We Need to Talk About Kevin Pearson. (Also Happy Thanksgiving?)

Okay, I know it’s Thanksgiving but we need to talk about Kevin Pearson. And honestly, what better day to focus on someone else’s family rather than yours for a few minutes? Exactly. Let’s dive in:

Okay so for those of you who don’t know, Kevin Pearson is a character from the hit — and I mean HIT — television show This Is Us on NBC. Before you get all “Why are we analyzing a character from a TV show, it’s just TV”, let me set you straight on something: it’s not. Television programs have the capacity to shape us in largely the same way fictional books and movies do. We see ourselves and our lives reflected in the characters and their stories — or we really don’t — and it affects how we see the world, consciously or subconsciously. That is a subject for another blog, but for now we need to treat the medium of television with respect and proceed with this character study as we would for any other medium of fiction. Oh also, spoiler alert: if you haven't watched last week’s (11/14) episode of This Is Us, I highly suggest you go watch it now and come back when you’ve stopped crying and gathered yourself off the floor.

Alright, Kevinnnnn Pearson. This guy has been a tricky one. When we’re first introduced to him, it’s as a typical LA Playboy — he’s tall, fit AF, bone structure for days, and he plays an actor starring in a bullshit sitcom but who's positive he can take on “more serious roles” (it also kinda feels like the show wants us to believe that’s probably untrue). Kevin struggles to find his groove; he comes off as vapid, self-centered, and kind of (very) annoying.

But slowly, we’ve begun to see his unraveling. It felt for a time like his life was moving forward: he moved to New York to be in an off broadway play that actually turned out to be decent, he reconnected with his high school sweetheart/ex-wife, he was starring in a movie directed by the Ron Howard.... And then during a stunt on set, an old knee injury flares up and the life he’s carefully crafted, his house of cards, comes crashing down. And as the story usually goes with all of us when our worlds collapse, in the wreckage he's forced to deal with emotions he's kept buried about painful events in his past, namely his dashed dreams of playing professional football, and the devastating loss of his father. 

He's been struggling for a little bit now but I'd say this last episode is where things really hit fever pitch. He was invited to his old high school to be honored for, I dunno, being cool or something, and it set off a series of triggers that left him drunk, alone, and begrudgingly recounting the events of his life to himself in the middle of the football field. Homie is spiraling if I ever saw it, and throughout the episode we got to see a little more into his story. 

It feels like Kevin’s whole life has been about two things: crafting the perfect image and being the sibling his parents "never had to worry about". When he’s young, we see him get easily frustrated with his brother Randall’s neuroticism and only slightly less than obvious coddling of Randall by his parents, especially his mother, Rebecca. Randall isn’t cool, and Kevin lets him know like every day. His dad is cool — at least it appears Kevin initially thinks of him that way. But as he grows, his dad starts to look less like Superman and more like a regular man, and I think Kevin distances himself because of it. In high school, we see Kevin as the starting QB on the football team, the epitome of popularity, and well on his way to a scholarship at a Division 1 school. (To really cement the image, I think it's worthy to note he's also at this point dating his elementary school sweetheart Sophie, who is a cheerleader and honestly most likely captain). As I mentioned, in adulthood he’s the LA playboy — he's got money, lives in a penthouse, sleeps with beautiful women, everything on the outside is perfectly coifed and has been for years. We’ve seen glimpses that he’s more than he lets on in sweet moments with his sister, or the fact that he really seems to deeply love Sophie and have done so since he was seven, (ALSO he's Jack Pearson’s son so there had to be something there), but until he is completely broken, we can't really see what he's about. #classic #message

The running theme I think with Kevin is his absolute incapacity to handle it when any part of his image is threatened. One night we see him walk in on his father, who suffers from alcoholism, on his knees reciting the Serenity Prayer, and the mere sight of his dad in such a posture of humility and surrender seemed to conjure extreme disgust and disdain in Kevin. It doesn’t fit his "cool" image to have a father with a weakness, and so he rejects it (and I have a strong suspicion with it, his father, which then leads to tremendous guilt when he passes, but I'm getting ahead of myself). As hard as last week's episode was to watch, I found it so heartbreakingly human and relatable. To work so hard at perfecting your outsides, thinking that if you get the right job, if you make a certain amount of money, if you can befriend the popular kids, if you can live in the right neighborhood, if you can wear the right clothes, if you can marry the right person, you will be validated. You will be good enough. And not only that, but also to have the compulsion to rebuff anything/one in your outside world that does not fit your idealized vision. Kevin suffers from the same malady we all do: the inability to accept himself and What Is. Even as he recounts the blessings he's received in his life, he does so with contempt, as though he is fundamentally flawed and thus unworthy of good things. And he's been running from those feelings for what must be decades — recently opting to numb out with painkillers and alcohol — absolutely unwilling to process his complicated relationship with his dad and fully grieve the loss. 

It finally catches up to him when he has a one night stand and loses his father's necklace (I'm literally still crying about that scene, I can't get over it). At last he reaches rock bottom and gains the gumption to reach out to his brother and admit he's not holding it all together, he's not the sibling no one has to worry about. But at this turning point, when healing can begin because he's finally ready to allow himself to be seen, he's silenced by tragic news from his younger sister. In that moment you feel the weight of the heartbreak of the entire episode. Kevin doesn't get to collapse, he doesn't get to be held, and that has been the story his whole life. He is first but has always also seemed to come second, as taking care of, if not setting the example for, his younger brother and sister felt like it assumed priority over his needs.

It was hard to watch, I won't lie to you. From the heartbreak of what it looks like when the image you've built for your life collapses, to the heartbreak of what it looks like to run from your grief, to the heartbreak of not having space to grieve when you're finally ready, like this shit was a tra-ge-dy. And though it did not end in a neatly wrapped little bow for Kevin Pearson, I profoundly appreciate the show's willingness to dive deeper into a character that could have easily been written off as "The Hot One". It feels like there's a lot more to uncover, not just for Kevin but for this whole family. I'm ready for it. 


Also shoutout to Justin Hartley for his performance in that episode, it was literally so wild.

This Is Us, Tuesdays 9/8c (At this point it felt like I might as well go for the full plug)