Has there ever been a more "This Is Us" shot than the one that opened Tuesday night's Turkey Day episode? Cue a close-up on Mandy Moore's face, a single tear rolling down her cheek, a big emotional shot ... that turns out to just be Rebecca hacking away at some pesky onions for the classic holiday meal during the Big Three's teen years. That's pretty much the essence of "This Is Us" – crying and high emotion, family, flashing back to the past, cleverly zigging when you expect it to zag – in one 10-second moment, opening up an episode that was pure "This Is Us" in all of its best ways.
"Six Thanksgivings" indeed follows six Thanksgivings in the life of the Pearsons – and this would normally be the part where I say that the episode had too many storylines for its own good, probably using some kind of wordplay involving Turkey Day and the word "overstuffed." I'll be honest: When I first saw the episode title, I preemptively groaned, concerned it'd be another same old crowded hour prompting the same old criticisms from yours truly.
But "Six Thanksgivings" worked beautifully, smartly using the dramatic thread of Thanksgiving to tie all of its many time-hopping subplots together instead of cramming all sorts of disparate parts into one lump and even more smartly not cross-cutting between them all, instead letting each chunk tell its tale and letting it breathe before moving to the next.
The most common response I'd get when I said an episode was too busy with storylines and timelines was, "But that's what 'This Is Us' does." And if that's going to be the case, this was "This Is Us" doing what it does at its best.
Anyways, back to Rebecca crying. They're making Thanksgiving dinner for what will likely be the Pearson kids' final time at home. And it's a full-on charm offensive in the Pearson household. Rebecca and Jack are bantering about the kids behaving. The kids are bantering about Randall's college essay prompt – what one person had the greatest impact on your life? – and how easy it should be for Randall to answer. (The fireman wins the vote in the house.) They even make fun of Kevin's broken leg without it becoming A Thing. It is a cornucopia of charming, and I am here for it. BRING ON PILGRIM RICK!
But they've also invited Miguel over since he's deep into the divorce from Shelley and, since she snagged the kids for the day, celebrating Thanksgiving for the first time by himself. And he comes into the house in a huff, chatting angrily with his new ex-wife over the phone and bringing some lame store-bought pie to a house that's already got a Baker's Square's worth of homemade ones on the table. It's odd to see Miguel kind of being a jag-off, but then again, it's a rough time of year to be alone – and there's a nice honest moment of him watching the warm family come together around the table as he realizes, though they've welcomed him into their house, he's an uncomfortable outsider to it all.
Pilgrim Rick, however, turns into Family Therapist Rick for a moment, as Jack takes Miguel aside and reminds him that he has to fight for his family the way he worked hard for all he's achieved in its work life. It's one of those classic "This Is Us" monologues, and it's sweet, homey and soothing like pumpkin pie. (Because Thanksgiving!)
Pardon me for a brief bit of sourness, however, as we head over to Randall's Turkey Day, spent at first at a shelter feeding the homeless on a campaign stop and photo op. This subplot's been tricky for me, as it not only seems a little out of nowhere (similar to the landlord subplot) but also it's clearly building toward a break in the family – every episode ends with an obviously wounded Beth and Randall attempting to put a Band-Aid on a situation that requires more – but at the same time all in on rooting for him. This week realized that MAYBE this isn't the right route for a little bit, as Jae-won spars with Randall over Beth's ideas – and her overall hiring since her job is technically his to oversee and instead he's being treated like her inferior despite her lack of knowledge on the trail. WHO COULD'VE POSSIBLY SEEN HIRING ONE'S SIGNIFICANT OTHER BACKFIRING!?
Anyways, Jae-won storms out after he calls in a favor that gets vetoed by Beth (please don't leave; I like this character) while Beth starts to feel like a pity hire after Randall loudly admits he'll always choose her ideas even if they're bad. Again, Randall needs to start consider what the people in his life need as opposed to what he wants – as William told Beth in the past, to play bass instead of being the soloist. But thankfully there's a cute dog and some Thanksgiving hijinks back home involving Kate and Toby to distract them from all of that.
It's not all bad in Randall's storyline, however. For one, Randall is all shirtless and six-pack abs again for a scene. I feel like that's about the fifth shirtless Randall scene this season already. I also feel like no one is complaining!
Deja is also still around being the best part of this subplot as she gets a Happy Thanksgiving text from her mother. I was waiting for her mom to then show up in line at the meal for the homeless, causing more drama, but instead "This Is Us" went in a sweeter, gentler direction, as Deja briefly flashes back to her days on the other side of the table and proceeds to hand out extra cookies to those needing a meal. Her subplot's pretty slight this week, but it provides the kind of wonderful grace notes that the show often doesn't make time for when it's too busy pinballing between storylines.
