This Is Us Analyzing This Is Us: What We're Thankful for After the Fall Finale

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This Is Us Analyzing <i>This Is Us</i>: What We're Thankful for After the Fall Finale

All My Pearsons

Days of Our Pearsons

As the Pearsons Turn

Bringing back a presumed dead character propelled This Is Us fully into soap opera territory in the NBC drama’s fall season finale. I fully expect when the show returns on January 15 we will learn that Toby (Chris Sullivan) has an evil twin brother we never knew about. Or maybe Toby is the evil twin and there’s a much less annoying Toby lurking around somewhere.

And so it is that Nick Pearson (Michael Angarano) is not quite dead yet. He’s feeling much better. He’s alive and maybe not quite well, living in Pennsylvania and drinking Jack Daniels.

We also learned that the “her” they are all going to see is Rebecca (Mandy Moore). Are they visiting a cemetery and a grave? Are they seeing her on the anniversary of her death? Is Rebecca in a nursing home? Is she the one who wants to play pin the tail on the donkey? Or is the game for Tess’ (Eris Baker) children and Beth’s grandchildren? Is Rebecca, who would now be in her 80s, ill? That was a weird and out-of-nowhere side speech she gave about her aches and pains. Regardless, I contend this mystery is not something This Is Us needs. The show can play with time and weave in and out of decades without a nagging secret that does more to annoy than to entertain.

These shenanigans, whether it was the nearly two-year-long tease of how Jack (Milo Ventimigilia) died or the new mystery of going to see “her,” are not what makes the This Is Us such a compelling drama. Instead, it creates unnecessary noise that distracts from what makes the series great.

The Thanksgiving episode highlighted where the show shines, leaning into family dynamics. I particularly loved the glimpse at Miguel’s (Jon Huertas) family, which was a portrait of years of dysfunction around a turkey dinner. Who among us can’t relate to that on some level? It was fascinating insight into Miguel’s life and why he often seems so content being on the outside looking in when it comes to the Pearsons. And we got another peek at the ghost of Thanksgivings past, this one more cutting, more gut-wrenching, because we knew that two months later Jack will die in the aftermath of the house fire. And we got to see the start of the sweet romance between William (Ron Cephas Jones) and Jessie (Denis O’Hare).

As we wrap up This Is Us for 2018, I’m thankful for:

1. The strong storyline of Jack in Vietnam, as he tries to save his brother who absolutely does not want saving. As I said last month, freeing Jack from the “how does he die?” mystery truly allowed the show to explore this character to the fullest. Jack’s experience in Vietnam profoundly affected him. His stoic veneer began to crack once he met Rebecca. The scene of him crying while Rebecca sang in the car was one of the show’s best. But now it’s clouded with questions: Did Jack know his brother was alive and choose to let him go? Did Nicky stage his own death?

2. I’ve also loved the equally strong storyline of Kevin (Justin Hartley) going to Vietnam to explore his father’s past. This arc has grounded Kevin as a character, and Hartley is giving a delicate, nuanced performance. Whether it’s learning of Zoe’s (Melanie Liburd) childhood sexual abuse or sharing a moment with a man who still lives in the village where his father was stationed, Hartley hits the perfect note and his expressive face always has the exactly right reaction. I definitely underestimated him, and this storyline just exemplifies what an actor can do when given terrific material.

But during this month of Thanksgiving, the series had some real turkeys, too:

3. Is the show now trying to imply that Randall (Sterling K. Brown) and Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) are divorced? No. No. No. We all love this couple. #RelationshipGoals and all that. Their fight made no sense. Why would she be so mad about Randall seeing the election through to completion when it’s only a few weeks away? Also, one exchange of cross words and he’s sleeping on the couch?

4. Kate (Chrissy Metz) was allowed to fly across the country in a plane for Thanksgiving but now her doctor is worried about her driving for few hours in a car? Whether it’s Randall making near-daily trips between New Jersey and Pennsylvania or the Pearson family jet-setting with ease across the coast, no show since 24 has been so casual with the actual limitations of geography.

5. Zoe (Melanie Liburd) is a documentary filmmaker travelling with her boyfriend to Vietnam and it doesn’t occur to her to check the Vietnam War Memorial registry?

And here’s a side dish worth exploring more:

6. One of the other concerns I have about the show is that it seems to treat real issues a little too glibly. Toby’s depression was just a blip. Their struggles with fertility were solved with one round of IVF. Tess revealed first to Kate and then to her parents that she may be gay. Her parents handled it well on the surface, but is Beth really struggling with this information? Does that account for her overreaction to her fight with Randall? I just hope the show explores this more—that it doesn’t just check the box that it’s had an episode on teenage sexuality and move on.

I’ll be back to talk all things Pearson when This Is Us returns in January.

Amy Amatangelo, the TV Gal®, is a Boston-based freelance writer, a member of the Television Critics Association and the Assistant TV Editor for Paste. She wasn’t allowed to watch much TV as a child and now her parents have to live with this as her career. You can follow her on Twitter (@AmyTVGal) or her blog .