Holy Smokes! Did the This Is Us Cliffhanger Reveal a Major Clue About Jack's Death?
This Is Us airs Tuesdays (9 p.m. ET) on NBC
This week’s episode brings into focus a pair of characters who haven’t gotten much screentime all season — Miguel and William.
Let’s start with William, who has appeared intermittently in flashbacks and sometimes as a ghost in the episodes since his death last season. The episode opens on a montage of Clooney, the stray cat he took in and cared for in his later years, prowling the city streets after having once again been left without a guardian, racing on dirty sidewalks to the tune of Billie Holiday singing “God Bless the Child.”
Clooney threads the episode, as we periodically check in on him roaming and, at one point, witness the moment when he met William. Randall spends the day gearing up to return to William’s old apartment building and pick up a box of his late father’s belongings. It’s a busy day for Randall: He needs to take the girls to school, pick up William’s things, and then head in for a job interview. That last detail is the one Beth is most invested in. She’s disillusioned with her own work, “sucking up to public officials” only for projects she’s excited about to slip away, but is nonetheless concerned with Randall not taking the job market seriously. He says he’s just not particularly “juiced” about this potential job. “I’ll go,” he tells Beth. “But I’m telling you now, it ain’t doing nothing for my juices.” He later stops by her office, and she’s firm. “I need you to go back to work,” she explains, adding that it feels like he’s in “outer space” lately. “It’s not about money. I think it will be good for you — for us.”
Yet by the time Randall arrives at William’s building, he’s immersed in memories of his late father, as well as an enticing mystery. The box given to him by Lloyd, William’s old neighbor who took care of Clooney — that is, until he ran away two weeks ago — includes a romantic-sounding poem William wrote about a “Lady” in his life, as well as sketches of a woman. Randall’s convinced that William had an affair with a woman in the building, and is overwhelmingly excited by the prospect of it. He knocks on the doors of women who share wonderful memories of William but laugh off the idea of having a romantic relationship with him. Randall’s so distracted by this discovery that he even leaves his job interview to take a call from Lloyd, who gives him a lead: William used to frequently knock on the door of the building’s female super.
Alas, the super also offers many lovely memories of William, but he didn’t have a relationship with her, either. What he did have was a love for his neighbors: He’d knock on the super’s door on behalf of anyone who was having maintenance problems. “When he moved, man, the building felt it,” the super says. “It was like we lost a heart and there was no place for the blood to go.” She then takes Randall to William’s old apartment and encourages him to take a look around; Randall is initially reluctant but then agrees to it. The flashback to William meeting Clooney is intercut with Randall finally cracking the code: He sees a Billie Holiday mural through the window and remembers how much his father loved that “Lady.” In the past, we see William singing “God Bless the Child” and writing the poem as he feeds Clooney for the first time.
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Randall realizes he’s been searching for something much bigger than the perfect job, or his father’s secret lover, or whatever else — William’s been in the back of his mind, and he’s changed him. Suddenly, meeting the people in the building, remembering William’s presence, and solving this sort of innocuous mystery brings it all together for him. Randall brings Beth to the complex and reveals his plan: He wants to buy the building and change people’s lives. It’s partly a way of carrying on William’s legacy, but it’s also an answer to the relationship struggles Beth had been alluding to. It gives them a chance to put their hearts and souls into something, together.
The revelations about William in this episode — his good-heartedness, his ability to write and draw so beautifully — aren’t exactly surprising. More unexpected is the way Miguel moves toward the show’s center this week. It’s well timed: In last week’s agonizing “Fifth Wheel,” he got a bit of a spotlight as he confessed his conflicted feelings about being Jack’s replacement. This week, we get to see Miguel in both the past and the present — the latter because Kevin has decided, as part of his healing, that he’s going to stay with his mother to combine his post-rehab recovery with repairing that relationship. And Miguel’s presence causes complications.
Things are pretty chummy between Rebecca and Kevin after their harrowing blow-up last week. Rebecca enthusiastically welcomes her son, gushing about all of the raw cashews and kale she bought from the supermarket, and Kevin proves flexible. They make a date to go grocery shopping every Monday, since Kevin is now permitting himself to eat sugary foods and not just cashews and kale, and they both reminisce and confide in each other. (Kevin admits he lost his dad’s necklace, which Rebecca says Jack would understand.) Miguel’s decision to go shopping with them, however, creates some tension. In the market, when they get a moment alone, Kevin asks Miguel why he decided to go with them. “She’s been a wreck ever since you got arrested, and then you tore into her at that session,” Miguel scolds. “So yeah, I’m here right now to protect her.”
