This has been a lonely year. For so many of us, the human experience of 2020 and now 2021 has been defined by isolation—even when we know people care and love us and want to be with us, we often still can’t help but feel alone.
And because This Is Us is a show that works hard to reflect the human experience back to us through the lens of the Pearson Family, it showed us the physical manifestation of that isolation in this week’s episode, “There.”
It was Madison, laying in her hospital bed, ready to deliver her babies alone. She knows Kevin wants to be there; she knows she’s loved and supported and cared for. But in that moment, her reality is one of loneliness—of isolation.
However, all it took was one phone call to change that.
And it wasn’t Kevin on the other line.
It wasn’t even Kate.
It was Randall (and Beth!) reaching out to Madison after Kevin told them she was in labor. It was Randall (and Beth!) checking in and volunteering to send her food and anything else she might need.
And it was Randall (and Beth!) who realized in the smallest pause that what Madison really needed was to feel like someone was there.
Because that’s often all we need when we’re going through hard times and feel alone—no matter how much we try to tell ourselves that we can handle things on our own. We just want to know someone cares. We just want to know someone is thinking of us.
We just want to know we don’t have to be alone.
This was an episode about family being there for each other—about what it means to show up for the people you love. And even after everything Kevin and Randall have gone through—all the pain and bitterness and unfinished business—Randall shows up for Madison. He’s there for her.
Because she’s family.
And that’s all she needs to hear.
Caitlin Thompson’s performance in that scene was her best work on the show to date. Her initial attempts to push down her fear and loneliness and sadness like she’s seemingly done for so much of her life with one too many utterances of, “I’m fine,” felt so realistic. Who hasn’t been there? Falling apart from the inside out but not wanting to be a burden—not wanting to reveal just how deeply we need someone to see that we’re not okay.
Or hear it, in Madison’s case.
And that’s why Randall and Beth are the perfect couple to be there for her in this moment. Because they pay attention. They notice the details. They know that the truths we try to hide often show themselves in the smallest hitching in our breathing, the briefest hesitation on the other line, the slightest sniffle.
So they listen. And they stay.
Because family shows up.
And “we’re family.”
With those two words, the dam breaks. Thompson’s tears in that moment—having to pull her phone away because the kindness being shown to her is overwhelming—spoke volumes about how unfamiliar this kind of love is for Madison. It was such a heartbreakingly realistic reaction—the torrent of emotions that we feel when someone unexpected reaches out a hand to help us, the catharsis that comes when we feel seen by someone we never knew was looking.
That’s what family does. It’s what Jack did with Kevin. And it’s what Randall does with Madison.
Family sees us—even when we try to hide our heartbreak.
They see us, and they show up for us in whatever way they can to fix it.
Family means you’re not alone.
And now, Madison knows she’s part of a family.
There’s nothing better than that.
What was the best thing you saw on TV this week?
I love everything about the way you described this scene even though it’s been years since I’ve seen this show and hadn’t heard of Madison (by name at least) until this moment. I love that it was Randall and Beth who reached out and that no matter what’s going on with Randall and Kevin, this family will still find ways to show up for each other when they need it.
Truthfully my favorite thing I watched this week was this week’s episode of Run BTS because I’m fully caught up now and everyone was happy and making each other laugh a lot so it was the mood booster I needed. But that’s not interesting to talk about so I will pick something else.
WandaVision continues to be the best thing I’m currently watching and I think my pick from it for the week was Agnes and Vision’s conversation, mostly because Kathryn Hahn is just SO GOOD and her laugh as she drove away was deliciously creepy and added to the unsettled feeling of the episode. There’s a lot going on plot-wise and I deeply love Monica’s empathy and understanding of the grief Wanda is feeling (while also refusing to fully deal with her own grief) but Vision encountering all the Westview residents that are frozen in place and being so driven to help them is such a good look into who he is in a way that the movies never really delved into. And doing it not because he’s a hero and it’s his job but because he knows this isn’t right.
I also have to make a rare mention of Chicago Med which frustrates me with much of its storytelling but has also given me Daniel Charles. He is the hospital psychiatrist and is the most wonderfully empathetic man who cares so deeply and listens so well to everyone, whether it’s a patient, friend, or his daughter and he is absolutely stealing the story for me right now.
I’m back with an extra addition because I finally watched 3×03 of The Rookie. NYLA HARPER IS THE BEST AND I LOVE HER. I am super into this show doing a brief side plot on medical racism and black maternal mortality rates and love that Nyla was immediately there to act as an advocate.
Also Titus is doing some truly incredible work. Everything about this situation with Stanton is awful and his scene with Commander West, especially his delivery of “and I’m still underwater” was phenomenal. The disappointment mixed with a firm unwillingness to accept the status quo no matter the results is all over his face and body language and I am blown away by what he’s doing.
NYLA HARPER IN THAT EPISODE OWNS MY SOUL. (I mean, she always owns my soul, but that episode in particular was a great one for her. They’re really leaning into the “badass mom” part of her personality this season not just as it applies to her own relationship with her daughter but how it applies to how she interacts with other moms—Angela!—as part of her job. And I love it.) I also really respect the show for telling more stories about racism and Black communities beyond the obvious police violence/over-policing stories. This exploration of maternal mortality rates and racism in health care was such an important story to tell, and they found a way to do it that felt compelling and natural.
And YES to your Titus comment. He’s been so good throughout this whole arc, and the way it deepens his relationship with Sergeant Grey has been such a great emotional payoff, even when we’re subjected to Stanton being terrible.
Just here to co-sign on Wandavision, Vision and the brilliance that is Katherine Hahn. It’s one of the few shows where I dread the credits coming each week because it’s never enough storytelling.
