In an era where TV landscape is crowded with shows about killer zombies, time travelers, and superheroes, NBC’s Emmy-nominated dramedy This Is Us stands out simply for just telling an understated story about a family dynamic. Naturally, a show that seems like it has no stakes shouldn’t be a hit, right? Yet somehow, for four seasons This Is Us has become one of the most popular shows in the network and even in all TV right now — so popular that it got an early renewal before the fourth season premiered last September.
Perhaps it’s because the show focuses on telling a story of people like us that we keep tuning in every week. Or perhaps it’s also because we need a slice of comfort from all the other high-stakes shows that keep us on the edge of our seats each week. But one certain thing that makes the show even more fascinating is the writers’ creative ways of telling its simple story. They’re toying with the timeline while at the same time teasing us with plenty of mysteries and twists. And no, it’s not just a gimmick. The show’s decision to tell the story in non-linear fashion actually works fittingly because it allows us to understand the characters even more deeply in the various stages of their lives. On top of that, the twists also make the show feel a lot more exciting.
Introducing new faces
Season four is still focused on the dynamic inside our beloved Pearson family. But when the first episode begins, the show introduces us to some new faces. There’s a traumatized former Marine named Cassidy Sharp (Jennifer Morrison) who struggles to transition back into her civilian life. There’s Malik (When They See Us’ Asante Blackk), a teen dad who’s raising a baby daughter with the help of his parents. And we’re also introduced to a blind singer (Blake Stadnik) whose name remains a mystery until the end of the first episode.
We don’t know who they are or whether their stories will be integral to the main characters or not. The show also takes its time deliberately before eventually revealing their connections to the story at the end of the episode. And when we finally reach that endpoint, a surprising and emotional explosion will drop our jaws on to the floor. Still, Dan Fogelman, the creator and show-runner of the show, manages to ground these revelations to the main characters. This won’t be the only time season four reveals+ shocking turns though, there will be a lot of big revelations throughout the season that urges people to unveil so many theories and guesses on Reddit.
Though it’s indeed refreshing to see a new set of characters at the beginning of the season, we cannot lie that the few first episodes of season four also suffer from it. When the show juggles between these new characters and the old ones, the show feels a little unfocused. It struggles to dive even deeper into some of the Pearsons because it keeps resorting back to the relationships they build with these new characters. And as a result, the show is unable to give us a new insight into the main characters. Luckily, the season still warrants a watch from the performances alone. Sterling K. Brown and Justin Hartley are amazing at showing the vulnerabilities of their characters Randall and Kevin. Susan Kelechi Watson, Chrissy Metz, and Mandy Moore also keep proving that This Is Us belongs to them with their complex portrayal of Beth, Kate, and Rebecca.
What’s up with Randall?
While Kate and Toby’s (Chris Sullivan) marriage dynamic, as well as Kevin’s healing journey from addiction, remain integral to season four, the biggest part of the season, however, is spent at exploring what happens to Randall. For the first three seasons, we all know that Randall has a history of mental illness. He has a serious anxiety disorder and a massive fear of losing control. The show, however, hasn’t really addressed what’s the root of those problems. But in season four, we finally get to see what causes them and what makes Randall who he is as an adult.
After the show reveals Rebecca’s illness at the end of the first episode, This Is Us keeps hinting that what happens to her is affecting Randall. And yes, he struggles to cope with it. Instead of trying to discuss it with his brother Kevin and sister Kate, Randall chooses to do everything to help Rebecca by himself. And it begins to slowly eat him from the inside. He assumes that with all his money, power, and other resources, he can give Rebecca the best medical treatment. But the problem is, Rebecca doesn’t want any of those. She wants to spend her old days by simply being in the moment with her family and children rather than spending a lot of time worrying about her health.
Of course, Randall’s intention is good. After all, it’s her mother we’re talking about here. But the way he acts on those intentions is the part where he gets wrong. Besides not listening to what Rebecca really wants, Randall is also blindsiding Kevin and Kate by simply doing things that the three of them disagree on. And this begins to fracture his relationships with them, especially with Kevin who supports Rebecca’s decision to not have the treatment. Seeing Randall keep sabotaging himself by pushing to always be in control can at times feels frustrating, but Brown’s portrayal of him is deeply empathetic.
At the penultimate episode of season four “After the Hearth”, the show dives even deeper into Randall. In this episode, we see why Randall has this savior complex behavior. And parts of it is because he’s still struggling to accept the fact that he might’ve done something to save his father Jack Pearson (the always excellent Milo Ventimiglia) back then. During his therapy session with Dr. Leigh (Pamela Adlon), Randall is forced to come to terms that why he insists on doing everything to save Rebecca is because he’s still haunted by his dad’s death. He is consumed with the thought if he did something to stop Jack from getting back in the house while it’s on fire, he can prevent him from dying. He also assumes that if he goes to the hospital with him, he could do something to save him.
He’s tormented by guilt. And he doesn’t want to have the same regret he feels about Jack if he does not do something to help Rebecca. But the question here is, will it be worth it to push his agenda to save Rebecca without thinking about the consequences? Will saving her make Randall feel less guilty even though it’s destroying his relationship with Kevin? Season four doesn’t provide any answers to those questions. But it will be interesting to see next season explores the fallout between Randall and Kevin, and whether they will find a way to get back together or not.
Celebrating Rebecca and Mandy Moore
As much as it’s intriguing to see Randall and all the other characters cope with death, This Is Us is also a show that celebrates life and love. That’s why a lot of flashbacks involving Jack when he’s still alive is as integral as when his kids are dealing with his sudden death. But in season four, the show deliberately shifts its focus from Jack to his wife Rebecca. Of course, shifting the highlight from one character to the other can be challenging, but the writers manage to find an excellent way to do so without making Jack feel like a less important character.
For the first three seasons, the show has done a great job of displaying how Jack’s kindness and love toward his kids and his wife have affected the way they live their life in the present. And at times, it eclipses the brilliance of Rebecca Pearson, reducing him only as Jack’s wife and the Big Three’s mother. But Rebecca has always been her own person. She’s tough, wise, and warm. We just don’t realize it at first because Jack is portrayed as this kind of perfect, ideal dad.
Season four finally gives more credit to Rebecca and her toughness. The show reminds us that this character is the one person who holds the family together and keeps Jack alive within the family even long after his death. She does everything in her power to always be there and be fair to Kevin, Randall, and Kate without ever once thinking about her own happiness. Her journey of being only as Jack’s wife to fully become Rebecca is the most rewarding part of the show. And to have the Emmy-nominated Mandy Moore as the actor who plays Rebecca certainly makes it even more satisfying. Each episode, Moore keeps proving that she’s the best performer of the show, providing tenacity underneath Rebecca’s softness. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see her score another Emmy nomination this year.
In the end, just like the Pearson family, This Is Us would crumble without Rebecca or Mandy Moore. She’s a ray of light and a beacon of love. Her patience and infinite tenderness toward Jack and her children will affect many people. And her growth throughout the show is perfectly showcased by Moore’s graceful performance. I’m glad that in its fourth season, what first began as a show about how a father’s death affects the dynamic inside a family, now has morphed into a celebration of a mother.
What do you think of season four finale? Let us know in the comments!
All four seasons of This Is Us are available to stream at NBC. All four seasons of This is Us are available on Hulu, DirecTV, NBC, Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, Fandango and Vudu.
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