Much of the episode takes place in Randall’s therapy session, in which he imagines how he thinks his life would have gone if he could have stopped his father from going back into their burning house.
In this first version of Randall’s reimagining, Rebecca confesses to Jack that she’s long known the identity of Randall’s birth father. While he’s at first tense that his wife kept this bombshell from him, Jack steps up and takes Randall to meet William.
What happens from there is essentially a fairy tale: Not only does Jack help William get clean, but Randall quickly repairs his relationship with Rebecca, has three parents in his life, still marries Beth and catches William’s stomach cancer early. Then both Jack and Randall catch Rebecca’s memory loss, too.
It’s all too perfect, Randall’s therapist notes. She pushes him to confront his deepest fears about what life would have been like had Jack lived.
What follows is essentially a horror story by “This Is Us” standards. There isn’t a big blowout followed by warm fuzzies and heartfelt apologies. No broken bonds that are quickly mended. Instead, Rebecca’s confession about Randall’s birth father leaves Jack furious.
“I can’t even look at you right now,” he seethes at her. “The Rebecca that I know, she isn’t capable of something this cruel.”
It’s the kind of anger we’ve never really seen Jack direct at his wife. This monumental secret is one that changes their bond and their marriage forever. And Jack begins drinking again, too.
What’s more, Randall carries the damage of this secret well into adulthood. It begins with William turning a young Randall away, who then ends up going to Howard University to be far from his family. He never meets Beth, turns into a womanizer, stays away from his family and never mends his relationship with Rebecca until decades later when she’s sick and losing her memory.
Oof. Heavy stuff, and at a time like this!
Maybe worry-addled viewers would have preferred something rosier. But perhaps getting anxious about something made-up gives real-life anxieties a release valve. Spending an hour confronting the idea that an idyllic fictional marriage is fragile and could be broken gives us all something other than a pandemic to worry about.
Correction: This story has been updated to correct the episode number for Tuesday’s episode of “This is Us”.