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When the writers of This Is Us (Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET on CTV) revealed this season would spend a lot of time digging into the year following Jack’s death and how it affected the Big Three during one of the most integral parts of their lives, we didn’t expect the story to hit us so hard. After all, wasn’t watching Jack die kind of the breaking point, tear-wise?

Nope, because as it turns out, these guys still really know how to wrangle our emotions. (Like any of us should be surprised.)

In TV land we don’t usually get to dive deep into grief and how people deal with the loss of a loved one, mostly because higher-ups typically deem the subject too depressing for us viewers, but also because you can’t really get started on the next story until your characters move on.

But This Is Us has always been different, thanks to its unique flashback (and flash-forward) structure, which allows you to spend a little more time with any given storyline. And because we’re also living in a time where we have access to hundreds of shows at our fingertips, creators are able to explore different things.

Like how to make us cry over and over again while watching characters we know and love go through super hard things like the death of their father and husband.

“A Philadelphia Story” picked up in the past, only a few short weeks following Jack’s devastating widow-maker death at the hospital. Kate was eating everything in sight, Kevin was drunk all the time, and Randall was trying to hold it together for everyone else. Worst of all was Rebecca, who was a shell of her former self but trying as hard as she could to keep it together for the kids, with very little success. It was heartbreaking to watch, and as we learned a part of her grief was her own mind going through the “what ifs.” What if she had agreed to live in that house Jack took her to see a few months before the fire? Then the fire never would have happened and they might still be one happy family.

That’s why you could kind of forgive Rebecca for ignoring Kate’s weight gain and Kevin’s drinking, along with her too-honest reaction to Randall calling her out for not being there and stepping up like she promised. In fact it was that monologue about barely being able to get out of bed in the morning that spurred Randall to reject the offer from Howard University—the one place where he felt like he could finally learn to belong—and stay close to his family instead.

Naturally the past storyline also informed this week’s present-day storyline, in which the Pearson clan “rallied” around Kevin and the premiere of his Ron Howard flick. Kate and Rebecca had it out over Kate and Toby’s decision to forge ahead with the IVF despite the risks, with Rebecca finally talking to Kate openly about her weight. Meanwhile Kevin worried that no one would ever take him seriously, especially Zoe, who made it clear that she wanted to keep things nice and light.

And then there was Randall, who was desperately trying to find his place in the world yet again. In order to showcase that particular problem we had extra flashbacks to William as he explored what community meant to him on his journey to getting and staying sober, along with a present-day storyline in which Randall took Deja to the community centre so that she could make new friends whose interests were more aligned with hers. In the latter scenes, Randall couldn’t get past all of the things that needed fixing at the centre and took his fight to a local politician, missing an opportunity to actually get to know the very same people he was fighting for.

It all lead to yet another heartbreaking moment in the episode’s closing moments, when Kevin ignorantly told Randall that Kate said she was the only hope left in the family of passing along a piece of Jack. Cue the close-up of Sterling K. Brown’s face, reminding us all why he’s won an Emmy for this role. Because how else is he supposed to react to that kind of blow, knowing he has two biological daughters and an adoptive daughter in Deja that he can pass plenty of Jack-isms onto, regardless of bloodlines?

The entire situation was just another reminder that grief may dissipate, but it never fully disappears. These kids may be older and a little bit the wiser, but even in the present day their decisions are affected by Jack’s death from all those years ago.

It’s ongoing themes like those that are the real genius of this show, and of course why we freaking love it so much.

 

This Is Us airs Tuesdays at 9 pm. ET on CTV.