Is Us writers could squeeze so much into one hour without losing the nuance necessary to tastefully pull off a racially charged storyline.
Tuesday night's episode ("Brotherly Love") traced Kevin Pearson (Justin Hartley) and Randall Pearson's (Sterling K. Brown) broken relationship back to their childhood, through early adulthood, up to present day.
Tonight's episode was edited by @ErinNicoleWyatt - she started with @HowardLeder as an assistant editor in 2014, went off, then came back to #ThisIsUs... this is her first solo episode on the show.— Dan Fogelman (@Dan_Fogelman) April 14, 2021
Quite proud, not at all surprised. https://t.co/ByBAUry3Zj
So @KayOyegun and I talked about doing this episode as we shot our season premiere, what feels like a lifetime ago now. We decided that if we did it, we'd have to let characters be exposed, and honest, and real.— Dan Fogelman (@Dan_Fogelman) April 14, 2021
I'm quite proud of it, and her, and the entire team. #ThisIsUs
Season 4 concluded with Kevin telling Randall that the worst day of his life was when their parents, Jack Pearson (Milo Ventimiglia) and Rebecca Pearson (Mandy Moore), decided to adopt him.
The brothers have been estranged for most of Season 5, though last week's episode set up an in-person reconciliation when Kevin asked Randall to be his best man but didn't want there to be any beef between them on his wedding day, so he scheduled a flight to Philadelphia to visit Randall.
This reckoning was also foreshadowed by Randall revealing to their sister, Kate (Chrissy Metz), earlier this season that he always felt different growing up as an adopted Black boy:
Once in Philadelphia, Kevin apologizes to Randall for not standing up for him when his high school prom date's father was racist, but Randall only half-heartedly accepts his "tone-deaf" monologue because it feels like Kevin is just trying to say what he thinks he's supposed to say—qualifying his apology "like a miscalculated tweet"—rather than take responsibility for all of his "racial blindspots" and micro-aggressions throughout their childhood.
Randall doesn't want to be annoyed with Kevin, but he is, so he goes outside to get some air. Kevin follows him. The two get locked out of Randall's home, taking the window dressing away from their conversation.
"I wasn't even expecting an apology," Randall says, "and you clearly don't even understand what it is you're apologizing for. All you wanted was the perception of doing the right thing."
"Yeah, OK, I wanted to do the right thing, Randall," Kevin says. "I wanted to do the right thing, even though your childhood, Randall, it was glorious! It was glorious, man. I was there for it. You were the golden child. Everything about you. Your adoption, everything, it made you more special. Not less."
Randall challenges that he never wanted to stand out. He just wanted to fit in but never could because he was the Black boy in an otherwise all-white family. Randall tells Kevin he was "thoughtless and willfully in the dark, which actually somehow hurt more" than people who were intentionally and outwardly racist toward him.
"Brotherly Love," in standard This Is Us fashion, seamlessly weaves this confrontation with seminal experiences from the past, including a surprise trip to the set of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood when they were five years old where Randall (Ca'Ron Jaden Coleman) isn't immediately recognized as Jack's son.
Nineteen-year-old Randall (Niles Finch) also visits a 19-year-old Kevin (Logan Shroyer) in Los Angeles. There, Kevin gives Randall a fake ID of a 40-year-old man who looks nothing like Randall. "Who cares?" he says. "He's a Black guy, you're a Black guy. It'll be fine." Later in their evening out, Kevin is racially insensitive to their Black taxi driver, which triggers a fist fight on the sidewalk where, similar to present day, Kevin can't find his keys.
Ultimately, once back inside at Randall's present-day residence, Kevin admits to his blindspots by saying he just can't see their childhood in the same way Randall experienced it. Randall helps him out by describing the life he would have had with his birth parents that he has often fantasizes about.
"Since I never knew who my birth parents really were, I imagined that the nice librarian from the neighborhood library and the Black meteorologist on the local news were my parents," Randall says, then continues: "I could never fully escape into my fantasy because I felt too guilty. Because I loved you guys too much. I couldn't even create a fantasy world without you guys, Kev. Do you know how unusual that is?"
Kevin can better understand and gives a more authentic apology for the things he didn't see growing up and the things he still can't see before telling Randall how much he loves him. Randall makes amends, too, for the harsh things he said during their argument in Season 4's finale and tells Kevin he's proud of him.
Before the episode wraps, Kevin asks Randall if he still thinks about his "ghost kingdom" with his birth parents, to which Randall says he "still goes there in my dreams occasionally" with the librarian and the weatherman despite now knowing who his birth parents were.
Randall then encourages Kevin to "say the ugly thing" because, even though the rest of the world can't, they have to. "You're not just my smart, successful brother, Randall," Kevin says as tears begin streaming down Randall's cheeks. "You're my Black, smart, successful brother, and I think maybe I did resent that. I thought you getting special treatment was mixed up with you being Black. And I wanted to take you down a notch, and I overlooked things that I shouldn't have. I took shots at you that I shouldn't have taken, and I was more jealous of you than I should have been."
The final scene is Randall laying awake in bed with a sleeping Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) before drifting to sleep and dreaming again of his ghost kingdom—only this time it is in a happy home with William (Jermel Nakia) and Laurel (Jennifer C. Holmes).
For more information about this episode, read People's interview with director Kay Oyegun and writer Jon Dorsey here.
This Is Us airs Tuesdays beginning at 9 p.m. EST on NBC.