I have a confession to make — one that will very likely fall under the umbrella of “unpopular opinion” for most fans of NBC’s most tear-jerking series. So, here goes: I no longer worship at the altar of Jack and Rebecca Pearson on This Is Us. Or to put it simply, I’m just not into the main couple at the heart of the series.
In full disclosure, I love the show. I even like Jack and Rebecca individually. In fact, I love Rebecca and Jack individually. What I find problematic has much more to do with the way their relationship has been aggrandized.
Hear me out.
Both Rebecca and Jack are imperfect people — a wholly endearing facet of This Is Us. It’s refreshing to see characters whose narratives are messy and at times even ugly. That’s what real life looks like, right?
However, while the show makes it clear neither character is perfect, it tends to romanticize their relationship. Jack often comes off looking like the world’s best husband and father. Rebecca resonates as the loving wife who appreciates all her husband’s contributions to the household and forgives oversights or upsets. But Jack and Rebecca, as perfect as each of them may seem, do not have a perfect life. In fact, in flashback scenes, it’s clear young Rebecca wanted a life that looked like pretty much the opposite of what she got with Jack.
Growing up, she tired of watching her mother serve her father. She rebelled by joining shop class and taking the reins in her relationship with high school boyfriend Alan.
She falls hard for Jack, though, and despite promises she made to her younger self, she ends up living a life that looks in many ways a lot like her mother’s. Not all ways, of course, because Jack definitely deserves credit for being a more hands-on dad and husband than Rebecca’s dad was. That iconic dishwashing scene is a testament to this fact.
This isn’t to say she doesn’t love her husband or their life together. She obviously adores the Big Three. But there’s no denying that Rebecca feels… stifled at times. True, this happens to be something Jack and Rebecca butt heads about, albeit briefly — she quietly yearns for the life she thought she might have, filled with albums and performances, all the while trying to reconcile that desire with her love of being a mother and a wife.
And therein lies the root of my problem with Mr. and Mrs. Pearson. There seems to be an underlying suggestion that you can’t have your happily-ever-after without making major concessions. That if you love someone and have that kind of connection, you overlook the things that make you unhappy as a sort of willing sacrifice.
You martyr some of the parts of yourself you love in order to make the person you love happy. Is that true love, though?
I’m not saying that a relationship should be perfect. In fact, I’m saying the opposite. I’m saying we shouldn’t idolize Jack and Rebecca as a perfect couple (which I’ve definitely done in the past) because they are far from it. We should be focusing more on the things that make them imperfect and, by proxy, more authentic.
So, in unpacking all this, perhaps what I’m saying isn’t that I don’t like Jack and Rebecca — it’s that I don’t like the way we as fans have canonized their relationship and continue to do so.
There are a few problems with us. First of all, it leads us all to question whether or not we’ll ever find a Jack-and-Rebecca kind of love, as though that’s the only kind of love worth having. Or it makes us look at the relationships we already have and question their strength, even though we know this is a fictional couple from a fictional TV show. It encourages us to embrace this couple for all the sweet, gushy, romantic, picture-perfect moments. We swoon over Jack telling Rebecca he’ll be her “12,” while really we should be talking about what led to that moment: Jack’s alcoholism and what it’s like to be married to someone battling addiction.
We should be zeroing in on what it says about Rebecca’s love for Jack that it doesn’t take long for her to bring him back into the fold or what it says about him (and his addiction) that he lets her. Or what it says about their relationship that Rebecca basically walks away from her music dreams and what it says about Jack that he lets her.
We should focus on how those choices have had a trickle-down effect on their children. Kevin struggles with addiction. In his marriage to Beth, Randall lets her be his rock — the one used to compromising to make him happy. And Kate resents her mother because Rebecca always channeled her frustration over failing to follow her dreams into scrutinizing Kate’s.
We paint this picture of the world’s most romantic couple, but real talk: All those grand gestures, upon closer inspection, start to seem like Spackle covering some pretty big cracks.
You know who I am totally into these days? Rebecca and Miguel. Their love story, although not as flashy as Jack and Rebecca’s, is a beautiful example of two people putting each other first and making the conscious choice every day to show up and work through their stuff.