Jack's grief and survival is more inspiring than he knew
This Is Us - Season 1
Credit: Ron Batzdorff/NBC
This Is Us - Season 3
S1 E12
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At some point, the Jack and Rebecca backstory fatigue will probably start to set in, but today is not that day. Not when we’re getting such delicious new birthday sprinkles as these.

Of course, we already know what happened on “The Big Day” and most of what was said, but it seems putting on such a brave face for those we love is not just Jack’s game — there were some other husbands we know walking around in severe pain that day, too. They were just more adept at hiding it.

Jack’s birthday womp

If there’s one thing this show has absolutely nailed — and I’m speaking from experience here — it’s how wackadoodle certain moments of pregnancy can be for an expecting mom. In the early stages, Rebecca’s obsessed with being with child(ren), and in the blink of an eye, she absolutely hates it. By this point, her shoes don’t fit anymore; she’s starting to waddle to a socially prohibitive degree; and oh, yeah, her mood’s bouncing around more aimlessly than a lotto ball. Yep, been there for sure.

Her anxiety over having yet to properly nest for her forthcoming babies is all-consuming. So much so, in fact, she fails to realize she’s kicking Jack out of the house — basically, because his breathing is annoying her right now — on his own dang birthday. Her cavalier cruelty is top-notch at this point, slinging cuts like “Jack, when you’re done talking to your girlfriend, can you bring up some toilet paper?” while he’s on the phone with Miguel, who just so happens to throw out a golf club invite to give him an excuse to give Rebecca some space … after the vital TP roll delivery, of course.

(PS: Does anyone else still feel like Miguel’s a traitor and a half for what will happen with Rebecca? Or is it just me? That’s going to be a really hard sell for both of them when we get to explaining their hookup, because NO.)

Jack actually turns to prayer over her endless ire in the car, but his answer is simply Rebecca sticking her head out the front door to say — probably for the 50th time — “Hey, thanks again for the bathroom sex at Froggy’s, Jack.” If this show were taped before a live audience, that’s when the bemused “ohhhhhh” crowd sounds would kick in, but alas.

It turns out to be a pretty good thing they spend the day apart, because Jack gets to bear witness to the kinda dad he doesn’t want to be — some spendthrift just inventing reasons to get away from his family — and Rebecca has a sweet epiphany that she’s married a good egg who’s going to be an amazing dad. She penguin-walks her way to the nearest store — which just so happens to be a liquor store — equipped with a recipe for some fancy almond chocolate cake, the ingredients of which aren’t on hand at this particular booze mart. She lays it on thick with the poor cashier about how she needs to make her man something homemade because she’s been torching him so far today, and that’s when he gets the bright idea to have her squeeze Twinkie icing onto a muffin, and voila! Homemade birthday cake … or about as close to it as she can possibly get right now.

As we know from way back in the pilot, all he really cares about anyway is the traditionally risqué birthday shimmy she’s supposed to do for him, but, hey, at least we know where he got the strange yellow “Terrible Towel” to cover his junk with back when — and how he got that video camera they use to make so many great home movies.

After that, there’s not much new for us to learn about Jack and Rebecca’s journey through their hospital stay: Her water breaks pre-celebratory coitus, they get a sub-in doctor because Dr. Schneider’s appendix burst, and, well, two of their three babies make it through the delivery safely, which is when Kyle-turned-Randall enters the picture. Oh, and they’ve got a predisposition to loving Stevie Wonder music, apparently, but who doesn’t?

In the backdrop of this bittersweet moment of their lives are two men grappling with their own sets of agonizing challenges: the ebullient Dr. K and Joe, the fireman who dropped off Randall at the hospital and accurately claimed that “life is strange.”

NEXT: Is there a heart doctor in the house?

Mrs. Dr. K

Dr. Katowksi did tell Jack about his own two bouts with similar grief — losing his wife the year before and their first child during delivery many years before that. That was the vessel through which his epic lemons-to-lemonade speech came and how we found out Dr. K was so much more than his jokes about dirty rectal devices. What we didn’t get to find out ’til now, however, was how very alive and raw the pain of his wife’s death still was for him at the time.

