[Warning: The following contains spoilers from Tuesday's This Is Us. Read at your own risk]
How does the most perfect family Thanksgiving episode coexist with the worst one in one episode? It turns out, it's the natural way for a show like This Is Us, which lives to make your heart swell before breaking into pieces.
The big secret is out — Randall (Sterling K. Brown) officially knows that Rebecca (Mandy Moore) has known William (Ron Cephas Jones) for Randall's entire life. That means she lied to Randall every time he asked about his biological family and purposefully kept him from the last person he has of a blood relation.
It was a bomb that fans have been waiting to go off since they found out about Rebecca and William's connection in episode 3, but how Randall found out may be the surprising thing. It wasn't William or Rebecca who came clean, or even Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) who found out about it during a weed brownie heart to heart with William last week. Randall discovered the betrayal for himself when he journeyed back to William's Philadelphia apartment to get some old tapes and discovered an envelope with Rebecca's handwriting. Inside was a picture of Randall at age 8, with a letter from Rebecca saying it was nice to see William doing so well "after all these years."
Randall waited until the family was sitting around the dinner table before confronting his mother about what the letter meant. The explosive moment may be Brown's official Emmy submission tape, because there's not a dry eye in the house when he finally calls Rebecca out for attempting to deprive him of his biological family almost entirely. If he hadn't set out on the search himself, William very well could have died before Randall ever got a chance to get to know him.
We knew that Randall discovering the secret would be devastating, but it happening over Thanksgiving had an even deeper gut-wrenching effect. Juxtaposed with the perfect fancy feast being prepared at Randall's house was the origin story of the Pearson family Thanksgiving traditions in the past timeline. Once again, Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) was a total 12, as he rescued his family from a car disaster and a miserable dinner at Rebecca's parents house. The Pearson family instead ended up at a run-down lodge operated by the eccentric "Pilgrim Rick," with nothing to eat but hot dogs, cheese slices and saltine crackers. Yet, Jack was able to turn it into a fun feast while they all cuddled together watching an old VHS of Police Academy 2.
The seemingly disastrous Thanksgiving in the past turned into the holiday that brought the Pearsons closer together than ever. Thanksgiving is this family's holiday, which is what makes it so heartbreaking that the secret that is tearing them apart in the present came out on this day. As a child, Randall used to hate Thanksgiving because his grandparents never made him feel belonged — but Jack turned it into his favorite holiday. What became painfully evident in this episode is how much family means to Randall and this particular holiday represents that in spades.
It's hard to say where the Pearsons will go from here. Randall is at a point where he can't even look at Rebecca, and we still haven't seen how he'll react to William not trying harder to have something to do with his biological son. Kate (Chrissy Metz) and Kevin (Justin Hartley) will also have to decide which side of the issue they want to be on, which could potentially drive a deeper wedge into the family just as the siblings were growing closer.
The present isn't the only place where the Pearson family fate is in question. As scenes of the family in the kids' early ages continue to show Jack as the best father possible, the audience must continue to wonder what drove him and Rebecca apart. The frays of their marriage are more visible when the kids are teenagers, but would Rebecca really leave the man her kids idolize so much? Was it only death that could tear them apart? If the Pearsons are on the verge of another fracture, understanding what went wrong in the past may be the key to saving them now.
For the time being, there's a very large schism between Rebecca and her children, and the next few episodes may be very painful until she can learn to rebuild the bridge back to them.
What did you think of the This Is Us Thanksgiving episode?
This Is Us airs Thursdays at 9/8c on NBC.