After six years, we finally get Miguel's full story from his humble upbringing in Puerto Rico through becoming Rebecca's caretaker in her waning years.
Much-maligned and abused by the Big Three over the years, long-time readers of this column know that we've been championing Miguel for years now as the quiet strength behind the Pearson family on "This Is Us."
Miguel and Jon Huertas, who has brilliantly brought him to life these past six years, finally got their vindication in a powerful hour of television that chronicled Miguel's life from the moment his family made the decision to leave Puerto Rico to his twilight years as Rebeca's caretaker.
Along the way, we got to meet the family and influences that helped shape him into who he is as a man, and we finally got the chance to explore the second chapter he and Rebecca both afforded one another -- much to Kevin's horror.
Yes, as we already knew from previous seasons, Kevin was horrible about Jack's best friend and widow "hooking up" together, no matter what Rebecca thinks the phrase might mean!
That gave a slight second layer to the narrative, as we got a reminder of Kevin's growth from the spoiled, immature jackass who populated Justin Hartley's body in Season 1 to the more mature, grounded and compassionate man he's finally (finally!) become.
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.
One of Miguel's most formative experiences as a young immigrant in America was when he joined his father on his gardening work at a successful man's home. When he slipped in to use the bathroom, Miguel became enamored with the game. But what he learned there was that you don't settle for what's good enough. You aren't happy with just seeing the game. If there are "the best seats in the house" available, then you're not satisfied until you're sitting in them. This exchange symbolizes so much of Miguel's journey in America, fighting to be accepted and respected, fighting to assimilate so he can achieve the true American dream, even as it also cost him some of his relationship with his family. We also appreciated that his father couldn't articulate why it upset him that Miguel was living the dream they came to America, though the loss of his Puerto Rican identity and heritage was part of it, for sure.
1 tissue (so many complicated influences)
“Love Is Giving Your Heart Without Expectation”
Running parallel to the story of Miguel as Rebecca's caretaker is the fact that for most of his life, he watched his mother serve as caretaker to her sister, who suffered a debilitating stroke in her mid-20s. Even later in life, Mami still took care of her sister, which just blew Miguel away. He went so far as to tell her he wasn't sure he had that in him, when we all know that his heart is every bit as big as his mother. He may not have believed he could love as fearlessly as she did, but that's exactly the man he became.
2 tissues (you can do incredible things when it's all there is to do)
“I’m Taking the Hat with Me”
A reminder of how far everyone has come, we got a glimpse of the first moment the Big Three learned that Rebecca and Miguel were a couple. It wasn't over dessert, as planned, because they walked in on the two kissing. Not a great way to ease into that conversation, and as we already know, Kevin did not take it well for many, many ears. This little moment served as a sad reminder of how much abuse Miguel endured from the Big Three -- and Kevin in particular -- and that he offered nothing but love and patience in response. In many ways, they didn't deserve him.
Not much has been made of Miguel's experience as an immigrant, but it certainly informed how hard he worked to be successful, to be this image of the American dream with the fancy new car. But in this scene, we saw that he had to work just a little harder -- and a little smarter -- to make it. We love that he told the man who'd just hired him that he only got the interview because he changed the name Miguel Rivas to Mike Rivers. The boss didn't have much to say about it, but the moment spoke volumes.
2 tissues (some struggles are sadly neverending)
“How’ve You Been for the Past Eight Years?”
We saw how Miguel and Rebecca left things, with him taking a job in Texas and stepping out of the Pearson family's life for nearly a decade. Obviously, that wasn't enough for Kevin to get over it, but it explains how they were able to transition their deep friendship into something more -- sometimes absence makes everything fonder. Still, it was cute to see that the pair reconnected over Facebook, with Miguel checking up on the family when Tess was born, and then just taking a chance and reaching out.
