‘This Is Us’ 2×08 Review: ‘Number One’

This Is Us teased the next three episodes would each focus on one of our Big 3 during prominent moments in their lives. First up was Kevin Pearson in “Number One,” as he continued to struggle with addiction as he officially hit rock bottom. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Honestly, Kevin Pearson has been one of my least favorite characters because of his demeanor. And I’m convinced that’s not an accident. It hasn’t exactly been easy to root for Kevin, youngest, young, or old, as he’s always seemed to carry himself with this “higher than thou” attitude.

But honestly, this was the kind of episode that I needed, as a fan, to feel like I could sympathize with Kevin in a way that felt genuine. It opened my eyes in regards to Kevin. As to why he is the way he is. Why he does the things he does. Why he’s been led down this addiction past. It all stems back to two key issues in losing the two most important things to him: His father and his dream of playing football.


In “Number One,” the spotlight shone on our No. 1, Kevin, as he returned home to Pittsburgh for an honors ceremony at his old high school. Not that Kev believes that he’s worthy of such an honor. He’s in the middle of an addiction spiral that has him sucking down booze as fast as he’s popping pain killers. And while he can’t stop, that doesn’t mean that he feels good about himself. Honestly, he’s probably never felt worse.


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Kevin is virtually unrecognizable from last season. We’re now (show span?) a couple months into Kev’s addiction spiral, and things keep getting worse with no hope of getting better. But his trip back home — yes home, this isn’t a visit, it’s a return home — was exactly what Kevin needed in order to be jolted back to reality.

Perhaps one of my favorite scenes of the entire season came with a drunken Kevin revisiting the football field that once represented his bright future and the field that also ripped that future right out from under him. It was a parallel that was not lost on me. And it was a parallel that has seemingly defined Kevin throughout his life.

Kevin has been defined by a series of highs and lows that have balanced each other out through the years. And as that sequence of events showed us, it’s been the promise of happiness turning into hopelessness — one after the other.


Kevin had a bright future ahead of him as a quarterback. He saw Notre Dame, NFL, Super Bowl, his proud father looking on. Then that was stolen from him in a brutal injury that was lucky enough to still allow him to walk.

But Kevin was lucky enough to walk again. Just in time to bury his father.

Then Kevin married Sophie, the girl of his dreams. And he screwed that up.

And, wouldn’t you know it, Kevin ended up starring in a mega Hollywood television sitcom. But he screwed that up too.

So he moved to New York and got the girl, Sophie, again. And — you obviously see the pattern now — he f-ed that up.

But he got a Hollywood blockbuster movie. Then he hurt his knee — the same damn knee — and he resorted to painkillers, that sent him spiraling down a dangerous addiction.

Kevin has been defined by every single one of his highs and every single one of his lows. But he’s found a way to keep pushing forward because he was strong. Well, he doesn’t believe that as he’s found himself staring down this addiction that threatens to take even more away from him.

Justin Hartley killed this episode. In every facet. He embodied the shame; the grief, the desperation. And that scene on the football field was his finest moment on This Is Us to date. That moment was charged with enough emotion to power a small machine. Hartley’s acting, along with the editing of clips, was just profound in expressing all of the emotion that Kevin has carried with him throughout his life. It was as I finally understood Kevin.

The thing is, for a while all we’d been fed were Kevin’s personas — past and present — as well as being told of these pitfalls he faced. But hearing Kevin say that his dream was stolen from him and seeing it were two completely different things. It really says a lot about the power of showing versus telling. Us, as an audience, need to feel the connection. And that connection comes through emotion. It comes through shared experiences or sympathy. And this was the moment that Kevin became a character that I finally know on this show.

This was a powerful moment for Kevin and for This Is Us. It reminded us that you shouldn’t always judge people for what you see. And I’m not talking about physically. I’m talking about the outward persona they reflect. For someone that’s hurting, that’s usually a mask. They’re just crying out for help.

And Kevin finally hit rock bottom. He finally had that pivotal moment where he realized that not only did he need help. But he wanted help. And that’s an important distinction. Those are two different steps. And he realized them both.

We saw that as he went to Randall to confide in him, just as he confided in his family all of those previous times. And that was Kevin’s strongest moment to date. Being able to acknowledge he needs help and getting the courage to seek it from his brother.

But we’re going to have to hit the pause button on that because Randall just led us into Kate’s pivotal hour, where we just got the worst news possible…she lost the baby.

This Is… Five Things


  1. That scene with Kevin on the football field as he delivered an emotionally-powered monologue of his triumphs and tribulations amidst a wave of emotion was a thing of beauty. That and the moment he breaks down in front of his lady friend’s house after he lost his dad’s necklace. Those two scenes were just brilliant. Justin Hartley has really shone this season as an actor with Kev’s storyline. What an episode for Hartley.
  2. Honestly, I like this three-parter where each episode is focused on one of the Big 3 — and it looks like we’re going in order of birth, Kevin, Kate, then Randall. I love that the entire hours will appear to be focused on them, both past and present, that allows these brilliant actors to really sink their teeth into the emotional implications they’re faced with.
  3. While Kevin has never been my favorite character — he’s always come off immature and unsympathetic — I have to admit this episode did help me see a different side to him. At his lowest, he really opened himself up. Seeing how the many ups and downs have shaped the person he is — and led him to his current state — was intriguing and emotional as a viewer. This definitely helped peel back a few layers with Kevin Pearson.
  4. Kevin finally hit rock bottom. And that was exactly what he needed to do. Much like Jack did. It’s when you finally hit rock bottom that you realize that you need help. More importantly, it’s when you decide that you want help. So he went to Randall, where he was about to come clean about everything. Until this f***ing cliffhanger…

This Is Us airs Tuesdays at 9/8c on NBC.


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