In the evening, however, Kevin — and by extension the viewer — sees Miguel in a new light for the first time: cuddled with Rebecca on the couch romantically, watching and laughing about Tiny House Hunters. Rebecca sits up abruptly when Kevin approaches them, telling her he feels restless. She goes to make him tea, leaving Miguel alone with Kevin again. This time, they apologize to each other for being a little harsh in the grocery store. Kevin asks Miguel the question we’ve all been thinking: Was he in love with Rebecca when Jack was still alive? “There was no Jack, no Rebecca — it was just Jack and Rebecca,” Miguel responds. “The notion that I would have been in love with your mother back then would never even occur to me, ever.” But, he adds, he loves her now, and he isn’t going anywhere.
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Kevin poses an even bigger question to his mother the next morning: Is she happy with Miguel? She takes her time with it, as it’s a tricky one to answer, before affirming that after years of profound unhappiness, she found joy with Miguel — and that now, he even makes her laugh. It’s our first real indication of how Miguel and Rebecca work as a couple, and what it took to get them to where they are now.
In the past, meanwhile, Miguel is bitterly divorced, and as he runs into Jack and teen Kevin at the mall, he’s just learned that his ex-wife Shelly is engaged. Jack and Kevin have separated from the rest of the bunch, but all of the Pearsons are at the mall for this particular episode: Kate is going dress shopping with Rebecca for the winter formal, a fact that absolutely delights her mother, while Jack needs to go suit shopping to up his professional game at the request of his boss, Walter. He brings Kevin along, who’s still injured from his football accident, to get him out of his mopey patterns. Randall tags along, too, crushing on a girl who works there.
Jack’s upbeat attitude doesn’t mesh well with either Kevin or Miguel, who are dealing with losses in their own way and want to wallow. Kevin explains he can’t watch football, which he used to watch for comfort, because it only reminds him of what he can no longer play. Jack tries to keep things positive; Kevin, irritated, tells his dad he can’t understand because he never lost something that he loved to do. Miguel disagrees — he says that there is in fact something Jack lost: “Big Three,” his proposed construction company, which he’d hoped to build from the ground up. Jack let the dream go when he had to raise three kids and couldn’t take the risk.
He and Kevin then go on to try suits while Rebecca and Kate go dress shopping. Kate takes three different sizes of the same dress, nervous about it fitting, and later sneaks out of the store, totally unbeknownst to Rebecca. This is contrasted with where we find Kate as an adult, trying to get back on track after her post-miscarriage binge. She says the traditional wedding dress doesn’t exist for her, but Madison, her group’s resident thin member, offers to take her out for a consultation — with no pressure to try anything on. Madison goes all out: She gets Kate a private appointment at a nice boutique and patiently looks through dresses with her. But when we see Madison totally zone out and then head to the bathroom, Kate realizes that there’s more to be concerned about than just wedding dresses.
She confronts Madison over her bulimia, and while she initially denies it, Madison later calls Kate over to her house for help after fainting. Madison tells Kate that she struggled with her eating disorder in middle school and relapsed a few weeks ago. She’s embarrassed; Kate says she understands. “Right before my dad died, I got really skinny,” she reveals. We see teen Kate back in that dressing room, fitting into the same dresses she told her mom didn’t fit. “But then I felt empty,” Kate admits in the present. “I was more comfortable being fat because I liked being mad at myself all the time.” Teen Kate peels off a dress that fits in favor of one too tight to zip.
Kate’s revelation fits into a scattered episode that’s a little all over the place, with some inelegant cutting between past and present and a lack of a cohesive feel. Fittingly, then, all of this character work is put on the brakes in the climax of “Clooney” for a gasp-inducing last shot that renders everything else suddenly unimportant. Jack and Rebecca return home from the mall in the episode’s final minutes. He tells her that he’d like to give the business another go, after talking through it with Kevin — giving himself a second chance, something to look forward to.
But at the beginning of the episode, Rebecca had asked Jack to remind her to get batteries. And at the end of the episode, she asks if they forgot something. They did. The camera then ominously pans to the smoke alarm — a foreboding image if This Is Us has ever provided one. Because, of course, we know the house eventually burns down, going back to the second season premiere. And in the context of Jack enthusiastically moving into the next phase of his life — moving forward in recovery, trying to start his own business — that he could die from such a small mistake makes the futility of his plans feel all the more tragic.
This Is Us airs Tuesdays (9 p.m. ET) on NBC.
This article originally appeared on Ew.com