2 tissues (for taking a chance)
“Well, Miguel, I’m Not Most People, Miguel”
One of the questions that has plagued the show since the reveal of Miguel and Rebecca's marriage is how Jack would feel about it. We appreciated that one of the framing sequences of the show was this night at the bar, with Miguel revealing that Rebecca didn't really like him all that much. She was refreshingly direct about it, too, asking him why he used people's names so much (a business trick), and showing him that it can be annoying. Outside of his immediate family, she was probably the most direct person in his life, challenging him like that. We also thought it poignant he echoed his father's sentiment at the end of the hour when we returned to this scene and she asked him who he was. Admitting it was a good question, he told her he didn't know and to ask again later. His father had said the same thing when Miguel asked him why he was upset that Miguel was fulfilling the promise of the dream they came to America for. It said a lot about Miguel that he didn't have the answers about himself yet.
We've known for awhile that Miguel's first marriage didn't last, and that things have been estranged with his kids. We still don't get the full story about how that happened, but there are possible hints in this brief sequence where we see that Miguel works too many hours. We remember from Jack's perspective, that his own long hours started to affect things at home, but Jack made a change, prioritizing Rebecca and his family. At this point, Miguel was still chasing that elusive American dream, so he didn't see any other way to be than the overachieving immigrant who gives everything. Unfortunately, it cost him his family.
3 tissues (hindsight always uncovers truths we missed along the way)
“We Never Talk About Him”
In one of their fights, Miguel's wife told him he definitely was not Jack, because she knows how much Jack loved his family. That hung in the back of his mind, so in the spirit of the brutal honesty of their relationship, it was appropriate and right -- if a little abrupt -- that Miguel just brought him up in bed with Rebecca one night. It was the elephant in the room because of the relationship they'd both had with him. How would he feel about their union? How do they feel about it in light of Jack? Rebecca's callback to the bar scene saying that Jack put the two people he cared about the most together so they'd become friends says it all. He loved them both, he wanted them both happy. And so they both believed he would approve of this union if it made them both happy. And as we've seen across the show now, they've had many, many years of happiness together -- despite those ornery kids.
3 tissues (second chapters are different, but can be as sweet)
“As Long as She Needs Me, I’m Not Going Anywhere”
Throughout the episode, we see the aging Miguel struggling more and more to take care of Rebecca as she continues to decline. He is giving everything of himself to this woman he loved, being the exact caretaker he told his mother he didn't believe he could become. And when the kids tried to help by hiring caretakers, he couldn't bring himself to step back and let them even do as much as they should. He knows his calming presence is good for Rebecca, and it's good for him, too. They've devoted decades to one another at this point, they are everything to one another. Of course he doesn't want to leave her side, nor does he want to admit that he should probably accept the help.
“The First Time I Ever Felt Homesick in My Life Is When I Left You on That Porch”
Speaking of candor and honesty, after some adorable text conversations, and phone dinners together, Miguel and Rebecca finally agreed to meet for real at dinner, and after stumbling around a bit awkwardly, Miguel was as blunt with Rebecca as she was when she asked him why he said people's names. Only he explained how he'd never really felt like he belonged anywhere, never fully fit in, never felt he had a home. He was too American for his Peurto Rican family, too Puerto Rican to feel comfortable in the corporate world. It was only after he left that he realized there was someplace (and someone) that felt like home. It was a beautiful sentiment that again speaks to the aloneness he felt even within the Pearsons, as one is always a bit of an outsider in the Pearson family. Rebecca's answer was to immediately kiss him, which finally broke the ice.
4 tissues (finally, after years and years, the heart gets what it wants)
“You Don’t Want to Leave Things Unfinished”
In one scene, we have young Kevin lashing out at Miguel and Rebecca for daring to come together. Then, we see how far Kevin has come when he makes a special trip to Miguel's estranged son Andy's house. We saw a heartbreaking sequence shortly after Miguel moved to Texas where he tried to reconnect to his children and they basically ignored him. All these years later, they're still not really talking. And so, without telling him what to do, Kevin tells him that Miguel is getting older and that Andy doesn't want to live with regret if Miguel passes before they can deal with anything unfinished. Kevin didn't get that opportunity with Jack, so there's two layers of compassion here -- for Miguel and for his kids who might suffer the way he has that things were left unresolved. Even better, it worked, as flash-forwards showed both Alex and his sister Amber reconnecting with Miguel, and even sharing holidays with the Pearsons as one extended family.
