The third episode on this season’s This Is Us invites viewers to experience “Deja Vu” of their own past pain. Each one of the Big Three experiences a new layer of the loss of their dad as they embark on new parts of the personal journeys. Though the tragedy happened while they were teens, they still feel the pain. As Sylvester Stallone (playing himself) wisely points out, “There is no such thing as a long time ago. There’s only memories that mean something and those that don’t.” While Randall and Beth’s new foster child clearly shows signs of pain in her not so distant past, a lot of pain lurks below the surface where others can’t see easily. In all cases, we see a need to face the grief (or pain) and that it requires talking about it.
Jack continues to fight his alcohol related problems, which in the previous episode we see him literally fight at a boxing club, and he points out how going through AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) and talking about his issues prove difficult for him. He knows his wife Rebecca stands by him and wants to partake in his recovery, yet he finds it hard to share his pain with her. Grown Kate and Kevin have an argument over neither one having talked about their dad’s death since they were teenagers. Kate, Kevin and Jack all take the first step of facing their grief and reaching the relief on the other side by recognizing they need to discuss their pain. Kate tells Kevin that she saw a counselor at her weight camp, and there she learned that she couldn’t talk about her father’s death. She now sees that not doing so is “like taking in a breath and holding it for the rest of your life.” By the end of the episode, she and Kevin make up, knowing they need to talk through their grief. Jack shares a similar conversation with Rebecca. We see him struggle to tell her what he experiences going through the AA program, but he finds the words to say that he struggles with it and that he wants to keep telling her and will over time. All the Pearsons exemplify how the healing and recovery processes are a journey and take time.
Meanwhile, Randall’s household grows both in number of occupants as well as in experienced pain as his family welcomes a teen foster child. During her first night, she has an argument with Beth, and we witness her flinch when Randall appears in the doorway to check on them. We don’t know her past yet that might have caused such a reaction, but it becomes clear that her history involves pain (and highly likely abuse). In her case it seems obvious due to the severity of her reaction to Randall, but those roots of pain don’t show themselves so obviously in everyone. Again, we see issues taking root from childhood. Like the Pearsons, she took on some pain and coping mechanisms at a young age. She too will have to undergo a healing process, hopefully with the Pearson family by her side.
One key aspect all these characters have in common in their childhood homes with Pearson parents is their known safety. Also, despite the circumstances, they clearly know their parental figures love them. Even those enduring healing and recovery find love, security and hope through their connections to each other. Jack finds the courage to stand by Rebecca and finish their date night with added intimacy after he shares his struggle with her, Kevin calls Kate to make up (she easily agrees) after their “twin fight” and admits he needs to talk about their dad, and Deja illustrates her high need to recognize her pain and need to heal when she slams down Randall’s family photo as she storms out of the living room. The family members stand by each other.
As AA (or Celebrate Recovery) would point out, the first step to recovery is admission of the need for healing. These characters show how that helps them move forward. They also show that a long time ago does not guarantee healing. Not all may flinch like Deja does, but they show a need to face their grief and pain. Jack perfectly captures that struggle as he shares his difficulty in talking about his struggle. People commonly have a hard time confessing their pan to others. The Pearsons show the importance of holding onto their support system and persistently pursuing the next step on the healing and recovery journey.