The most powerful tool of It’s us‘ The arsenal is time. The show can compress decades into a single hour or stretch the mystery of a moment over multiple seasons. It can make a new character feel like family within the span of a single episode. Or it can take a character who has lived on our screens for six years and suddenly explore his life in a whole new light.
On a large scale, I don’t know if that was the best use of It’s us‘ time to spend so long pushing Miguel’s story into the background only to finally cram it all into the show’s penultimate episode. But I know that makes for a hell of an effective hour of television. And maybe there’s something thematically appropriate about the timing of it all, too. “The truth is, I never told him about it,” Kevin tells Miguel’s adult son, Andy, while trying to convince him to mend his complicated relationship with his aging father. “I never told him about, well, him Actually.”
For so many years, that’s what Miguel was – a supporting player hovering around Jack in the past and Rebecca in the present. A potential villain at first, then easy comic relief, then, slowly, one of the most moving characters in the entire series, thanks in large part to Jon Huertas’ warmly understated performance. In a series filled with grand speeches and performative gestures, Miguel offered a different picture of what devotion can look like. “Love is giving your heart without expectation,” her mother tells her, thinking back to the years she spent quietly caring for her older sister. And it turns out that Miguel really is his mother’s son: gentle, selfless and deeply loyal, until the end of his life.
Like I may have mentioned it once or twice in these reviews over the years, it’s not uncommon for me to cry during an episode of It’s us. But “Miguel” hit me on an emotional level that very few episodes of this series have. In terms of tears, it’s right there with the swan song episode of William’s first season “Memphis” which struck an equally poignant and thoughtful tone as it sought to condense an entire lifetime into just 43 minutes. When someone in their 80s dies after a long life, happy and at peace with those they love, it’s not exactly a tragedy. But it is a loss. And “Miguel” manages to capture that sense of loss right next to the gift that was Miguel’s life.
As this episode reveals, Miguel was born in Puerto Rico, the son of two gentle and pragmatic parents. He moved to the United States when he was still a child, where he had to adapt to a new culture and a new language. He made his parents proud as he rose through the ranks of the world as a construction foreman, though he also had to step away from his own culture to earn that success in a country not particularly friendly to Hispanics.
Miguel had a complicated relationship with his father, a complicated relationship with his ex-wife Shelly, and a particularly complicated relationship with his two children. In many ways, his life has been characterized by a sense of longing, a sense of never really fitting in. An experience perfectly summed up by the philosophical sentence he learned from his father: “I don’t know, but that’s a good question. Ask me later.
And then Miguel met the Pearsons. Although this episode goes over exactly how Jack and Miguel made the random transition costume store meet cute in a best friendship for life, “Miguel” reiterates that Jack is the one Miguel turns to in times of stress. The “previously” segment reminds us of when Miguel joins the Pearsons for Thanksgiving during his messy divorce from Shelly in the late 1990s. And that’s what he does after a fight with his dad on Christmas Eve in the 1970s, when he walks to a bar to see Jack and Rebecca.
Hilariously, it turns out Rebecca initially had some kind of weird grudge against him. But that’s just a dose of dramatic irony to brighten up what we know the future holds for Jack Pearson’s two favorite people. As Miguel tells Rebecca on their 2008 Facebook post-reunion date: “To be honest, the first time I felt homesick in my life was when I left you on that porch.”
I like that rather than stretch out the drama of Rebecca and Miguel’s courtship, this episode instead emphasizes its simplicity. Although Rebecca can sometimes be a little passive in her personal life, she also has a certain confidence when she knows what she wants too. As it was on her first date and first night with Jack, she takes the first step with Miguel. And from there, there’s no doubt that Rebecca and Miguel are meant to be together, even if her new relationship sends her kids away (especially at her late 20s).something Kevin) spiral.
Rebecca and Miguel’s midlife romance is so incredibly sweet that I would have gladly spent several episodes living in this timeline. And yet, condensing this period to a handful of scenes also underscores how little time they spent together as a couple. The long pause between when they separate ways at Thanksgiving 1999 and when they reconnected online in October 2008 had their costs. They were only together about 12 years before Rebecca was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s – a long time in some senses and too short in others. Yet, more than most people, they knew how to appreciate every moment.
Like Jack, Miguel found his purpose in Rebecca. And like Jack, there’s an undercurrent of atonement at play in his dedication. In the same way, Jack got invested in Rebecca and the Big Three to make up for his failure to save Nicky during the Vietnam War, Miguel devotes himself to Rebecca and her family to make up for his failures as a husband and father in his first marriage. He handles Rebecca’s complicated care on his own, rooting her in a terrifying time in his life. And even when he (reluctantly) accepts help, he still doesn’t leave her, true to the “I’ll take care of you until the end of my days” part of his wedding vows.
This kind of quiet, largely invisible guarding is easy to take for granted, much like Miguel himself. Yet here at the end of the series, It’s us finally finds the time to give man his due, both in life and in death. When Miguel eventually dies, his ashes are scattered across his two homes: the baseball field he played on as a child in Puerto Rico and the apple tree he grew for Rebecca in the Pearson family cabin. . And that may be Miguel in a nutshell. In some ways a stranger to the Pearson family and in other ways the most loyal Pearson of them all.
- Given their rocky relationship over the years, there’s something very touching about Kevin being one of the people to travel to Puerto Rico to scatter Miguel’s ashes there.
- I’m a bit confused about the timeline at the end of this episode. It looks like Miguel will age at least a few more years before he dies, but Kevin’s twins still seem to be the same age as when Kate and Phillip got married.
- Going from clothing retail to construction management seems like a bit of a random jump, doesn’t it?
- I wonder if something weird happened with Griffin Dunne’s filming schedule this season because it’s yet another episode where it feels like Uncle Nicky should be there but he isn’t. (Especially given that he’s the one loyally sitting alongside Rebecca in her deathbed flashforward.)
- The show’s writers have confirmed we’re supposed to assume that late teens/early 20s Deja, Tess, and Annie are just offscreen in a lot of these flashfoward scenes, but I’m not sure that’s a creative gamble that really pays off . I would have liked to see a few last moments between Miguel and his trio of granddaughters.