This is Us 2×14 “Super Bowl Sunday” and 2×15 “The Car”

To Jack Pearson | Part II and III


Jack Pearson is a superhero — and sometimes, the superhero dies in the end, and though he is gone, the superhero’s story lives on, the superhero’s legacy paves the road for what’ll lie ahead. The people the superhero leaves behind learn of the fact that in being themselves, they played a vast role in giving him the powers he’s had. And that’s not to undermine the superhero, but rather, it’s intended to highlight a kind of greatness, which showcases that all-consuming, immaculate adoration has great power to inspire human beings to be the very best versions of themselves. Jack Pearson is in all of them — because they are him. They are the reason he’s chosen to lead the kind of heroic life, where unbeknownst to him, to everyone, he’s consistently done everything in his power to protect those whose love tirelessly fueled him. Therefore, when a hero like that leaves this world, all that remains is strength, perseverance, and profoundly comforting wistfulness.

Strength is perhaps the last thing a human being experiencing grief thinks they have, but to live in spite of aching pain defines strength profoundly. To be a newly widowed mother who must now raise three children without the partner she relied heavily on is perhaps one of the most difficult challenges in any woman’s life. And Rebecca Pearson’s strength is the kind of gift that rarely graces our television screens. We often focus, and for merited reasons, on why Jack Pearson is the greatest husband/father, but it’s crucial to also focus on Rebecca Pearson, the woman, the wife, and the mother. Rebecca’s self-awareness is without a single doubt my favorite part of her character, because she isn’t always “the good guy” when in Jack’s shadow, but in every way her strength was his anchor, so when he passes, the strength she could see in herself through his eyes disappears. It leaves her with a harrowing guilt and encompassing self-doubt because she isn’t fearless. And the truth is, not every woman is — I’m not. But admittance in every area of our lives leads to the best kind of growth. In “Super Bowl Sunday” especially that growth begins to take place when Rebecca makes the choice to be strong for her kids — a choice, no woman should have to make, but if the time tragically comes, intuitively, most of them do.

But before we get into Rebecca Pearson’s strength, we need to talk about Mandy Moore’s exceptional, Emmy worthy performances. I don’t care what we watch from this moment until September 17th, because this one belongs to Moore. Moore’s work throughout season two has been impeccable, but her work in the three-part special has been one for the books. It’s possible to sit here and take apart every single one of her meticulous acting choices in order to showcase the magnitude of grief she’s experiencing, but the full range of emotions from beginning to end was nothing short of brilliant. There’s a lot I can’t get out of my head, but the haunting cry in the hospital room is at the top of that list. Grief is a myriad of emotions, it’s denial, it’s anger, it’s confusion, it’s pain, it’s longing, it’s stillness, and it’s everything all at once, which made the reactions Moore played on that much more palpable. The idea of her husband dying is so far-fetched that yes, she’d take a bite off of her chocolate bar and refuse to acknowledge anything the doctor’s saying. She’d walk into his hospital room addressing him with utmost certainty that he’ll respond. She’d stare at his lifeless body in complete and utter confusion — she’d calmly cry out to him once more, she’ll question it again and again, then she’ll let out a cry, but she’ll pull herself together because there’s still no proper way to process what’s happening. And then she’ll walk around the block for as long as she needs to until she’s strong enough to break her kids in a way they’ll never come back from. And in every scene, every silent expression, there’s not a single fleeting moment where Moore isn’t showing us the paramount pain that’s residing within her — a pain, that though there are moments of laughter, consistently lingers when someone loses their person. And it was Moore’s performances that I cannot stop thinking about, cannot stop analyzing, because the truth is, if you sit here and attempt to, you’d be here writing a novel. (Which I’m trying very hard not to.)