Jumping back a few days before “The Big Day,” we see Dr. K struggling with the simple matters of widower reality — his wife’s things still occupying half the closet, her meds still neatly lining the cabinet shelves, and even her hair tools strewn about as though freshly used. His home is at once both a shrine to his wife and a prison for him to never escape his sadness. She’s still got a placemat at the dinner table. He still carries on one-sided conversations with her just as he’d done for the 53 years of their union before her passing, debating with her about his grandfatherly duty to provide sugary cereals to his grandkids and the like.

It’s sad. It’s understandable. And it’s also worrying for his son, Peter, who visits with his wife and kids and tries to convince Dr. K to at least consider moving forward. Peter’s words are like daggers to his father, plunging right in and bleeding him without a sense of abandon or respect for his own lost mother. But he’s still right. Eventually, Dr. K comes to realize as much, thanks to the perseverance and day-seizing he witnesses when Jack decides to adopt a child in need to fill a hole — i.e. a crib space — that would’ve been left empty by the lost triplet.

Okay, okay, so psychiatrists would probably have a field day with both of these dudes because come on. Replacement isn’t even on the list of ordinary grief stages. But baby Kyle is gone and so is dear Caroline, and everyone deals with death differently, so it is what it is. For Dr. K, he was literally on the brink of giving up on himself before that fateful page came through to summon him for duty — and yes, beepers did exist back then, amazingly enough. Turns out all those long staring sessions with his wife’s medications were about more than just reminiscing; he was debating whether to give up and join his girl six feet under instead of continuing to struggle and hurt.

Whether it’s watching Jack and Rebecca survive their unthinkable loss, Peter’s pushing, or the simple fact that the widowed woman he runs into at the grocery store is a stunner with some serious charm and empathy to offer, he decides to toss the pills and forge on — for real this time, taking his own advice and sipping on that lemonade with a new lady friend.

NEXT: A miracle arrival …

Mr. Miracle

We already knew Randall was something of a godsend for Jack and Rebecca — even if they sometimes had trouble making a connection with him in the literal and figurative senses. They had room in their hearts and house for three babies, and the death of their own third child opened up a place for him to go after William (perhaps wisely) dropped him off at the firehouse that day.

But before Jack would ever lay eyes on the baby, there was another man who had some fatherly inclinations toward this infant when he first met him.

Joe, our fireman friend who we assumed just did the rule-abiding, right-guy thing by dropping off Randall at the hospital that day, actually had some affection for this little one himself. As it turns out, he and his wife, Samantha, had been going through that stare-and-hiss phase of their marriage where things felt empty and angry at all times.

He went to the priest to ask for a miracle, so when Randall showed up on the doorstep of his station, what else could he believe but that his prayer had been answered? Samantha, however, completely disagreed this was the answer to their problems. Though he was pretty much ready to pick out a car seat, she instructed him to take the baby to the hospital and think of another way to fix what was broken between them.

But even though Randall wasn’t their miracle baby to make up for whatever infertility issues had kept them from creating their own children, he was still kind of a healer for the couple. In Joe’s absence, Samantha realizes his gesture was kind and came from a good place, and that they have a chance to choose to start all over together and just get back to the basics of why they worked in the first place. A handshake and coffee date is all it takes to finally make the two smile.

As with Jack and Dr. K, nothing’s officially fixed between them. All of these people are in difficult periods of their lives that can’t be fixed up with a Band-Aid. But I think the point is that they’re all making a choice to press on, a choice to survive. Perhaps the critical difference between making it and not is the sheer presence of willpower. “The Big Day” prompted all three of these men to decide to set something hard aside and try to find a bright spot to cling onto — however fleeting, however unwise.

Episode Recaps

This Is Us - Season 3
This Is Us

NBC’s beloved era-hopping drama tells the story of the Pearson family through the years.

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  • Tuesdays at 09:00 PM
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