This Is Us Season 6, Episode 15
Posted by Shannon
Miguel Rivas has been a stalwart for six seasons of This Is Us. He’s always been there, in every timeline, supporting and cheering the Pearsons on. And yet, it took all six seasons for us to get here. For us to get to a real, deep dive on Miguel and his life apart from the Pearson clan. The end-of-pilot reveal that older Rebecca would be with Miguel instead of Jack was the catalyst not just for two years of angsty plot work around what happened to the Pearson patriarch, but years of anti-Miguel nonsense in and around the show’s viewership. I’ll never understand it, because this man never did a damn thing except show up and love that family, but the frustrating “who does he think he is anyway” suspicion in the fandom community only began to subside around season four.
In case it isn’t crystal clear, I have to say that I firmly believe this episode – as beautiful and moving as it was – was too little, too late.
It’s especially frustrating because it WAS beautiful and moving. I understand why, from a timing perspective, we set Miguel off into the sunset with an episode focused on his life. But I refuse to believe that there couldn’t have been more opportunity to fill his character out earlier on.
Imagine the lost opportunity for true conversation between Miguel and Randall, these two sensitive, academic-minded men, who both felt the pull of separated identities. (We got close a few times, but never in any real way.) The lost opportunity for Miguel and Beth, who clearly had a special relationship as the longest-standing outsiders to the Pearson family’s ups and downs. And yes, the lost opportunity for exploration of Rebecca and Miguel’s relationship on its own terms. For salsa lessons, and discussions around his own children, and on and on.
So yes, I’m glad we’re here. And yes, this story was beautiful. But the possibilities could have been so much stronger.
There’s a whole lot of ground to cover without a whole lot of time, but we do begin at the beginning. In Puerto Rico, with a young Miguel playing baseball in the backyard. The scene sketches are slight, but effective; the family moves to Pennsylvania to find work, Miguel accompanies his father to the house of a wealthy man who’s hired them to work in the garden, and said wealthy white man who welcomes him into the living room isn’t a monster, exactly, but does lay the groundwork for a life-long existential crisis. It’s in that living room that Miguel first hears the reality of what America will expect of him: to learn the language quickly, to siphon off his identity, and to strive for the best seats in the house. (“Son, where you sit is all that matters.”)
Years later, Miguel has taken those words to heart, claiming them as his own – but never 100%. He’s in a three piece suit with his hair straightened, interviewing under the name Mike Rivers, but he won’t go so far as to change his name – correcting the boss only once his position is secure. (“The name’s Miguel, by the way. Miguel Rivas. I sent in two resumes, but Miguel never got a call back.”) The push and pull of his identities is especially heartbreaking whenever he’s around his family; his mother and Aunt are dismayed at his straight hair, his father frustrated by the pride his son takes in the fancy car in the driveway.
Miguel walks that line with as much grace as he can muster. It’s a challenge in ways I’ll never understand as a white woman. But as someone who came from a low income background and went on to a different level of career success, the violent conflict between guilt and pride and obligation to his family based in and around his bank account hit real close to home. It’s okay that Miguel is proud of the fancy car in his driveway. It’s okay that making money allows him to feel secure in ways he always wanted. What’s NOT okay is for him to use that motivation as an excuse to stay at work all hours of the evening and deny his family their own importance in his life, as he does with Shelley and the kids later on.
It’s that job that brings him to Jack Pearson, his best friend, and to his best friend’s girlfriend Rebecca, who butts up against every single thing Miguel has built to protect himself. She hates the corporate tricks he’s used as security, and probably assumes Miguel is the kind of awful, business-obsessed man her father would have loved to set her up with. But that’s not him. He’s the man who still dreams of being in Puerto Rico with curly hair, playing baseball with his father – and with the white man whose yard they tended.
By now, we start to touch on things we already knew. His move to Houston two years after Jack’s death/ His continued, fractured relationship with his children. There’s the addition of his father’s death, and the teasing he withstands from his family, who insist on calling him Gordon Gekko. There’s the added lens of his Aunt Gabi, who suffered a stroke at the age of 24 and has been cared for by his mother ever since. We know what kind of a caregiver Miguel will be to Rebecca – and now we know where he got it. Miguel’s mother is dedicated without question, she’s unflinching, and she’s gentle. All qualities Miguel will channel decades later as he cares for Rebecca.
But first, these two have to find their way back to each other. It takes eight years and a post from Beth about Tess in her grandma’s onesie, but once they start moving towards each other, they don’t stop. (And please note that it was Beth’s Facebook account that brought Miguel to Rebecca. Beth has been on this man’s side for decades. We stan.) Theirs is a bond built and treasured by people who know exactly what they have lost over the years, and how special their love is. Neither of them have any interest in wasting time or messing about with their – or each other’s – hearts. It’s always all cards on the table, which allows them to fall in love steadily, step by step and kiss by kiss, until they decide to take advantage of an early retirement offer from Miguel’s company and move in together.
