I finished up season one of This Is Us last week. I suppose its fitting that a series known for having some kind of a twist in every episode would end its generally strong season and a string of phenomenal episodes with its worst stuff. That was certainly an unexpected twist.
Obviously, I didn’t like the finale (and some of the scenes leading up to it), but it’s certainly not the fault of the actors. Milo Ventimiglia and Mandy Moore have done great jobs in every episode. And if you take the finale+ by itself, absent the context of the 12 episodes that came before it, it wasn’t even a bad episode. But when you pair it with its predecessors, it somehow manages to be incredibly inconsistent while ALSO putting a bow on a low-key flaw that’s been there all along.
I’m going to spare you a synopsis of the episode and the series, assuming if you’re reading this, you’ve seen it. So, let’s move on to where it all went wrong.
“Because I knew you’d go CRAZY!”
Part of this plot was actually a holdover from the previous episode, but I liked everything else in the previous episode, so I’m going to tack it onto the finale. Rebecca and Jack are having a hard time of it. Rebecca’s reunited with her old band and is about to go on a five-state tour with them for two weeks, and Jack’s been super supportive until — plot twist! — he finds out she and the piano player used to date for like two months 20 years ago.
Now, suddenly, everything is horrible, he doesn’t want to her go, mocks her dreams and becomes a drunken mess because JEALOUSY! Now, the “jealous lover” story arc is pretty much my least favorite ever, so I’m not going to dwell on that here. But I am going to dwell on Rebecca’s assertion that she didn’t tell Jack about the old relationship because she knew he’d react like a crazy person. The problem?
Literally nothing we’ve seen in the past 12 episodes supports that claim. There was one episode that showed him drinking too much and not really being around to help at home, but Rebecca set him straight with a stern talk and he’s spent every episode since being portrayed as a doting father, loving husband and great best friend, full stop. But now all of a sudden he’s prone to fits of rage?
No. That makes no sense. (I mean, sure, in real life some of the most whack-a-mole people always end up with people around them saying”I had no idea!” but this is a show, where we see what’s behind those closed doors.)
Too many misdirects
Usually the plot twists on this series comes at the end of an episode. “Grandma and Grandpa” show up at Randall’s house: It’s Rebecca and Miguel! Kevin decides which woman he wants to be with: It’s the ex-wife we didn’t know he had! Toby flies across the country to reunite with Kate: And then he has a heart attack in the living room!
I can only think of one time prior when it spanned two: The episode that ended with Kate slinking off to the cabin of the creepy guy who works at fat camp and is a sexual harassment lawsuit waiting to happen and the episode that began with her telling him off for being creepy and harassing.
So, when Kate ended the previous episode telling Toby that she had a hard time talking about her dad’s death because it was her fault, I imagine pretty much everybody who watched this finale cringed when Jack had a drink, got behind the wheel of a car, and then proceeded to drink more while driving on his way to make up with Rebecca (per teen Kate’s advice) at the first show on her tour.
I’m sure a lot of people, myself included, thought “Well. This is how Jack dies.”
Well, that didn’t happen. This Is Us catches a lot of flack for blatantly tugging at heart strings and being “emotionally manipulative.” Like it or dislike it, it was one thing with Randall and his bio-dad William. We knew William was dying and the show didn’t pull its punches when it came to trying to make us feel things about it. But this situation with Jack was the first time where it felt like the show was toying with us, and I didn’t like that.
Rebecca can do no right and Jack can do no wrong
(unless Rebecca does something that sends him on bender)
One of the things I’d seen said about this episode beforehand was that it would tarnish the halo on Jack’s head a little bit. But does it really? Putting aside the fact that his behavior in this episode isn’t treated like the wildy out-of-character action that it is, but rather like something that’s been simmering under the surface of their relationship, I’d argue that no, it really doesn’t.
Because at the end of the day, it’s just one more episode where Rebecca is made a scapegoat for everything that’s wrong with everything.
It took me a little longer to jump on the “Rebecca sure is getting the shaft from the writers” train. I’d heard it mentioned in a few places, but I mostly rolled my eyes and moved on, because it’s generally in fannish spaces where it’s like “What kind of day would it be if we didn’t complain about the patriarchy?!” and I just don’t have patience for that.
But the more things piled on, the more obvious it got.
- Kate’s weight and issues with food and body image are because Rebecca made her overweight kid eat grapefruit for breakfast or in a moment of frustration trying to get three kids out the door one morning said “You have to wear this because it’s the only thing that’s clean and fits!” or exists as a smaller size.
- Kevin’s insecurities were born from Rebecca being so worried about Randall “feeling too adopted” that she didn’t give him enough attention.
- Randall didn’t get to have more than a few months with his biological father because Rebecca spent 36 years saying “we don’t know who he is” when she’s known the whole time.
- Jack gives up his dream of starting his own business because Rebecca convinces him that the family needs him to take a promotion at the place where he’s just a cog in the machine.
And now, when Rebecca and Jack are trying to figure out what to do after the horror show that was his drunk ass showing up at her concert, Jack says he’ll clean back up and start going to meetings again, and what does Rebecca do? She makes light of his obvious alcoholism, they have this huge fight where it’s revealed that Jack’s season of support has just been lip service and Rebecca feels like a ghost in her own non-life with three teenagers who don’t need her anymore. She suggests they take a break and ships him off to stay with Miguel the next morning.
And you know, my irritation with her “you’re not an alcoholic” moment aside, that actually sounded reasonable. It doesn’t have to spell THE END, but it’s an opportunity for them both to recalibrate and figure out where they stand with each other. Had it stopped there, I think I would have been happy enough. I mean, Jack would still seem out of character, but it’s something that could be incorporated into viewers’ perception of him, his halo would be successfully dinged and their role in season two could be about coming back together (or drifting further apart).
But, alas, what kind of episode would it be if we didn’t pile more on Rebecca? As Jack is leaving the next morning, he gives this impassioned speech about how he loves Rebecca and he’ll always love Rebecca, and here’s why he loves Rebecca so much, and he’ll be waiting when she realizes just how much they still love each other.
I guess some elves came in the night to hammer out that ding and polish up the halo again so Rebecca and her doubts about their relationship could be the driving force behind what I’m sure will be played an unnecessary roadblock to true happiness.
Honestly, all these things were enough to really sour the whole episode for me.
And it’s not that I don’t like Jack! Jack’s one of my favorite things about this show, but I hate the sloppy way he was written here with forced flaws that somehow manage to make Rebecca the one who looks unreasonable (again!).
If nothing else, I really hope that gets ironed out in season two.
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