This Is Us Honored William By Being Honest About Addiction

Photo: Ron Batzdorff/NBC.
Warning: This article contains spoilers for the last episode of This Is Us.

It finally happened: after his season-long battle with cancer, William is dead. Let’s take a moment to process, and let that sink in.

In the season finale, This Is Us didn’t allow the moment to sneak up on us. It was pretty clear from the beginning of the episode to everyone except Randall, that the end was near for William. The entire episode, entitled "Memphis," was a deep dive into William’s life from the time he was in the womb. Ironically, the episode doesn’t depict William’s drug usage, which we know to be a huge part of his life. But in telling the story of so many other parts of his life, This Is Us pulled off something that not many other primetime shows are willing to do: they humanized people with drug addictions.

During an emotional Facebook Live video, Sterling K. Brown applauded the show’s producers, writers, and NBC for telling the story of an addict, “someone who is routinely ignored and relegated to the fringes of society.” And he’s right. In real life and on television addicts are too often used as props to represent the desperate conditions that some other character has to overcome. Rarely are they allowed a full human treatment in the way that William was.

The death of William’s mother causes him to turn to heroin in his grief. It is a substance that had been readily available to him when he was in a Memphis band. It was also the drug that fueled his relationship with Randall’s biological mother, Laurell. It was what caused him to leave Randall at a fire station. On the flip side, as the child of a once-addicted parent, I recognized William's humility and fierce independence as a result of his recovery.

Ultimately, William goes leaves this world with a handful of beautiful memories that he made even in the last 24 hours of his life. There aren’t memories he was afforded because he redeemed himself from a life of using drugs. The tenacity he earned as an addict in recovery that pushed him to take that road trip with Randall in the first place. William was the man he was because of his addiction, not in spite of it.

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