Jack In The Box
Super Bowl Sunday will forever go down as one of my favourite episodes of TV. The crescendo of 2 years worth of build up to this point combined to form the perfect amount of characterisation and suspense, executed perfectly right the way through the 40 minute episode. Seeing Rebecca buying candy from the machine while doctors rush into Jack’s room behind her is a scene ingrained in my memory and like many other fans of this show, This Is Us has a way of making these moments so important that they linger for years afterwards.
When it comes to Randall, this moment is something that’s defined his entire life. Acting as the fixer-upper of the Pearson family, This Is Us delivers another Randall-centric episode, one that dusts off the cobwebs from the past and shines a light on a painful and difficult topic for Randall to face. Feeling responsible for Jack’s death, Randall takes a trip down alternate-reality lane seeking to answer one burning question – what if Jack Pearson didn’t die?
In this alternate timeline, Jack is still alive. After the fire he and the family discuss the implications of what would have happened had Jack stayed in the house – something we know all too well.
Rebecca admits the truth to Randall about his Father, and as they talk about this together, Jack agrees to let Randall see his Father Will. They sit with him inside and Randall asks him about his real Mother. After handing over the list of poems he’s written, on the way back home Jack exhibits his concerns over Randall hanging with his biological Father if he’s using. Instead, he decides to accompany him to therapy and help get him clean.
Randall continues to meet Beth just like he did before, only this time Jack is obviously still alive. During dinner, Beth takes Randall aside and tells him he’s so lucky before handing the spotlight over to his Mother, which is something that makes Beth fall for him more.
In the future, we cut to Randall’s marriage as Jack gives a speech and we see him and Rebecca together meeting Tess, with Will there to greet her too. They catch Will’s stomach cancer early and the doctor comments on how lucky they are, as we cut to see the Christmas meal and Rebecca starting to suffer from Alzheimer’s.
All of this is simply the idealistic dreams of Randall, who’s snapped out of this by his therapist who challenges him to tell the true version of what could have scared him the most if Jack survived.
This time there’s a poignant tone hanging over proceedings as we see Jack react badly to Rebecca meeting Will behind Jack’s back. In this version, Randall overhears their conversation and he heads out to meet Will with Jack. Only, when he answers. Will is clearly doing drugs and shuts the door in Randall’s face.
The Pearson meal goes sideways when Randall walks out and splinters the family. Jack gives his speech but this time it’s for Kevin’s wedding, not Randall. Kate has 2 little girls and she’s incredibly happy but as we soon learn, the Big 3 is more like the Big 2 now, with Randall isolating himself from the others. He receives a box of possessions for William, who passes away, but Randall is bitter and throws them in the trash. This fantasy comes to a close with Randall heading home and seeing Rebecca, where he makes amends.
The fantasies come to a close and Randall lashes out, telling her about losing 2 fathers but she spins it the other way – talking about his 2 mothers. She goes on to hit some big home truths that hit him hard as tears well up in his eyes. She asks whether he’s confronted Rebecca about her secrets and it’s enough to make for a big breakthrough.
On the back of this, Randall phones Rebecca for a favour after telling her he’s been a good son. Using William as a bargaining chip, Rebecca regretfully agrees to do the trial as Randall dangles this secret over her where the episode ends.
The last few episodes of This Is Us have really focused a lot on Randall and his psychological problems and although some may bemoan the lack of screen-time for some of the other characters, as we’ve seen from the future, Randall happens to be the big catalyst for a lot of the issues that appear to be plaguing the family. His innate desire to try and fix everything is inevitably going to drive people away from him and when Kate and Kevin find out what Randall’s done here, I wouldn’t be surprised if they wind up resenting him for it too.
With next week’s finale looming ever nearer, big question marks remain over how this one will end but with two more seasons of story to come, there’s no doubt that this one will leave the door wide open. For now though, this penultimate episode bows out on a high, with another very good episode.