Sometimes our personal truths can be the hardest thing to share with the people closest to us—be it our partners, our siblings or our children. This is not just down to the reluctance to air our vulnerabilities, but our ego’s determination not to mess with the positive perceptions others may have of us, especially our children. Kids tend to see their parents as heroes: strong, invincible beings who can take on the whole world without ever buckling under its weight. When we show anything other than our superhero qualities, we feel as though we’ve failed our children simply by being human. The pressure we put on ourselves to live up to these expectations can be crippling, so we opt for the only other way we know to keep up this charade: We lie to ourselves and those around us. “Jack Pearson’s Son” explores these truths beautifully.
The first few episodes of This Is Us hinted at Jack struggling under the stresses of being a working family man. And although we’ve had glimpses of Jack blowing off steam with little regard to Rebecca, it’s been impossible to see him as anything other than a sensitive, caring, kind and loving husband and father. So far, he has always acted as the voice of reason when Rebecca felt overwhelmed; he’s sacrificed everything to keep his family afloat and has always been there for his children, through the good, the bad and the ugly. He’s never given us a reason to believe he doubted his decisions or his actions. His way of navigating through life and parenthood has always seemed intuitive. In “Jack Pearson’s Son” however, we learn that, just like everyone else, Jack finds it difficult to be the good guy all the time.
His teenage kids are starting to lead their own lives, and so is Rebecca. As much as he believes Rebecca deserves to go on tour with her band and have an adventure of her own, he can’t help but feel as though their life and their family are no longer enough for her. Add to that a bitter pinch of jealousy over the fact that Rebecca failed to mention one of her fellow band members is an ex from the distant past, and Jack can no longer hide his true feelings about her impending tour. Instead of talking it out and finding a solution together, though, Jack takes off on his own to go drinking—and if earlier episodes are anything to go by, this will become Jack’s go-to coping mechanism.
The Big Three idolize their father and thus far, there’s never been a moment in which we could detect any form of sadness or resentment in their voices when he’s come up in conversation. But as Kate and Toby—having gotten over a brief crisis involving the short-lived character, Duke—begin to dig deep into one another’s personal lives in an attempt to get to know each other better, it becomes clear there’s a lot more to Jack’s story—and, most importantly, his death—than Kate has let on. As soon as Toby broaches the subject, her eyes well up with tears and she chokes up to the point that she’s unable to form a coherent sentence.
It’s upon following Kevin’s story that we start to get an inkling of what it is that’s made Kate bury the real memories of her father—the bad times that shaped just as much of Jack’s personality as the good. Kevin, who’s never been able to accept Miguel out of loyalty to his father, romanticizes his memory of Jack even more than Randall and Kate. And, as Miguel suggests during a heart-to-heart, this may be due to the fact that he has more in common with Jack than his brother and sister. When Miguel suggests that Kevin channel his father on the opening night of his play, his anxieties momentarily make way for pride—pride in the genes, body language and personality that continue to keep his father’s memory alive. How could Kate possibly take this from Kevin by “dirtying” her father’s name? Just as Jack was desperate to hold onto his perceived persona, Kate wants to hold on to the image The Big Three have created of him: if not for herself, then for her brothers.
Kevin, who’s been the source of comedy and superficiality until now, takes on a rather unexpected role in “Jack Pearson’s Son.” Instead of channelling his father’s energy to woo the crowd on the opening night of his play, he taps into Jack’s selfless sense of family. Kevin knows just how much pressure Randall tends to put himself under, and while he chose to ignore his brother’s breathless sobbing over schoolwork as a teen, he can no longer stand by and watch Randall heading straight into a nervous breakdown. Randall wants to believe he can handle it all: his father’s health rapidly deteriorating, the high demands of his job, dealing with hospice nurses and arguing children, and picking up the slack while Beth takes care of her own mother, who’s just broken a hip. The tremors in Randall’s hand are increasing, his vision is blurry, his mind is blocked. He can no longer stop the tears from rolling down his cheeks during a meeting when he realizes he simply cannot deal with everything at once.
As the lights go out in the theatre and Kevin and Sloane are about to take to the stage, he makes a bold decision: He deserts Sloane in front of numerous critics and runs across the city to find his brother, cowered in a corner of his office staring into space. Without a word, he sits down next to him, pulls Randall into his arms and encourages him to do what he should have done a long time ago: cry.
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.