A Small, Perfect Moment Shows Us William's Future On This Is Us
It's ALL our futures, really. We have to deal with that.
As I've been watching and crying my way through This Is Us, I've been clinging to the hope that William, Randall's biological father, is going to be fine. Sure, he's been diagnosed with terminal cancer, but this is a TV show! Can't the fact that he's growing and changing in his twilight years offer some kind of reprieve? Now that he's having meaningful interactions with Randall and Beth and his granddaughters, can't he stick around for at least two seasons? If NBC series like The Blacklist can dispense with logic at every turn, can't we have an extended visit with Randall's salty wisdom, mournful eyes, and perfectly timed moments of delayed fatherly support?
Apparently not! Because at the end of last night's episode, when Kevin is regaling his nieces with a long monologue about the meaning of life, we see a montage of wordless scenes. Kate and Toby watch a football game alongside Jack's ashes. Beth and Randall celebrate the fact that she's not pregnant.
And we also see a flashforward -- the first in the series, I think -- of Randall sitting on a bed, packing away William's things. Then he holds William's hat and cries. What else can that mean but that William dies?
This moment kicks me right in the stomach. And I love how it appears in the narrative. Instead of a big, drawn-out "goodbye episode," we first learn of William's passing during a collection of other "life moments" for this family -- in fact, while Kevin is saying that everyone is connected and nobody really disappears, even when they're gone.
That shows so much confidence on the part of the show's writers. First of all, they refuse to sugarcoat mortality for the sake of their network audience by pretending that people DON'T die when they have terminal cancer. But then they ALSO refuse the sugarcoating that comes with sentimental melodrama. Big, showy moments of grief also keep emotions at bay. We can focus on the performance of suffering without actually feeling anything ourselves.
But here, the grief shows up quietly. It's there among all the other parts of being alive -- just one of many elements of the montage. Death is part of moving forward. It hurts. We weep because of it. But the next thing we know, we're remembering that night in the hotel when we rejoiced that we weren't having a baby.
This feels honest to me. Even if William does have a "death episode" down the line, this small scene will always be how we first learned about his passing. This tells us so much about this show's tone and approach -- about its belief that fleeting gestures can be trusted to make a big impact.
Another example: during the montage, we flash back to the moment Jack's grandfather arrives in America. We see him lifting something out of his suitcase (a football? something that will be so meaningful to his descendants?) and there's a lovely connection between his unpacking, and Randall packing up William's stuff.
Even though Jack's grandfather and William aren't actually related, they're part of the same family. By virtue of being in the montage together, they underscore how many ways our lives can overlap. This Is Us trusts us to pick up on all that, and to embrace the fact that the forward march of time doesn't eradicate us from each other's lives.