Fight Your Mom: A "This Is Us" Thanksgiving

The only tradition more American than Thanksgiving is treating TV as group therapy.

Family members don't like each other, Thanksgiving is a nightmare, and life is a fleeting state of being that we inevitably forget–even for America's favorite adoptive family, the Pearsons, on NBC's This Is Us.

Season 4's midseason finale, "So Long, Marianne," saw Randall Pearson (Sterling K. Brown) struggling to enjoy his favorite holiday, Thanksgiving, while the Big Three's estranged Uncle Nicky felt uncomfortable sharing a family holiday with the Pearsons, and Kate finds a message from another woman on her husband, Toby's, phone. In other words, they had a typical American Thanksgiving.

So far, season 4 has masterfully tackled the nuances and discomforts of interracial adoption (thanks to a diverse writing team with people of color taking the lead on racial issues), and the show defers to the real experiences of servicemembers and veterans who've suffered PTSD to depict Uncle Nicky (Griffin Dunne) and Cassidy Sharp's (Jennifer Morrision) respective traumas. Now This Is Us is producing one of TV's most humane and empathetic depictions of dementia–or so we hope.

At the center of the season's trifold dramas, Rebecca Pearson (Mandy Moore) is clearly experiencing symptoms of dementia. Thanksgiving Day finds Randall and Rebecca already in the midst of a disagreement over the seriousness of her forgetful "senior moments." Tension piques as Rebecca leaves the house, loses her phone, and becomes lost in Philadelphia while suffering memory lapses that necessitate the police escorting her home. Later, she shamefully confesses to Randall, "I was halfway through the trailer of Cats when I couldn't remember what movie I was going to see. I think I need to see a doctor."'

Shortly after the episode aired, Moore took to Instagram to post a screenshot of the poignant moment between mother and son: "Though he's been aching for her to admit it, hearing her say the words was absolutely devastating. And while the road ahead is unknown, she has the very best family by her side. #ThisIsUs"

But the exact cause of Rebecca's cognitive deterioration isn't clear. The show's executive producer, Isaac Aptaker, confirmed to Entertainment that they wanted to tell a "story about Alzheimer's or dementia." But, mirroring the drawn-out frustrations and uncertainty that accompany medical treatment in reality, they're not giving away answers on the show. "We're not giving an exact medical diagnosis just yet," Aptaker said, adding that "so many people in the writers' room have dealt with parents with various forms of, call it dementia, Alzheimer's, what you will, and we felt like it's a story that we haven't seen a ton on network television."

Moore, aside from continuously impressing viewers with her ability to age-slide her character from her 20s all the way up her 80s, has been more forthcoming. While fan theories insist that Rebecca is experiencing the onset of Alzheimer's disease, Moore has outright denied the claim. "I love how people are sleuths," she told Glamour earlier this year. "I love that! That's a good theory. Not true, but I like it."

Even if the Pearson matriarch isn't suffering from Alzheimer's, many fans identified with the sympathetic and all-too-real confusion, frustration, and mood swings of the beloved mother figure. Many praised Moore's portrayal of Rebecca's memory lapses, with many citing their own loved ones' struggles: "This episode hit me hard," one comment reads."...dealing with my father having Alzheimer's. Still bawling my eyes out." Another commenter replies, "same! My dad has vascular dementia! This disease is so horrible. I haven't watched the episode yet but just from the preview where rebecca is just standing there confused and not knowing where she was just broke my heart. I've see[n] my dad do this so many times. Now he can barely walk and is losing weight. He doesn't know any of us kids."

The Future Is Changing for the Pearsons - This Is Us

Above all, Rebecca's fate cements the show's ability to depict the heartbreak and decline of loved ones and even family bonds, as the midseason finale ended with a signature twist: Rebecca's struggles were actually taking place nine months into the future, on the Pearson triplet's 40th birthday. The writers filled the last few minutes of the episode with scintillating teasers, from foreboding to joyful: Kevin seems to have fulfilled his goal of settling down, alluding to his "pregnant fiance's" morning sickness; but he reminds Rebecca that he and Randall are no longer speaking; and Toby is suspiciously absent from his wife's birthday party, suggesting that he and Kate have parted ways.

According to the show's producers, we won't have to wait too long to find out what's happening to Rebecca. "So much of this show is about memory and about looking back," Aptaker said. "So the idea that one of our characters would be faced with this incredibly scary illness where you begin to lose that and that begins to fade away felt very in keeping with the themes of the show." Another one of the show's themes is its ability to make 12 million viewers cry, in sync, every Tuesday at 9 p.m EST. The only tradition more American than Thanksgiving is treating TV as group therapy, and This Is Us will resume sessions with us on January 14, 2020.

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Detroit-based emcee Tee Grizzley collaborated with Queen Naija and the Detroit Youth Choir to craft a melodic ballad that attempts to open up a dialogue with police. Meanwhile, alt-Jazz pioneer Terrace Martin took a different approach in his collaboration with Denzel Curry, Daylyt, G Perico, and Kamasi Washington, with "Pigs Feet" being more of an angry f*ck you than an attempt at communication.

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"I Can't Teach My Son ​How to Be Black": Jack Learns a Lesson on "This Is Us"

Jack Pearson, America's Favorite Dad, shows how a good man and a good father can be totally ignorant, and sort of a d*ck.

