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On an ominous This Is Us, love means sometimes having to say you’re sorry

Photo: Mitchell Haddad (NBC)
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On paper, “Sorry” is exactly the kind of present day Big Three-focused episode I usually dread. So imagine my surprise when it turned out to be one of the stronger episodes of the season so far. It doesn’t have the thematic cohesion of “The Dinner And The Date” or even “The Club,” which actually only makes me more impressed by how beautifully balanced it is. “Sorry” is an episode that easily could’ve felt like filler. Instead it offers an elegant, nuanced reckoning with This Is Us’ past.

You see that most clearly in the Deja/Beth storyline. One result of season three focusing so much on Randall and Beth’s marital woes and work problems was that they frequently came across as pretty shitty parents. And I could never tell if This Is Us was aware of that or not. Regardless, “Sorry” proves the show doesn’t plan on ignoring that reality going forward. When Deja and Malik’s supervised date goes wrong, Beth gets Malik to spill the beans: Deja wants to visit her birth mom, Shauna, and she doesn’t feel it’s a request she can bring up with Randall and Beth—at least not since they largely ignored it the first time she made it.

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It’s great to see This Is Us finally return to Deja and Shauna’s post-adoption dynamic, which hasn’t really been mentioned since last year’s Thanksgiving episode. Heck, it’s just great to see This Is Us focus on Deja in general this season! Lyric Ross is without question one of the strongest performers on this show, which she gets to prove each time her face subtly lights up in this episode. “Sorry” speaks well for the Deja/Malik relationship, particularly in how adorably apologetic they both are after their first fight as a couple. Plus Susan Kelechi Watson delivers a one-woman comedic tour de force performance that proves that for as much as This Is Us is already using her comedy skills, it should be using them even more.

Though it’s an open question how Shauna will fit into a Pearson family Thanksgiving (Beth seems less than thrilled by the idea), the Deja/Malik storyline is the sweetest, simplest element of “Sorry.” In contrast, the Rebecca/Randall throughline is easily the messiest. In the present day, Rebecca’s “R&R” day with Randall finally leans into a storyline I know many in the comment section have already been predicting: Rebecca is struggling with some kind of memory loss that goes beyond just the occasional “senior moment.” She’s clinging to her phone and the pictures on it as a lifeline, and she’s in deep denial that there’s anything wrong with her.

It’s a tense, if somewhat expected addition to the series. (Even if you hadn’t been piecing together clues about Rebecca’s potential memory loss, an Alzheimer’s-type storyline is firmly within the realm of stuff This Is Us would cover.) But the present-day throughline is beautifully elevated by how it dovetails with the flashback one. 1998 Rebecca is one of the many characters in this episode who delivers an apology. The difference is, she doesn’t really seem to mean hers.

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Rebecca keeps telling teenage Randall some variation of, “You don’t have to worry about me. Ever.” Except it’s clear he does. And it’s clear she wants him to. No matter how many times she tells him she’s the parent and he should be out having fun, action speak louder than words. She keeps apologizing, but she also keeps burdening him with her problems and emotional breakdowns too.

As the opening bed-making montage drills him, Rebecca is a very co-dependent person. Or, perhaps even more accurately, she married someone who turned her into a very co-dependent person. Jack’s big demonstrative love in some ways swallowed them up as individuals and transformed them into the unit of “Jack and Rebecca.” Now Rebecca is stuck in a world where just making the bed alone feels nearly impossible. So she accepts the help her son offers—thrusting more and more onto Randall’s plate and praising him for following in his father’s footsteps in a way that makes it impossible for him to stop doing what he’s doing. It’s a dynamic that’s upsetting and yet also completely understandable.

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As I mentioned in my review of “Storybook Love,” it’s a real thrill to watch This Is Us finally start to delve into the tumultuous time period that made the Pearsons who they were when we first met them. And though they’re in a much better place now than they were three seasons ago, the effects of those dark days still ripple forward in places like Randall and Rebecca’s final fight. That blowout perfectly captures the way two internal, repressed people like Randall and Rebecca would fight—with unfinished sentences and voices that never quite get raised but still carry a lot of weight. It’s an ominous moment for a whole bunch of different reasons, not least of all because of the questions it raises about Rebecca’s future.

Elsewhere, Kevin’s storyline seems to start as something equally messy and complex before morphing into the most earnest element of the episode. Though Kevin bemoans the fact that “I’m sorry” isn’t the magic cure-all it once was as a kid, he learns that you can mess up and still be a good person, even as an adult. The episode dramatizes that through sequences in which Kevin imagines Nicky as Jack. It’s a smart way to emphasize the intense familial bond that Kevin and Nicky have, despite the fact that they haven’t actually known each other that long. And while I was sure we were in for a reveal that Nicky also sometimes imagines Kevin as Jack too, the final moment in which Kevin gets to experience his dad giving him a verbal pat on the back is also lovely.

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The Kevin/Nicky/Cassidy storyline definitely leans a bit schmaltzy, especially with Nicky’s big courtroom speech about how Kevin saved him, which then inspires Cassidy to make one last go at reuniting with her family. But that sweetness also serves as a nice counterbalance to the uncomfortable, unresolved Randall/Rebecca dynamic. Unlike Randall and Rebecca, who both have a bit of a co-dependent streak, Nicky, Cassidy, and Kevin have a tendency to cope by pushing people away. Realizing they still deserve forgiveness, redemption, and love is a big step for them, one that looks like it’s going to bring Nicky more firmly into the Pearson family fold and (for now at least) send Cassidy back to her own family.

“When you’re sick, you gotta let the people who care about you help,” Nicky explains in court, which is definitely a lesson Rebecca is going to have to learn. It’s a lesson Randall is going to have to learn too, given his own refusal to seek treatment for his anxiety. (Like mother, like son.) But how do you find a healthy way to let someone help you when you already have an unhealthy co-dependent relationship with them? My guess is we’re going to be in for a particularly explosive Pearson family Thanksgiving this year.

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Stray observations

  • Kate definitely gets the short end of the stick this episode, which, unfortunately, isn’t all that unusual for This Is Us. Still, “Sorry” is so purposeful in how it builds up her friendship with Gregory while adding unspoken tension to her relationship with Toby that I’m definitely intrigued to see where things go from here.
  • Speculation Corner: I thought this season was going to focus on Kevin and Cassidy’s relationship only to swerve and reveal that Sophie is the mother of his flash-forward child. Now that Cassidy is seemingly happily reunited with her family, however, I wonder if the twist is going to be that she and Kevin are actually together in the future.
  • The discussion of Practical Magic is a fun little Easter Egg nod to the fact that Griffin Dunne, who plays Nicky, directed it.
  • Speaking of Practical Magic, Marc’s belittling of Kate’s excitement to see it is the only slight hint we get of anything potentially awry in their relationship. Otherwise, he comes across as pretty charming, although Randall certainly isn’t won over.
  • There was some great costuming in this episode. Beth and Kate both had super cute dresses and I loved the sparkly tassel necklace that present day Rebecca paired with her turtleneck.
  • “Not all of us have to talk about our dead dads all the time.”
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About the author

Caroline Siede

Contributor, The A.V. Club. Caroline Siede is a pop culture critic in Chicago, where the cold never bothers her anyway. Her interests include superhero movies, feminist theory, and Jane Austen novels.