In the most recent episode of This Is Us, both Jack and Kevin learn valuable lessons about fatherhood from their own fathers.
The latest episode of This is Us, “There,” is a Kevin-centric outing that focuses heavily on the theme of fatherhood. Kevin’s fiancée Madison goes into labor in L.A. while he is shooting a movie in Vancouver, and he spends the episode scrambling to get back home in time for the birth of their twins. The episode also contains flashbacks to when Jack took a young Kevin to football camp and to Jack’s youth as a baseball player and his father’s attendance at all his games.
At the end of Season 4, Randall and Kevin had an epic blowout fight during which Randall told Kevin that Jack died ashamed of Kevin. Randall hit a deeply sensitive nerve as one of Kevin’s biggest insecurities is that he won’t be able to live up to his memory of his father. This is an issue that comes up repeatedly over the course of “There,” especially when Kevin is on the phone with Rebecca and tells her that he wants to be as dependable and stable on the day his twins are born as he heard Jack was for Rebecca.
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Yet the episode shows, that it’s not just Kevin who compares himself to his father; Jack spent his life comparing himself to his father, too. Jack’s father was an alcoholic and a mean-spirited man with a cruel streak that deeply impacted his family. In flashbacks throughout “There,” some of the impact of this is shown as young Jack’s father takes him to and from his baseball game. On the outside, it seems like a simple snapshot of daily life, but it perfectly encapsulates their challenging relationship. Jack’s father pumps him up before the game, but when it’s over and Jack’s team’s lost, his father — drunk as usual — berates and goads him. And when Jack expresses concern about his father driving them home, he forces Jack to get behind the wheel instead.
During the drive, Jack actually stands up to his dad and, for a fleeting moment, earns his father’s begrudging respect. When they make it home safely, his father even compliments him on his competence as a driver. The memory of this moment prompts Jack to tell Kevin that parent-child relationships are complicated and it is for that reason parents loom so large in the minds of their kids.
Jack also confesses that he never wanted to be anything like his own father. He reveals that his father destroyed his love of baseball and he never wanted to do that to any of the things his son loves. When Kevin admits he’s afraid of being a failure at football, Jack takes the time to build Kevin up and assure him that Kevin is more than just a football player. Jack clarifies that he just wants to celebrate Kevin’s successes, not define him by them. In contrast to his own father’s treatment of him, Jack wants to support Kevin as a person, not exclusively as an athlete, although now he fears he’s made the same mistakes as his dad. Kevin assures Jack he is nothing like his father and is “way better.” In response, Jack tells Kevin that he will be an even better father than Jack is.
Neither Jack nor Kevin can ever escape the shadow and influence of their fathers, for better or worse. Yet, while Jack tries to be as unlike his dad as possible, Kevin believes that his father was perfect, and desperately wants to live up to the ideal version of Jack he’s cultivated in his mind. But this episode demonstrates that neither Jack’s father nor Kevin’s was an entirely good or bad parent, and once his twins are born, Kevin won’t be either.
Created by Dan Fogelman, This Is Us stars Milo Ventimiglia, Mandy Moore, Justin Hartley, Chrissy Metz, Sterling K. Brown, Chris Sullivan and Susan Kelechi Watson. New episodes air Tuesdays at 9pm ET/PT on NBC.
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