4 tissues (the man we always hoped Kevin could become)
“Where Is Miguel?”
It's brutal seeing the towering Rebecca (Mandy Moore) so fragile and frightened in these final episodes, but this one scene perfectly exemplified what a challenge it has become for Miguel to serve as her full-time caretaker. After taking a nasty fall on the ice when she started dancing in the snow without a coat on, Miguel stepped out for some pain pills (after lying about why his back hurt) and Rebecca was okay for a moment. Then, she slipped and panicked that he was gone, with even her own three children unable to calm her until Miguel returned. He'd become so much her whole world by this time, she was lost without him for even a moment. But what a burden that is for Miguel, as he basically has to give up everything to be her everything. Love leads him, but it was an important scene to show just how stressful and all-consuming it can become.
5 tissues (it's tragic to see such powerful presences reduced)
Coming full circle, we start to see those scenes of Miguel getting Rebecca up in the morning with Kevin offering to help him. Miguel is still at the center of Rebecca's world, but it says a lot that Kevin is also stepping up to help. It also speaks volumes to their relationship, which has grown by leaps and bounds from when Kevin dumped all over him for starting to date Rebecca. Now, Kevin silently helps his stepfather take care of his mother, seeing the obvious love and care that Miguel has for Rebecca. But in the gentle ways Kevin helps, we can see that he has as much care and affection for this man he once felt betrayed his father by stealing his wife.
5 tissues (growth a long time coming)
“You Have Honored Your Vows”
One of the hardest conversations to have with any parent is when it comes time to tell them that they can't do it all themselves anymore. Whether that's taking away their car keys, or something else, there are so many layers of complexity and sensitivity that need to come into these conversations. For the Big Three, it was even harder because they were needing to tell their stepfather, who had devoted more than half his life to their mother, that he couldn't do it anymore. Of course, Miguel was put off, and insisted that he would always be there for Rebecca. But the truth is, underneath his obligation, Miguel also knew that he was getting older, his own health was struggling and he could really use his help. Randall was, of course, the perfect voice to explain to him that no one was questioning his love or his devotion. "We're not doing this to you," he explained. "We're doing this for you ... Please let us take care of you now." No one was saying Miguel was anything less than incredible in how he'd loved and cared for their mother. In the telling, the kids also told him that they loved him. Finally -- though we assume before this moment -- he was fully accepted into the family; he was loved, he was home.
5 tissues (speaking of a long time coming)
"And So It Goes"
There was no dialogue during the closing sequence, that brought the true end to Miguel's story, but rather Billy Joel's classic song. After a few montages of the combined family's together, we see them together one last time, including Rebecca, but dressed in black -- and Miguel is not there. He's passed away, and we see the family spread some of his ashes under the apple tree he and Rebecca planted. Then, in an even more touching moment, we see Kevin and Andy together in Puerto Rico at that same ballfield Miguel played on as a child spreading the rest of his ashes. That it was these two sons who rejected him for so many years, but then managed to reconcile their own issues to love him in the end was such a powerful moment. At the same time, we couldn't help but notice that Rebecca was not in any of the scenes spreading ashes, though she was in that first funereal scene in all black. Did her health decline? Did she pass away shortly after Miguel? We saw how devoted she was to him, and how she struggled in his brief absence. It's not unprecedented for older couples to die in short order, and with Rebecca's health already in decline, that may be what happened. Perhaps those flash-forwards of her on her death bed are closer than we thought.
6 tissues (his legacy all the love he gave and finally received)
There are only three episodes left of "This Is Us," rolling out every Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET on NBC.