#ThisIsUs Season 2 Premiere: Let Your Heart Have Feelings
This is not a rant against television critics. I love television critics. They understand television better than I do and explain it better than I can. I’d be lost (pun…not intended) watching the shows I like without their recaps and insight.
But with expertise and analysis comes the danger of over-thinking, and I think we’re at that point with reaction to the season two premiere of This Is Us.
If you’re not a fan (you should be), This Is Us spent the better part of season one teasing the death of the Pearson family patriarch, Jack, played by Milo Ventimiglia. We know he does die, but the show is drawing out the reveal for exactly how. It seemed like we’d get the answer in the season one finale, but no. Like a lot of critics and fans, I was even upset they didn’t reveal it after such a heavy buildup.
At the very end of the season two premiere, they made the reveal. Sorta. They showed Kate and Randall in tears, with Kate getting a line that called back to a future-Kate line earlier in the episode. They showed Rebecca pulling up to the Pearson house and letting out a scream that’s even more impressive when you learn Mandy Moore nailed it in one take.
But they didn’t actually show Jack dying. In answering the question of what killed him, they opened more questions about what led up to it.
Some critics, it’s fair to say, aren’t happy.
Daniel Fienberg at The Hollywood Reporter (who you should read regularly) called it “emotional ghoulishness” and said:
I’m sorry, but I just can’t bring myself to get invested at this point in the premiere’s shocking revelations that Jack died when the kids were 17, which I guess means 20 years ago, which I guess means 1997? And that apparently he died in a fire in the Pearson house? You could have told me that in the second episode of the first season and literally nothing I enjoy about the show would have been negatively impacted.
James Poniewozik at the New York Times might have cried a little but then his damn brain took over:
I barely had time to register the emotion of the moment before my rational mind went to work gnawing on this newest kernel. No one confirmed that the fire killed Jack, after all. Rebecca appeared to have his personal effects in the car — would they have survived his immolation? Maybe Kate (Chrissy Metz) — who holds herself responsible for Jack’s death — caused the fire?
And maybe that fire led to a different action that killed him. Maybe it was a drunk-driving accident. Maybe he took a long walk, lost in his thoughts, not noticing the grand piano teetering out of a fourth-floor window above him. Maybe he was forced to take a second job, at the old match factory next to the fireworks warehouse.
This is a problem. Here we’d just seen the raw moment where Jack’s wife and teenage children are first grieving his loss. But instead of processing it, the show’s teasing narrative had me constructing an elaborate Rube Goldberg machine of death.
Uproxx’s Alan Sepinwall (who you should also read regularly) thinks it’s time for the teasing to end:
But we’ve reached a point where this one puzzle has now started to overwhelm the many things This Is Us is good (and, at times, great) at, and to turn into the exact kind of Reddit bait that Fogelman said he doesn’t want it to be.
I get all that.
Here’s my thing: We don’t have to treat every show like it’s in the running for greatest show of all time. Let’s leave the magnifying glass in the desk drawer and enjoy This Is Us for what it is – A remarkably real television show.
I love This Is Us because it’s nice to not be mind-f*cked at the end of every episode. When Game of Thrones is over my mind is whirring with how all the new information fits in with what we already know and what I forgot from past seasons. When This Is Us is over, my mind is silent, but I’m heart-f*cked. I’m replaying the moments in the show – and there’s at least one in every episode – that struck a chord with something from my life. That’s so cool.
I also love This Is Us for the way it’s characters almost always seem to do the thing you hope they’ll do. Your heart was screaming for Rebecca to knock on the door, wasn’t it? It was, because Rebecca knocking on the door was the most emotional, heart-warming thing she could possibly do. It was what any of us would do if we were that desperately in love with someone, which we all want to be. So she did it, and it was amazing.
Let’s just enjoy that. Enjoy a show that isn’t about people who literally never smile (House of Cards) or half as great as it used to be (The Blacklist) or built in a fictional universe with a 12,000-year history (looking at you, George R.R.).
It’s okay to sit back for an hour a week and let your heart takeover.