And where essentially every part of “Super Bowl Sunday” was a sheer showcase of Rebecca’s strength, it’s most potently present during her conversation with Dr. Katowski in “The Car” that serves as the ultimate depiction. (And be still my heart, having Garald McRaney return was everything I didn’t know I needed for these episodes.) The admittance of pain and fear are the very foundations of bravery, the display of vulnerability because where aches are tucked away, where pain isn’t felt, human beings grow hollow, numbed by the choice not to endure, but endurance, where it’s felt, it’s always the showcase of courage. And Rebecca Pearson admitting to be afraid of moving forward without her husband made me love her that much more as a character because women are so multifaceted, so complex. Where she’s always appeared to have been the stronger of the two, the reveal that she’s relied heavily on his encouragement, his drive, and his strength bring to life the kind of emotions many of us feel but are ashamed to admit because of some unspoken fear that it’ll make us appear weaker. (A word which should essentially be taken out of the vocabulary anyway because no man or woman is ever weak.) But in the midst of all these, perhaps the greatest gift we’re graced with is the knowledge of just how ardently Rebecca loves her husband — her person. The reminder that two people who share this type of everlasting love are capable of creating the most exquisite pitches of lemonade in the world. And there went the waterworks because you can’t describe a love like this using words, but Dr. Katowski most certainly can.

Perseverance is often on display in such various ways that it isn’t always easy to recognize, but where it’s present, there’s always progress. And with the Big Three, they each display it in such distinct ways that where even if it isn’t healthy, it’s still progress. It still matters. In Randall’s example for instance, the choice to carry on his father’s legacy through excitement and happiness matters. His choice to make sure he makes as big of a deal during Super Bowl Sunday as Jack did matters. Kate’s choice to continue watching the game every year, and for the first time ever, sharing it with Toby matters. Kevin’s choice to shut it out clearly had cataclysmic effects on him, but today, the choice to visit Jack’s tree brought to life the stagnant progress that he’s now making, too. We all go through grief differently, we search for things, tangible or not to hold onto that’ll remind us of the fact that those who’ve left us aren’t fully gone is so incredibly human, so tragically beautiful, and so achingly sincere. And while one person may perceive another’s means of coping as wrong or unfathomable, it is in a sense what saves them. It’s as real as it gets. And today, years later, we could be certain of the fact that Rebecca’s promise to Jack that they’ll be okay, and his faith in the fact are justified — they’ll be okay. They’ll persevere. They’ll pull through. And they’ll make extraordinary impacts on their kids, too, which leads me to point out that the glimpse into Social Worker adult Tess’ life was such a fascinating, gorgeous twist.

Finally, from “That’ll be the Day” to “The Car”, wistfulness is the very theme that’s left us all broken, simultaneously healed, and personally in a state of writer’s block because certain things leave very little room for words. We hold on to our memories for dear life refusing to ever let them go, and some memories, linger within us even in the case of diseases such as dementia. And that’s what This Is Us has done best in the three-part special — it’s given us Jack Pearson’s legacy through the sacred memories his family members have held onto and the choices he’s made to create such memories for the assurance that they’ll be okay. As Rebecca tells Kate, her father was a grown man who chose to do the things he’s done, and thereby, perhaps it’s safe to assume that the choice to retrieve the photo albums, the tape, and a few other artifacts was due to the understanding that his time is coming. Or perhaps it was merely who he is as a character, a sentimental man who holds onto things because of the reason that they matter to his loved ones. And in “The Car” especially, we’re able to see and understand that the quiet moments have defined these characters — they’ve made them who they are and they’ve strengthened their bond in trying times. The Tree being Jack’s favorite because it’s where he learned that Rebecca would be okay. The Car being the symbol of the places they’ll go, together or apart holding on to the moments that meant the world to them. An emblem of the fact that they’ll be okay because he is in all of them, his strength is theirs and their strength was his. Their love fueled him, their smiles healed him, and their existence saved him.

This is Us has painted grief gorgeously with poetically haunting episodes that are bound to leave a lasting impression. It’s to remind us of the fact that our loved ones are to be cherished. It’s to remind us of the fact that our choices matter. It’s to remind us of the fact that no matter what heartache meets us, we’re going to be okay.

As mentioned in the previous review, I wanted these to be a tribute to Jack, that’s why there aren’t many scene analyses; however, if there’s anything you’d like me to discuss, go ahead and let us know in the comments below and we shall do so.

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