Each week, This Is Us brings us closer to understanding the Pearson family and what makes them tick through a series of flashbacks and not-so-subtle phrasings linking past and future situations. “The Big Day” sees the Pearsons firmly rooted in the past for the first time, and in focusing on the people who formed a part of the Big Three’s birthday, the episode offers an intimate approach to the many things burdening the characters’ hearts and minds. By touching on life’s many contrasts—grief and the celebration of new life, fear and self-assurance—the episode takes a deeper look at love and relationships, and the insecurities that rise in parents-to-be. The men in “The Big Day” aim to defy the expectations set for them by those around them and manage to do so in the most honorable ways.
Swollen, tired and irritable, Rebecca is lashing out left, right and center. She’s feeling hot and bothered, and the house is still in various stages of unpacking. (Carrying triple her weight, she’s not exactly having an easy time getting around and keeping things in order.) Of course, Jack, husband of the century, is doing his utmost to keep Rebecca calm and happy, but at this point even his sweetest attempts are in vain. His wife’s constant nagging and complaining is starting to grate on him, but he remains gentle and patient even when she tells him to get out and give her some space—on his birthday, no less.
Not that Rebecca’s aware of this fact, mind you. She doesn’t clock on to the fact until Jack has already (reluctantly) fled the house to meet Miguel for a game of golf. Riddled with guilt, Rebecca ties a pair of flip-flops to her engorged feet and waddles to the nearest corner store, adamant to make it up to her perfect husband with a fancy, homemade cake. Back at home, she exhaustedly settles into her rocking chair and shares her greatest fears with the Big Three. She knows they’ll have the best possible father in Jack, but worries she’ll meet the same bar because of her impatience and stubbornness.
Meanwhile, Jack faces his initiation into the club of frustrated fathers—a.k.a the golf club. Despite repeatedly insisting he has no interest in escaping his hormonal wife in favor of four hours spent on a luxurious walk, Miguel tries to convince him that the club will become his safe haven. The place he can flee to whenever his parenting skills are being judged by the over-protective wife, a place where he can spend several hours in silence just being a man—not a father, a husband or a breadwinner. To everyone’s amazement, Jack is actually looking forward to every aspect of parenthood, even with triplets on the way. He wants to embrace every single thing about being a husband and father—through hormonal insanity and euphoric bliss, for better or for worse, he wants to be there for it all. He wants to hold on to every moment, so instead of splurging on a pair of golf clubs, he springs for a video camera and immediately gets to work capturing a tender moment between Rebecca and the unborn triplets.
The return of Dr. K in “The Big Day” was one of several highlights in this episode, and not just because of his warm, wise personality. His storyline touchingly portrays grief in its rawest form: the deafening silence upon entering a house you shared with someone for more than fifty years; the inability to part with seemingly meaningless knick-knacks in an attempt to preserve memories; the void felt during lonely dinners; the comfort in speaking to someone who is no longer there. Dr. K’s son worries about him, urging him to move on and meet new people, but his father won’t hear of it. He’s simply not ready to imagine a new life with new people and routines—until he meets Jack and Rebecca. Forced to deliver the news of one baby not having made it, Dr. K shares his own experience of having lost his first baby with Jack. It’s the first he’s spoken to anyone about it in a long time, and as he urges Jack to take life’s sourest lemons and turn them into lemonade, he realizes it’s time for him to do the same.
“The Big Day” also introduces a new character, fireman Joe (Brian Oblek), the man who dropped newborn Randall off at the hospital. With his marriage in a particularly rough patch, Joe turns to a priest to give his confession. He prays for a miracle, and when he finds Randall, he believes the newborn to be it. Joe and his wife, Samantha (Virginia Kull), are unable to have children, and Joe feels his marriage has been given a second chance with the child. Samantha doesn’t see it that way. She feels there’s a lot more to their problems. But in recognizing a new hope in Joe’s eyes, she is reminded of what brought them together in the first place and is willing to start fresh. Joe’s story could have been a nice touch, but it ended up feeling more like filler than a plotline with actual substance.
Thriving on excellent performances—most notably Moore’s depiction of an emotional, insecure mother to-be, and McRaney’s grieving widow—and an honest approach to sensitive topics such as grief, a father’s role within the family and the overwhelming fear of failing as a new parent, “The Big Day” is one of the strongest episodes on This Is Us to date.
Roxanne Sancto is a freelance journalist for Paste and The New Heroes & Pioneers. She’s the author of The Tuesday Series & co-author of The Pink Boots. She can usually be found covered in paint stains.