By David Canfield
October 15, 2019 at 10:00 PM EDT
Ron Batzdorff/NBC
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“It’s overwhelming if you think about it,” Kevin says near the end of this week’s This Is Us. “The power of these little decisions.” It nicely sums up an episode in which characters make quiet but impactful choices that change trajectories — whether of a day, a mood, or indeed, a life. Let’s break down the roads each Pearson travels in “Flip a Coin.”

REBECCA

“Flip a Coin” returns to the period immediately following Jack’s death for the first time this season, with Randall off to college and Kate stuck at home with Rebecca. But it’s parents’ weekend, which means Rebecca is off to see Randall, leaving Kate all alone. As Rebecca arrives for lunch with Randall in the cafeteria, she notices her son’s attention cannot be kept. He’s distracted. He’s looking out into the distance — at another table, specifically, where his new crush Beth is hanging out with her mother, Carol (guest star Phylicia Rashad).

Rebecca catches on; she remembers her son had mentioned dating a girl named Beth. And so she walks right over and introduces herself, Randall lagging behind. She asks if she can sit as Carol looks on a little bewildered. Randall admits, perhaps mistakenly, that he and Beth went on a date. Eventually, the two kids skirt away from the awkwardness — we’ll get more into that later — leaving Rebecca with Carol. They bond over shared widowhood; but while Carol considers herself together, she sees Rebecca struggling. She describes starting a new chapter in life — a sentiment Rebecca takes to heart.

When Rebecca returns to her apartment and reunites with Kate — who, while Rebecca was gone, landed a job at a record store (run by a cute boy) — she realizes she herself needs to turn the page. She listens to the Carole King record Kate bought and tells her it’s time for them to find a home. It’s time for them to turn the page.

KATE

Not much in the world of Kate this week, at least as far as the present timeline goes. She and Toby are gearing up to take Baby Jack to his first baby music class, way out in the Valley. Toby is unsure if he’s ready, but Kate believes it’s a great idea — something Jack can do without judgment or limitation. Toby forces them to run late, however, leading the family to walk into the class mid-session. It’s too much stimulus for Jack to handle. He sobs through it all, Kate and Toby struggling to get through it. On the ride home, they fight — over going at all, over leaving late, over the struggles of raising a blind son — but they make their way back to each other as they keep driving (the only thing that calms Baby Jack down). Toby suggests they take it “one step at a time.”

RANDALL

We’ll stick to the present-day action for this particular story. It’s the day of Beth’s dance-class opening, which has Randall anxious for one particular reason: Carol is coming to town, and she and Randall don’t get along very well. Or at least Randall thinks so. Things are immediately tense if sustainable between husband and mother-in-law, at least until they enter the studio space — which smells ungodly.

They bring in an exterminator and it becomes clear there’s a dead rat carcass in the walls of the studio. But while Beth tries to work through this problem, Randall has bigger fish to fry. Deja brings Malik to the studio to meet the family, per Beth’s wishes. He and Randall get on well enough, but when Malik drops that he has a child — something he, perhaps naively, assumed Deja told her parents — Randall is thrown for a loop. And when the exterminator reveals the horrid smell will last for at least a week, Carol says they’ll have to reschedule the grand opening. But Randall stands up for his wife. He says they won’t move the date. And he gets to work moving everything outside. The event is ultimately a success, and Carol admits to him that while she thought he was wrong for her daughter when they first met all those years ago, she sees his strength now, and his love for Beth.

BETH

Going back to the past timeline, as we see Beth when Randall and Rebecca join her and her mother, she’s fairly inscrutable. Let’s not forget, she was a bit conflicted about her feelings for Randall after their first date, and her mother is very clearly unapproving of a relationship between them moving forward. Later, when she’s with her mother alone, Beth asks how she and Rebecca got along. Carol says fine but that the family is far too broken for Beth. She says she deserves better than that.

But Beth remembers a tiny moment from their lunch with their parents — when Randall discretely handed her a lemon wedge. Why? She goes to his dorm suddenly to ask him. And he tells her: When they went on a date, she ordered a coke with lemon, and here, she had a coke without one. She’s deeply moved — stunned, maybe — by the consideration. She walks right toward him and kisses him. It’s a small decision, but a life-changing one.

KEVIN

The other big storyline in this episode concerns Kevin, who is enmeshing himself more and more into Nicky’s life.

As they’re headed to another AA meeting, they run into — who else! — Jennifer Morrison’s Cassidy, who is chewing out someone for not notifying her that the meeting had been rescheduled. Kevin listens, and finally talks to her; Cassidy says that her husband said he wanted to proceed with their divorce and that, well, she really needs a meeting right now. Kevin figures they have five hours to kill. “I’m an actor, I’m great at filling up free time,” he says. So they go trailer shopping — Nicky’s place is gross and leaky, and Kevin wants to buy him a new one, even if Nicky will never go for it. Cassidy goes along.

As they browse, Kevin keeps getting stopped by fans of The Manny. And as he’s at this transitional point in his life, he’s meditating on that show’s impact on his life — how it launched his career, how its cancellation threw him for a loop — and thinking back to filming the pilot, where Kate was by his side. Cassidy can only laugh recalling his pain at these memories; she’s a military vet suffering from PTSD, after all. But as she watches more and more people go up to him, she realizes he’s lived a strange life. She says she was being a “dick.” He smiles, in friendly acknowledgment that she was and understands why.

Kevin is reevaluating what he wants. He remembers one moment filming The Manny pilot where he admitted to Kate he’d rather it not get picked up, that he’d been in L.A. for so long and was ready to hunt for meaning and solace. Of course, life didn’t work out that way. But here with Cassidy and Nicky, he sees a new opening. And so he buys a trailer — for himself, parked right next to Nicky’s. And he tells Cassidy he’s going to help her win her husband back.

But of course, Kevin’s always been a man of action. As the ending of this episode reminds, he’d been engaged before, too. We flashback to Rebecca and Kate at home, listening to a voicemail by Kevin, also away. He runs through the motions of how things are going. Then he says he’s engaged as if he’s talking about the weather. He knows a thing or two about dramatic life shakeups.

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Episode Recaps

NBC’s beloved era-hopping drama tells the story of the Pearson family through the years.
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  • 09/20/16
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