I once had a college professor who would say, “If something is very popular, and I don’t like it, then I always assume there is some flaw in me that prevents me from seeing what everyone else sees.” I suppose I’m going to have to take a page out of his book and admit that I am somehow flawed because I cannot, for the life of me, understand the rampant popularity of NBC’s family drama This Is Us.
Season two premiered last night to staggering audience numbers and reintroduced the Pearson family as a normal, run of the mill group just trying to figure out life. The emotional juggernaut definitely delivered on its promises to maintain the central character tensions as last season. We will see Kate (Chrissy Metz) and Kevin (Justin Hartley) being co-dependent, and we see Kate’s boyfriend Toby (Chris Sullivan) still struggling to reconcile himself with their close sibling bond. It seems, though, that the crux of Toby’s struggles also relate to some perception of his compromised manliness in comparison to hypermasculine Kevin, who is not only more physically manly but has the cash to sling around as well (e.g. buying out a fancy restaurant for his and Kate’s birthday). Ultimately, this dysfunctional three way relationship has completely carried over from the first season. For consistency, I’d say it’s fairly impressive—oftentimes, new seasons can feel clunky or disjointed by not keeping the characters in the same emotional place as we left them. I just hope they can add some nuance in before the “will Kate always choose Kevin over Toby?” question gets too predictable. Also, can we have Kate engage in one, just one, conversation that doesn’t revolve around her weight/size/appearance? It’s getting really, really old.
Now let’s move on to Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) and Rebecca (Mandy Moore)—perfect Jack and Rebecca. When we left these two, they had just had a visceral blow out fight after Jack learns Rebecca is singing with her ex-boyfriend. But even the very real depiction of their marital discord was softened by Jack’s big “you are my love story” speech he gives before leaving to stay at his best friend Miguel’s (Jon Huertas). This episode continues in suit, with Jack and Rebecca sitting their kids down for the quintessential “our marriage has hit a rough spot” talk while the kids immediately jump to questions about divorce. The episode doesn’t spend quite as much time on Jack and Rebecca but the show does save their big moment for the very end of the episode. Rebecca, in her unrealistically understanding fashion, gives her reciprocal speech to Jack about the perfection of their coupling and that Jack is an even better man than Tom Hanks—a move that definitely dates the Jack and Rebecca timeline. Viewers think the scene ends when Jack confesses to his own alcoholism and shuts the door on Rebecca, only to then have Rebecca knock and repeatedly ask Jack to get in the car so they can work on his problems together. Then, the big twist! But you’ll have to wait just a little longer for that spoiler.
Let’s talk about Randall (Sterling K. Brown) and Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) really quick. While I do struggle to understand the appeal of many aspects of this show, Randall’s story arc is never one of those. Randall is an interesting, nuanced character whose family feels more real than anything else this show possibly does. His marriage to Beth, his relationship with his (now deceased) biological father and how he copes with anxiety are all fundamentally interesting. This episode jumps to a new struggle for him and his wife: adoption. The once abandoned Randall wants to pay forward his own adoption success story and grow their family, but Beth is hesitant and believes Randall is only doing this out of some odd desire to live the life his fathers (adoptive [Jack] and biological [William]) lived. While many may want to hold up Jack and Rebecca as the best example of marriage on the show, I’ll go ahead and say that you’re overlooking Randall and Beth. While I will concede that Randall gives a very Jack-esque speech about the perfection of his marriage with Beth, his words ring truer and more grounded than anything Jack has ever said in this series.
Now let’s get to it—the big twist. Fans of This Is Us always know to expect some big reveal at the end of every episode. I’d say that the expectation of a big surprise undermines the real element of surprise, but I digress. After Rebecca knowingly declares in the car that “in a few months, everything will be back to normal,” audiences get to see Rebecca in a car, by herself, with a bag of Jack’s personal effects in the passenger seat. Kate and Randall are weeping on the sofa while Miguel attempts to care for them, Kate realizes she needs to go find Kevin (who is [surprise, surprise] making out with a girl) and inform him of his father’s death and Rebecca pulls up in front of a burnt up house with firefighters milling around behind caution tape—a crime scene? Honestly, a reveal that Jack was murdered would actually be the show’s first real surprise.
Naturally, we don’t know how these things will end up correlating. Viewers have been looking for clues about Jack’s fate since we saw Rebecca and Miguel coupled up in the Thanksgiving episode. But, in true This Is Us fashion, we likely won’t get any of those answers until much closer to the end of this season. Don’t fret—we already know the show was renewed for a third season, and I’d bet it gets renewed for a fourth in the next few weeks. I guess we’ll just have to stay tuned.
This Is Us season 1 is streaming on Netflix, and you can find new episodes streaming on Hulu.
Ashley Szanter is the associate editor of Salt Lake magazine and co-hosts the UniversiTV podcast.