Wednesday, February 22, 2017

This Is Us 1.16: “Memphis”

“I haven’t had a happy life. Bad breaks, bad choices. A life of almosts and could haves. Some would call it sad but I don’t, because the two best things in my life were the person at the very beginning and the person at the very end and that’s a pretty good thing to be able to say, I think.”
- William

Okay, I knew in a way that this episode’s conclusion as coming but I’ll be honest, I didn’t think we’d lose William before we officially lost Jack. I’m not sure why I felt that way but I did. I guess given where we left Randall at the end of episode 15, I didn’t want him to have to go through that again. But, Randall (and we) have to come to terms with the loss of another father figure.

Randall was hospitalized for a week and Beth is not happy that he wants to go off on a road trip with William to Memphis. But the doctor greenlights it and Randall and William are excited. Knowing Randall, he’s got things planned (sure he won’t use modern navigation but he’s bought a bunch of maps). William promptly tosses the maps out the window and instructs his son to just drive. They’ll get there. After Randall puts off seeing some ducks that William wanted to see (they apparently hung out at a hotel where his uncle used to be a bell hop), they do take a detour to see where some of Jack’s ashes are buried. I found it so touching that William was able to in a way bond with Jack. He pays his respects, especially after Randall reveals that Jack was always the one who could calm him down (cue a quick flash of Jack putting his hands on little Randall’s face and reminding him to breathe) and he has a laugh that always surprised him.

Once the guys finally make it to Memphis, we see where William came from and what led him to be where he was when Randall was born. We see his father going off to war and then his mother getting the news that he’d died. We see a young William seeing his mother off to Pittsburgh to take care of his grandma. And we also see that William is not only a poet but a song-writer. He’s playing with his cousin’s band (they’ve been doing covers for years) when William finally writes a song worth playing. And I have to tell you, it’s a great blues number about his mom and man their band is good. But then William gets a call that his mother is sick and he goes up north to be with her.

As William takes Randall to his childhood home to retrieve his treasure (some quarters and a few toys), we also see them taking in the sights and sounds and food of the city. They eat some barbeque and get trimmed at the barbershop. And then we see them head to his cousin’s club. Things are not as they were left forty years ago. His cousin, Ricky, is bitter that William never came back like he promised. Through flashbacks we see why William didn’t’ return. At first, it was to care for his terminally ill mother (it seems cancer may run in the family). And then as he was doing so, William met Laurel, Randall’s mother. And as William tried to cope with the loss of his mother, he spiraled down into drugs and alcohol. It was not pretty. But in the present, he’s trying to make amends with his family. And it leads to a great night. Randall gets to meet a bunch of cousins (and get drunk) and William plays the keys with Ricky for old time’s sake. It was a beautiful scene and I’m sure it was a lot of fun to shoot, too.

But, as we should have expected, this wasn’t just a trip to show Randall his roots. This was William coming home to die. The next morning, Randall wakes up to find William in dire straits. He rushes him to the hospital and at first he doesn’t want to hear the doctor’s prognosis. But it isn’t good. William’s organs are rapidly shutting down and he has hours at best. Randall wants to get Beth and the girls down to say goodbye but William says no. He said his goodbyes to the girls before they left and he doesn’t want their last memories of him to be looking down at him like he had to do with his mother. And then we get the scene I was waiting for since we learned Jack’s calming trick with Randall. William is a little scared to let go and so Randall places his hands on either side of his father’s face and tells him to just breathe. And then, just like that, William is gone. Randall is on his way back to his family to deal with the grief of losing another father (but hey, he’s got the book of poems William wrote for him). I hope that Randall is actually able to properly grieve for William. I’m still not convinced any of the Pearson kids actually went through the stages of grief over Jack.

As I said at the start, I knew this episode had to be coming but still I wasn’t’ ready for it. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to officially lose Jack either! I thought it was a very well-done episode and I didn’t even miss the rest of the Pearson clan this episode. This was really about Randall and his father and it was a beautiful goodbye to a man who had a hard life but was trying to make amends for it. I just hope that Randall allows himself to be vulnerable and lean on all of his family in his time of need. Yes, I’m looking at you Kevin and Kate. I know they have their own stuff going on, but Randall really needs them now.

No comments:

Post a Comment