This Is Us (NBC)

Matt Hough

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Season finale tonight, and it was all about generations of children. We also got to see the breakup of brothers Kevin and Randall. Some nifty surprises.
 

Adam Lenhardt

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I just finished watching the final two episodes of the season.

This has been a very unlikable stretch for Randall, but I appreciate that the show is willing to let its protagonists be unlikable. Everything he did was fully in character for him. His need to solve problems is often a really amazing quality, but this was a time when the problem didn't have any good solutions and he wasn't able to accept that. Rebecca is still alive a decade or so later, judging by the age of Kevin's twins, so maybe the treatment is successful at slowing her decline. On the other hand, there are people who live with Alzheimer's for twenty years, so perhaps all Randall accomplished was depriving Rebecca of her nine most high functioning remaining months.

The fight between Randall and Kevin on the front lawn was just brutal. They both said some pretty unspeakable things to one another, things made all the worse because they're what each of them always secretly dreaded that the other thought. And yet: Families do have fights like that. When they're really angry, they sometimes do go for the jugular, say whatever they know will hurt the most in that moment. I really appreciated the flash forward to Rebecca's deathbed, and future Kevin putting his arm around future Randall in solidarity and comfort. A reminder that, however bad things are in the present, they're still brothers and they will get through this.

By populating the next generation of Pearsons, it gives the show more room to go forward as well as backward. I've been a fan of Adelaide Kane since "Teen Wolf", and she's toplined shows before. By getting actors of high caliber even for the flash forwards, the show knows it has top-shelf talent it can depend on at each phase of the timeline.

If you had told me at the end of the first season that Madison would be such a critically important character by the end of this season, I might have stopped watching. But her character has come a long way. I particularly appreciated the frank conversation between her and her OBGYN about how she thought her bulimia had left her sterile. I've known a couple recovered bulimics who continue to have health repercussions from it to this day. Aside from the reproductive implications, a lot of people with a history of bulimia have a really tough time with pregnancy mentally as they start to pack on the pounds. Given that Madison is carrying twins, that is likely to be especially tough for her.

There are still a lot of unanswered questions about the circumstances of Rebecca's imminent death:
  • Kevin is wearing a wedding ring. Is he married to Madison, or did he meet someone else and they just co-parent together?
  • Kate and Toby's kids should only be a couple years older than Kevin's kids. Where are they?
  • Where is Kate?
  • How did Uncle Nick get so close to Rebecca that he's her bedside companion at the end?
 
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Matt Hough

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Speculations:

Uncle Nicky is also wearing a wedding band. Since we haven't seen Rebecca's second husband Miguel in this timeline, he may have died and Nicky may have married Rebecca to be her day-to-day caregiver.

In an earlier episode, Toby (who is no longer wearing a wedding band meaning Kate may have died or they're divorced) mentioned "they" are coming, so I'm assuming his and Kate's kids (future rockstar Jack and Hailey, his sister) will be arriving with some kind of older person (since Jack and Hailey would be only a year at most older than Kevin's twins).

Kevin put a hand on Randall's shoulder, no firm sign of any reconciliation but just one of momentary comfort over their dying mother. After the stinging words each said to the other, forgiveness might be very hard.
 

Jason_V

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The fight between Randall and Kevin really got me. They both said some pretty awful things to one another, but when Randall was going off on Kevin, it never felt like he had any understanding of what he was actually saying. There was no...regret...after the words came out of his mouth. When Kevin fired back, he knew the minute Randall walked away he had done wrong: he closed his eyes and bit his lip.

We're meant to believe that from that moment to the time everyone gathers to see Rebecca, they haven't reconciled in some way, shape or form? Not at all? But they can magically be in the same house and room for Rebecca, stand next to one another and be civil?

I think something else happens between them. Kevin resents Randall for taking Rebecca away during Madison's pregnancy or something. Remember: St. Louis is going to be a nine month trial, right? Coincidentally the same amount of time a woman is usually pregnant...
 

