This Is Us continues to provide mystery and depth in its brilliantly written and performed sophomore season, finally delivering answers on the fate of the Pearson family patriarch
Starring Milo Ventimiglia, Mandy Moore, Sterling K. Brown, Chrissy Metz, Justin Hartley, Susan Kelechi Watson, Chris Sullivan, Jon Huertas, Alexandra Breckenridge, Niles Fitch, Logan Shroyer, Parker Bates, Hannah Zeile, Mackenzie Hancsicsak, Eris Baker, Faithe Herman, Lonnie Chavis, and Ron Cephas Jones
Having had an assured start with its expert use of flashback, misdirection and critically withheld information, This Is Us returns with a second season that is just as devastating as the first. With a truly impressive ensemble cast that revolves around the Pearson family, the episodes throughout are able to adequately delve into each character’s issues, backstories and neuroses to great effect as their lives continue to unfold.
The main mystery that propels the second season is exactly what happened to father Jack Pearson (Milo Ventimiglia) on the fateful Superbowl night in 1998 in which he tragically lost his life, leaving his devoted wife Rebecca (Mandy Moore) an unexpected widow to three teenage children: Randall (Sterling K. Brown), Kate (Chrissy Metz) and Kevin (Justin Hartley). Now grown up, all three deal with the shadow of their father’s demise that continues to shape their paths moving forward.
Randall is now a devoted father to his own children Tess (Eris Baker) and Annie (Faithe Herman) with his wife Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson), though longs to expand his family through adoption. Meanwhile, Kate prepares to marry Toby (Chris Sullivan), while also striving to get pregnant.
The beauty of a show like This Is Us is that, within a large cast, there allows for there to be a lot of depth and explanation of the characters, even those who have been previously painted as unapproachable or frustrating and manages to portray them as substantially more sympathetic. For the second season, this honour comes to Kevin. Previously shown as obsessed with his looks and horrendously self-involved, the flashbacks slowly reveal the inferiority complex Kevin developed growing up, feeling sidelined by his father in favour of Kate, and becoming increasingly aware of Rebecca’s favouring of Randall. When an injury on a film set sends Kevin down a dark path, the show explores his similarities to his father, his feelings of guilt over the role that he played in Jack’s death, as well as his sense of isolation from the rest of his family. It’s beautifully portrayed and really helps Kevin feel like a well rounded and sympathetic character, especially after his character’s trajectory in the previous season.
Of course, the main event of the season culminates in the fourteenth episode “Super Bowl Sunday” as the mystery surrounding Jack’s death is finally resolved. Having been aware since early in the first season that Jack had died, This Is Us has certainly enjoyed misdirecting the audience through needlessly cryptic dialogue as various characters indicate their own blame for the tragic events. The season one finale in particular certainly duped the audience into believing that Jack’s drunken drive to fetch Rebecca was responsible for his untimely demise, though, ultimately, the real events are substantially more devastating.
Building up to this episode are sneaky hints designed to pique the audience’s interest and, though it does take almost too long for those answers to come, the small kernels of information fed to the viewers do help keep the mystery and the anticipation fresh and alive. The episodes that follow the tragedy are also suitably strong, with the aftermath almost proving as emotional as the event itself. While the audience have been used to observing this grief from a distance, seeing the heartbreak afresh as the Pearsons go through the funeral and observe the tremendous impact upon their lives is almost overwhelming at points. It is through these episodes where Mandy Moore really shines, as she plays the quietly broken Rebecca, desperately trying to keep herself together for the sake of her three grieving children, caught between pragmatism and anguish.
Another massive success continues to be the brilliant performances and casting of the younger versions of our main cast. All of the child versions of Randall, Kate and Kevin (Lonnie Chavis, Mackenzie Hancsicsak and Parker Bates) as well as their teenage counterparts (Niles Fitch, Hannah Zeile and Logan Shroyer) do an incredible job of convincingly emulating the adults who they will grow to become, which becomes wonderfully poignant as the show continues to mine the Big Three’s past trauma.
The way that each episode is constructed in such a varied way, though employs similar themes such as the symmetry between the past and present, not just with the same character, but also between characters, like Kevin’s behaviour matching Jack’s or Randall and Beth becoming the brilliant team that Randall believed his own parents to be helps keep each individual instalment interesting while also maintaining a cohesive season as a whole. It also speaks to the recurrence of observed behaviour in the observer and the profound effect that this has upon them in later life.
With Jack’s death finally resolved, and each of the characters seemingly unburdening themselves of their grief throughout the season, it will be interesting to see where This Is Us goes from here, without their narrative tricks to maintain the mystery of a buried, traumatic past. However, with the finale throwing out some tantalising flash-forwards, it’s impossible to count this sublime drama out just yet.
This Is Us is available to watch in the UK on Amazon Prime Video