In its first season on NBC, “This Is Us” delivered emotional twists and story turns that resulted in quite a few tears shed. The family drama that spans time periods in the ’80s, ’90s, and modern day even won the tearjerker award at the MTV Movie & TV Awards earlier this year. Ahead of the second season, Variety looks back on the moments that required the most tissues — or even beach towels — to sop up audience’s tears.
The First Glimpse of Imperfect Jack
Episode: “The Big Three”
Maybe the fact that Jack is deceased in the present day storyline is what caused his family (and the audience) to anoint him a saint, remembering him at his best. Maybe it’s because Jack is deceased, and the audience doesn’t yet know how or why or even exactly when he died that the scene that revealed him to have a drinking problem hit so hard. After all, could the seemingly perfect husband and father be responsible for his own early demise? The show never said Jack was perfect. In fact, it works hard to reveal flaws and truths about all of its characters. So perhaps it was the audience’s need to put him on a pedestal that made this reveal so hard to take. But his promise to correct his bad behaviors and “be an 11” for his wife is what really made audiences misty-eyed.
“The Art of Making Lemonade” Speech
“This Is Us” features an abundance of riches in the form of guest actors, and three of the men were up against each other for the Emmy this year. Ultimately Gerald McRaney, who plays Dr. K, pulled out the win. And when considering the speech he delivers to new father Jack in the pilot episode, there really no reason to wonder why. He goes from delivering the worst news of Jack’s life (that one of his biological triplets didn’t make it) to sharing with him a personal story of his own loss that offers perspective and teaches him the importance of learning and growing from those harshest times.
Toby Collapses at Christmas
Episode: “Last Christmas”
Can’t Kate have anything nice? She’s been wracked with guilt and sadness over her father’s death, and she’s having a hard time losing weight and making a life for herself (as opposed to just living to help her brother with his career). She was starting to make strides, however, and started dating an amazingly supportive boyfriend. But he collapses during a family celebration, and the episode (which aired on NBC as a mid-season finale) leaves Kate and the audience with the cliffhanger of whether or not he’ll make it. Spoiler alert: he did.
Randall Just Wants to Fit In
Episode: “The Pool”
If your heart didn’t break for sweet, little Randall, counting the number of black people he encountered, then you may have to check the status of your soul, as well as your privilege. Randall had a loving family who tried their very best to be enough for him, but inherently, he just knew something was missing and that he was a little bit different. The fact that he wondered if any of the black men he met could be his birth father put his childhood struggles into greater perspective, too.
Dr. K’s Literal Last Christmas
Episode: “Last Christmas”
Saying goodbye to a dying relative is an obvious sob fest, but “This Is Us” managed to turn bidding adieu to a dying semi-stranger into one, too, when Jack and Rebecca happen upon Dr. K in the hospital. Once the formidable man who delivered their children and ultimately gave them the courage to adopt Randall, Dr. K is now weak and alone. It’s a lesson in mortality, but it’s also a lesson in how even those you might not expect, can touch your life permanently.
A Breakdown Causes Brother Bonding
Episode: “Jack Pearson’s Son”
There’s a lot to unpack in this episode, and the obvious tearjerker is seeing Randall, usually such a well put together man, crumpled on the floor and completely wracked with anxiety. But beyond the internal conflict he is feeling that is certainly worthy of empathy, comes Kevin’s reaction. The man, who up until recently didn’t even call Randall his brother, dropped everything that seemed to matter most to him in the moment (his new play) to rush to Randall’s side and be there for him in a time of crisis.
A Glimpse of Jack’s Funeral
Episode: “Three Sentences”
Nothing gets “This Is Us” viewers more riled up than thinking about how and when patriarch Jack dies. Nothing gets the characters more riled up at times, either, especially Kate, who in this episode finally allowed herself to let some of her pain go. The show has teased out his demise in ways that allow the audience to speculate (Will drunk driving be the culprit? Does he have a heart attack from stress?), but the first actual look at the family by his coffin made the reality set in hard. It was a brief moment, but it doesn’t take much to set off the waterworks around this life-changing event.
Rebecca’s Journey With Randall and William
Episodes: “Kyle” and “Pilgrim Rick”
For some reason, no one assumed Rebecca would have had doubts about raising a third baby — a stranger’s baby — as one of her own. Not until the show dropped that bomb in the third episode, anyway. Watching her struggle to bond with Randall was tough enough, but then later learning she turned his biological dad away when he wanted to see his son was much harder. Especially when Randall learned about that. Watching him realize that his whole life could have been different, especially in light of his father’s limited time, was crushing. As was witnessing Rebecca deal with the guilt of keeping the secret for so many years.
Beth Eulogizes William
Episode: “What Now?”
It isn’t enough that Beth sends her husband’s biological father off by telling him that the family will forever remember their lives as “before and after” William, but the moment and the message sets off a series of character spirals, culminating in Kate breaking down over her own father’s death all over again. Maybe it’s too “easy” to put a funeral on this list, but that doesn’t make the performances any less powerful.
Jack and Rebecca’s Knock-Down, Drag-Out Fight
No one wants to believe Jack and Rebecca’s marriage can’t be saved. Although it’s obviously not perfect (no one’s is), these two are the OG super couple of the show, and it seemed like, despite little hiccups here and there, they were ultimately happy and together until his untimely death. But the first season finale left them on a dark note that made many question whether or not that was a truth the show had set up or just wishful, positive thinking on the audience’s part. After learning Kate’s new bandmates include her ex, Jack lost it, and the two spun out in anger, culminating in Jack being unable to answer Kate when she asked why he loves her. It would have been the ultimate emotional cliffhanger that left a lump in throats in addition to wet eyes, but then they followed it up with an even more emotional answer from Jack.
Randall Says Goodbye to William
Although it was well known William didn’t have long to live by the time Randall took his biological dad on a road trip to learn more about the man, no amount of foresight could have prepared the audience for the gut punch that would come when Randall had to fight through his own anxiety to say goodbye. Mirroring his adoptive father’s way of easing pain, Randall placed his hands on William’s head and told the frail, scared man he was okay, even with tears streaming down his face. But beyond the literal moment of goodbye came Randall driving away, rolling down the window to feel the breeze, and stopping for some ducks. Call it coincidence or call it a sign, but it was extra touching nonetheless.