Still, there’s the question we’ve all had in our minds around their relationship since back at that closing scene of the pilot: what Jack Pearson would have made of it. And honestly, I think this just adds to my frustration — because Rebecca’s response to Miguel’s concern is exactly right. We, the viewing audience, know that Jack would have wanted what’s best for “his two favorite people he once left alone in a bar until they became friends.” This isn’t a question. Jack was not a man who would have wished for a life without love for his family when it was so completely present. Randall and Kate see that too, once they find out. It’s only Kevin who kicks and screams, and still never quite forgives Miguel until he sees the kind of selfless care and dedication Miguel offers Rebecca in their elder years.
I touched on it a bit during “Day of the Wedding,” but that caregiver position is so complicated. We sometimes expect caregivers to show that kind of selflessness, to push themselves aside no matter what, or else read it as a sign – somehow – that they don’t really care enough. It’s that cultural expectation, with a good helping of generational guilt and trauma, that drives Miguel to care for Rebecca so intensely that he begins to ignore his own health. He brushes aside his doctor’s concerns for additional tests and potential surgeries because he thinks he doesn’t have time — that stepping away from Rebecca for one moment will mean he’s derelict in his duties.
And it’s fair enough, to some degree, because the moment he’s away from Rebecca for more than sixty seconds, she spirals, yelling and panicking in the faces of her adult children. Miguel and Rebecca are in a phenomenally privileged position and Kevin (and Randall, for that matter, Mr. Senator) can easily handle getting a live-in nurse to care for both of them. But Miguel knows that if he’s not there every morning at 6:45am to be the first face Rebecca sees, he couldn’t live with himself. (“It grounds her. It grounds me. So as long as she needs me, I’m not going anywhere.”)
This episode is fully and completely about Miguel, as it should be — but a moment for the phenomenal character growth and the absolutely stunning acting done by the Big Three when they sit Miguel down to insist on a live-in nurse. Ever since she was a teenager, Kate has been on her mother’s side with this relationship, even if she acted out against it at first. She’s the one who held her mother as she cried when Miguel moved to Austin. She’s known the reality of this bond for decades, and her assurance to him is seeped in all that history.
Randall has been open too, and he’s the closest character to act with the same kind of occasionally dangerous selflessness that Miguel has shown. He’s the only one who could be there, in pitch-perfect tones, to insist that “You’ve honored your vows, sir. You have honored them and then some. We’re grateful to you, man. We love you.” Because when he says it, Miguel KNOWS in his bones it’s true.
Which leaves us with Kevin. Kevin, who’s always been hardest on the relationship between Rebecca and Miguel, for a million reasons – most of which have nothing to do with the man himself. But Kevin has truly grown. He’s seen the bruises, physical and emotional, that Miguel has taken on in honor of his mother. He’s seen the decades of care and love and support. And he’s finally in a place to honor them himself. So for him to be the one to go and warn Miguel’s son about his failing health is completely perfect. There was no one else who could deliver that message and have it stick quite so deeply. And while Miguel may never know it, Kevin gives him that gift. He welcomes Miguel’s kids into the family, and gives them a steady sense of peace before Miguel’s passing.
It was heartbreaking to watch, even though I’ve suspected this was coming for weeks. Miguel Rivas lived a long, healthy, and eventually very happy life. It doesn’t necessarily ease the pain of his loss, split even in death between Puerto Rico and America. And the vision of Rebecca Pearson wearing yet another black dress, surrounded once more by her children as she says goodbye to her husband, was a gut punch.
We’ve got three episodes left, fam. Be sure you’ve got a lot of tissues.
Colors of the Painting
- Ever since hearing the full version of “The Forever Now” as performed by Mandy Moore, that theme song just hits differently. It holds so much history with just a few notes. Kudos again and always to Siddhartha Khosla.
- This week’s entry in “Mandy Moore Deserves an Emmy” is the childlike giggle she gave when Miguel slipped and fell in the show. Brutal shit, folks!!!
- It’s been a minute since we’ve gotten a folk song this season, but Donovan’s “Colors” makes up for lost time.
- The real musical attack here comes in the form of Billy Joel’s “And So it Goes,” which happens to be one of the most heart wrenching songs of all time and – lucky for me! – is a song I already had a massive personal attachment to and can’t hear without crying.
Did you feel personally attacked by “Miguel”? Let us know in the comments.