After six years and endless final episodes, “This Is Us” is almost over.
Good. Because I’m all out of tissues and my face hurts from crying.
The episode called “Miguel” did me in. It touched me so deeply, I watched it twice.
We finally learned the story of Miguel. The steady, reliable guy who seems more like an annoyance to his three stepchildren than the powerful pillar that he is. They treat their birth dad like Saint Jack and Miguel like a villain who stole their mom – at least part of her heart. Those three own the rest.
“This Is Us” airs on Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on NBC. The drama ends May 24. Beware: there are spoilers ahead.
I wasn’t excited about watching an entire episode on Miguel (Jon Huertas). I doubted there was much to learn about him. Boy, was I wrong.
Miguel Rivas, a young boy in Puerto Rico, has to move to Pennsylvania because his dad can’t support the family there. The boy who loved baseball and idolized the great Roberto Clemente ends up split between two worlds. English and Spanish. Puerto Rican and Caucasian. Does he embrace his roots or cover them up? He has to set aside his birth name and put Mike Rivers on his resume to get a job interview.
His success offends his father, who hates that his son hides his heritage. The identity crisis costs Miguel his marriage and his relationship with his two children. He’s never at peace with either identity, never quite at home in either one.
At first, Miguel doesn’t get along with Rebecca. They gradually become friends. He leaves, then returns years later to tell her, “The first time that I ever felt homesick in my life was when I left you on that porch.”
Isn’t that what we all want? For someone’s heart to be our home?
He loves her all the way to the end. His end, which shocks us all.
I’ve watched “This Is Us” from the very first episode when a large woman perched on a bathroom scale falls off. We met Kate (Chrissy Metz) and grew to see her, not her weight. Her brother, Kevin (Justin Hartley), is a hunk and family drama queen starved for love yet unable to receive it.
Randall (Sterling K. Brown), the adopted Black son born on the same day as his siblings, feels like an outsider, even though his adopted mom, Rebecca (Mandy Moore), loves him hard.
Their dad, Jack (Milo Ventimiglia), dies in season 2. Miguel was Jack’s best friend. How could he marry their mom?
Miguel felt like an outsider until we saw how he cared for Rebecca during Alzheimer’s, organizing her meds, bringing her coffee, silently serving, waking before her to welcome her into every day even when she pined for her first husband. Miguel’s own health suffers. The Big Three tell him they care about him – finally – and hire a nurse.
After the show, I couldn’t help thinking that we all have Miguels in our lives. People who are the quiet force, the loyal presence, the person who shows up, gets things done and fades into the wallpaper. Maybe it’s you. Maybe it’s a sibling, aunt or uncle. The men in my family tend to be quiet. The women, well, we are a force of nature, like a tsunami or hurricane. The guys? More like a soft, gentle rainfall that everyone around them quietly soaks up to grow.
Every family has struggles like these characters. We all face the pain of family tragedies and secrets, and while we don’t all struggle with obesity or racism, we know too well that deep sense of unworthiness we feel at our core.
The show offers moments of redemption. Kevin, once so mean to Miguel, tells his estranged son, Andy, time is running out. Then we see Miguel surrounded by his son and grandchildren. And later, Kevin and Andy scattering Miguel’s ashes on that baseball diamond in Puerto Rico.
There’s Rebecca in a wheelchair as her children and Miguel’s spread the rest of his ashes around a tree he planted. Miguel was no longer torn between two worlds, but a part of them both forever.
The show makes your own family seem normal, but no family is. We’re all screwed up, just in different ways. We’re all just stumbling around blind. This tribute to Miguel opened our eyes. How did we miss him?
We neglected to see him even as we were looking at him, that loyal, family member that we need to appreciate and know better before it’s too late.
Because “This Is Us” is all of us.