The ‘This Is Us’ Heartstrings Index: Which Character Made Us Ugly-Cry the Hardest This Week?

This Is Us Recap

Can’t. Stop. Crying. Ron Batzdorff/NBC

Is it socially acceptable to plow through two bottles of wine on a Tuesday night? Maybe? What if you’re doing so in order to cope with the new episode of This Is Us—does that change the equation?

NBC’s hit family dramedy employs ludicrous melodrama and emotional manipulation to tear out your innards and, truthfully, we can’t get enough of it. So cozy up and settle in for a good recap cry as we run through this week’s edition of the This Is Us Heartstrings Index, a comprehensive breakdown of what characters delivered the most gut-punching scenes.

Sad, Sad Coffee Cups

In a show that always opts for the more-is-more approach, “A Philadelphia Story” began with a tragically poignant subtle touch: Rebecca (Mandy Moore) setting out two coffee cups in the morning. In a momentary lapse, she forgot Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) had passed away and put out a cup for him, a reminder of how we take the smallest and most mundane aspects of our lives for granted. Losing someone important crushes you on a grand scale, but that loss is often felt in the day-to-day repetition of life—it’s consistently painful and it sucks.

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So basically, in a mere 15 seconds, This Is Us transformed all 10 million of its viewers into human Eeyores, leading many of us to cry enough tears to fill up both those coffee cups and a few cereal bowls.

We’ve never understood all the hate for Rebecca’s second husband and Jack’s best friend Miguel (Jon Huertas), but in that moment you can bet we were ready to irrationally yell at a show that positively loves irrational yelling. We might have even thrown our Kleenex box at the TV. Might have.

Devastation Quotient: 5 out of 5

The Community College Calamity

What’s worse about the Coffee Cups Incident is that it directly segues to Randall’s life-changing choice. Throughout the episode, we see teenage Kate (Hannah Zeile) continually eating and Kevin (Logan Shroyer) drinking while Rebecca does nothing. Each member of the Pearson clan grieves in their own way. Rebecca’s not so much enabling them as she is fighting to regain her own equilibrium, as she explains to teenage Randall (Niles Fitch) in a flashback. He pushes her to step up as a parent, but she just can’t. At least, not yet. The wound is still too fresh.

While celebrating his acceptance into Howard University with his friends, Randall notices his buddy’s mom and dad dancing together. In that moment, he chooses to attend a school closer to home so that he can take care of Rebecca. While noble, it’s soul-crushing in the moment—a child sacrificing his dream to look after his mother. We all know Randall would have absolutely crushed it at HU.

As we saw in Season 2 with the family’s  outburst at the rehab facility with Kevin’s therapist—who, by the way, was the worst shrink since Dr. Brodsky in A Clockwork Orange—Rebecca favors Randall because “he didn’t abandon me.” This is a key moment in the establishment of their codependency, and while it mostly worked out for everyone, it’s tough to see a kid forced to grow up so quickly. It’s like watching a child star sue their parents for blowing through all their showbiz dough.

Devastation Quotient: 4 out of 5

Dreams Unrealized

Speaking of crushed dreams, Kate reveals in a particularly tense family moment that she never sent in her audition tape to Berkley after Jack’s death. So, if we’re keeping score—and counting Kevin’s injury, which led to his football dreams going up in smoke before Jack’s death—the hopes of all three Pearson children have now been steamrolled. That’s a lot of Ls to deal with, people.

This marks the true start of Kate’s decline, as she eats to compensate for the loss of her father and shies away from carving out her own identity. We can see the path, and that path is a circle, and it’s a vicious one, and now we’re crying all over our keyboard and are in desperate need of Kleenex, but we can’t bring ourselves to get up and find the box that we might have thrown at the TV earlier when we were irrationally yelling.

Devastation Quotient: 3.5 out of 5

The ‘This Is Us’ Heartstrings Index: Which Character Made Us Ugly-Cry the Hardest This Week?