After the recent confirmation that she not only had contact with her adopted son's birth father, but she also went to visit him and got his hopes up about reuniting with his kid, vanished on him and then kept all that from her son and husband, she's looking very unsavory at the moment. Her son Randall (Sterling K. Brown) has done an impressive job at suppressing his justified rage — even showing a bit of compassion after the bombshell came out. Make no mistake, Rebecca has done a really bad thing. But we should be like Randall. Randall is right.
This isn't a popular opinion, I know, but hear me out.
Starting at the beginning: William's (Ron Cephas Jones) decision to leave his child on the steps of a fire station implicitly surrendered all rights to see his kid ever again. There's no doubt it was a painful, grueling and desperate choice that he knew, even in the moment, he'd regret or at least mull over for the rest of his life. Yet it was his choice. Under the circumstances, it was a reasonable one because he spared his son the destruction sure to follow as William struggled to get sober. He did what he thought was best for the child.
Rebecca's decision to adopt the child — mostly altruistic but, let's face it, partially self-involved since she was grieving the loss of one of her triplets at the time, too — meant giving the kid what his parents could not: shelter, safety, stability. As Mama Bears do, she reared up and roared anytime his well-being came into jeopardy. She sometimes even allowed the instinct to take over reason, like in the tear-jerking episode (aren't they all?) "The Pool" in which she's initially snippy and defensive with a black woman who's trying to give her helpful information about her son's hair. Rebecca made Randall one of her own so unflinchingly that she sometimes put her biological children's emotional needs second as she overcompensated for Randall's natural feelings of abandonment and alienation. Though she's displayed continued cluelessness about Randall's unique needs as an African-American boy (more on that later), adopting him was a big, noble, selfless act. That vow meant protecting him from all harm — which would naturally include unstable addicts.
Things got tricky, of course. Rebecca made some questionable, and then just bad choices. While her decision to communicate with and then visit William was rooted in good intentions — the boy was seriously struggling to latch on to his cultural identity, amplifying his sense of "otherness" in the family and the world — going to see him was a huge lapse in appropriate boundary-setting. But Rebecca deserves the benefit of the doubt. She was in over her head, flailing for some guidance and made hasty, insensitive choices. Still, her core decision to keep William out of Randall's life, at least in the boy's formative years, was the right one. Could he have demanded his son back, ripping the kid away from stability and pushing him into the uncertainty of life with his Dad? Situations like this have been debated in courts and the media for decades, but the benefits of giving the child guaranteed food, clothing, shelter and an opportunity to thrive outweighed a cultural connection and the hope of those things. Rebecca was doing what she thought was right and she stumbled.
But keeping all this from her husband was bad. Bad Rebecca! It's indefensible and — this is theorizing — if Jack finds out she did this, it's grounds for a major rift, perhaps the one we're waiting to see happen. Likewise, she should have informed Randall about his parentage when he was old enough to process it himself. All of it was motivated by fear, of course: that Randall would want his black family more than them, that she failed as a mom, that she'd have to lose another child. But we've all kept secrets out of fear. Some more weighty than others, sure, but our poor choices in moments of fear deserve compassion and forgiveness — especially if they're fundamentally about doing something good for someone else. Secrets have a way of snowballing, and become harder to address with every passing day. If there is a person alive who has not tucked a secret back into the dark drawers of the mind because revealing it would shatter peace, please, enlighten us all with TED talks about how to be perfect. Rebecca, as overwhelmed by the magnitude of what she did as she was dishonest, held the secret because it was the only way she knew. You saw how she broke when Randall confronted her; she was reduced to a foolish child, and relieved. She was sorry. She's human.
In the fall finale, we saw Rebecca try to comfort her panicked daughter Kate (Chrissy Metz) as she's having an emergency appendectomy; she grabs a twig off a wreath and tells her it's a magical Christmas branch that'll protect her from anything bad. It's complete rubbish — the ultimate bluff — but an instinctual, nonsensical decision to protect her kid without thinking through the consequences. What if something bad did happen to Kate and Kate's trust in her mom was irrevocably broken and she never believed anything else her mom had to say? What if she'd been forever traumatized by Christmas wreaths, or hospitals? None of that crossed Rebecca's mind in that moment, nor should it have — it was a gut-level choice to smother her kid in love in the moment.
I know, these aren't exactly equally proportionate judgment calls. But that well-meaning instinct to do what's best for the kid and family is what good moms do. Often, that works out. Sometimes it doesn't. A lot of times, it's a disaster. This one cost Randall time he can't get back. He has a right to be mad. Like he seems to be doing though, we can take a step back and look at the intent behind parents' colossal screw-ups, respect their decisions, forgive them and maybe in time marvel at how lucky we are to have parents who'll do anything for us — including carry a secret that eats them alive — just to make sure we're happy and safe. It sure looks like Randall will make peace with it all. We should too.
This Is Us returns to NBC in 2017.