Mike Frezon

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This is Us really won me back this season.

Terrific television.

Both Peg and I said after Randall & Kevin's blowup on the front lawn that we didn't think we'd ever speak to our sibling again after a back-and-forth like that.
 
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Adam Lenhardt

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This is Us really won me back this season.

Terrific television.

Both Peg and I said after Randall & Kevin's blowup on the front lawn that we didn't think we'd ever speak to our sibling again after a back-and-forth like that.
While I didn't think this season quite hit the highs of the first couple seasons, it definitely righted the ship and avoided the lows of the third season.

One of the smartest things that the show did was shunt Randall's career in local politics into the background, so that it doesn't get any more emphasis than any of the other characters' day jobs.
 

ScottH

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Meh, I still only watch it because my wife and daughter do. The writing is pretty absurd when it comes to Randall. He's not even human at this point. This show just exemplifies how bad network TV is and how much better cable networks are these days.
 

Patrick Sun

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As the show continues in current time, how much fun will it be for the writers to keep the bro's apart for the next 12 years? No? Didn't think so, either.
 

Adam Lenhardt

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"This Is Us" to Write In COVID: 'We've Decided to Attack Things Head On'

Far more than most other shows, it makes sense for "This Is Us" to explore the current pandemic. Most television shows take place in the very nebulous "present day", but "This Is Us" has a very specific timeline. It's made some mistakes (see the timing of Randall's election for example) but for the most part the "present day" scenes that episodes aired in 2018 were set in 2018, and so on.

But the nonlinear storytelling also means that the episodes set during the pandemic don't have to be solely set during the pandemic.
 

Matt Hough

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Since they're showing two episodes tonight (since the election coverage will preempt everything next week), I decided to let the DVR record both, and I'll watch both tomorrow rather than one tonight and one tomorrow.
 

Adam Lenhardt

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Good to have this show back, when there's so little new television. I think the final beat of this two-hour season premiere will be very divisive. But more on that at the end of this post.

A lot has happened in the world since they shot the previous season's finale. Catching up to the present felt jarring and a bit clumsy. I think it was a mistake to reference COVID in the continuation of the scene where Madison was telling Kevin they were having twins. This episode covers several months, and there was time to weave that in later. Speaking of COVID: All the conversations about social distancing and testing and precautions felt like they were written by NBC's lawyers. At times the scenes felt more like PSAs for good public health than organic family conversations. The storyline with Rebecca having an episode was especially tricky; due to the length of the time jump for the flash forward when this story was told last season, it pretty much had to happen during the pandemic. But because they didn't know about the pandemic when those scenes were shot, none of it felt like it was taking place during the pandemic -- Rebecca is dining out, nobody on the streets are wearing masks, and so on. Just one of those tricky things when it comes to predicting the future in a show that tells its story nonlinearly.

To my surprise, I'm really enjoying Kevin and Madison together. Kevin's relationships with Sophie and Zoe were really passionate and intense. But Kevin and Madison just feel comfortable together. They have a way of curb each other's more neurotic tendencies. And one of the more effective examples of intercutting between between past and present was Jack panicking at the hospital while Rebecca was in labor while Kevin was rock solid for Madison at the urgent care.

The death of George Floyd and the resulting Black Lives Matter protests were always going to be unavoidable on a show where an entire limb of the family tree is black. In the first hour, it felt a bit too topical, like when David E. Kelley would use his legal dramas as a soapbox. But it worked a lot better in the second hour, where Randall's experiences as a black man in America thematically served to further distance him from the family he is already feeling estranged from.

The ongoing conflict between Randall and Kevin that is fueling that estrangement I thought was handled really well. Both of them said some pretty unforgivable things last season. Months later, both are actively trying to be civil to each other and avoid pouring any more salt on the wound. But neither of them really knows how to get past what they said to each other. I was really glad the fight wasn't resolved by the end of the premiere, and I was even more glad that there was that momentary thaw where Randall gave Kevin some really warm and loving advice about raising daughters. It was a nice reminder that even at this really awful moment between them, they are still brothers and there is still a reservoir of love underneath the anger and the hurt.

