Drop in on the Pearsons across four eras: Jack's time in Vietnam, his last Thanksgiving, William's first with Jesse and the present day family traditions.
It was a time-tossed Thanksgiving episode of "This Is Us" filled with surprising twists, turns, revelations and lots and lots of tears.
Come on, did we actually think we were going to get out of this episode without tearing thew a few boxes of Kleenex? Juggling no less than four different eras and even more storylines, the hour masterfully weaved all of the stories together into one theme. And it just happened to be the theme of young Randall's (Niles Fitch) college entrance essay.
Who has been the most impactful person in your life. It turns out, as he so eloquently put it, that person can manifest in many ways. And that impact isn't always positive, as Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) learned throughout the evening. But sometimes it can come from the most unexpected sources.
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.
"Actually, It's Not What I Thought"
It turns out Randall (Sterling K. Brown) still doesn't get it in a way that could be detrimental to both his campaign and his marriage. Sure, eventually Beth will smack him upside his head and straighten him out again, but in the meantime our man needs to learn how to human a little better.
We get that he loves his wife and he wanted to help her by putting her on his campaign, but blindly agreeing to everything she wants to do just to make her feel better is foolhardy at best. And dissing his campaign manager, who does know what he's doing, is pretty rude, too. Basically, he failed both of them in this moment by trying to be Superman.
Randall is Jack on the surface, but sometimes struggles to fully grasp the underlying reality of the situation. Jack inherently understood people in a way that Randall doesn't quite get.
And he really tries over and over to do the right thing and his heart is in the right place, but he's doing so from this separate place as if he's not one of them, but instead like a compassionate deity playing with his toys. It works great so long as they don't have minds and hearts of their own.
0 tissues (but get it together, man)
"Happy Thanksgiving Mom"
Deja (Lyric Ross), on the other hand, is connecting more and more with other people, connecting and understanding them on a level that still eludes Randall. At first, she dismissed a "Happy Thanksgiving" message from her mother, probably tapping back into that adolescent rage that has so dominated her throughout her run on the show.
But at the Thanksgiving dinner "soup kitchen" for the community Randall is running in, she had some flashback memories of her mother doing her best to take care of Deja growing up. While it probably still hurts that she gave up her parental rights, Deja is beginning to perhaps understand the very human and in many ways mature decision her mother made in that moment.
It was heartwarming, even if no one else knew it, to see her send a message back to her mother, acknowledging in this moment the impact that her mother's decision has made on her life and future prospects. It was a hard decision, to be sure, but Deja is in a better situation now and that's what her mother ultimately wants for her.
"Now Tell Me the Truth"
We didn't expect to ever get the "meet-cute" story of William (Ron Cephas Jones) and Jesse (Dennis O'Hare) but we are absolutely here for it. Both men were absolutely adorable as they stumbled into one another's lives, and of course William offered a helping hand toward Jesse's sobriety.
Every encounter we have with William he is such a kind and decent and loving man it's all the more heartbreaking that he wasn't able to be a part of Randall's life. At the same time, it's elements like this -- the fear in Rebecca that her son would reject her for this man -- that makes these characters breathe more like real flawed people than most TV characters.
Their scenes were short together, but there was enough chemistry and eye contact for Jesse to get that William was feeling a little jealous that he'd brought a date to the little sober jazz concert William was performing at. The sweetness on his face as he shared that she was his cousin, and William's sheepish look back, spoke volumes. Meet-cute indeed!
We probably should have picked up on the clues way back when it was Tess (Eris Baker) who quickly identified Grandpa William as either gay or bisexual. This week, we found out that she is also either gay or bisexual. It wasn't fully specified, except when Kate (Chrissy Metz) said that she'd soon have her first boyfriend, Tess quietly added, "Or girlfriend."
The ladies had just bonded over Tess' first period, but it was still so beautiful to see Tess open up to her Aunt Kate about something so vulnerable within herself, and kudos to Kate for marinating on this detail only a few seconds before sitting down with a smile and embracing this shared experience with her niece.
