This Is Us often feels like a high-brow Hallmark movie, which means it’s filled with tears and impossibly loving relationships. Everyone on the NBC hit loves each other so much, that even the mailman cried when William Hill (Ron Cephas Jones) died. Yet, one of these relationships isn’t exactly like the others. Of course, we’re talking about the mother-daughter bond between Rebecca (Mandy Moore) and Kate Pearson (Chrissy Metz). While there’s lots of underlying love there, this relationship is marked by poorly-contained resentment rather than blind emotion; at least on Kate’s part, that is. But, after a season-and-a-half of building tension, This Is Us finally salvaged the pair’s relationship with Tuesday night’s “Number Two.” Unfortunately, both Rebecca and Kate had to go through one of the most devastating losses to get there: a tragic pregnancy.
As is tradition in This Is Us, a flashback conversation frames a future Beautiful Moment. Throughout “Number Two,” there’s an entire subplot about teen Kate (Hannah Zeile) secretly applying to the Berklee College of Music. Eventually the young woman explains she hid her singing dreams because she couldn’t handle disappointing her performer mother if she doesn’t get in. The admission pushes Rebecca, who has a difficult relationship with her own “closed steel door” mother, to explain how her parenting goals of holding Kate up if she needs it are now so different from her reality. “It’s my job to keep standing there with my arms wide open waiting for you to maybe someday fall inside if you needed it” she says. “And if you don’t, I’ll love you too.”
Twenty years later, Kate needs to fall inside of her mother’s arms to deal with her miscarriage, which was revealed in “Number One.” In this installment, we see the events leading up to and following the trauma, and Rebecca’s presence is the only thing that gets her daughter to deal with her grief. It’s a beautiful, heartbreaking moment to watch Rebecca show up on Kate’s door and simply throw her arms out. A shattered Kate definitely falls in.
Although the visuals here are purposefully affecting, it’s the subsequent conversation that’s even more important. Rebecca and Kate can sit down together as two women who lost babies they already “knew;” the former during childbirth, the latter while still somewhere around her first or second trimester. The mother-daughter duo now have a heartbreaking thing in common and it shows in how they relate to each other. Rebecca is the only one who can convince her daughter the miscarriage wasn’t her fault, it was simply a sad thing that happened. She even brings up the long, hot walk she took in “The Big Day,” which was also the day she went into labor, to explain a woman can never know why she lost a baby, so there’s no use in blaming oneself. For once, it seems like Kate believes it.
All of this talk leads to the most emotional portion of the heart-to-heart: the Kyle segment. Kyle is the third biological Pearson triplet, who died during birth. We never really see how Rebecca dealt with such a traumatic loss, and, considering Kate’s jaw drop when her mom brings up her late son, it seems she hasn’t either over the last 37 years. As Rebecca tries to comfort her daughter, we see a flashback of her younger early-80s self attempting to buy onions for a very specific recipe she wants to make Jack (Milo Ventimiglia). A woman unknowingly takes the last bag, and Rebecca has a public breakdown in the middle of the grocery store over the yellow vegetables. “It’s not fair!” a pink-bereted Rebecca starts repeatedly screaming. At first she thinks she’s upset about the theft of an onion, but, once she collapses on the floor, sobbing, it’s clear her pushed-down grief has found an unexpected outlet.
Kate smiles for the first time all episode when she hears the sad, but ridiculous-sounding, story. It’s also the lightest we’ve ever seen Kate while within a three-yard radius of her mom. There are no emotional walls, doors, or spikes. Instead, she giggles and asks, “You unleashed holy hell on some unsuspecting lady? Mom!” You half expect Kate to high-five Rebecca on top of that. For once Rebecca shares her own failure, adding after the entire War For Four Ounces Of Onion, she still ended up going home and burning the pot roast. When Kate coos, “No,” you can tell she seriously empathizes with her mom over the cooking catastrophe. Kate is fully rooting for her mom’s younger self, no questions asked; this is a side of these two we’ve never seen before because it didn’t exactly exist prior to this moment.
While all of this mother-daughter bonding is my preferred take away from “Number Two,” it was crafted for a purpose: bringing Kate and fiancé Toby (Chris Sullivan) back together after the miscarriage. As Rebecca says, she was only able to move on from the loss of Kyle when she opened up to Jack. Now, Kate has to do the same with Toby, and she follows through. By the end of the episode, the couple has agreed to try again for a baby and swears, “We will not let this break us.” This hopeful ending is only possible because Kate actually listened to Rebecca with no suspicion, something all fans know would have been impossible before “Two.”
After nearly 30 episodes of Pearson family drama, it's heartening to finally see its central mother-daughter relationship moving to a healthy, loving place. And, it's so This Is Us to have shared, flashback-filled tragedy be the only way Rebecca and Kate could get there.
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