I really loved the portrayal of Randall's mental illness in these two hours. Last season, he finally admitted he needed professional help, and tonight you could really see that starting to pay dividends. There were a number of moments where he broke out of the unhealthy cycles that have ruled him most of his life. He allowed himself to be vulnerable in front of Malik, and it brought him out of his own head. He's communicating better with Beth, articulating his feelings rather than shielding her from them, and doing a better job of listening to her feelings. He let go of his need to fix Rebecca, and was able to just be there for her. And Rebecca, for her part, was more real with Randall than she usually is. Randall was also honest with Kate about what he was feeling and one of the negatives of his incredible, wonderful life growing up as a Pearson. He was even willing to advocate for what he needed from therapy, and his therapist was very good about supporting him in finding the help that he needs. After things got really bad with my mental health earlier this year, I got put on anti-depressants and sought out therapy. It has made a world of difference; with the general dumpster fire that is the world right now, I don't know how I would have gotten through the past several months if I hadn't gotten my head straightened out. So much of what I have experienced, positively, was reflected in Randall's storyline tonight.

The tricky thing with Alzheimer's in a fictional story -- especially Alzheimer's that will drag on for many years to come -- is that the worse the person gets, the more storytelling opportunities that get closed off. In this show we at least have two other time periods where Rebecca will be asymptomatic, but it still boxes them into a corner a bit. Having the birthday cake episode be the reason of an interaction with her medication buys the writers more time before her symptoms get really bad.

The stuff with William at the hospital was a mixed bag for me. On one hand, it was good to get an explanation for why two heroin addicts gave birth to a perfectly healthy baby with no dependency issues. The reason is that they stayed clean for the length of her pregnancy. On the other hand, having William and Jack pass each other at the entrance to the hospital chapel felt a bit too much like Serendipity. The day the Big Three were born has already been so well-documented that it felt like a stretch to cram any more into it.

Regarding that final reveal: Whether it's a successful leap or a jump the shark moment will depend on how it's executed. Every time the show inserts a major revelation that shakes up our understanding of everything that happened before, it's a risk. With each season, the backstory gets more and more filled in and there's less and less room to shoehorn something big in. This choice was riskier than most; not only does it fundamentally change Randall's origin story, but it feels a bit like a retread of what happened with Jack's brother. What's more, there was no indication the entire time that William was living with Randall that he knew that Randall's mother was alive. If William didn't know, the show will need to have a good explanation for why not. If William did know, the show will need to have a good explanation for why he never told Randall.
 
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Matt Hough

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I finally got around to the two episodes today. The final revelation was a knee jerk one for me. It really seemed tacked onto the story and while I'll be curious to see where they go with it, right now I can't summon up much enthusiasm for getting another lengthy series of backstory episodes which seems to me obvious since they're going to eventually offer Randall a lifeline to his original/alternate "life" with his own family while he's "losing" his mother and family as they drift apart a bit.

They're already dealing with so many plot threads now, and some of Randall's children should get the attention that this new Laurel storyline is now going to consume. And I always enjoy spending time in the past so we can be around Jack, my favorite character.
 
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NeilO

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Just watched the second hour tonight. I thought they did the best they could with weaving the topical situations in. I'm sure a rewatch of the previous season going into this would feel quite jarring.

I'm not feeling good about the final reveal. There are a ton of unanswered questions there, but the writers have done a good job so far, so maybe they know what they are doing here.
 

Mike Frezon

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This was awfully depressing stuff.

First off, if this was "unlimited commercial interruption" I'd hate to see how much commercial time they would ordinarily have. :rolleyes:

:D

Randall is estranged from the rest of the Piersons because he's turned into a dick at age 40. I guess I can see the point of having his race become an issue to his mental health...but I'm just not sure if I'm going to enjoy that storyline.