If only more LGBTQ+ people could expect this kind of warmth and acceptance when they open their hearts and share their truths. What was especially beautiful about this moment was how absolutely normal it was, changing nothing about Tess' dynamic with her family. We'd like to think (and we hope) that her parents will be as cool when she finally comes out to them.
"You Can Be Nice to Them All You Want"
Back in Vietnam, Nicky (Michael Angarano) is working on sobering up under big brother Jack's (Milo Ventimiglia) command, but the strain in their relationship is even worse. It was abhorrent that he refused to help the Vietnamese boy with the infected foot, but it was also emblematic of the dangers of long-term exposure to war.
The enemy can stop being seen as human beings and only seen as combatants. This was a small boy in pain and suffering but Nicky could only see a future VC lobbing bombs at him and trying to kill him. Now, that might be true, but it's not a very humane way of looking at someone who's sick.
Stripping out humanity can leave a pretty bleak worldview, and it seems this is why Nicky is retreating into drugs and snark. Once you lose touch with your own humanity, there's not much left to latch onto that's worth fighting for.
"This Is Like Jack Pearson-Level Magic"
Toby (Chris Sullivan) is on his way to recovery, and Kate probably paid him the biggest possible compliment after Thanksgiving dinner went all wrong and he had to improvise. It's probably just the kind of ego boost Toby needed in that moment, but it also rings of truth.
Toby is a very different man than Jack, not haunted in the same ways but still dealing with his own demons. But he is a joyous and fun-filled person who refuses to be defined by his depression. Plus, we've seen how great he is at saying and doing the right thing by Kate at every turn.
Honestly, we kind of can't wait to see Toby as a dad, either. And we're digging this new more positive Kate, too. We kind of love empowered KaToby. We could have another power couple coming on the scene.
"You Show My Wife Some Respect"
Meanwhile, across town, Miguel (Jon Huertas) continues to come into his own this season as a nuanced and well-rounded character. Seeing him with his own family went a long way to helping us understand why he endures the abuse from the Pearson children.
If he's willing to take abuse from his own children the way that he did, of course he'll take it from Rebecca's (Mandy Moore). His is a complicated situation, estranged from them as teenagers after a bitter divorce. And apparently that strain carried into the next generation, as they rebuffed and rejected his attempts to stay connected until he gave up.
You might want to chastise him for that, but he is only human and after seeing how his son Andy (William Rubio) treated him, we're still angry. And we are astonished that Miguel was able to keep his cool as well as he did. Until, at least, Andy went after Rebecca.
And then he delivered the most epic shame-inducing monologue we've ever seen, with every bit of it ringing true as to how unfair they've treated him their entire adult lives and how he's just endured it time and time again if that's what they felt they needed to try and heal. But no more! We practically stood up and applauded when he finished.
"Your Most Impactful People"
And then, like a perfect dessert on a very satisfying episode, young Randall wrapped up all of these storylines with his beautiful essay about impactful people. He couldn't choose just one because people impact you every day. And as he read his essay, we dropped into all of our vignettes to see how true it was.
"Sometimes strangers are your most impactful people," as the grateful mother of the child Jack helped gave him the same necklace that Kevin has been chasing all season. It was a simple act of kindness appreciated that brought that necklace into the Pearson family. But in its own way, it also proved that despite our differences we are all people and it's never inherently bad to help someone else.
Acquaintances, too, can have a lasting impact, as Jesse ultimately would in bringing joy to William's life in his last years. And then there's family. But even that connection can come from the most unexpected direction, as Tess probably never imagined that she would share both her first period and first coming out with Kate, but neither will ever forget it.
We are touched every day by so many people in so many ways. Sometimes it's not the greatest feeling, as the spot Randall put both Beth and Jae-Won (Tim Jo) in this week. Even well-intentioned, our actions can have great impact. Kate could have handled Tess' coming out far differently and could have done irreperable damage to the young girl's sense of identity and confidence.
When people open up to you and are vulnerable with you, they are putting their trust in what you do next. It is your responsibility to be a good shepherd to their heart and feelings because that thing you do could turn out to be one of the most impactful moments of their lives. So treat each encounter with care, treat each person with care, and you can always try to be that positive impact.
"This Is Us" wraps up its fall season next Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET on NBC.
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