And on that note, let's pinball over to William, who's playing piano in the recent past when he meet-cutes with Jesse. The two bump into each other again for a less meet-cute outside of a liquor store around Thanksgiving, with Jesse guzzling down a brown paper bag of crap wine. William takes him home for an intervention of sorts, hearing his story before asking to hear his REAL story. (In short, Jesse's a big coke fan.) It's a warm scene of one man trying to help another straighten out, topped off by William inviting him to a struggling artists' Friendsgiving. Jesse indeed stops by and spends the night flirting with another lady. Bummer ... until he explains that it's his cousin. Yay for kindling love!
As for less sweet stories, we bounce over to Thanksgiving in Vietnam where Jack is trying and failing to get his brother to kick his cynicism and get himself fixed. Meanwhile, he notices a local child with a foot torn up from their barbed wire, barely bandaged. The mom, of course, is the mysterious woman from the photograph, and Jack attempts to help her out – first with carrying some buckets, then bringing some Thanksgiving leftovers over. He also tries to fix the boy's busted foot, but Nicky refuses to join.
Jack finds him later to ask why he won't help the women and children in their post, to which Nicky responds with a potent soliloquy about a former CO who was loved and respected by the women and children in his village, and by Nicky ... until one of the seemingly kindly women ratted out the CO's tent to the Vietcong and got him brutally blown up with a grenade. They're not just women and kids, Nicky warns – and for Jack, saving Nicky won't be as easy as just some good words and nice actions. As much of the episode teaches – Randall and Beth, William and Jesse, Jack's speech to Miguel – helping those close to you is a much more complicated task than just putting them back on their feet.
But no time for that! We've got two more Thanksgivings to go, including Miguel and Rebecca heading off to a meal with his estranged, now-grown kids – including his son is a full-grown ass, filled with cold dagger-like insults at the dinner table for both Miguel and Rebecca. He also checks the football score during the family meal, which who would (*quick checks the Knicks/Blazers game*) do such a thing!? Miguel's daughter Amber is no help, quiet and cold, while another son(?) at the table has a nut allergy that Rebecca didn't know about. Also: apparently Kevin's movie is officially out? Would've thought we'd hear something about that. Eh, guess it's got a solid Rotten Tomatoes score!
Of all the storylines, this one's maybe the most vague – in terms of who's who, in terms of timeline – and could've used more time, but hey, five out of six Thanksgivings is a strong effort. And anyways, after one final jab from his son, Miguel satisfyingly punches out of the corner, telling his kids that he tried to reconnect and put in the effort to make their relationship work but they ignored him – and that they can push him around all they want since he may still deserve their scorn, but Rebecca was there for him when no one else was, so keep it. So that was worth it. And in the end, his speech breaks the ice somewhat – though, still, hopefully that one guy's nut allergy isn't too intense. Would be a real buzzkill.
Which brings us to the final Thanksgiving, cooked for the entire Pearson clan by Kate and a recovering but improving Toby. Or at least he was improving until he came across Randall's cranberry sauce recipe which has an entire Sendik's worth of ingredients – including fresh mint from Randall's homegrown herb garden. Because of course Randall does. But if he thinks mucking up Thanksgiving cranberry sauce is awkward, just imagine how Tess feels when he accidentally walks in on her first period. Thankfully Kate is there to help guide her through the important moment – and provide her own embarrassing first period story. The result is really sweet, tender and refreshingly open about a topic too often treated by Hollywood with medical gloves and a disgusted smirk.
And that's all before – surprise! – Tess comes out to Kate! This being "This Is Us" – and this being Thanksgiving – the moment is treated with warmth and love. And I would hope, and imagine, Randall and Beth would do the same when she comes out to them assuredly later this season.
Oh, by the way, while all that was going on, dinner was ruined. Toby managed to step in it – not a turn of phrase, he literally stepped on the turkey at some point – and destroy all the food. But he did the next best thing: ordered Popeye's and Cracker Barrel. And to be honest, that sounds even better than Martha and Snoop's turkey with Randall's minted cranberry sauce. And Kevin's even there teleconferenced in with the help of a giant stuffed bear (just go with me on this), making the "Good Morning Vietnam" reference that you just know he's been wanting to make ever since his plane landed.
And that's a "This Is Us" Thanksgiving, a filled episode that, for once this season, left me full.
As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.
When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.