In its first two seasons, This Is Us hooked viewers with four main emotional lures: mystery, shock, grief and awww, which isn't exactly an emotion but fans of the show know just what I mean. So with the show's whopper of a mystery gone, and a big chunk of its shock value gone with it, the question going into Season 3 was: Can This Is Us keep us hooked one more time? The answer, based on the Season 3 premiere, is hell to the yes.
This show may never have another head-scratching riddle to solve that, um, burns as long and intensely as Crock Pot-gate, but Season 3 still started with a puzzler anyway: Who's the Pittsburgh Steeler who opened the episode? Viewers learned at the end of the hour that said player was Franco Harris, a halfback who made a miraculous play dubbed the Immaculate Reception — a play that nicely summed up the "everything's going to be OK" vibe at the end of a story filled with more shock, grief, awws and yeah, more big questions to answer. While This Is Us most definitely has a rather calculated formula (and an endless well of guitar twang sounds to let you know when it's time to cry), it remains a confident, thoughtful drama that does not necessarily need to pull stunts in order to tell a moving story about a modern family navigating hope and heartbreak in resonant ways.
Using its tried-and-true flashback, flash-forward technique, This Is Us showed Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) and Rebecca (Mandy Moore) on their first, nearly disastrous date. It revealed Kate (Chrissy Metz) and Toby's (Chris Sullivan) awful consultation with an insensitive fertility doctor, who basically told Kate she was too fat to have a baby and then later called her back to explore the slim odds IVF could work for her. Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) and Randall (Sterling K. Brown) confronted new additions to their family as Deja (Lyric Ross) gave Randall permission to make her a Pearson. And Beth had a mini-meltdown trying to keep Kevin (Justin Hartley) and her cousin Zoe (Melanie Liburd) from "knocking boots," because apparently she's been binge-watching '90s sitcoms. As alluded to in that footage of Franco's catch, all those points had a happy ending, at least for now, though there's obviously plenty of grief on the horizon.
This Is Us must be trying to ease us into Season 3, focusing in its return on grief and awws more so than mysteries and shocks, but make no mistake, they're definitely on the way. In the episode's final moments, Jack saw Rebecca getting flowers and kissing some dude who showed up at her doorstep and Toby flushed his antidepressants down the toilet, which can't be good. And that new major whopper of a question — who's the "her" old-man Randall referred to at the end of Season 2 when asking Tess if she was ready to see her? We're still not sure, but seeing old-man Toby in bed alone certainly indicates she's of some relation to him, a possible hint that Kate's already difficult pregnancy took a dark turn.
But we have many more episodes to play detective. What we really wanted to know as we slide into another season of high highs and very low lows, is whether the Pearsons can still capture our hearts when we already know what we think are their most shocking and painful secrets. And for now, the answer is yes.
This Is Us airs Tuesdays at 9/8c on NBC.