This Is Us‘s shorter fifth season is concerned more with intimacy than with spectacle
Starring Milo Ventimiglia, Mandy Moore, Sterling K. Brown, Chrissy Metz, Justin Hartley, Susan Kelechi Watson, Chris Sullivan, Jon Huertas, Caitlin Thompson, Niles Fitch, Logan Shroyer, Hannah Zeile, Mackenzie Hancsicsak, Parker Bates, Lonnie Chavis, Eris Baker, Faithe Herman, Lyric Ross, and Asante Blackk
Delayed by almost a month due to complications with filming around COVID restrictions, This Is Us‘s fifth season returned with only sixteen episodes instead of the expected eighteen. Largely due to the practical considerations of completing filming during a pandemic, this meant that much of the season revolved around our core characters, with guest cast minimally seen and most of the plot revolving around the characters reflecting on their present, using their past as a guide, instead of anybody making large strides forwards. Like the world feels at this time, This Is Us‘s fifth season seems to exist in a quiet, reflective bubble.
After Season 4’s finale, viewers tuned in for answers on what would happen between Madison (Caitlin Thompson) and Kevin (Justin Hartley) now that she was pregnant with his twins, how smooth Toby (Chris Sullivan) and Kate’s (Chrissy Metz) adoption process would go now that we’ve been introduced to Jack’s younger sister Hailey in the future, whether Kevin and Randall (Sterling K. Brown) could physically make amends after their explosive fight, and whether Rebecca’s (Mandy Moore) clinical trial would improve her prognosis. Season 5 answers most of these questions, though lots of these issues take a backseat to, well, COVID.
For viewers hoping to get away from the stresses of their daily lives, watching Season 5 of This Is Us may prove a little too much. Much as we are going through the emotional wringer, so too are the Pearson family as they also manage lockdown, missing loved ones and wearing masks. They all somehow manage to travel across large swathes of the continent regardless, but they will do it with a mask on their wrist. As well as looking at how businesses struggle during a pandemic through Beth’s (Susan Kelechi Watson) experience with her fledgling dance studio, and how difficult and challenging it can be to get a job in today’s climate through Toby, This Is Us also found time to topically, sensitively and skilfully tackle race relations in America as stirred up by the race riots inspired by the murder of George Floyd. This provided an opportunity to explore Randall’s complicated relationship with his own race, as a black child growing up in a white family, who thought the best thing for Randall was to erase his identity and assimilate him into their culture.
Elsewhere, Kate and Toby prepare to adopt a new child and even though it has been hinted to viewers in flashforwards earlier in the series that their relationship is not built to last, they are on much more solid ground than we have seen them previously. Kate also builds her own career separate to her family.
Beth experiences difficulty with the fallout from COVID, as her dance studio, which we saw her fight so hard for in Season 4, ultimately collapses amid restrictions, prompting her to dip her toe back in the corporate world. Additionally, she is struggling to relate to daughter Tess (Eris Baker), as she embarks upon her first relationship with her non-binary classmate. Much as Beth tries to be accepting, communicating with Tess proves increasingly difficult as time wears on, creating a seemingly insurmountable gulf between the previously tight-knit pair.
The main meat of the season, however, is dedicated to the growing, highly unorthodox relationship between Kevin and Madison. Deciding to embark upon a relationship because of the family they are soon to create, Kevin ends up proposing to Madison while she is giving birth, dedicating the latter part of the season to their upcoming nuptials. It’s definitely a new sort of relationship for Kevin, though audiences will see similarities between the neuroses that crop up here compared to his previous long-term relationships.
Unfortunately, Rebecca gains short shrift in the present day storyline, with her clinical trial postponed due to COVID and hardly mentioned. While she exists on the periphery of her children’s storylines, hopefully This Is Us‘s final season readjusts the balance in her favour.
This Is Us in its fifth season uses its flashbacks effectively to enhance our understanding of the characters in the present day, and to help some of them come to terms with their realities to allow them to move forward. It is based more upon acceptance and realisation than it is about game-changing plot twists, which makes for a far more reflective and mature collection of episodes.
However, it wouldn’t be This Is Us without a jaw dropping final moment, and the finale’s flash forward to a future wedding certainly provides that. With a lot of ground to cover, now in two future storylines, This Is Us‘s final season is sure to be one to watch.
This Is Us streams on Amazon Prime Video in the UK