‘This Is Us’ recap: 2×11 “The Fifth Wheel”

This Is Us recap: Season 12, Episode 11, “The Fifth Wheel,” Aired Jan. 9, 2018

Hello and Happy New Year! What can be more exciting than welcoming 2018? A new episode of This Is Us! Episode 2×11, “The Fifth Wheel,” saw the Pearson family in the aftermath of Kevin’s DUI. It was a tense, emotional episode that saw years worth of pain in the front and center for the family to confront.

Supporting Kevin

This Is Us 2x11
Photo by: Ron Batzdorff/NBC

The family is on their way to see Kevin after a month of rehab, in which he has no contact with any of them. Kate feels guilty for not being there for him while Randall is trying to hold back his anger. He recognizes in this episode that Kevin didn’t mean to put Tess in danger and he wants to be there like Kevin was for him a year earlier.

On the other side, Beth is still quite angry with Kevin and doesn’t see things the same way as Randall. She has seen how Kevin is as an adult and didn’t know him growing up. In her view, he has been selfish and hiding behind his acting.

Kate, Randall, Rebecca and their significant others arrive to the session only to find out the therapist wants to see immediate family only for now. This leads to Miguel, Toby, and Beth bonding throughout the tense family atmosphere that is in the episode.

Camping trip

This Is Us 2x11
Photo by: Ron Batzdorff/NBC

Jack surprises the family with a camping trip, much to Rebecca’s chagrin. At the same time, she is concerned about Kate always wanting to eat sweets while Randall is getting used to wearing glasses for the first time. Speaking of, have we seen teenage Randall wear glasses yet?

Kevin is away at football camp so he isn’t with the family when this spontaneous trip begins. So when he arrives, he is tired and frustrated that his family had fun without him. We see how this family experience was one example where Kevin felt like a fifth wheel in his own family.

No fly zone

This Is Us 2x11
Photo by: Ron Batzdorff/NBC

While Miguel, Toby, and Beth, who dub themselves the new Big Three, share beers, they end up talking about the Pearson family. They all have noticed how they close themselves off at certain moments, especially about Jack. Of course, this leads Miguel to remind them that Jack was part of his world too.

Toby admits to the duo that Kate has fallen off the wagon from her diet and he is concerned about her not opening up to him. He thinks she will likely talk to Kevin and Randall. When he makes a Star Wars reference about the family being on the inside, Miguel tells them that he is even further outside because, as he puts it, he “married my best friend’s wife.”

As sad as this declaration is, it also gives us a clue about where Miguel is in his feelings about his situation. He has always been seen as the one who stepped in until we found out that Rebecca did not have contact with him for years until after Tess’ birth.

Fifth wheel

This Is Us 2x11
Photo by: Ron Batzdorff/NBC

During the therapy session, Kevin tries opening up to his family about where his addiction came from. Unfortunately, his siblings and mom don’t do the best job listening. Kate, who once urged Kevin to open up to someone, immediately accuses the therapist of milking money out of Kevin. Rebecca is angry when Jack is called an addict. They both become defensive and Kate seems to be hypocritical about what this is supposed to mean for Kevin.

Randall also doesn’t do a great job in this situation. He accuses Kevin of wanting attention, telling him he grew up with him and everything was fine. Kevin then turns things around on Randall.  He tells Randall how he did not recognize that something was going on with his own daughter as he kept bringing new people into her life who then left (William and Deja).

The question of Kevin being a fifth wheel comes when Rebecca brings up examples of what Jack would miss in Randall and Kate’s life, but she fails to have one for Kevin.

As hard as these scenes were to watch, we saw how each of the Pearsons had a different view of the situation they were placed in, especially concerning Jack. Rebecca wanted to protect her kids from the one negative part of him, which was the addiction. We can see that his portrayal as being such a saint is, while true in some regards, also because she wanted them to remember the good times.

Hard truths

This Is Us 2x11
Photo by: Ron Batzdorff/NBC

One of the toughest moments in the session comes when Kevin accuses Randall of being Rebecca’s favorite. He can’t name one moment where he had his mom for himself, with her always seeming to favor Randall. Under so much strain, Rebecca admits that it was “easier” to love Randall because he wasn’t always closed off with her.

We see how Kevin and Rebecca’s relationship could be so strained in the past in this episode as well. Kevin has spent the episode feeling left out and then he is accused of hiding Randall’s new glasses. Rebecca tries her best, but like she says in the session, he was closed off.


This Is Us 2x11 Fifth Wheel
Photo by: Ron Batzdorff/NBC

After the session is over, Kevin, Kate, and Randall meet up outside near water. This scene sets up the siblings trying to make amends, especially with Randall. He has his glasses with him and he brings up how before he wore them, the world was blurry to him. The glasses are a metaphor for how perspective can shift in different lenses.  He sees he can’t put his own perspective on Kevin’s view of his childhood.

While I had been hoping that Randall would be there for Kevin, I actually really liked what they did here. We have seen how Kate and Randall can be very self-involved and don’t always see what is happening outside of their lives. There were cracks that had formed a long time ago, even before Jack’s death. It is likely his death made things worse. I’m intrigued to find out how they move forward, not only in their relationship as siblings but individually.

A moment

This Is Us 2x11
Photo by: Ron Batzdorff/NBC

The conversation between Rebecca and Kevin in the end is moving as she doesn’t want to leave things where they were previously. She admits that she had been wrong to think she didn’t need to worry about Kevin as much as his siblings. But she also is sure they had some moments together just the two of them. We see this at the end of the episode when Rebecca holds Kevin while he is asleep. Their relationship may have been strained, but there may be hope for them now that Kevin is getting help.

After being on hiatus for a month, This Is Us returned with a punch to the gut. Filled with tension, family, emotions, and everything in between, we’re set up for some exciting episodes. What did you think? Tell us in the comments below or find us on Twitter!

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

(Featured image via Ron Batzdorff/NBC)


Elizabeth Learned

Elizabeth is a television writer who previously worked for an Entertainment news website. When she is not writing or watching television, she can often be found on Twitter gasping and crying over the latest 'The Flash' episode or 'Shadowhunters' announcements. Other shows she enjoys include the NCIS franchise, 'Criminal Minds', 'Jane The Virgin', 'Stitchers', 'This Is Us', and more.

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