It’s time to talk This Is Us again. This week’s episode followed the Season 2 premiere, which hinted more at Jack’s (Milo Ventimiglia) death. Even though we were all hoping to learn more in the second episode, I think it’s best, for the sake of our emotional state, that the producers seem to be spreading it out.
A lot of things happened in this episode, like Kevin (Justin Hartley) and Sophie (Alexandra Breckenridge) being all cute and soulmate-y, and Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) helping Randall (Sterling K. Brown) overcome his anxiety. But the main tear-jerker in “A Manny-Splendored Thing” was the exploration of the relationship between Kate (Chrissy Metz) and her mother Rebecca (Mandy Moore). The complicated mother-daughter dynamic has made it’s way to the forefront.
It’s the day of the school talent show and Kate (Mackenzie Hancsicsak) is set to sing “Lean On Me,” which turns out to be a heart-breaking symbol of one of the last scenes where Jack realizes he needs to lean on his family (his daughter first) in order to combat his alcoholism. While I hoped this would be a happy scene, in classic This Is Us fashion, young Kate bursts into Rebecca’s bathroom to show off her outfit and is immediately discouraged by the angelic sound of her mother’s shower-rendition of the same song. It’s clearly a crushing moment. I mean, come on, who can compete with Mandy Moore?
My feelings about Rebecca as a mother (to Kate in particular) are mixed at this point. I used to think her character offered only sub-par encouragement and impossible-to-reach standards for her daughter. But after this episode, I realize her character, and their relationship for that matter, is far more complex. We’ve been set up to take Kate’s side in this mother-daughter riff, but it could very well be that there is no side to take.
Flash-forward to when Kate lands her first singing gig, which is also the night of Kevin’s return to his breakout TV show. Her experience, one that should be full of pride considering how beautiful her performance of ‘Landslide’ was, is tarnished by her mother’s presence. “You still make me feel like a stupid, fat little kid,” she snaps after the show. “It’s not just that you’re beautiful or thin or that you have perfect pitch even when you talk — it’s everything, and you wanted a daughter like you, and I was never going to be like you…. You wanted me to be the ‘you’ that you never became.”
So while we’ve all been nervous for the reveal of Jack’s death, I think this mother-daughter relationship is the emotional box that will start to be unpacked next. We’re finally getting more of a glimpse into their interesting dynamic, a relationship that is so important to the plot of the series as a whole. Last night’s episode tells the story of how the experiences we have in our childhood, especially when they involve those closest to us, can cause lingering pain.