This is Us Returns to the World We Live In
A Great Series Finally Faces Reality
After the scalding ending of This is Us fourth season, when nearly forty years of resentments between Kevin and Randall boiled over, it would be easy for the show to start right on in its new world. To its immense credit though, the writers decide to put the Pearsons in the reality we find ourselves facing. Kevin finds out Covid is about to become a pandemic a minute after he learns he’s going to be a father, Randall and Beth find themselves quarantining and that Tom Hanks has it, and Kevin tells Randall about his family situations just a few minutes before the news on George Floyd breaks.
Some might argue forcing real world drama on the immense level that the Pearsons deal with every week is too much to bear. I believe that it’s a very brave thing to do. People have probably been arguing ever since the series premiered that the Pearson family was just too much of an idealist one to be in. But now, Randall’s coming to terms with all of the issues that have made his life so hard, with the fact that he’s never been really comfortable expressing his feelings as a black man to the horrors that seem to go one throughout his world every day. It’s very telling that a five minute conversation he has with Déjà’s boyfriend (Asante Blackk) deals with the world we’ve been living in for the past few years than he’s had with Kevin or Kate or his parents for the entire run of the series. We soon realize his isolation from his siblings isn’t only due to Covid or the fight with Kevin. He’s unpacking forty years of baggage, and it gives Sterling Brown yet another level to tap after we thought he’d run out of them.
Kevin and Kate, in the meantime, are still dealing with their own reality which is, let’s face, tough enough. Kevin and Madison are slowly making their way towards becoming a couple, after a very frightening moment, and Toby and Kate are dealing with the idea they faced in the last minutes of the season finale — adopting a sibling for their blind son Jack. All of them are still dealing with the dementia that matriarch Rebecca (Mandy Moore is better than ever) has been dealing with for awhile. One of the few mercies is that we saw the scene that caused so much fright in a flashforward in 2019, and now it turns out it may just be a problem with a drug interaction. But the bigger problems are still there: when Randall is called after Kate panics, he’s unwilling to stay and celebrate their fortieth birthday, and he doesn’t really want to talk with Kate or Kevin yet — though there is a brief moment with Kevin that shows the slightest of movements towards peace.
And as always, we look back towards the past. Yesterday’s two part episode gave us yet another look at the day Rebecca went into labor and how Randall’s birth father end up giving him way after the most horrific of events. (Although, he should’ve stayed a little longer… but I’m not going to give it away.) The climax of the flashback came when both William and Jack came into the hospital chapel moments apart to give two completely different prayers — William constantly on the verge of breaking down; Jack violently angry towards God. If there is any justice, both Ron Cephas Jones and Milo Ventimiglia will receive Emmy nominations for that moment.
In the world that has been changed completely by a pandemic and so much more in the seven months between the end of one season and the beginning of another, television has been one of the few things to get us through an unprecedented difficult time. Some may want to return to This is Us as comfort food, and might not be welcome to see reality edging its ugly head in. Others, like me, will be glad to see that TV is reflecting this new reality so we don’t continue to remain in stasis. Everyone should be glad to see one of the best series on television in this era — or, for that matter, in any era — come back with new episodes. We need the Pearsons with all their flaws and sorrows.
My score: 4.75 stars.