If you’re one of the millions of viewers who waits anxiously for each new “This Is Us” episode, you’re just like me. And if Tuesday night’s Randall Pearson episode was like looking in a mirror, you’re also just like me. I am Randall Pearson, and I’m going to be OK.
I had a panic attack earlier in the day before watching this episode. For anyone who deals with mental health issues, you know just how uncontrollable those can feel. For me, it looks a lot like this: you keep it together for hours, days, weeks, months at a time. Then, something happens that tips it, you black out in a panic meltdown, find a private place to let it happen. Then, the storm passes and you’re back to reality. Sound familiar? You watched that on Tuesday night.
As I followed Randall’s journey to and through developing anxiety and those super ginormous expectations he places on himself, I found myself completely speechless at what I was seeing. We all know Dan Fogelman is a creative genius, as he flawlessly intertwines so many storylines together to tell such a real, relatable tale about family, loss and how our experiences of those families and losses shape who we are. This episode was no exception. In fact, it was so spot-on, I almost felt like someone had crawled into my brain and pulled out 32 years of my life and turned it into one hour of emotional television.
Let’s start with the obvious: I’m a runner. I run to get away, I run to shut my brain up, I run to process, I run to avoid processing. I run for it all, just like Randall. When he says he runs to deal, I dig that. I get that. Although I’ve pursued therapy many times in my life, I also get that feeling of judgment around, “Therapy isn’t for me.” When you spend literally your entire life keeping it together for the sake of others, therapy is the last thing you want to admit you need. Everything can be solved with a run … until even your run is interrupted by saving someone else from turmoil.
Second, we see very young Randall being told by his father he needs to be the strongest child since his siblings are already a handful. This is after Randall goes to him with his nightmares, only to be told essentially to “suck it up.” Is this because Jack Pearson is the worst father in the world? Absolutely not. He’s a tired father of three who is falling into a drinking problem and needs to get some sleep. But to a young kid, like me many years ago, hearing that message sticks with you. That’s when you start formulating your story: I need to be strong, I need to have it together because they already have things to worry about. Don’t worry about me.
Third, the term “hero” is an obvious theme in this episode. A headline with that literal word in it is ultimately what sends Randall into his panic meltdown in the bathroom. Randall is someone who has spent his entire life protecting others, namely his parents. I mean, who has their parent’s anniversary as their alarm code instead of their own anniversary? Randall does. And when Jack died, Randall stepped into that hero child role even more, always rushing to Rebecca’s side, even if it meant putting his needs on hold. We see this when he tries to express his sleeping issues, and Rebecca brushes him off twice when she’s distracted by Kate’s weird phone call with her boyfriend and Kevin coming home a day early. Is this because Rebecca is a horrible mother? Absolutely not. She is just a mother of three who is trying to show up for all of her kids. And Randall always has it together, right? So she doesn’t need to worry about him. He will be “fine.” The cycle continues to grow.
Fourth, and perhaps the most obvious trigger, is Rebecca’s doctor’s appointment. Randall does not hesitate to be there for his mom, almost to the annoyance of Miguel (Rebecca’s husband). He even says he’s “being Randall,” meant to be confused with being a good son. He’s fiercely protective of her, and Randall fails to see just how overextended he is in that “hero” role, on top of being a councilman (hero to the community), a good father (hero to his family) and a good runner (hero to his health). So perhaps that burglar was less a literal threat as it was a metaphorical threat to Randall’s control over everything in life. We all saw how he flinched at a leaf tripping the alarm cameras. One can only be a hero for so long before the mounting pressure without any support beams knocks you over.
All of this said, Randall’s entire present day being in this episode can be traced back to and through so many little things that happened as he grew up. The expectation to be the “hero,” the brush-off when he did try to express his weaknesses — let’s face it, Beth was the first person to actually hold space for him to have those fears — and his lack of ability to turn it off and lose a little bit of control, to name a few. I think the best part of this whole episode was when Beth forced him to admit it was “a lot.” We all need that voice to help us pause and see we are only human. You can’t watch the alarm system on your life all the time. It will go off when it needs to, and it will stay quiet when it needs to.
What am I trying to say here? Simply that, I can relate to Randall. This episode was my life and how I’ve interpreted so much of it. For me, it’s important to address how childhood impacted you. It’s important to address how certain interactions, or lack thereof, boost or break your self-worth. It’s important to address you do have an off switch and you’re not afraid to use it. But above all, it is important to seek help when you need it, and I hope Randall does. Mental health is so important, and I know I’m not the only Randall Pearson out there.