[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for Season 5, Episode 13 of This Is Us, “Brotherly Love.”]
The time for Kevin (Justin Hartley) and Randall (Sterling K. Brown) to address their long-boiling tensions has finally arrived on This Is Us.
In the episode “Brotherly Love,” the brothers appear as kids, as twentysomethings, and as adults in the present day. Below, we break down the emotional rollercoaster.
Randall & Kevin Bury the Hatchet
In the present timeline, Randall awaits the arrival of Kevin, and Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) does her best to calm her husband’s nerves before taking the girls out so Randall and Kevin can have alone time. She reassures him that things can’t get worse than they are. Randall isn’t so sure.
When Kevin arrives, he and Randall exchange awkward hellos. Kevin keeps checking his phone, revealing that he’s waiting for a call from Robert De Niro for a second shot at the movie he walked away from when Madison (Caitlin Thompson) went into labor.
They sit down to begin their chat, and Kevin brings up how Kate (Chrissy Metz) mentioned things from their past and apologizes if he ever made Randall feel lonely or bad.
His apology is accepted without much enthusiasm. Randall says he appreciates the thought, but he’s not sure what Kevin expected in response. He heads out to get some air on the stoop and Kevin follows him. Tensions begin to flare when Randall makes it clear he wants space and Kevin won’t allow it. When Kevin’s phone starts ringing and they realize they’ve been locked out of the house, the tenseness gets worse. Randall says he never expected an apology, and Kevin insinuates that Randall is calling him a racist. Kevin can’t understand why Randall’s childhood was so bad, and Randall tries to explain that he never wanted to stand out in the crowd and that Kevin’s racial blindspots have impacted him greatly.
Randall remembers he has a spare key at a neighbor’s, so he and Kevin walk down the block to retrieve it. While the woman looks for it, Kevin asks what he did that was wrong and Randall says it was little things like calling him Carlton, in reference to the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air character, or making fun of the fact that he doesn’t know rap lyrics despite being Black.
Key retrieved, Randall wonders aloud if they’d have the same relationship if he were white, and Kevin says he sounds ungrateful for being taken in by the Pearsons. Randall refutes this claim but says that gratitude can be suffocating. Back inside the house, Kevin asks Randall if he really wishes he were never adopted by the Pearsons, and Randall says it isn’t that simple.
Kevin also wants to better understand why Randall needed to find William (Ron Cephas Jones). So, Randall tells Kevin about his support group for transracial adoptees, elaborating on the idea of “ghost kingdoms,” or imaginary worlds that adopted children make up in their heads.
Randall admits that it’s something he never realized he did, but shares he often imagined their school librarian and the local weather forecaster as his real parents in his ghost kingdom. (Viewers got a taste of this in the opening scene featuring a young Randall and the imagined parents.)
He explains to Kevin that as a kid he could never fully immerse himself in this fantasy world out of guilt he felt for betraying the family that had chosen him. He says he still dreams about his ghost kingdom, but it always includes Jack (Milo Ventimiglia), Rebecca (Mandy Moore), and his siblings. He loved them too much to escape them and, in a turning point, Randall apologizes to Kevin for saying things he had in anger to Kevin, saying that Jack was proud of him, despite the things Randall had said before.
After breaking for his phone call with De Niro, Kevin and Randall pick up the conversation, with Kevin telling Randall he’s his best man at the wedding. He also admits that he needs to acknowledge Randall as his smart, successful Black brother, something he once resented Randall for. The pair end things on a positive note, just in time for Beth and the girls to walk in.
Later that evening, we see Randall settle into bed where he enters his ghost kingdom, but this time, his parents are his biological ones, giving him some sweet time with William (Jermel Nakia) and Laurel (Jennifer C. Holmes).
Boys Weekend With Jack
In the far past, Jack spends a weekend alone with his young sons bringing them to a live taping of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Upon arriving, Jack goes to check-in and the production assistant mistakenly thinks another white child is accompanying Jack before he’s corrected. The brief exchange is smoothed over by Jack suggesting that there’s a “special” spot for Randall to sit in (there really isn’t), and the P.A. agrees. Kevin thinks Randall is getting special treatment and complains that he wants a better seat, but Jack tells him he’s fine.
At show’s end, Kevin acts up, running off. Leaving Randall behind to wait, the little boy wanders up to the set where he meets Daniel Tiger, who talks to him about the importance of imagination. Little Randall leans over to whisper in the puppet’s ear that he has imaginary parents, referring to the fantasy he’s constructed in his head. Before Daniel Tiger can say much, Jack returns and brings the boys home, where they indulge in peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. In the background, we can see Randall’s “imaginary” father on the TV sharing the weather forecast.
Randall Shows Up for Kevin’s Acting Slump
The third moment in time takes place when the men are in their young twenties, and Randall (Niles Fitch) goes to Los Angeles for a Model UN event. He can’t help but pop in to visit Kevin (Logan Shroyer), who pressures him into partying for the night. They proceed to drink in excess with Kevin making off-color comments throughout the evening.
When they finally venture out, Kevin begins treating their cab driver rudely, complaining about the music on the radio and calling himself Randall’s “brother from another mother.” His behavior sparks an argument with Randall and they’re ultimately kicked out of the vehicle. Things escalate on the sidewalk as it turns physical, but they have to collect themselves when Kevin can’t find his apartment keys and they search through the brush.
Once they discover they’re in Kevin’s pocket, they return to the complex and Kevin gets real with Randall, saying he’s not doing well with getting gigs and talking about how he feels like the family failure. Randall tells him that he’s not and the pair resolve their bad night with some Hot Pockets and laughs.
And it seems as if present-day Kevin and Randall might just be heading in a similarly positive direction.
This Is Us, Tuesdays, 9/8c, NBC