This week, It’s us viewers finally got the The Miguel backstory episode they’ve been hearing for years was in the works.
And not only does the hour relate Miguel’s past, but it also witnesses his death: the character of Jon Huertas dies at the end of the hour. (For a statement from Huertas, click here.)
Read on for highlights from “Miguel.”
A DIFFICULT MOVEMENT | In flashbacks to Miguel’s childhood, we learn that his family moved to Pennsylvania to live with a cousin after Miguel’s father could not find work in their native Puerto Rico. He ended up doing landscaping, and while on a job at the home of a wealthy white family, young Miguel walked into the house to use the bathroom but was distracted by a baseball game at the television. The man of the house invited Miguel to watch Roberto Clemente and the Pirates play, then asked if the boy had ever seen a game. Miguel said no, but that he would be happy to sit anywhere in the park and watch Clemente do his thing. The owner of the house corrects him: “Son, where you are sitting is everything it is important.”
MIGUEL DOES IT |Next, we get snippets of Miguel’s life as a young adult. He lands the job at the construction company where he and Jack end up working, but he doesn’t get an interview until he submits his resume as “Mike Rivers” – because the multiple attempts he’s made to apply under his real name, Miguel Rivas, “I was never called back,” he remarks to the boss, Mr. Lundy.
Miguel’s professional success annoys his parents, and what starts out as a jolly Christmas visit ends badly. His parents don’t like their son straightening his curls because “I’m not trying to look like I just got here from San Juan, Mami.” Miguel doesn’t understand why his father, in particular, is mad at the new car he just bought or his offer to help pay for the constant nursing care his aunt – who suffered a stroke in the twenties – needs. “Why is it so hard for you to see me doing something myself in this place, in this place that you brought us? Miguel asks, hurt, and his father doesn’t have a good answer. Miguel leaves angrily.
THE BALLAD OF MIGUEL AND REBECCA | Flashes of Miguel’s life with Jack, Rebecca and Shelly follow. We watch Jack organize a bar so that Miguel and Rebecca, who don’t like each other very much at first, are forced to get to know each other better. Then Miguel meets Shelly, they get engaged, they bring back their first child, Andy, from the hospital. Things are going less well. Mr. and Mrs. Rivas argue while Andy and his younger sister, Amber, watch from the stairs.
The story jumps forward. As we know, Miguel tearfully says goodbye to Rebecca the moment they realize they are more than friends. Her relationship with her children suffers further after she moves to Houston. In 2008, he received a call from his mother informing him that his father had passed away. After the funeral, his mother reassures him that his father “died proud of you. He wants you to know. And after Miguel marvels at how his elderly mother still provides much of the physically taxing care for his sister, she says, “Love is giving your heart without expectation.” He says he’s lost, and she reassures him that he’ll find his way – and someone to love.
One night, after seeing Beth’s Facebook post about little Tessa (and Rebecca’s marking inside), he direct messages her. Their relationship is built on long, frequent phone calls, and then they have dinner while he’s in Pennsylvania for work. Although the interaction is a little awkward at first, Miguel quickly (VERY quickly, isn’t it?!) cuts off what he was waiting to say. “I never felt at home anywhere. And to be honest, the first time I felt homesick in my life was when I left you on that porch. Rebecca smiles, gets up from her seat, sits down next to him and kisses him. “It’s really nice to see you again,” she said.
He retires and returns to Pennsylvania. They move in together, but their plan to help the kids learn this newfound knowledge at Thanksgiving is thwarted when Randall, Beth, Kevin, and Kate overhear their mom and Miguel making out in the cabin’s kitchen. Although everyone is freaked out at first, Randall and Kate eventually come to terms with the idea. Kevin, as we know from the show’s first season, isn’t, especially when Miguel announces he’s in love with Rebecca.
RISK OF FALLING | The current part of the episode takes place with Miguel and Rebecca living in the house Kevin built for them. Based on that and Rebecca’s general state, I guess we’re in the era shortly after Kate and Philip’s wedding. Miguel wakes up at 5:30 a.m. every morning, has his meds sorted, and is ready and waiting for Rebecca when she wakes up around 6:45 a.m. We see clips from Miguel’s visits to the doctor: he has had a hip replaced, he suffers from high blood pressure, and he suffers from shortness of breath during exercise. Yet he keeps to the doc, he doesn’t have time for a stress test. It is clear that he is Rebecca’s primary caregiver.
Which doesn’t mean there aren’t helpers coming to the house to help with physical therapy, chores, etc. But Miguel doesn’t let her do much and often sends her away in the middle of the afternoon; Rebecca is often restless and confused by a change in routine or a new face in the house, and he later explains that doing everything himself makes life easier…
…until it’s not anymore. One night, he wakes up to find Rebecca missing from their bed. She’s outside, laughing and twirling in the falling snow. And as he tries to coax her inside, he slips and falls, seriously injuring himself. Yet when Kev, Randall, and Kate go to Thanksgiving at the big house, Miguel downplays his injuries. And the moment he walks out of the room to get some painkiller for her back, Rebecca gets very upset and won’t calm down until Miguel rushes over and hugs her.
THE BEGINNING OF THE END | After inadvertently spotting the giant bruise on Miguel’s back, Kevin and his siblings corner the home health aide and ask her what’s going on. She tells them about the fall (Miguel insisted he just slept badly on his back), and the Big Three sit down their stepfather for a chat.
In short: it’s time to get full-time help for Rebecca. Miguel balks — “She’s my wife!” I made a wish. — and insists he’s let down everyone he loved, so he’s not going to leave Rebecca’s side. Randall does what he does so well by using a soothing voice and being very direct with the older man: “We don’t do that for you. we do this for you,” he said. And realizing they were right, Miguel quietly relents.
The following montage shows the home help caring for both Miguel and Rebecca. But when Billy Joel’s “And So It Goes” appears on the soundtrack, you just KNOW things are going to get sad, fast. Miguel’s heart is not in great shape. He begins to use a cane. Kevin is more there to help both his mother and Migs. Eventually, Kevin visits Andy and lets him know that “your dad may not have much time left”, adding that his doctors are worried about heart failure. Andy doesn’t know how to react to this information, but Kevin leaves him this: “Trust me, man. You don’t want to leave things unfinished.
Luckily, Andy and his children are there as we attend a gathering of families. And then less fortunately, everyone is dressed in black, Rebecca is in a wheelchair and Miguel is gone.
His ashes are scattered in two places: the base of an apple tree in front of the new house (rather) and a field in Puerto Rico where he played baseball as a child.
Now it’s your turn. Did Miguel’s death hit you hard? Sound off in the comments!