I think that as fans of This Is Us, we tune in for the beautiful storytelling, the complex and very real characters, but also because we know that we can find a piece of ourselves in this world.
Most shows serve as an escape from reality. This Is Us serves as a way to both escape reality and bring a piece of it with us.
This Is Us’s latest episode, “A Manny-Splendored Thing,” was an episode that brought forth some things that most of its audience can find a way to relate to in the core aspect of a child’s relationship with his/her parents.
As we know, life isn’t perfect. No one’s childhood was perfect. No one’s parents were perfect. No one’s relationship with their parents are perfect. But each experience is unique. Each person is unique. Each relationship with our parents is unique.
And This Is Us did a beautiful job of accentuating that element in this episode as we got to experience Kate’s different relationships with her parents, both in her childhood and as an adult.
The defining aspect of this episode, for me, was the paralleling relationships between Kate and her mother and Kate and her father. None of them were perfect. But the insight we got in this episode went a long way to illustrate Kate’s feelings about her mother and her father.
We could all find something to relate to in Kate’s struggle, whether it was the close relationship with her father or the fear of failing to live up to her mother’s expectations. Parents’ jobs are to love their children more than they love themselves. And both Rebecca and Jack love/loved their children more than themselves. Sure, they made mistakes. Sure, they did things they regret. But that doesn’t change the fact that they both loved her.
On the flipside of Jack’s story, we found him coming home as he attempted to shake his alcohol addiction for the second time. There was this question of: How did he do it the first time. But also, more importantly: Why didn’t that stick? What was different about that situation. And the answer, dare I say, was equally enlightening as it was, eventually, not surprising.
This Is Us is so damn good at finding just the right way to address life in the most beautiful ways. Sometimes you find yourself watching a scene feeling like you’re not about to sob (although you know it’s coming) only to find yourself with tears running down your cheeks as a scene hits you in an unexpected emotional way.
That is the power of This Is Us.
It’s pure emotion. It’s pure heart. It’s pure reality in its own fiction.
Let’s break this episode down further:
Living Up to Expectations
We’ve all felt at one point in our lives the overwhelming feeling of failure. And I’m not talking about personal failure here. I’m talking about the failure to live up to the expectations of our parents or family.
Sometimes it feels like they’re waiting for us to fail. Sometimes it feels like every criticism is a personal blow. Sometimes, we get so into our heads as years of emotional circumstances influence our older selves.
There’s something to be said about being a daughter or a son. There’s a certain level of pressure that comes with it because we all want to live up to what our parents want us to be. Happy. Successful. Fulfilled.
But we’re also plagued by history. Childhood. By events that happened years ago that, while we might’ve pushed down for years, can rise to the surface in a matter of seconds if the moment is right. That’s the power of emotion. The power of family. The power of love.
We’ve known for sometime that there’s been a bit of separation between Kate and her mom. We’ve seen hints of it over the first season, but this was the episode where we tackled it like a linebacker on third and one. It was quite literally in the spotlight of this episode as we witnessed how years of emotional circumstance doesn’t leave you just because it’s been pushed down.
We all know that Kate has always been a daddy’s girl. We’ve known it since the beginning. But there was always this question as to why Kate’s relationship with her mom suffered so much even in childhood. Simply put, Kate was feeling overwhelmed, even as a child, to live up to these expectations that she felt her mother had set. Whether it was her weight or her talent as a singer, Kate felt like she would never be as good as her perfect mother.
I loved how we got to see this dynamic paralleled both in the past (with a young Kate) and the present (with an older Kate), and how the emotional undertone remained the same, to a degree.
We saw even in the flashbacks that Kate feels comforted with her dad and stressed by her mom. It’s like, through the years, she’s conditioned herself to feel this staunch sense of disappointment and criticism every time her mom comes near.
But we know that, despite Rebecca’s faults, she loves Kate — and Kevin and Randall — more than life. That’s never been — and never will be — a question. But was Rebecca perfect? No. Will she be perfect? Of course not. Sometimes love is conveyed in different ways.
When Kate gets a call to fill in for someone at a bar gig, she immediately feels the pressure as her mom shows interest. It’s like everything from her childhood — the fear of failure, of embarrassment — come crashing back. So she leaves to partake in her first gig alone. Only when Toby follows, Rebecca naturally wants to see her daughter sing because she’s incredibly proud and supportive of her.
We see in the flashbacks how young Kate was put off by her mom’s near perfection. Her voice, her look, her everything. So much so that Kate held out of the talent show because she didn’t want to be a disappointment. Only in the present, that doesn’t happen. Even with her mom in the crowd, Kate goes out there and slays a beautiful rendition of “Landslide.”
Following Kate’s stint at her bar gig, she has a very honest conversation with her mom that needed to be had. Sure, Kate could’ve gone about it in a different, kinder manner. But Rebecca needed to — finally — hear how Kate was feeling about their relationship.
Kate has always felt pressured by her mom, even though it wasn’t intentional. She’s always locked in on the one criticism that she can kind in her mother’s words. Kate feels that her mom has always overcompensated for her. And, in that way, she still feels like that little fat girl.
“You wanted me to be the you you never became,” Kate says.
