This is Us 1×16 “Memphis”

Big Three Moments of the Week

Spoilers Ahead

Death is singlehandedly the most tragic part of life that leaves us with a pain we can never truly heal from. And no matter how expected the death is, it doesn’t make it any easier. It’s the one hardship that has the effortless power to affect everyone. It’s a time in life where we forget about all the heartache in our hearts, the anger towards people, and look at life for all that it really is — short. We knew William’s death was coming, and we knew it’d leave a mark in our hearts, but This is Us delivered one of the most poignantly potent TV episodes of the year. It has delivered raw, heartrending emotions so evocatively; critics everywhere are calling it the saddest episode to date. And while death leaves a heartache nothing can cure, the memories we make leave us with a sense of gratification nothing else can induce.

We took a different turn with flashbacks in “Memphis”, and it allowed the audience to understand just how and why William turned to drugs for comfort. And the contrast between who he was before his mother died side by side with who he was as he died looking up at his son was breathtaking.

Scene I: William thanks Jack

As a perfect example of the fact that those who pass always remain in our painting, William’s choice to thank the man who raised his son was immaculate. As much as William is Randall’s birth father, Jack is the man who has shaped him. Jack is the man who has been there through his darkest hours. And William’s choice to acknowledge all that Jack has done was lovely. He gives him the credit he deserves while doing everything in the limited time that he has to make sure his son feels his adoration. Because that choice revealed his character to his core — to love his son is to love the man who made him that way.

William’s choice to call Jack brother felt incredibly right. They both would have been fond of one another that’s for sure. And perhaps right now, in the fictional world of This is Us, they’re up in heaven together laughing at Jack’s laugh. The sincerity and vulnerability Ron Cephas Jones delivered that scene with was a profound display of unyielding gratitude. William Hill may have made mistakes in the past, but his atonement came from his honesty and willingness to be better. Jones has worn regret in his expression from the moment we met him, but today, that regret was eclipsed with gratitude, which served as monumental showcase of the fact that he’s forgiven himself, too. And that forgiveness was incredibly vital for his life to come full circle.

Scene II: Randall and William breathe together 

In life, we are constantly learning. And there will come a point in each of our lives where we’ll pass down the things that have healed us to other people in order to contribute to bettering the world we live in. When Randall explained to William how Jack would calm him down in his darkness, I had a feeling William would then experience it.

I’ve often heard that people, especially when they’re sick, know when their time has come. The day before my dad died, he was the happiest I’d seen him in years. And I’ve tried to write about that very happiness numerous times for my own personal reasons, but words could never do it justice. Now, I don’t know if my dad knew, but perhaps, some little part of him did. Perhaps, he knew his heart would give out soon. Perhaps, what they say is true.

So when William said goodbye to the girls, even without the knowledge that this would be his passing episode, you could understand that this wasn’t an overnight trip. It was his final adventure. And every part of the hospital scene was a superlative display of life’s greatest gift: unity. And as the two of them began breathing together, it was inexplicably beautiful that William would go then. Because it meant he felt safe enough to. He’d calmed down enough to believe that he was okay, he wasn’t alone, and he was loved, deeply loved. Jones’ delivery of William’s breathless, desperate speech to his son was his stunning spectacle.

“Roll all your windows down, Randall. Crank up the music. Grow out that ‘fro. Let someone else make your bed. You deserve it. You deserve the beautiful life you’ve made. You deserve everything, Randall. My beautiful boy. My son. I haven’t had a happy life. Bad breaks and bad choices. A life of almosts and could-haves. Some would call it sad, but I don’t. ‘Cause the two best things in my life were the person in the very beginning and the person at the very end.

And in that final moment, every ounce of their admiration spoke wonders. His words would become a reality. In those final moments, father and son sailed on a melody known to calm even the wildest of waves. Sterling K. Brown and Ron Cephas Jones have been entertaining scene partners thus far, but in this moment, they were masterful leaders of an everlasting symphony. Though it was just Randall and William in the room, you could feel Jack’s presence there, too along with William’s mother’s. In the slow, steady breaths, years and years of heartaches were rushed away as the room filled with ardent adoration.