“And doing it not because he’s a hero and it’s his job but because he knows this isn’t right.” — I have to single out this line of yours about Vision because YES. My favorite thing about Vision in this show is that this isn’t him acting as an Avenger; it’s just him being a good “person.” He’s so fundamentally good and kind and decent, and I love seeing that applied to this specific situation and the conflict it brings up with Wanda. The scene with him being willing to sacrifice his body to get help for the people of the town was so powerful. All these Avenger men and their sacrificial streaks are going to be the death of me.
Also I’m so glad Chicago Med is giving you something good in the middle of everything being terrible!
Okay, so I keep saying I am going to stop watching This Is Us because it’s cutting a little close in it’s storytelling with dementia. But I just can’t, even when I want to and you are so right about the connective tissue that this show forms with the emotional pulse of where we sit these days. Who had Madison as a character we were going to care about back in season 1, let alone be rooting for? I know I didn’t. It’s a credit to the show that she evolved without ever fundamentally changing over the course of the seasons as Kate’s friend and as a person who needed to be needed in their friendship. It’s made this season with Kevin (arguably the neediest of the big 3) an interesting exploration. They aren’t simple in their emotional approach to their relationship and it’s wrought with insecurity, uncertainty and oddly enough hope. I think about how Randall and Beth are the ones who show up for Madison, regardless of the state of his and Kevin’s relationship. They show up because family shows up and because the Pearson’s made Randall family, they chose him. And independent of the need to reconcile his story and identity he’s a Pearson. He was raised by Jack just as much as Kevin. Madison teetering between fear and not having anywhere/knowing where to turn in that moment was visceral for me. I was alone when I had Arianna. My mom and my friend who was my birth coach came to the hospital, but when I needed an emergency c-section I was ultimately alone, because I couldn’t see leaving my mom alone for my friend to be with me in the surgery. That reluctance and sadness that Madison gave us was so real for me. As was the wave of relief and care she received when they offered to simply stay on the phone. When you’ve spent your adulthood (if not longer) caring for yourself and caring for others the leap of faith to ask for and accept help feels like a leap across the Grand Canyon. That moment gave me all those feelings and brought back many memories. It was terrific and from a completely unexpected source on This Is Us and I like a show that can surprise me like that this many years into it.
However, for me the best thing I saw on TV this week was Snowpiercer. I have a weird relationship with this show. I loved the movie, I love the actors on this show, I love the entire concept and I don’t always love the sum of the show’s parts. I don’t quite watch it in spite of myself. But it’s not a priority watch on my week to week. It’s just an uneven show. This week however it ran on all cylinders and gave drama, heart, character development and left me looking forward to next week. Something it hasn’t done since early season one. And that is because the women of Snowpiercer brought A game to every scene they had. This episode was about a pivotal plot twist that sends Jennifer Connelly’s character on a suicide mission. A series of events must happen in order for her to jump off the train. Enter the plotting and chess match with the enemy, knowing they are trying to set her up for death. However, more important was the b-story, the re-establishment of not just connection, but trust between Connelly and her newly discovered daughter played BRILLIANTLY by Rowan Blanchard, who’s giving a broken, heartbreaking performance as someone being used as a pawn and a person simply trying to survive by disconnecting from all emotions, especially the abandonment of her mother. They connect in ways that are unexpected and give space for the pain to exist while still leaning into the comfort and relief Blanchard’s character finds in being able to connect with her mother and discover how connected they’ve actually always been in spite of their separation. It’s a series of scenes of remorse, shame, hope and love. And then ultimately the gut punch for me comes when the amazing unexpected exchange happens near the end of the episode between Jennifer Connelly & Alison Wright’s character. Wright’s character has been harboring betrayal and anger against Connelly’s lies since season 1. The person she trusted most (not unlike Blanchard) is the one who told her the biggest lie. Wright’s loyalty and alliances have been in question throughout the series and she isn’t fully trusted in the landscape of the show. I continue to question what her endgame is and where her allegiance will land. Well because of all of that I couldn’t have fathomed the heartwrenching and vulnerable exchange she and Connelly share when Connelly’s character asks Wright’s to look after her daughter while she’s gone, but especially if she doesn’t return. Wright’s range of emotions from surprise, to honored, to conviction in the span of seconds left me with a lump in my throat. It was a moment that brought these two women, once partners and allies full circle and I never saw it coming. In an imperfect show, the beautiful work it did this week surrounding the complicated path that healing and forgiveness take in these three women was the best things I saw on TV.
I loved what you had to say about Randall not being born into the Pearson family but being family nonetheless and how that most certainly is reflected in the choice to have him and Beth be the ones reaching out to Madison. Family doesn’t have to just be about blood; it’s about choice. And this was a moment of choosing to make Madison family and Madison choosing to be part of this family at a time when she needed it most. In so many ways, Randall is truly Jack’s son, and I love when we get reminders of that.
I also totally agree that I never would have seen my love for Madison coming. (I mean, I should have, since she was the stereotypical “annoying” female character that most of the fandom hated, and I do tend to adopt those.) But the way she has grown into her own nuanced character has been beautiful to watch. And your story and the connections you drew with Madison’s are beautiful and powerful and such a testament to the ways stories can make us feel seen and bring up memories of the moments that made us who we are—the triumphs, the traumas, and everything in between. Also, “When you’ve spent your adulthood (if not longer) caring for yourself and caring for others the leap of faith to ask for and accept help feels like a leap across the Grand Canyon” — thanks for making me cry. ❤
And also thanks for making put Snowpiercer on my radar! I already knew it had a fantastic cast, but I had no clue Rowan Blanchard was on it now! I'm so glad to see she's doing great work. And you know any stories about amazing women are going to pique my interest, especially ones that come with your seal of approval.