What a difference a year makes.
This time last year, Rebecca Pearson (Mandy Moore) was the bad guy on This Is Us. When "The Best Washing Machine in the World" aired November 16, 2016, viewers learned through the truth-telling magic of pot brownies that Rebecca deliberately mislead her son Randall (Sterling K. Brown) to keep the details of his parentage secret. And that was just the climax of her many minor misdeeds. She was too critical of her daughter Kate (Chrissy Metz), already struggling with her weight, and sometimes venomous with her husband Jack (Milo Ventimiglia), who was clearly collapsing under the weight of addiction.
As Season 1 concluded, This Is Us set up Rebecca to look like the worst kind of monster: one that's well-intentioned. Up until the end, Rebecca existed more as a collection of overbearing Mom tropes than a fully realized person: a woman who who ruined her marriage through nitpicking and quite possibly committed adultery with her husband's best friend. After Season 2's midseason finale, things are much different. She's still flawed, but the Rebecca of Season 2 has turned the tide of sympathy in her direction — a much-needed course correction that gives This Is Us more complexity by delving into the impossible choices that every parent eventually fails at.
Going into Season 2, Jack remained the undisputed, if comically perfect hero of the series. Despite the fact that Jack was dealing with some dark s--t and he stuck Rebecca with all the hard parts of parenting, the gaze was on the many ways Rebecca failed her spouse and children. Fans saw her get combative with a black woman over Randall's hair; Jack, on the other hand, was seen giving the boy a ride on his back. The grief she certainly must've experienced after losing a baby was reduced to a few forlorn scenes while Jack got to be the benevolent savior who brought home a new one. Even her attempt to have something going for herself outside the house, some kind of passion and hobby, got painted as tone deaf and self-indulgent, although her kids and husband were fully capable of caring for themselves at that point. Jack was literally about to commit armed robbery at the end of the season, and he assaulted Rebecca's bandmate on top of that, yet fans couldn't stop talking about how Rebecca demanded Jack prove why he loved her and when he couldn't, she forced him to go sleep at Miguel's house.
For too long, This Is Us walked Rebecca steadfastly into the trap so many overburdened Moms march into: carrying everybody's load and then being demonized when she inevitably bursts at the seams while Dad gets rewarded for essentially just showing up. But in Season 2, This Is Us has been wise to show the flipside, and for the first time focus on Rebecca's emotional journey.
Now, Rebecca is vindicated — a twist writers clearly had planned all along as evidenced by the reveal she wasn't hooking up with her husband's BFF while married. (Whew!) So far, Rebecca's second season journey has included gamely stepping up to support Jack when his alcoholism became too big to ignore, and encouraging Kate's childhood dreams as well as soothing her adult traumas. Turns out that she fought harder to keep Randall than was initially depicted, and waged a small war within the courts to defend raising her black child. And, having atoned for the unthinkable sin she committed in order to keep the boy safe, senior citizen Rebecca respects boundaries with Randall and his family in a healthy way, capitalizing on the fact she got a second chance with the child she loved the hardest.
In finally giving us Rebecca's perspective, This Is Us not only course corrects, but also makes the audience face a harsh truth: though we might hate our parents for the choices they made for us, they made the best one available at the time. As adults, her children have a unique opportunity that only comes with time: to know someone thought of as infallible as the real, flawed person that they are. Watching these relationships develop, no matter how painful it is, finally gives Rebecca an agency that she doesn't have in flashback scenes. She can be who she is and do what she wants, safe in the knowledge that while her children will always need her, they don't need her protection anymore. This Is Us does a masterful job of playing with perspective to show the same events from varying points of view; with the focus away from an angelic Jack, fans can appreciate the shades of grey in the Pearson household and do what everyone should be able to do one day: see "Mom" as a woman who tried her best and stumbled, instead of an ideal.
This Is Us continues Tuesdays at 9/8c on NBC.