Not since it was revealed that Randall was adopted and the Big Three were related to Jack and Rebecca have we felt this spine-tingling good about an episode of This Is Us (Tuesdays, 9 p.m. ET, CTV). In fact, we dare say that the fourth season premiere, “Strangers,” was our favourite episode of all time.
That’s not because it had a game-changing twist (it did). And it’s not because we got to see more of Rebecca and Jack’s highly anticipated courtship (ohhh boy there’s trouble ahead). And it’s not even because the Big Three went through an epic birthday (they were barely in the episode). Nope, as far as we’re concerned, “Strangers” was so touching because it went back to what made us fall in love with the show in the first place: relatable human stories and characters that touch our hearts.
In order to do that we needed some fresh blood and a reset. And so some we got a bit of a time out from Randall, Kevin and Kate in order to focus on the new faces we’ve been hearing so much about ahead of the show’s return; characters with their own stories, problems and personalities, but people who tied into the Pearson world in a big way by the end.
First up is Cassie (Jennifer Morrison), a character living in the present-day timeline alongside the Big Three. As a war vet who’s suffering from PTSD she’s also taken to heavy drinking and anger over being unable to find a job, being separated from her husband and her severed relationship to her young son. Her storyline is one we would have wanted to dig into with Jack or even Nicky, but it gives us a different perspective because she’s been a part of a whole new war. It’s also interesting to tackle those feelings of isolation and pain from a female perspective.
Not that we’re forgetting the male vet perspective here, which came in the form of Nicky. He showed up at the end of the episode when he threw a chair through the window of the building where Cass was pouring her heart out to a support group, causing her to clam up and Nicky to be arrested.
Enter Kevin, who connected with Nicky last season and is now responsible for bailing him out. Could Cassie be the woman he falls in love with and has a kid with? Now that’s a match we’d love to see happen, and creator Dan Fogelman has indeed confirmed these two are on a collision course. Imagine Kevin as not only a father, but a stepfather? Step-parenting kids when they’re younger isn’t something This Is Us has had an opportunity to explore just yet, but we’d sure as heck love to see them tackle it.
Know what else This Is Us hasn’t really tackled? The idea of becoming a parent when you’re still a kid yourself. Enter Malik (Asante Blackk), the teen father of an adorable baby girl whose parents happen to be played by Marsha Stephanie Blake and Omar Epps.
We also met Malik in the present-day storyline as he grappled with balancing fatherhood and being a kid, learning responsibility and feeling like he had to do more in order to support his daughter. Film and television rarely depicting black fathers with nuance so the idea that Malik himself has supporting and loving parents is a welcome change to the lazy narrative.
Malik is also interesting in terms of his coming-of-age story because he’s facing a fork in the road. He can either be a stand-up and clean guy with a sore back and no paycheck like his hard-working father, or he can take the fast-and-dangerous route with gangs and worse. Whether he does turn to the dark side remains to be seen, but we have hope for him after seeing his father give him a Jack Pearson-level pep talk and then offering to babysit so that he could go to his friend’s back-to-school barbecue.
In fact we’re doubly thankful for that storyline because it also allowed Malik to meet Deja. Clearly this is the start of a complicated and beautiful story, and considering all that we’ve been through with the Deja character we can’t wait to see what happens next. Also, Epps and Blake sharing the screen with Sterling K. Brown and Susan Kelechi Watson in a parental meet-and-greet? Yes, please.
When we met the aspiring singer we couldn’t help but fall in love with his spark, charisma, and overall love for dogs. As it turns out, we now know why: not only is he an interesting character at the height of his life story (meeting the girl, falling in love and pursuing a major career), but he’s also Kate and Toby’s grown son Jack (Blake Stadnik).
Yup, we’ve come to that aforementioned game-changing twist. In an homage to the pilot, the show took another surprise time jump and made that tricky reveal at the end as Jack learned he was about to be a father.
We should have known. If you re-watch, Jack has all of the Pearsons very best characteristics. He’s achieved the singing career that was so elusive to Kate and Rebecca. He has Jack Pearson’s romantic streak and Toby’s sense of humour. He has Kate’s sentimentality (that framed plate on the wall!) and his parents love of dogs. And most importantly, he seems to know the exact right thing to say at the right time, as witnessed when his partner (Auden Thornton) revealed the pregnancy.
THIS is why we love This Is Us. We got all of that within an hour episode while still witnessing how Rebecca’s parents—including her father, played by Tim Matheson—reacted to meeting Jack for the first time (it wasn’t great, Bob), and we also saw how Jack and Miguel became friends.
It was the perfect mix of revelations, heartfelt moments and yes, even tears. If “Strangers” is any indication, we’re in for one heck of a season.
This Is Us airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET on CTV.