And I'm surprised by how much I like Kadison, too! :laugh:

And regards the last reveal...I am feeling like the manipulation of the viewer is a bit too much with some of these twists/turns. My guess is they'll somehow have William never know Laurel survived. Assuming that's true I cannot imagine how she will reconnect with Randall. As the world turns....
 

Adam Lenhardt

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I thought last night's episode was stronger than the two-hour premiere. Pretty much every story worked for me.

It was also an episode that, in the present day storylines, really showed how far these characters have come over the course of the series.

Kevin relationship with Madison is on a stronger footing than his past relationships with Sophie and Zoe, despite a far less auspicious start, because Kevin is in a more mature and healthy place than he was back then. Kevin, working in one of the most body conscious of industries, is in many ways not a healthy person for Madison to be around. But she too has come a long way from being the butt of the jokes at Kate and Toby's weight loss meetings; she owns her shit now, and she isn't projecting it on to him. And when she opens up about it and allows herself to be vulnerable, Kevin really listens. And his response is to open up about his own shit, and allow himself to be vulnerable. And you can see what a difference it makes to Madison when he does.

One of the things I appreciate about the adoption subplot with Kate and Toby is that the expectant mother who is giving up her baby for adoption doesn't fall into any of the television cliches: She's not a pregnant teen, she's not a drug addict, she's not living in the slums. She's a responsible widowed single mother to an eight-year-old she adores who indulged in one frivolous night of unprotected fun and now is pregnant with a baby she doesn't have time for and can't afford. Putting the baby up for adoption, and taking the necessary steps to ensure that the baby is going to a good home, is another example of good mature adult behavior. This story also showed how far Kate and Toby have come as a couple, and how much better they have gotten at communicating. There is a real give and take between the two of them, and they both make an effort to meet the other halfway.

Randall and Beth are also in a good place, with Randall's efforts to get a handle on his issues starting to pay dividends. It will be interesting to see how they navigate the girls' teenage years; Beth was raised in a very strict and authoritarian household, while the Pearsons were far more lenient when it came to the Big Three. Beth isn't nearly as much of a hardass as her mother, but that's still where her instincts go. Randall spent so much of his childhood trying to please Rebecca, he's almost pleased to see Tess engage in a little teenage rebellion. But rather than plow ahead with what he thinks is right, the way he would have in the past, he talks the situation out with Beth and acquiesces to her course of action while framing it in his way.

The subplot with the preteen Big Three becoming teenagers, and growing up rapidly, was informative. We see the first stirrings of Kevin's body issues, we see Randall dealing with being Othered by Kate's oblivious friend, and we see Kate getting rejected again but demonstrating some newfound resilience in the face of it. Parker Bates is looking more and more like Justin Hartley as he grows up. Mackenzie Hancsicsak has lost all of her baby fat during the hiatus; she looks a lot more like Rebecca now than the other two Kates, but she is considerably skinnier and taller than both of them now. Lonnie Chavis has never been a good physical match for Sterling K. Brown, and the older he gets the worse the resemblance becomes. But he's such a good young actor that it's an easy thing to overlook. The interesting thing is that, assuming the show sticks to its plan to end with Season 6, the show will be telling stories with these three actors that take place chronologically just before the earliest stories told with the teenage cast.

I'm still not sure where we're headed with the mystery of Randall's biological mother. The Vietnamese grandfather in the framing scenes is connected to Randall's birth mother in some way, but it's not exactly clear how. His granddaughter didn't appear to be mixed race, and she only knew Randall's birth mother as the woman in all of her grandfather's photographs, so I don't think Randall's mother is her grandmother.
 

Mike Frezon

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I'm still not sure where we're headed with the mystery of Randall's biological mother. The Vietnamese grandfather in the framing scenes is connected to Randall's birth mother in some way, but it's not exactly clear how. His granddaughter didn't appear to be mixed race, and she only knew Randall's birth mother as the woman in all of her grandfather's photographs, so I don't think Randall's mother is her grandmother.
This all seems very mysterious and out-of-reach considering they used those scenes to bookend this particular episode.
 
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