Thus finally, when William reunited with his mother, serenity took over. There was light in the darkness and in the end, love had won. A man’s inability to simply gloat led him on adventure of a lifetime with the father he always wondered about. Some people in this world are lucky enough not to have just two parents, but three or four. And Randall Pearson is one of those people — each parent, in their own inimitable way, left compelling footsteps in his heart that’d perpetually guide him in life.

Scene III: The ducks crossed his road 

I don’t know how to talk about this scene without talking about God — even if I weren’t a Christian, I’d still believe that there’s a higher power because of animals. And that may sound strange to some, but there’s something indescribable about animals. As Randall drove off, ducks met him on the road. Sure, there may be ducks everywhere. They basically live in Disneyland. I even had a staring contest with one back in college.

But it’s what the animal means that makes the moment indescribable. That moment was an authentic display of how those who pass never leave us. Wherever Randall goes, whatever he does, in dark times, ducks will be an emblematic representation of life to him — a glimmer of hope that’ll remind him of the fact that William’s always looking out for him.

When my best friends lost their grandmother, in trying times, a butterfly has always found its way into their lives: on their cars, in their house, their clothes. And for them, the butterfly has always been a symbol of their grandmother — a ceaseless reminder from God that she’s safe with him, she’s guiding them. Their road may not always be perfectly paved, but where there’s a crack or a wrong turn, a butterfly will find them, and be reminiscent of who’s looking out for them.

And in a sense, given how much the episode discussed navigation, the ducks felt like a reassurance that Randall’s on the right path. The road may get crooked, but he’s never alone in navigating through life. And where he’s lost or feels alone, the ducks could serve as a reminder of the fact that even in dark times, light will find its way onto the road — he just needs to keep going.

“Memphis” showcased an abundance of character and the power of love beautifully. It took the darkest part of life and reminded us of how much hope lies in the aftermath. You can’t erase someone from a painting without ruining the masterpiece, and in the same way, a person’s death doesn’t equate to an eternal loss. Where there’s hope that they’re guiding us, there’s hope that we’ll one day reunite with them. From the laugher and the music all the way to the touching end, “Memphis” was poetry — a gorgeous song that bestowed viewers with the honor of getting to know a man like William Hill.

Further Thoughts:

  • I keep saying this, but Sterling K. Brown is the best performer on TV right now. And it’s almost unfair to everyone else because episode after another he continues to deliver masterful works of art seamlessly. And “Memphis” was no exception as his grief left me numb. I’ve experienced a lot of feelings, but numbness has never been one of them while watching TV — so hats off to Brown for that.
  • Randall and Beth Pearson are goals. I know the primary couple on this show is Jack and Rebecca, but I just can’t help adore their son’s relationship a little bit more. When the show comes to an end, I want a spinoff. I need a spinoff. The world deserves a spinoff. 
  • I almost wish we got to see Kevin bringing Randall home, but a part of me is glad we didn’t because it’d break my heart too much. And I’m so happy that he didn’t keep it from his family, but instead he’s trying to get the help that he needs.
  • I loved watching Randall get excited over meeting all his cousins. Drunk Randall is a hysterical Randall and needing Beth by his side was adorable.
  • The image of William singing on stage was gorgeous beyond words. What a way to go. And to have his son watching the process. Plus, with his cousin too after everything they’d been through was beautiful.
  • Randall making the bed to make one life a little easier is just absolute perfection. What a perfect ray of sunshine that beautiful man is.
  • It was so lovely to see William’s relationship with his mother and how much they meant to one another. It’s not gonna be easy to get over the pictures their relationship painted.
  • It was also sweet to see that William’s cousin always took care of him and believed in him. A part of me was afraid that he’d be a bad influence, but I’m glad I was wrong.

What are your thoughts on this week’s episode of This is Us? Let us know in the comments below.

By: Gissane Sophia
Check us out on Twitter: @MGcircles

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