‘This Is Us’ Recap for Season 6 Episode 1, ‘The Challenger’: What’s New With the Pearsons in the Premiere?

The This Is Us Season 6 premiere was like the calm before the storm. Following the shocker in the season 5 finale, many fans expected another wild twist. However, the first episode of the last season came and went just like that. But don’t let that fool you. Previously, series creator Dan Fogelman hinted that the opener sets the stage for bigger stories down the line. Here’s our This Is Us recap for what happened in season 6 episode 1, “The Challenger.”

[Warning: This article contains spoilers from This Is Us Season 6 Episode 1, “The Challenger.”]

‘This Is Us’ recap for the season 6 premiere: The past spills into the present

Isabella Rose Landau as Kate, Kaz Womack as Kevin, Ca'Ron Jaden Coleman as Randall, Mandy Moore as Rebecca, and Milo Ventimiglia as Jack sit together in the This Is Us Season 6 premiere
Isabella Rose Landau as Kate, Kaz Womack as Kevin, Ca’Ron Jaden Coleman as Randall, Mandy Moore as Rebecca, Milo Ventimiglia as Jack in ‘This Is Us’ Season 6 Episode 1 | Ron Batzdorff/NBC

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This Is Us Season 6 Episode 1 dives right into Jan. 28, 1986 — the day of the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. At first, it’s like any other day as Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) and Rebecca (Mandy Moore) sing to “Can’t Fight This Feeling” by REO Speedwagon and give their kids some Tang. But everything changes at school.

Young Kate (Isabella Rose Landau), Randall (Ca’Ron Jaden Coleman), and Kevin (Kaz Womack) — who somehow landed in the same classroom — watch the Challenger explode with their peers. Everyone falls silent as the teacher frantically switches off the television. Then back at home, Rebecca and Jack attempt to pick up the pieces together.

At first, Kevin tries to ignore everything, and Jack speculates that his mind is just trying to protect itself. Randall just wants to know that astronaut Christa McAuliffe’s children still get to eat dinner, and Rebecca worries that her son’s life will be a “perpetually disappointing ride” because he wants to save everyone. Meanwhile, Kate’s optimism shines, as she hopes that the dead heroes were high enough in the sky to make it to heaven. It also seems like the Big Three’s reaction to the disaster continues to ripple into who they are in the present day.

Kevin and Madison are still figuring things out

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The This Is Us Season 6 premiere shows how far Kevin (Justin Hartley) has come. Five years ago in the series premiere, the character was hooking up with random women while ranting about the Challenger disaster. But now, Kevin is 41 and happy with his twins, Nicholas and Frances. 

Kevin and Madison (Caitlin Thompson) also update fans on their relationships. The two claim they’re “one finely tuned co-parenting instrument,” and Kevin lives in Madison’s garage. But as the premiere continues, it’s clear that it’s more complicated than they think.

When Kevin drops off the twins, Madison introduces him to her book club friend Elijah. But Kevin seems to become jealous of the relationship, telling his ex he doesn’t like it when Eli calls her “Maddy.” Then, realizing he crossed a line, Kevin decides to move out of the garage and into Kate’s (Chrissy Metz) house. Kevin also decides to join The Manny reboot, so he can stay close to his kids. So it seems like he’s back to square one — sort of.

Randall confronts the man who robbed his house

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The start of the This Is Us Season 6 premiere shares a few subtle updates about Randall (Sterling K. Brown) before diving into the main story of the episode. Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) sees Deja (Lyric Ross) messaging Malik (Asante Blackk), who just moved to Boston after getting into Harvard. Beth also mentions that she’s enjoying her new dance academy job before Randall tells her the big news.

The city councilman reveals that the cops found the man who broke into their house in season 4, and he wants to confront him. Beth makes it clear that Randall should just drop the situation and celebrate his birthday. But despite how much Randall should’ve picked “Door Beth,” he isn’t able to let the robber — aka “Door No. 2” — go. 

Later, Randall speaks with the robber at the courthouse. But he quickly begins to empathize with the “man with a knife,” an addict named David. The city councilman understands the robber’s situation, seeing Kevin, his birth parents, and other addicts in his district that he truly wants to help. So Randall bails David out of jail, hoping to help him by providing him a bed at a shelter. But David never shows. 

Nevertheless, Randall’s arc ends with a bit of hope. After returning home, he speaks with Beth, who still gives him a birthday gift: a pair of cufflinks to replace the ones that were stolen in season 4.

Kate and Toby are going strong in the ‘This Is Us’ Season 6 premiere — sort of

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This Is Us Season 6 Episode 1 highlights a new journey for Kate. Toby (Chris Sullivan) is notably missing because he’s in San Francisco three days a week for his new job. 

Of course, this means Toby will miss Kate’s 41st birthday. But he calls his wife and tells her that he’s sending baby Hailey and Jack to hang out with Rebecca, Miguel (Jon Huertas), and Nicky (Griffin Dunne). So Kate will get the day to herself and a personal massage. 

Later in the episode, Kate expresses gratitude for Toby’s actions. But it’s clear that she wants him home to celebrate in person. Meanwhile, Phillip (Chris Geere) asks Kate to come to school, so the students can sing her a song for her birthday. But before receiving her IRL grand-gesture gift, Kate awkwardly sees Phillip breaking up with his girlfriend.

After celebrating her birthday with her family and Kevin’s unexpected arrival, Kate reflects on her students’ performance. Then suddenly, Toby shows up to surprise his wife, and it’s as if all their troubles melt away.

Rebecca, Miguel, and Nicky have a journey ahead of them

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It looks like This Is Us Season 6 will put Rebecca’s health front and center. At the start of the premiere, Miguel, Nicky, and Rebecca take Hailey and Jack on a children’s train ride. The Pearson matriarch shares a sweet memory of her father, and she forgets the word “caboose.” She continues to forget the word throughout the episode, and she suddenly becomes frustrated during the Big Three’s birthday celebration. Then she reveals why.

“I got the results of the PET scan back, and the scan is positive for plaques building in my brain,” Rebecca says. “It’s still very early, guys.”

The news hits the Big Three really hard. When speaking with Kate, Kevin acknowledges that their mother is very sick. But he still wishes the world would stop for Rebecca. Then Kate reminds her brother how far they’ve come in the past five years. She tells him that if the world stopped for the bad stuff, then everything would be dark. Time goes on so that people can find the light. And despite their mother’s declining health, Kate is optimistic that they’ll find the light again one day.

Meanwhile, Nicky has been obsessing about his ex-girlfriend, Sally, whom he looked up on the internet in season 5. So Rebecca, who realizes that life is too short, tells Nicky to pack a bag. They’re going to see Sally tomorrow.

At the end of the This Is Us Season 6 premiere, Rebecca looks at her brain scans. She finally remembers the word “caboose,” and she leans into Miguel’s chest in relief. But even so, it seems like the writing is on the wall. Jumping back to 1986, young Kate and Kevin reveal what they really learned from the Challenger disaster.

“Mom and Dad are going to die one day,” Kevin says. 

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