Season 6, Episode 15, “Miguel”

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Photo: Ron Batzdorff/NBC

The most powerful tool in This Is Us’ arsenal is time. The show can collapse decades into a single hour or stretch the mystery of a moment over multiple seasons. It can make a new character feel like family in the span of just a single episode. Or it can take a character who’s lived on our screens for six years and suddenly explore his life in a whole new light.

On a series wide scale, I don’t know if it was the best use of This Is Us’ time to spend so long pushing Miguel’s story to the background only to finally cram it all into the show’s fourth-to-last episode. But I do know that it makes for a hell of an effective hour of TV. And perhaps there’s something thematically fitting about the timing of it all too. “The truth is, I never talked to him about it,” Kevin tells Miguel’s grown-up son Andy while trying to convince him to mend his complicated relationship with his aging father. “I never talked to him about, well, him actually.”

For so many years, that’s what Miguel was—a supporting player hovering around Jack in the past and Rebecca in the present. A potential villain at first, then easy comic relief, and then, slowly, one of the most quietly moving characters in the show’s ensemble, largely thanks to Jon Huertas’ warmly understated performance. On a series filled with big speeches and performative gestures, Miguel offered a different image of what devotion can look like. “Love is giving your heart without expectation,” his mother tells him as she reflects on the years she’s spent quietly caring for her older sister. And it turns out Miguel is very much his mother’s son: Gentle, selfless, and deeply loyal—right up until the end of his life.

As I may have mentioned once or twice in these reviews over the years, it’s not unusual for me to cry during an episode of This Is Us. But “Miguel” hit me on an emotional level that very few of this series’ episodes have. In terms of tears, it’s right up there with William’s first season swan song episode “Memphis,” which struck a similarly poignant, reflective tone as it sought to condense an entire lifetime into just 43 minutes. When someone in their 80s dies after a good long life, happy and at peace with those they love, it’s not exactly a tragedy. But it is a loss. And “Miguel” manages to capture that sense of loss right alongside the gift that was Miguel’s life.

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Photo: This Is Us

As this episode reveals, Miguel was born in Puerto Rico, the son of two gentle, pragmatic parents. He moved to the United States when he was still a kid, where he had to adjust to a new culture and a new language. He made his parents proud by working his way up in the world as a construction foreman, even as he also had to pull away from his own culture to earn that success in a country not particularly friendly to Hispanic people.

Miguel had a complicated relationship with his father, a complicated relationship with his ex-wife Shelly, and an especially complicated relationship with his two kids. In many ways, his life was characterized by a sense of longing, a feeling of never quite fitting in. An experience best summed up by the philosophical phrase he learned from his father: “I don’t know, but it’s a good question. Ask me again later.”

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Screenshot: Ron Batzdorff/NBC

And then Miguel met the Pearsons. Though this episode breezes past exactly how Jack and Miguel transitioned their random suit store meet cute into a lifelong best friendship, “Miguel” does reiterate that Jack is the one Miguel turns to in times of stress. The “previously on” segment reminds us of the time Miguel joined the Pearsons for Thanksgiving during his messy divorce from Shelly in the late 1990s. And that’s what he does after a 1970s Christmas Eve squabble with his dad too, as he heads out to a bar to see Jack and Rebecca.

Hilariously, it turns out Rebecca initially had some kind of bizarre grudge against him. But that’s just a dose of dramatic irony to jazz up what we know the future holds for Jack Pearson’s two favorite people. As Miguel tells Rebecca on their 2008 post-Facebook-reunion date: “If I’m being honest, the first time that I ever felt homesick in my life was when I left you on that porch.”

I love that rather than stretch out the drama of Rebecca and Miguel’s courtship, this episode emphasizes its simplicity instead. Though Rebecca can sometimes be a little passive in her personal life, she also has a certain confidence when she knows what she wants too. As was the case on her first date and first overnight with Jack, she’s the one who makes the first move with Miguel. And from there there’s no question that Rebecca and Miguel are meant to be together, even as her new relationship sends her kids (especially a late-20-something Kevin) spiraling.

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Screenshot: This Is Us

Rebecca and Miguel’s midlife romance is so incredibly sweet that I would’ve happily spent multiple episodes living in that timeline. And yet condensing that period down to just a handful of scenes also emphasizes how relatively little time they had together as a couple. The lengthy break between when they parted ways in Thanksgiving 1999 and when they reconnected online in October 2008 had its costs. They were only together about 12 years before Rebecca got her Alzheimer’s diagnosis—a long time in some senses and too brief a time in others. Yet more than most people, they knew to appreciate every moment.

Like Jack, Miguel found his sense of purpose in Rebecca. And like Jack, there’s an undercurrent of atonement at play in his dedication. In the same way Jack poured himself into Rebecca and the Big Three to make up for failing to save Nicky in the Vietnam War, Miguel dedicates himself to Rebecca and her family to make up for his failings as a husband and father during his first marriage. He handles Rebecca’s complicated care on his own, grounding her through a terrifying time in her life. And even when he does (reluctantly) accept help, he still never leaves her side—true to the “I will care for you until the end of my days” part of his wedding vows.

Image for article titled A poignant This Is Us finally tells the story of Miguel

Screenshot: This Is Us

That sort of quiet, largely invisible caretaking is easy to take for granted, much like Miguel himself. Yet here at the end of the series, This Is Us finally finds time to give the man his due, both in life and in death. When Miguel does eventually die, his ashes are scattered in his two homes: The baseball field he played at as a kid in Puerto Rico and the apple tree he grew for Rebecca at the Pearson family cabin. And maybe that’s Miguel in a nutshell. In some ways a Pearson family outsider and in other ways the most loyal Pearson of them all.


Stray observations

  • Given their rocky relationship over the years, there’s something very touching about Kevin being one of the people to travel to Puerto Rico to spread Miguel’s ashes there.
  • I’m slightly confused about the timeline at the end of this episode. It seems like Miguel ages at least a few more years before he dies, but Kevin’s twins look like they’re still the same age they were at Kate and Phillip’s wedding.
  • It seems like a bit of random leap to go from clothing retail to construction management, doesn’t it?
  • I wonder if something strange happened with Griffin Dunne’s shooting schedule this season because this is yet another episode where it feels like Uncle Nicky should be around but isn’t. (Especially given that he’s the one loyally sitting by Rebecca’s side in her deathbed flashforward.)
  • The show’s writers have confirmed we’re meant to assume that late teens/early 20s Deja, Tess, and Annie are just offscreen in a lot of these flashfoward scenes, but I’m not sure that’s a creative gamble that’s really paid off. I would’ve loved to have seen a few final moments between Miguel and his trio of granddaughters.

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