In This Is Us episode”Number One,” Justin Hartley gives a heart-wrenching, affecting performance as Kevin, proving that, much like his character, he’s more than just a pretty face. The episode showcased depths that the audience had only glimpsed before, and it seemed like it would pave the way for a more fully realized Kevin. But this was not the case. We’ve watched as moments and subplots that could be big for this character’s development were ignored. Some are blink-and-you-miss-them moments. Read on, and see if you spotted them, too.
Season one set up the strong but restrictive Kate & Kevin twin bond. We see their co-dependent struggle come to life in the episode”Kyle.” Kate (at the time, Kevin’s personal assistant), walks out on Toby during a steamy closet hookup in favor of her celebrity twin brother and his booty-call drama. Kate’s sacrifice helps Kevin realize that their relationship has damaged both of their chances of being adults. In a profound move, he fires Kate. This allows them both to pursue a life where each can stand on their own two feet.
The depth and time spent on the twins’ relationship created revealing moments for Kevin. The absence of this bond in season two has left the character floundering with multiple love interests (Olivia, Sloane, Sophie) and unable to hit the same emotional pay-offs. Ultimately, his attempt at independence fails miserably, and he ends up in rehab (more on that soon). For Kevin to continue to grow, he needs emotional context. The Kate and Kevin connection must make a comeback.
Now back to that rehab comment. Kevin Pearson makes a lot of bad things look good: wife-beaters, grey grandpa cardigans, and apparently alcoholism. One minute, he’s in handcuffs — drunk as a skunk. The next minute, he’s already been in the program for several weeks, looking like he’s just left a fashion magazine’s photo shoot. Beth even tries to prepare the family for a devastated Kevin, but his ironic, unbothered look cuts her short.
It feels like a part of the story was skipped to save on time, which creates the illusion that nothing sticks to this guy. Nothing ever truly affects him, even alcoholism. Not having witnessed Kevin’s initial struggle with sobriety and its consequences makes it difficult for the audience to be understanding when he goes off on his family later in the episode. We’re meant to just fill in the gaps, but the content missing in those gaps is what would’ve allowed us to relate and connect with the character on a deeper level.
One-on-one conversations in This Is Us serve as a window into the characters’ thought processes or as a stepping-stone toward their evolution. In the episode “That’ll be the Day” Randall and Kevin have a complex conversation that starts with a superficial examination of Kevin’s new sobriety, but quickly moves on to Randall’s musings on mortality. He shares with Kevin the painful realization that Jack has been gone for more years then he was around. Kevin’s response? Nothing. He only breaks the silence to jokingly wrap up their talk.
During the next episode, “Super Bowl Sunday,” Kevin calls Rebecca from Jack’s favorite tree. In their moving discussion, she reveals a painful memory which haunts her still. Whenever she thinks about Jack death, the first thing she recalls is taking a bite out of a candy bar. All Kevin manages to muster in response to this tragic revelation is an indecipherable half-mumble. Kevin has been relegated to the role of foil. He exists solely to interact with and characterize those outside of himself — like a talk show host. Except, that he’s a terrible talk show host, as he always leaves his guests hanging.
He’s technically number one, but it still feels like Kevin is number five in terms of character development. The writers of This Is Us have given the audience beautifully rendered storylines and characters. All that’s missing is for them to consider Kevin.