The fourth season of This Is Us has introduced perhaps the highest stakes the show has seen since the death of Jack Pearson.
Kate's (Chrissy Metz) psychologically abusive ex-boyfriend endangered her life after fat-shaming her, Rebecca's memory is showing early signs of dementia or possibly Alzheimer's disease, and Kevin (Justin Hartley) and Randall (Sterling K. Brown) are careening towards a fallout. Last season's finale revealed that Rebecca's (Mandy Moore) memory loss doesn't improve and that Kevin and Randall are no longer on speaking terms by the siblings' 40th birthday. With four episodes remaining this season, attentive fans have conjured theories that their division is possibly caused by Randall experiencing another nervous breakdown or disagreements over their mother's healthcare. But despite showing closeness in their adult lives, the two brothers have always been in conflict.
Most fans seem to believe that the gravity of Rebecca's health crisis will force the brothers' disparate personalities to collide: Kevin, self-centered but well-meaning, takes a laid back approach to life, while Randall, empathetic but controlling, is compelled to solve every problem with a hands-on approach–to the point of perfectionism. During childhood, young Kevin often showed resentment for Randall. In one flashback, Jack sternly asked him why he was unkind to his brother, but Kevin grew upset, yelled, "I don't know!" and ran off in tears. As adults, Kevin has vented his frustration that Randall seems to be their mother's favorite child; and, when Kate was pregnant, he made an offhand comment that he and Kate were the only ones capable of carrying on their father's legacy. As their adopted brother, Randall questioned how Kevin could exclude him from their family legacy so easily.
Still, the brothers have continued to share a close bond this season, as they continually reach out to each other for support during times of strife, such as Randall's panic attacks or when Kevin struggled to get back on his feet after rehab. The episode "The Cabin" ended with a telling flash forward far into the Pearson's future as the entire family gathered around an ailing Rebecca. As executive producers Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger have oh-so-slowly fleshed out this compelling scene over multiple seasons, we've discovered that Kevin's future not only includes a fiancee (and assumedly a wife) and a son but that he's built his late father's dream house on land overlooking the Pearson family's cabin. In the present day, the siblings met at the cabin after a highly stressful week of confronting past trauma, and Kevin and Randall shared a tense moment when Kevin discovers that his siblings have kept their mother's condition from him.
In last week's episode, "Clouds," Rebecca finally received the results of her MRI, which indicated that her "mild cognitive impairment" was likely a sign of the early stages of Alzheimer's Disease. The news ended an otherwise relaxing day spent with Kevin, who fulfilled Rebecca's wish to see Joni Mitchell's house in person. Meanwhile, Randall finally attended his first therapy session, thereby missing the revealing doctor appointment that's bound to change the entire Pearson family.
Hartley has teased the cause of their rift to Entertainment Tonight, stating, "It's more than a misunderstanding. I think it's a philosophy. It's like, 'This is how you handle your life and this is how you deal with things and this is what you think. I go about my business in a different way.'"
On the brother's relationship, Berger said, "The thing about Kevin and Randall's relationship, like many sibling relationships, is that you can move on from issues and you can be there for each other in the moment. But the past never really goes away. It kind of just lives underneath the surface."
This Is Us airs on Tuesdays, on NBC at 9 PM