This Is Us season 6 episode 1 recap: The Challenger, birthdays, and new jobs

THIS IS US -- "I've Got This" Episode 510 -- Pictured in this screengrab: Sterling K. Brown as Randall -- (Photo by: NBC)
THIS IS US -- "I've Got This" Episode 510 -- Pictured in this screengrab: Sterling K. Brown as Randall -- (Photo by: NBC) /

This article contains SPOILERS for This Is Us season 6 episode 1

Kevin and Madison figure themselves out, Kate misses Toby, and Randall confronts his traumatic past in the season premiere of This Is Us season 6.

Catch up on everything you need to know before This Is Us season 6 here!

The season premieres with a very significant day in the Pearson household in the year 1986 because it is reminiscent of the show’s pilot episode by taking on the morning of the Space Shuttle Challenger launch, but more on that later…

The big starting point for this episode is the morning of the Big Three’s 41st birthday. After some flashbacks to the birthdays before the show began, we see the triplets celebrating their respective days. Kate is retrieving meticulously organized food for her children, Randall is getting birthday cake in bed from his daughters, and Kevin is handing off his daughters to their mom since Kevin sleeps in the garage. We stay with Kevin and Madison co-parenting their twins, and it appears as though they have found a balance regarding their complex relationship.

This Is Us season 6 episode 1 recap: Kate struggles without Toby

As she is tending to her children, Kate is missing her husband — big time. She actually gets a morning FaceTime call from Toby, and he reveals that he planned the perfect and most relaxing day for his wife. Their son and daughter will be going with Rebecca, Miguel, and Nicky, and then Kane will have a massage therapist come in who is her perfect masseuse that Toby describes as “a woman with the hands of a linebacker.” Toby’s mind clearly is partially on his work, and Kate can see that. This is punctuated when he hangs up fast without Kate being able to say goodbye to her husband.

In the most precious household of Beth and Randall, the patriarch is seen receiving an email about the man who robbed them back in season 4. The email said they found and arrested him and discovered this man robbed Randall because there was a wedding picture of Randall and Beth on his person. Randall comes down to his kitchen, where his wife is, once again showing how adorably out of touch she is with her kids before her husband shares the news from the email. Randall wants to go to the arraignment and even chooses to look the robber in the eye over some special birthday relations with Beth.

This Is Us season 6
THIS IS US — “I’ve Got This” Episode 510 — Pictured in this screengrab: Susan Kelechi Watson as Beth — (Photo by: NBC) /

Flashing back to 1986, the Big Three children are in class watching the Challenger launch from the Kennedy Space Station. The scene shows the whole diaster and the perspectives of the confused students and teachers. Everything about this event is poignant since in the pilot episode, when Kevin’s mid-life crisis began, he explained his whole life started going downhill on this very day.

This Is Us season 6 episode 1 recap: Kevin gets a life-changing opportunity

Present-day Kevin walks into a meeting with the former showrunner, Casey, of the ridiculous show The Manny. Although Kevin was told this meeting was about a movie, it turns out Casey is rebooting The Manny, and they want Kevin to be the older father of the dad and not the young statuesque titular character. Kevin eventually agrees to it because of the stability it offers for him to raise his daughters while still earning a sizable wage.

Going back to the day of the Challenger disaster in 1986, Jack returns home after work, and he and Rebecca devise a plan to help their children work through the trauma they witnessed. The parents explain their own feelings before allowing Kevin, Kate, and Randall to open up themselves. The only one who doesn’t open up is Kevin, who is just focusing on his mac and cheese. Later that night, Rebecca comforts young Randall and checks in on him. As she is giving her son some space, Randall says, “She has kids.” The two have a conversation about how Christa McAuliffe’s kids will need dinner cooked for them. Jack goes to comfort Kevin, but his son looks to be in denial about the whole disaster and says it was just on TV and not real.

This Is Us season 6 episode 1 recap: Randall confronts his trauma and pain

After he sits in on the arraignment, Randall is able to talk to the man who robbed him, and when he asks if the robber knows who he is, the robber says Randall is the man from his picture. As Randall explains his situation and the trauma this man caused him and his family, Randall begins to understand that this man is not mentally healthy and likely has some damage due to extensive hard drug use. The anger that Randall felt for so long begins to fall away, and he begins to feel bad for this man. It turns out Randall bailed out the man who robbed him and put him up in a shelter so he can get some necessary help. Beth, understandably, is turned on by her husband’s good deed and spirit and rewards him with special birthday relations anyway.

As Rebecca, Miguel, and Nicky are watching Kevin and Madison’s twins at an adorable train park, Rebecca is struggling to remember the word for the last cart on a train. Her confusion lasts all the way to the party later in the day when Kevin and Kate are with them, too, celebrating the Big Three’s birth. Rebecca’s confusion turns to frustration, and she verbally snaps, much to the surprise of everyone. This leads to Rebecca and Miguel sharing that her PET scan revealed plaques on her brain, so her symptoms will likely be increasing.

This Is Us season 6
THIS IS US — “In The Room” Episode 508 — Pictured in this screengrab: Justin Hartley as Kevin — (Photo by: NBC) /

After the party, Kevin brings the twins home to Madison and her close male companion from her book club. The whole situation instantly shows Kevin and Madison that their living situation will not work much longer if they both want to be happy.

This Is Us season 6 episode 1 recap: Rebecca and Jack trying their best

Rebecca and Jack are seen in bed that night wondering if they did the right thing as parents dealing with the trauma they all experienced today. Jack explains that he knows Kevin understands what happened, but his brain is protecting itself for now. Rebecca says Randall is too good for this world and will likely be disappointed throughout his life. As the audience hears Mandy Moore say this, present-day Randall is let down by the man never arriving at the shelter and receiving help.

This first episode wraps up with Kevin moving in with Kate in her home’s guest bedroom. The two reminisce about the growth they have experienced the last five years and how they will make it through the adversity they are in right now. Randall makes the commitment that he will continue to try and help everyone in his community. And finally, Kate receives one last birthday present and that is her husband being shockingly home and in person. After snapping at Nicky about him being a sourpuss for an old flame, Rebecca is finally able to remember the word “caboose” and can finally exhale.

What storyline or lingering question are you most looking forward to concluding with This Is Us season 6? Let us know in the comments below!

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Watch This is Us season 6, with the next episode airing Tuesday night, January 11th, only on NBC and streaming the next day on Peacock and Hulu!