This Is Us recap: There’s a little bit too waiting in ‘The Waiting Room’

“Thanks for putting up with us.” Multiple Pearson family members say this in “The Waiting Room” to characters outside of their orbit, but it feels like a bit of meta-commentary for viewers, too: A show of gratitude for putting up with yet another hour of rehashed dramas and simmering resentments coming to a boil.

Aesthetically, there’s a lot to appreciate about “The Waiting Room.” While the show has narrowed its focus to single-storyline installments before — usually to very good results — this is the show’s first true bottle-episode. The melancholy score is entirely absent, even from the main title card, and until its moving coda (more on that in a minute) the action never leaves the hospital waiting room. Indeed, we’re about a full day from where we left off, Kate having been rushed to the hospital after her water broke prematurely. Now the whole family has reunited — under less than ideal circumstances.

But the episode, sadly, feels awfully thin, mostly addressing cliffhangers from the past two episodes which didn’t inspire much intrigue in the first place. Kevin has to face his family and girlfriend after relapsing. (It’s clear from the opening seconds Toby informed them he was drunk.) Randall and Beth, once again at odds over their working lives, air their grievances in public, the latest disagreement too raw to simply put to the side. All the while, Miguel is feeling irritated again about his place in the family, Madison is hanging around to much of the family’s dismay, and Rebecca is sitting in a corner despondently, commenting on the appearance of electrical outlets (like surprised faces) and the patterns on the waiting room furniture (bacteria).

Randall emerges, improbably, as the main point of tension — at one point in the episode, it feels like everyone is mad at him. Kevin tells him early on, “You’ve got to let me breathe, man,” a quick reminder that when he’s not in a good place, he tends to look at his good-guy brother with derision. But the fact is that Kevin’s acting a little unhinged: The doctor tells some of the family to go home since they’ve been waiting for so long — 26 hours, to be exact — and that there’s no news, only for Kevin to pull him aside, boast about how much money he has, and demand that he step aside for a better doctor if he reaches his limit. Randall steps in, apologizing on Kevin’s behalf and saying his brother isn’t his “best self” right now.

I’ll say. This episode reminded me particularly of last season’s intervention episode — another uncomfortable, at times brutal Pearson reunion — but back then watching the pain and resentment play out between them felt raw, fresh, and illuminating. I’m just not sure what the point of spending another hour with it is here, especially since so little happens. The lines Kevin speaks to Randall, like “Maybe if you hadn’t left me with Nicky” and “Randall gets the final say in our family” don’t really say much that’s new, and more importantly, don’t actually leave an impact on the narrative. Watching Zoe come to terms with Kevin’s problem, I nodded along to Beth telling her it was okay to “bounce.” As Zoe’s final moment in the episode portends, in which she informs Beth that Kevin had vodka in his water bottle, doing so may have been for the best. (Recap continues on Page 2)

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