Thanksgiving is a big deal for the Pearsons on This Is Us. The show set a high bar in season 1 with "Pilgrim Rick," the episode with the ill-fated road trip that gave the family some of the greatest memories and traditions of their entire lives. Season 2 skipped over a Thanksgiving episode in lieu of the neat trilogy the show did focusing on each of the kids. This year, the show is back with "Six Thanksgivings," which showcases six very different Turkey Day celebrations over various timelines.
Now, sometimes This Is Us suffers from trying to do too much within a single episode and about halfway through this one I was worried that this would be one of those times. But the show managed to sneak in some excellent moments while also sticking the landing with its touching final montage — so we'll indulge a six-storyline episode just this once.
The flashback Turkey Days are Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) in Vietnam, the Pearsons last Thanksgiving together before Jack dies, and then checking in on William (Ron Cephas Jones) and Jesse (Denis O'Hare) as their relationship starts to develop.
In 1971, Jack is trying to desperately to help his brother find his humanity, going so far as to order Nicky (Michael Angarano) to help care for a sick boy in the fishing village. But Nicky is suffering from perhaps the worst war wounds: Hopelessness and cynicism. It's a brief check-in, but we do learn that the boy's mother is who gave Jack the necklace that Kevin (Justin Hartley) now wears — it also sets up what is sure to be a gut-wrenching fall finale next week.
In 1997, the Pearsons welcome Miguel (Jon Huertas) to their Turkey Day table because it's his first Thanksgiving since the divorce and he's all alone. It's clear his ex-wife is trying to keep him away from their kids, which explains why Miguel likely threw himself into the Pearson family after Jack's death. Not in a "taking Jack's place" way, but in an "I'm lonely and I can help you" way.
And in roughly 2006 or so, William meets Jesse. That's pretty much all that happens here. This storyline more than any other feels a little extraneous and it might have been nice to spend a little more time with some of the other storylines, but seeing Jones on this show is never a bad thing, especially with O'Hare as an added bonus, so I'll allow it. I'm not a total Scrooge.
After leaving Kate (Chrissy Metz) and Toby (Chris Sullivan) at home to do the cooking, Randall (Sterling K. Brown) and Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) volunteer at a soup kitchen. Randall's new campaign manager Jae-won (Tim Jo) is annoyed that Randall won't use it as a photo op, but Beth thinks that's the wrong play. It sets up a tough dynamic where Randall sides with his wife (as he should, at least publicly — keep the disagreements private), but realizes maybe he should listen to the guy with at least a little political experience.
Beth also realizes that Randall may have been humoring a lot of her ideas lately because she needs a win and she is none too happy about that. But the politics will have to wait until next week because way more interesting things are going on back at home.
Kate and Toby are trying their best to prepare a Thanksgiving feast when they discover the reason Tess (Eris Baker) stayed home: She just got her period for the first time. Kate steps into the mama bear role here and she makes Tess feel so comfortable that Tess opens up about her sexuality. It's lovely the way it is not treated like a "very special moment" and also that Kate is quietly jazzed that she stepped up in a parental role and didn't blow it.
Also, while Kate is with Tess, Toby completely mangles the food and orders in from Cracker Barrel, which is awesome.
Meanwhile, before Rebecca (Mandy Moore) and Miguel arrive at Randall's for supper, they have Thanksgiving lunch with Miguel's kids in Scarsdale. We get a few more details shaded in about their relationship after Miguel's son is super awful to Rebecca at the table. Seriously, Miguel shows admirable restraint tolerating his grown-ass son while he makes rude comments. But anyway, the two of them got together about 10 years after Jack died and they fill a hole in each other's lives that was empty since they both lost their spouses.
Miguel seems to make slight in-roads with his two grown children, but at least he has the Pearson Thanksgiving table to turn to, complete with Kevin and Zoe (Melanie Liburd) video calling from Vietnam.
Overall, not the meatiest of episodes that This Is Us has ever done, but a nice, warm, fuzzy holiday offering before what is sure to be a five-hankie episode next week.
Odds & Ends
It's a small moment, but watching everyone good-naturedly egg on teenage Randall to write his college essay about the fireman who found him as a baby was so adorable. Vintage Pearsons.
We all kind of knew Brown is jacked, but seeing Randall walk around in just his boxer briefs was Christmas come early, amirite?
Of course Randall has a color-coded recipe book and an herb garden. Of course he does! He's Randall!
Even if Tess' storyline hadn't been handled as well as it was, her encounter with Toby in the hallway while confusedly holding two boxes of maxi-pads was worth the price of admission alone. Awww.
Along those same lines, I would give anything for a deleted scene that shows the cranberry sauce exploding all over Toby and him subsequently dropping and then stepping on the turkey. Show, don’t tell! The people demand to see some Toby turkey antics!
In case anyone is wondering how Miguel and Rebecca were at two Thanksgivings that may have seemed far apart, I was curious too — Alpine, NJ (Randall’s house) and Scarsdale, NY (Miguel’s daughter’s house) are actually quite close to one another. Just FYI.
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