Jermel Nakia makes a small scene swallow a whole episode, in a good way
Mandy Moore killed it
Milo Ventimiglia brought it
Chrissy Metz... Ok, you guys all get it. The ACTING WAS AMAZING
Some darn good writing, especially exploring the darker side of what we usually consider super happy things
Only a TINY bit of cheese
The Ugly Cry Count is at Six, or, Why This is Us Broke Us from Beginning to End
We’re back with one of our favorite series premieres from the 16-17 television season. Sorry about that break, but how interesting is it to read, “This show was awesome this week,” every week? But we just can’t stay away from expressing our love any longer. This week’s episode was a four-tissue tearjerking. The levels of “ugly cry” achieved haven’t been matched by any other show in a long time. Each person in our beloved family comes to a moment of realization this week, and there is an incredible beauty in each of those moments. Poignancy, empathy and catharsis, this episode had it all.
Last week’s episode ended explosively as Randall (Sterling K. Brown) found out Rebecca (Mandy Moore) knew his birth father his entire life. This week explores the fallout from that moment with two backdrops: The big three’s trip back to their childhood cabin & flashbacks to the family struggling with identity issues in the 80’s. Will Randall decide to forgive Rebecca? Surely there was more behind her decision not to tell him? What’s going on with Kevin (Justin Hartley) and Olivia (Janet Montgomery) after that kiss? Will Kate (Chrissy Metz) regret her decision to break it off with Toby (Chris Sullivan)? Let’s wipe the tears & snot off our faces and go for it.
Adoption: The side some families try to hide
Central to this episode was the nuanced relationship between Randall and Rebecca. Though clearly Rebecca had trouble relating to Randall at first, over the first nine episodes of the season we’ve seen this relationship develop into the strongest relationship in the Pearson family. It’s what made the reveal that Rebecca knew William so shocking, and what put the knot in our stomachs when Randall saw Rebecca’s letter to William. Mandy Moore delivered a beautiful arc throughout the episode. Series creator and head writer Dan Fogelman gives the character some of her strongest material of the season here. When during a flashback we see Randall looking for his birth parents, Rebecca’s first instinct is a frosty, aloof attitude that had us gritting our teeth with anger. You just wanted to shake her and say, “You’re making the wrong choice!” Too bad we already know everything the other characters don’t. Watching Rebecca persist in plunging headlong into potentially destroying her future relationship with her son is devastating. She just ups the ante on her bad behavior until finally admitting what she’s really afraid of. While it might be cliched, the delivery is so sincere we don’t actually care. Bring on the tears.
“We gave you everything. The most loving family. Private school.” -Jack “And, all I was supposed to do was feel was grateful. I was supposed to just shut up and just be thankful I had these great parents who wanted me when my birth parents didn’t.” -Randall
This episode served up some real talk about adoption. Things that you wouldn’t necessarily think would be an issue. One of the best things about the way This is Us tackles these adoption issues is the way they take it beyond the superficial. Sure, they could make the biggest issues between the Pearson family the fact that Randall is black and the rest of the family is white. Of course those are there, in spades. Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) thinks Randall is looking for his birth parents because he’s searching for a strong black role model. It’s both a painful episode and inspiring episode for him as we watch Jack run the gamut of human emotions from confidence to doubt and back again. This episode will surely have a special significance to anyone who has adopted a child or was adopted themselves. Nobody’s story fits in a box, but we’d love to hear from people who this episode resonated for. Not all scenarios are “happily ever after”. Adoption issues resonate for years, in many ways, after an adoption takes place. It’s some really hard to talk about crap. We wholeheartedly loved this aspect of the episode.
Stop Holding up a Mirror to My Life, Kate! It Hurts!
More real talk here: One of the reasons This is Us resonates so deeply with me is because I’ve been where Kate is. Sitting in a car, stuffing donuts in your face and crying? Been there. Breaking up with a man because he was still overweight and you were trying to change your life? Been there too. While we’ve been critical of Kate’s character because we think she should be about more than her weight issues, Kate brought us ugly cries for days in this episode. All of her behavioral choices so clearly stemmed from her own outrageously bad self esteem. Her sudden decision to have bypass surgery. Her odd defense of her brother to Olivia (who we didn’t actually think was that bad until about three quarters of the way through the episode)? Chill, Kate. Why do you have to be his keeper? Her texting Toby smacked of keeping him on the hook to boost her up. It was Kate’s last scene that killed, though. It was a full breakdown of ugly weeping and tears. Stop living my life on screen, This is Us. It’s just completely unfair and totally below the belt! What if Kate has the surgery, loses the weight, and realizes she’s the same person she always ways? Preach, Kate. Who hasn’t felt this way?
“I’m not sure if you’ve ever experienced anything real your entire life. I’m starting to feel like you attaching yourself to something that’s not a calculated act is just too much for your empty human shell to handle.” -Kevin
This was a great episode for Kevin as well. Kevin’s been a little up and down, and we don’t blame Justin Hartley, who always does fine work. Though his material can be up and down, this was definitely an up episode. It was nice to watch him finally grow a spine throughout the episode! Sad, too, though, re-upping on this episode’s commitment to showing the double-edged sword of relationships. Just when you were rooting for Kevin and Olivia, she gets weird. And in order for him to have a spine and stand up for himself with her, he has to utterly annihilate her with one of the best lines in the episode (which we’ve obviously quoted above).
William: The Third?
The cheese in this episode was delivered care of a mushroom shake and a bad trip, but if it leads to the poignancy of Randall connecting with his dead father, bring it on. It was the one element of the episode that was eye-roll inducing and prevents this episode from being a solid A+. But the biggest ugly cries in this episode were delivered by a returning Jermel Nakia as 34-year-old Randall. (And props to the casting team because this guy really looks like he could be related to Ron Cephas Jones.) Dumping more onto our already shattered hearts, we’re brought a Rabecca-William scene at precisely the time Randall is desperately seeking his birth parents. His performance in this scene was what cathartic, soul-wrenching ugly crying dreams were made of. The fluttery, nervous hopefulness at the possibility of meeting his son. And tucking the photo and letter into the book of poetry he wrote for him? Honestly, we can’t go on. It’s actually too much. It was the perfect almost-ending to an almost-perfect episode.
This is Us continues to deliver hits to our emotional core, and we’re praying it keeps up the high level for the rest of the season
We’re dying to know how many tissues you used during this episode. We really felt like it fulfilled last week’s promise of great drama. The nuggets of backstory this week really propelled the story forward, filling in details we didn’t even realize we wanted until we got them. No cliffhanger this week, but there’s plenty to still build on moving forward. Will Kate reconcile with Toby? Will she go through with bypass surgery? Kevin’s emotional growth was great. What will his relationship with Olivia be like now? How will Randall, William and Rebecca all move forward? Short shoutout to Jennifer Pyken for some good, unobtrusive music with a distinctive flair that lets you know it’s from this show and also ties in nicely with what’s going on in the scene.
- We’ve confessed what we are relating to in This is Us. Sound off. How about you?
- We’re dying to see Jermel Nakia as William again. Here’s hoping that’s not the last we’ve seen from him.
- Stop being so amazing, Sterling K. Brown! How do you do it??
- Milo Ventimiglia brought it this week as well. A really heartfelt performance.
- Was anyone on the creative team adopted? Watching the episode it was amazing how much we felt it really showed some of the issues adoptive families faced (and we know, we asked some)
- Watching Kate is getting almost viscerally painful
- Good actors can deliver good performances, but we’ve got to credit great direction as well. Great job Uta Briesewitz on this episode
This is Us Review: 2×09- “The Trip”