This Is Us isn't sugarcoating the tough questions in Season 4, whether that's regarding Cassidy Sharp's (Jennifer Morrison) PTSD, the reality of teenage parenthood, or Randall Pearson's (Sterling K. Brown) adolescent struggles as a black adoptee in a white family.

In the last episode, "The Dinner and the Date," two difficult dinner conversations about race and class, taking place in two different decades, overlap. The episode teased out this season's surprisingly complex themes about interracial families and socioeconomic clashes. Helming the show's unique turn is writer Kay Oyegun, who continues to elevate its creative and thematic sophistication by bringing fraught conversations to the attention of the show's 12 million viewers. Namely, how can a white family help their adopted child of color figure out his identity?

In a series of flashbacks, we witness the night Jack (Milo Ventimilgia) and Rebecca (Mandy Moore) Pearson invite young Randall's favorite teacher—and the only black instructor at his elite private school—Mr. Lawrence (Brandon Scott) and his wife, Trish (Skye P. Marshall), over to dinner. Simultaneously, in the present, we see Randall (Sterling K. Brown) inviting the parents of his adopted daughter's would-be boyfriend over for dinner to plan their children's breakup. Deja (Lyric Ross), the daughter of a drug addict who's experienced homelessness and abusive foster care, has served as a stark contrast to the privileged upbringing Randall had and the one he's giving his children with his wife, Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson). Now her first love interest, Malik (Asante Blackk) is an earnest, kind, confident 14-year-old who understands Deja in a way no one in her upper middle class family has been able to—and he happens to have an infant daughter.

This Is Us 4x07 Promo "The Dinner And The Date" (HD)

So the two conflicted dinners mix the cringe comedy of socially awkward conversations with the serious gravity—and deep, deep flaws—of Jack's comment to Mr. Lawrence: "I can't teach my son how to be black."

Mr. Lawrence's response is perfect and well-acted: a mortified snort. "Oh don't...don't do that," he chuffs, before going to his car to retrieve a book of black conscious poetry that he intended to give to Randall. Instead he gives it to Jack, who takes the collection of Langston Hughes poetry to young Randall's room, and the two bond over Randall's favorite poem, which he's already memorized.

Whether or not you're like me and hate to admit you've ever shed a tear over anything short of battery acid straight to the eye, young Randall's recitation of "I, Too" is the kind of formulaic pathos and prime time pageantry that great tear-jerkers are made of. That is to say: Yes, I f*cking wept, you cretins, and if you didn't, then you are a Black Mirror robot dog.

In its totality, this is Hughe's "I, Too" poem, and what follows is why I, Jack, and most of America caught a bug in the eye or something when young Randall recited it.

I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.

I'll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody'll dare
Say to me,
"Eat in the kitchen,"

They'll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed—

I, too, am America.

The driving force of tension at Mr. Lawrence's dinner at the Pearson's is Jack's palpable feeling of being threatened by him. During last week's episode, "The Club," Jack struggled to articulate why he was intimidated by Randall's affinity for Mr. Lawrence. Driven partly by over-protection and probably part shame, he said that Randall is getting older and asking more complex questions "about his place in this world" and that there are things he "can't show [his] son." He even made the faux pas of telling Randall, "I don't see color, I see my son," which he quickly realized was, however well-intentioned, very off the mark, as Randall replied, "Then you don't see me, dad."

So with Mr. Lawrence and his wife sitting at his table with his children, Jack continuously makes passive aggressive remarks challenging Mr. Lawrence's right to introduce Randall to new parts of culture, like the local black arts festival that Randall asks to attend with his teacher. Jack interrupts to say that the Pearsons can all go "as a family" and leave Mr. Lawrence to go "with his friends." The tension builds until Rebecca meets Jack in the kitchen to inform him of the absolute obvious: Randall is his son; Randall will always prefer him to any other male role model in his life; but if Jack makes Randall choose him and sacrifice having other important figures who could help him learn who he is, then Randall will suffer for it.

This is Us 4x07 Sneak Peek Clip 2 "The Dinner And The Date"

It's a clear cut, direct, and honest depiction of a good man and a good father (Jack is inarguably America's Favorite Dad)—being completely ignorant, and sort of a d*ck. Jack is threatened and worried that he is fundamentally lacking as a white father to a black son—not from any racial prejudice, but from insecurity in himself as a parent. He recognizes that race does matter to the world that will receive his children as adults—grievously so, in fact. He has a very human, self-protective instinct to deny and resist that reality, but he senses that doing so would be harmful to Randall in some vital way.

So really, his stumbled comment, "I can't teach Randall how to be black," is his best articulation of that anxiety and his acknowledgement of that terrible, sad fact. And he senses, in some itchy, nebulous way, that if Randall doesn't learn how to respond to the way the world will treat him, and if he doesn't learn the history of how people who looked liked him were treated, then Randall will be ill-equipped to face the world. Or, more accurately, Jack would be keeping him away from something that he needs in order to live a fully conscious life.

That's how we get to the scene in young Randall's bedroom, after he's just declared his favorite poem to be Langston Hughe's "I, Too" and recited it from memory in front of Jack, who promises that they're going to read the entire collection of poetry together.