Ron Batzdorff / NBC

Does This Is Us Plan To Make Us Cry Time After Time?

Or were the true colors of these characters revealed in yet another surprise twist?

Episode 3 of This Is Us has to be one of the most ambitious hours of network TV I've seen in a while. In a show with so many emotional themes winding together, it could very easily read sappy time and again. As it is, the show teeters on the edge of maudlin but is often saved by the rock-solid cast, particularly Mandy Moore, My Boyfriend Sterling K. Brown, and Chrissy Metz.

I have always liked Mandy Moore -- she sings well, she's beautiful and non-threatening, and she just generally seems like a grounded person -- but she's never struck me as an emotional powerhouse onscreen until now. She's got a lot to do here, what with the husband(s) and the kids and the secrets and the crying, oh my god, the endless crying (wait, I'm the one crying), and, so far, she's holding it down like a junior Streep and I'm impressed.

Still, the huge set-up of the night – the revelation that Rebecca met William after he abandoned Randall and forbade him from keeping in touch -- is prepping us to enter some painful territory, and that, along with some other moments, compels me to rank the episode's truth bombs from bang to BOOM.

  1. Marriage is sometimes hard.
    We already know that something happened with Rebecca and Jack, and there could be a lot of reasons: Jack's drinking; Jack's so-earnest-always-near-tears shtick; three babies in the house; just…existing in the '80s. Now that we know Miguel enters the picture at some point -- Miguel, who they must be trying to make me HATE with his free but unappreciated Hamilton tickets! -- and that Randall, at least, doesn't have super-fuzzy feelings about him, I dread the coming revelations about what happened to break up the family unit.
  2. Changing horses midstream is hard.
    I spend a lot of time on the fence about Kevin. He has the most unforgiving part in the show (except, possibly, for the nefarious Miguel, though that really remains to be seen), and his knit cap collection above the minibar in his enormous closet is basically the embodiment of my feelings about this weak-ass spray tan. Still, he saves whatever love he's not directing at himself for Kate, and at least for now has let her off the hook of following him to New York to run his life. I look forward to his interactions with Randall, who will now be the sibling on the scene. Like, will Kevin, who will now be knocked down about thirty professional pegs, find it in himself to grow up a little and support his brother during this crisis time with William? His departure from L.A. seems to have happened fast.
  3. Putting yourself out there is hard.
    Oh, they would have Kate sing "Time After Time," one of the most perfectly and beautifully written songs of all time, one that I frequently sing to my daughter when she's falling asleep (though I rarely finish it, because I -- guess what? -- start crying). Anyway, Chrissy Metz has a completely lovely singing voice and, though my heart may not be able to take it, I hope we get some details later about how she inherited it from her mom and how they used to sing together and, despite their problems, how they'll be eternally bonded through the unbreakable unifying power of Cyndi Lauper.

    Yes, the whole thing with Toby and the limo and the red carpet and the nursing home performance was a bit much -- Toby is, generally, a bit much -- but I let myself buy it because I already love Kate. I'm all for her having this super supportive relationship, but I sense a danger zone where Toby could back away after getting the goods and damage her self-esteem even further.

  4. Babies are so, so, so hard.
    "Some people think the scariest part is coming to the hospital to have the baby," Dr. Crinkle Eyes says, as Rebecca and Jack prepare to take the Big Three home, and if anybody actually thinks that (surely no one does), let me bring you up to speed with a quickness: the scariest part is everything after that. The realest part of this episode was hearing three babies cry as Rebecca yelled, in accusatory tones, to Jack: "Are you laying down?" Dude. Never lay down.
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  6. Adoption is really damn hard.
    I am a parent via adoption. The situation is open, and we see my daughter's birthmother/first mother at least once a year. The three sides of an adoption triad are pretty fraught, and though it is a beautiful thing and I went into it with my eyes and heart open to the past, present, and future, the emotional navigation remains complex. Rebecca was brave to go and face William as the new parent of his child, but when he asked if he could keep up with the baby through the years, and she refused, it cut like a knife. It's a reaction true to the era and that reaction along with the fear of being unable to bond -- these things are illustrative of the inherent fears of every adoptive parent; but her refusal was ultimately cowardly and she knew it then and, facing William in Randall's house, she knows it now.

    I hope they do more with the story of renaming baby "Kyle" after Dudley Randall, one of the finest American poets in history. As sensitive as young Rebecca and Jack seemed to be, the look we got at the kids' eight-year-old lives makes me afraid Randall wasn't exactly encouraged to explore his biological or cultural heritage.

    I did enjoy seeing Rebecca and Randall separately get righteous on William about doing whatever it takes to fight his cancer -- some things really do come down to "nurture."

  7. Living. It's hard.
    There's never been anything in the world more poignant than that opening segment. The love story of Randall's first parents, riding that bus, building a relationship, descending into addiction, the relinquishment of their tiny baby, all set to "Blues Run The Game"? How lovely it was. To show William facing death now after having endured all of that and being reunited with his son is too much to think about, really, so I guess I'll just cry some more instead.
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