There were two big sequences of this mid-season return for “This Is Us.” There was the entire episode, and then there were those final few seconds. Each was as powerful as the other.
Yes, we’re giving credit to a single scene, a single silent exchange, as being just as powerful and impactful as the entirety of what came before it, but that’s exactly how it played out. “This Is Us” loves to drop bombshells and shockers on us, along with plenty of twists and turns, and this is one of its biggest.
Before that, there was still plenty to digest. The teasers gave us two major questions facing the Pearsons in the here and now. One of those went down the path of inevitability, while the other found a new twist which only makes its path even murkier.
And then one Pearson had a sideways journey that was played almost for laughs before coming to a poignant and perhaps prophetic close of it all.
But before we can unpack any of that, we need to let our breath out and begin to process that final moment, encapsulating one of the biggest fears that we probably all share. When you’re alone at night and the suddenly you aren’t.
As we do every week, we’re going to single out the show’s most powerful moments, scoring them by how many tissues we tore through just to watch them. Believe us, these are happy tears of anguish.
“You Will Not Get Past Me”
Okay, we totally cheated and took this line from the teaser for next week’s episode, but it still relates to that heart-stopping final moment when Randall went downstairs and saw a man in their house. His heart stopped, and so did ours. We’d just watched as he checked in on all his girls, children and wife, before making his way downstairs.
His whole world is up those stars, and this is one of those fight-or-flight moments where he’s facing his possible death or serious injury and yet there is only resolve. This is a terrifying situation, but one where he will do whatever it takes to protect that which is most precious to him. The silence in that closing moment was palpable and beautifully played.
0 tissues (because we can’t cry when we can’t breathe)
“He Is Reaching for the Lights”
It’s odd that this huge moment in the lives of Kate, Toby and little Jack was less impactful than it should have been, but we’re still not sure how to take it. On the one hand, we can see how exciting it is for Kate and Toby that Jack can now see light, but we already know how his story ends.
If we’re supposed to feel a shred of hope that he’ll regain more of his sight, we know he is still effectively blind in the future based on the flash-forward. And so, this moment that absolutely lights Toby up is just that: a moment. It’s wonderful that he gains even that much, but we’re left not sure how to process it, just as Kate is (but for a different reason … more on that later).
1 tissue (we’re happy Jack can see light, but still unsure how to feel overall)
“Make Sure He Gives You a Really Great Love Story”
What a beautiful moment between mother and daughter. We’d already seen how Rebecca’s father could be a dick as he told Jack he’d never be good enough for her and tried to push him away. As Jack struggled to make rent this week, he followed the old man’s advice and suggested a break.
It was Rebecca’s mother, who agreed with her father on the purely logistical level, who had the strength and gumption to believe that Jack was so special to Rebecca he was worth fighting for. And so, she told Rebecca what her father had done and told her to fight for her man, only to make sure he’s worth it. “Make sure he gives you a really great love story. One for the ages.”
2 tissues (for unconditional love and support)
“It Just Makes Me Sad”
The fear going into this hour was that Toby and Kate might be in trouble, that Toby was going to reject her now that he’s fit, that Lady Kryptonite had come between them. Well, it was partly true (LK tried to make a move, but Toby switched gyms, instead). In truth, Toby was keeping a bigger secret.
We’d seen shortly after Jack’s birth that Toby was struggling to connect with him as a preemie, and that struggle has continued with a blind child. And he clearly hates himself for feeling this way, knowing he should love his son unconditionally. And while he does love him, he’s overwhelmed with feeling pity and sadness for the life Jack will have without sight.
And that’s why the lights moment loses so much of its impact. Suddenly, Toby is reconnecting with Jack, but he did this when Jack came off the ventilator. When Toby can convince himself everything might be good and “normal,” he seems able to connect. Kate sees the deeper issue here, and we’re not out of the woods yet with this couple.
2 tissues (this one is so complicated)
“I’m Gonna Take Care of Her”
We thought the moment was when Randall chastised Miguel for not seeing that something was off with Rebecca before the doctor confirmed it. But that wasn’t it. It came later when Miguel revealed that of course he’d seen it, but he was afraid to let it be real. “I promise,” he tells Randall, swearing he will take care of Rebecca through every step of whatever’s next.
It was perhaps Jon Huertas’ best work yet on the show, as he crumbled slightly in front of Randall, afraid for the woman he loves (even as her love for him will never match her love for Jack). Miguel has been a rock for this family for so many years, and put down even through this episode by them, so it was powerful to see this side of him. His love runs deeper than anyone gave him credit for.
3 tissues (Rebecca has had two men love her this much)
“I Talk, You Listen.”
Sometimes, someone other than Jack gets to have the grand speech and gesture. We love that Rebecca said “I love you” first, and we love that she said it in defiance of him trying to dump her to appease her father and because he’d come to believe that she deserved better. Rebecca didn’t need anyone telling her what was right for her life.
She was ready to make a love “for the ages” with him, and knowing that this is exactly what happens, it was important that we see that the rose-colored glasses of their love wasn’t all coming from the king of over-the-top romantic gestures and flights of fancy, but that his more practical-minded wife was just as all in. It makes their story just that much sweeter.
3 tissues (the imperfections make their love even more pure)
What a strange episode for Kevin, who found out he was the “hall pass” for a woman he picked up at a coffee bar. Hoping for the same sort of kismet that brought his parents together, Kevin thought maybe fate had brought him “the one,” but instead he was just left feeling dirty and foolish when she revealed she was married, but had her husband’s blessing.
John Legend’s cameo even added to the segment’s surreality that only came into focus in the closing moments when he lamented his plight back on set before handing his phone off to an assistant. At that moment when he said, “Maybe it’s not in the cards for me,” the phone lit up with Sophie’s name. It’s not the kind of fate he’s looking for, but perhaps it’s a different kind of fate.
3 tissues (Kevin is finally ready for this, has it been her all this time?)
“Don’t You Ever Forget It”
With all the focus on Miguel and Randall dealing with Rebecca’s diagnosis, it was easy to forget that it’s her diagnosis. The flashbacks this week to when she told Jack she loved him came into clearer focus toward the end of the hour when it became clear that we were getting them as Rebecca was remembering. We were sharing her memories.
When Jack returned the “I love you” he added, “Don’t you ever forget it.” As present-day Rebecca stared in the mirror, you could see the weight of those words sitting on her as she faced the very real possibility of doing just that.
And not only forgetting that Jack loved her, but possible forgetting Jack entirely. Miguel. Her family. It’s a terrifying prospect.
Mandy Moore was impeccable through the ages in this episode, bringing that youthful, wide-eyed love to young Rebecca in the flashbacks and then the weary, frightened older Rebecca facing one of the scariest moments of her life. This latter, she did more with her physicality than with dialogue, and it’s a masterclass in acting.
Seriously, how is Emmy not paying attention to performances beyond Sterling K. Brown on this show. Did they stop watching after the first season? These actors and actresses are only getting better and deserve a lot more respect and accolades from the industry, even if they are on a broadcast network.
More amazing and underappreciated performances are on the way as this season’s Big Three trilogy has each of them face their biggest fear, starting (obviously) with Randall next Tuesday night at 10 p.m. ET on NBC.
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