An explosive therapy session offers a whole new perspective on the relationships within the family, and the one nasty trait that connects them all.
We thought the "Number" trilogy that wrapped up 2017 was difficult on "This Is Us." The NBC hit came back with a vengeance in 2018, tearing apart our preconceptions about the Pearson family, while offering more insight into the dynamics of how they (dys)function than we've yet seen.
Who knew that Kevin's (Justin Hartley) rock bottom might actually turn out to be the best for all of them? Even the spouses got some quality bonding time to compare notes about the impenetrable world that is the Pearson inner sanctum, complete with its own "No Fly Zone" of topics.
This episode may just feature the finest acting performances from Sterling K. Brown, Chrissy Metz, Mandy Moore and Hartley so far. They set a new bar for themselves with that powerful therapy breakdown, each of them perfectly in character and playing off of one another beautifully. And by beautifully, we mean they were tearing us apart.
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.
"We're a Family of Addicts"
Who would have expected the biggest truth bomb the Pearsons had ever faced to come from Kevin, but he hit them with this line like a slap to the face. As he said it and we looked across the rest of them, we could see what he was referring to. As the hour would unfold, we gained a deeper understanding of Jack's (Milo Ventimiglia) ways, how it impacted Rebecca's (Moore) relationship with her children, how it impacts all of their relationships with their significant others now. Therapy can be brutal, and this session was only starting to unravel, but it was a bomb that needed to drop. It may change our perception of Jack the Superhero, but it deepens our compassion for the entire family.
"Do You Think I'm Fat?"
While on a family vacation, Jack tried and failed to be the "mean one" and get Kate (Mackenzie Hancsicsak) to exercise more. He just can't stand to see his children unhappy, which leads to him caving and giving in to their every need and desire. Was this in part his need to be a better and more loved father than he had? Was that another facet of his addictive personality? Addiction is often about the positive feelings the addictions give, like adult Kate (Metz) said about her relationship with food. Perhaps Jack's addiction was being recklessly good to his children and family, and now we see that this type of addiction can be every bit as destructive as alcohol or drug abuse ... it just takes longer.
"Everyone Sees Their Childhood Through Different Lenses"
When the Big Three came together toward the end, Randall (Brown) offered a bizarre glasses analogy that turned out to be spot on. His perception of their childhood was one thing, while Kate and Jack and even Rebecca saw it as something else entirely. Even the audience, midway through the second season, was given a whole new perspective on that seemingly idyllic world, and especially Kevin's place in it. He always seemed the entitled, rotten one. Instead, he was acting out because he felt like the fifth wheel in the family, with no real connection like Jack shared with Kate and Rebecca had with Randall. Pouring his antics through this filter makes them so much more palatable, and goes a long way to adding some much needed sympathy to his character.
"I'll Give Our Kids Something to Talk About in Therapy Someday"
Jack just can't do it. He's the nice guy. He cares about everyone and wants nothing more than to see their happy faces. If they are unhappy, he caves. It was a character trait that left him almost saint-like in his children's eyes, but actually pushed Rebecca deeper into the villain role, because someone has to set boundaries. Rebecca saw this in her husband, but accepted her role as the villain in the story, actually enabling his "good guy" addiction a bit. She loved her children fiercely, but by allowing Jack to be so beloved, she forever tainted their feelings for her. And so, her line spoken to Jack proved prophetic and gained a tragedy in hindsight as we see the tattered remains of the Pearsons, with so much resentment toward her for their childhood.
"Everybody Else Is Just Chewbacca"
It was the week of awkward analogies that still worked, as Toby (Chris Sullivan) offered this one to Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) and Miguel (Jon Huertas), after the three of them were booted form therapy and found some of their own at the local bar. How did we not realize that this other "Big Three" is every bit as pivotal as the Pearson siblings themselves in understanding their story. They are the ones on the outside of this family, fiercely in love with them and yet always kept at Jack's arm length. It is the bond that unites them, and we absolutely loved seeing them together for the first time. Plus, Miguel opened up a little bit, admitting that he knows he's more akin to a nameless fighter pilot than Han's faithful copilot and that he's okay with it. It's sad but completely true. No one has embraced the guy who married his best friend's father, they're all living under the shadow of the great Jack Pearson together, a shadow that got just a bit less opaque this week. As a bonus, now we're really eager to dig more into Miguel's story!
"It Wasn't as Good as I Thought"
After Kevin's outburst about feeling forgotten and neglected a lot through his childhood, Rebecca realized there may be truth to his words. He was easier to parent because he was so strong-willed and independent, but from his perspective that just meant his siblings were getting more of their parents' time. The most tragic thing about it, though, was that neither of them could remember moments they'd shared together. Rebecca insists she can feel it in her bones that it happened, while Kevin was sure of it as well. All the while, we were witness to several moments when Rebecca reached out during their vacation, and when she snuggled up with him on the floor during a storm. Memory is a bitch, and it was tragic to realize that neither of them could recall this precious moment, even as we were seeing it. It kind of blew our minds about the fact that we probably know more about their childhood right now than they do, much like Randall's "Boyhood" analogy.
"He Was Just Easier!"
Rebecca's outburst was the harshest words a mother could say in front of all of her children, but also the rawest truth they probably all needed to hear. The past can't be changed, so all that's left for them now is forgiveness and healing. Rebecca acknowledging that Randall was her favorite was tough for the others -- and even Randall -- to hear. But it was the unspoken truth that had haunted all of them for years. Rebecca may gain the most from her outburst, as she can finally start the process of forgiving herself. If everyone's lens is different, hers is filled with self-doubt about the parent she was. We see in the flashbacks that she was a loving mother, at times overwhelmed, but committed to the well-being of all three of her children. Her flawed memories tell her she let them all down and couldn't hold a candle to her husband, who was actually an enabler and making her job as a mother that much harder. Now, with him gone, only she is left to pick up the pieces and try to put them back together again.