The Pearsons start to spiral out of control after the death of Jack, leaving young Randall with an impossible decision to make.
After a relatively calm premiere, the tension hit a boiling point in two different time periods on this week's "This Is Us."
The story in the past picked up shortly after the death of Jack (Milo Ventimiglia), shining a spotlight on just how much his passing impacted the family. Kate (Hannah Zeile) started overeating, Kevin (Logan Shroyer) started drinking and Rebecca (Mandy Moore) just effectively shut down.
And suddenly, the greatest moment in young Randall's (Niles Fitch) was overshadowed by this tremendous grief that was consuming and destroying his family. We knew it was bad when Rebecca was actually painfully honest to him about the monumental effort it is every day just to get out of bed.
You just don't tell your teenage son things like that unless you are really broken. It's a burden they shouldn't have to shoulder, and it's one they aren't equipped to fully handle. And yet, it was so very real and raw. And it was probably a major catalyst in shaping Randall into the person he is today, for better or worse.
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 ... and this week, mostly happy tears of happiness.
No one in the family knows what we know, and that is that Toby (Chris Sullivan) has stopped taking his antidepressants in an effort to help the IVF process. Unfortunately, the withdrawal side effects are kicking in hardcore, leading to him just erupting on Rebecca, and really the whole family. In his defense, Rebecca just wasn't helping things by going in on Kate (Chrissy Metz) over her weight and the risks involved. Kate's weight is not something Rebecca has ever really addressed directly. Maybe it's fear of losing her daughter, or her guilt in Kate's weight issues, but it was a bad look and Toby defended his wife in the only way he could at the time, which wasn't all that great, either. It's nice to see Chris Sullivan flexing some dramatic muscles along with his comic relief duties. "I'm a heroin addict" was one of the funniest lines of the night, when Miguel (Jon Huertas) stumbled upon the IVF needle that ignited this whole firestorm.
It was tragic seeing Randall taking on the weight of his entire family in the flashback sequences to just after Jack's passing. At what should have been among the greatest moments of his life, getting accepted into Howard University, his family was falling apart. He finally lashed out at Rebecca for failing to live up to her promise to step up and take care of them. She was too lost in her grief and had become a walking zombie in life. That left Kate to begin her journey into overeating and Kevin to slide into alcoholism, and even then, we saw Rebecca dismissively letting these things slide. It was heartbreaking seeing Randall leave a message for Howard that he would not be attending, and especially because we know that no matter what he tried to do by staying close to him, it did nothing to stop his siblings' slides into their own issues with addiction.
It was perhaps foreshadowing of those efforts that adult Randall (Sterling K. Brown) told Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) that he still struggles to get it right. His intentions seem to always be noble on the surface, but he is perceived always as trying too hard or not enough. This week, he tried to fix the problems at a North Philadelphia rec center and was chastise by one of his residents for not just getting to know the community. Sit there and be a part of it instead of staying separate and always trying to be the white knight who rides in and makes everything okay. It's the same tendency that has hampered his abilities to connect more with Deja (Lyric Ross). For all the kindness and decency within him, he struggles to connect with people on a human level. And then -- then -- he has to hear that Kate thinks she's the only person who can ensure Jack's legacy lives on, ostracizing Randall and his children even more. Yes, he's adopted, but how can nothing of Jack be carried on through him?
Rebecca's grief was a dominant factor in the flashback sequences, and the family's house hunting brought back a recent memory that was clearly dominating her thoughts and causing tremendous guilt. This is a family filled with guilt, each of them taking the blame for what happens to the others. In this case, Rebecca is clearly beating herself up for not even considering the new house she and Jack looked at shortly before the fire that destroyed theirs. Would it have prevented Jack's death for them to move? Possibly. But that doesn't make his death her fault any more than it's Kate's fault or anyone else's. Add to this the fact that Kate doesn't seem to have anyone to talk through these things with and it's easy to see why she briefly unloaded on Randall, and why she's completely overwhelmed by her grief.
It's always a joy when Ron Cephas Jones returns to "This Is Us" as William, and he was in fine form this week, juxtaposing the story of when he met ChiChi in the apartment building. ChiChi is the same woman Randall interacts with at the rec center, introducing Deja to her daughter, Sky. Meanwhile, in the past, we get to see William make a human connection with her through a bowl of sub-par stew. William didn't have the money or resources to fix the problems of the world, but he knew how to connect. ChiChi saw much of him in Randall, but not this aspect of him. Randall is just too in his own head all the time to really let loose and meet people as they are, and situations as they come. William preached of the power of community in the absence of family, and it's important whether family is there or not. The more we share our lives with others and seek to understand their worlds and their lives just as they are, the more we can grow as people. It looks like that may be a journey for Randall, but one he seems interested in exploring.
Yes, a silent moment early in the episode, but it spoke volumes. Rebecca taking down two coffee mugs is the simplest gesture that says so much about what day-to-day life is after the loss of a loved one. There are constant reminders of that person in bittersweet ways, as well as constant reminders of their absence. The routine of life is completely thrown asunder. Now she's taking out two mugs. Later, she might hang a towel for him in the bathroom, or change the channel to his favorite show when it's coming on, or try to wake him up in the morning so he doesn't oversleep. These moments are almost daily and constant and it is a constant reopening of that wound that is the loss of a part of yourself, a part of your daily existence so ingrained in you that it takes months and sometimes years to rewire your routine without them a part of it. It was a beautifully subtle moment portrayed perfectly by Mandy Moore, who along with Niles Fitch, really stole those flashback sequences this season. Once again, these young "Big Three" actors are proving they're the real deal just like their adult counterparts.