Only that isn’t it. Not at all. Despite Rebecca’s faults, all she has ever wanted for her children is happiness. She admits she might’ve pushed too hard, but it’s only because she loves her. And yes, we know, as Toby said, that Kate is super sensitive around her mother since she was a kid. But that stems from this internal conflict that Kate has been building since she was a little girl.
It wasn’t that her mom created these expectations of what she should be. It was that Kate’s inner vulnerability continued to grow throughout her entire life. Because she never had this conversation with her mom. She let her feelings remain bottled up to this point.
While things certainly won’t be perfect for Kate and her mom from here on out — nothing ever is — at least she was finally honest and open with her mom about how she’s been feeling since she was younger. And that’s progress.
Spoken as a daddy’s girl myself, there’s nothing like the relationship between a father and a daughter. And getting to see Kate’s relationship with Jack last season — and especially in this episode — has been something beautiful to watch.
Kate has always been a daddy’s girl. She’s always looked upon her father, even as a young girl, with pride and with love. She’s never felt insignificant or felt overwhelmed by her father’s expectation, unlike with her mother. While Kate has always been stressed by her mom, she’s always been comforted by her dad. And we got to see more of that in this episode.
But this episode really shone a light on the symbiotic relationship between Jack and Kate. It wasn’t just the fact that Jack was Kate’s strength. We saw that Kate was Jack’s strength, as well. That scene where Jack was struggling with the stress of life — and probably considered turning back to drinking — a young Kate took her father’s head in her hands and said, “It’s going to be okay.” All the tears. That’s their relationship in a nutshell. They are each other’s solid ground. And it’s so damn beautiful.
While I understood the connection between Jack and Kate before this episode, this was the episode where you really felt that connection. How they both found strength in the other through times of hardship. Where, despite their lowest lows, the other never looked down upon the other. They were what the other needed them to be. There was so much love there. And I forever hate Jack for dying for taking that from me. Damn, I’m making myself cry again.
The Power of Honesty
A defining arc of this episode centered on Jack’s struggle with and tackling the issue of alcohol addiction, both the first time and the second time. With alcoholism running in his family, this has been an issue that has haunted Jack all of his life, dating back to his childhood when his drunk father made life difficult. It was then that Jack vowed to not be like his father.
While he certainly was a far better father than his dad ever was, he couldn’t escape the alcoholism, which was generated by the stress of life.
The episode picked up after last week’s defining moment between Jack and Rebecca, where she refused to let him tackle this issue alone. And we saw them returning home with a difficult road ahead.
Flashback to the first time Jack was struggling with alcoholism, where the kids were young and Jack kept his secret bottled up. We saw Jack struggling with the pressures of work, where he would put booze in his coffee. We saw that moment from last season where Rebecca gave him the ultimatum to shape up or ship out, and we saw Jack stop drinking.
But it didn’t last.
Years later, when he was triggered by a significant amount of stress, Jack turned to drinking again.
But why? He’d already overcome this.
The difference between the first time and the second time? The first time, Jack kept this issue bottled up as he refused to accept help, whether that was out of shame or stubbornness. The second time, Jack opened up to his family. And not just Rebecca.
We saw Jack begin to open up to his children about his alcoholism, first opening up to Kate. It was in that moment that we saw just how much Jack was hurting as he bared his soul to his child — where he was suddenly making himself flawed in her eyes. But that wasn’t the case. He was leaning on Kate for strength, and I’m more confident than ever that Jack, the second time, will overcome his addiction. And that just makes his death even more gut wrenching.
Approaching a Challenge
Fear of failure can be devastating. It can prevent you from attempting that which you want to do. It can ultimately force you to miss out on something pretty grand. And in this episode, Randall almost let that fear of failure cost him and his family something potentially amazing.
Following last week’s episode where Randall and Beth elected to adopt — in this case, foster an older child — we pick up with the pair in the middle of the process. In a way, Randall and Beth switched places. Here, we had Beth all-in with her paperwork filled out and ready to go. Here, we had Randall getting all up in his head, per usual, and letting that fear get to him as he continued to put off the paperwork.
The thing that Randall really locked onto in this episode was the issues that come with adopting an older child — a child that hasn’t had them as parents for all of their lives. Their girls turned out fine, but that’s because they always had a hand in their upbringing. But how could they potentially handle an older kid with serious issues, like physical abuse, sexual abuse, or drugs?
Clearly the uncertainty of the entire situation was enough to overwhelm Randall as he immediately thought of the worst possible scenarios. But he also began to doubt whether he could do right by this kid, should they bring him/her in.
In the end, Randall and Beth — who are literal couple goals — had a nice discussion where Beth pointed out that not only does Randall worry, but there’s nothing that they can’t do together.
Yes, their girls turned out great. But that’s because they made them great. Together. They can do this.
This is why Randall and Beth are couple goals. They balance each other out. They’re able to get through to each other in a way that no one else can. They’re willing to listen. They’re willing to tackle any and all challenges together. And that’s why they’ll definitely succeed. Though don’t expect perfection here.
This Is … 4 Quotes That Made Us Emotional
- “It’s going to be okay.” -Young Kate to Jack
- “I’m Team Kate for life!” -Toby
- “You wanted me to be the you you never became.” -Kate
- “Our girls came out great. We made them great. We can do this.” – Beth
This Is Us airs Tuesdays at 9/8c on NBC.