by Kathryn Graham
This entire season of This is Us has had a theme running throughout – obligations to loved ones vs. personal desires. Last night the show faced the issue head on.
We all compromise with the people closest to us, but what happens when you sacrifice too much?
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Jack and Rebecca rip apart at the seams as they navigate the choices they’ve made together. Both characters feel trapped by the roles that society has prescribed for them, resulting in an explosive confrontation where they air their frustrations, bitterness, and regrets.
What would have been Rebecca’s stellar singing career (come on, it’s Mandy Moore) has been derailed by expectations that she should be focused on finding a husband. First, by her friends, whose ‘well-meaning’ advice casts doubt on her like a curse. Then, by Jack himself – a man whom she genuinely loves, but who wants a family (which requires so much labor she needs to put her dreams aside). Then finally, when she gets back to her dream later in life, her ex-boyfriend Ben and Jack quash it again with petty squabbling and romantic entanglements.
Meanwhile, Jack never wanted to be a ‘company man’. He does it because he’s expected to provide for his children. He’s done a job he’s hated for years. He’s been a ‘good man’ by allowing her to follow her dreams despite his desire to keep her home with him. He wants to be his wife’s everything. To give her everything she’s ever wanted, but he’s never really stopped to ask exactly what that was.
This is a beautiful look at what happens when compromises come at too high a price, when societal expectations place unnecessary burdens on people, and what happens when the underlying resentfulness at having sacrificed too much boils over. Yet, in the end, Jack and Rebecca sacrificed for each other. For their kids. Because of the love they share. Keeping those relationships in tact is just as important as fulfilling lifelong dreams. In real life, that’s incredibly tricky. Mandy Moore and Milo Ventimiglia knock it out of the park.
But imagine for a moment, what would have happened if Rebecca hadn’t given up on her career. What if Jack had stayed home with the kids? Would Rebecca have felt fulfilled? It surely seems more likely, given her deep yearning to sing. Would Jack have been happy? He was the one who wanted kids to begin with. It’s worth examining these characters’ motivations and the way that gendered expectations of labor (male – money-maker / female – caretaker) have shaped their lives.
Check out the finale. It’s told with the same finesse as the rest of the season with a powerful look inside a loving marriage constrained by broken dreams and familial obligations.
Kathryn Graham is a Contributing Writer to TVWriter™. Learn more about Kate HERE