Spoiler alert: This piece contains light spoilers.
At some point in the first few seasons of the hit television show This Is Us, some friends and I started what we called “Team Tuesday.” We’d go for a hike and then settle in to watch that week’s new episode together. I’ve now moved out of state but every Tuesday, three of us still text each other our reactions throughout the episode.
My parents across the country have cherished the show as an opportunity to have something to look forward to with my 16-year-old little sister when very little else seems to give them the chance to bond together.
So, tonight, we will all say goodbye to a dear friend as This Is Us concludes. The show is admittedly not completely clean, but it is arguably one of the cleanest dramas to hit our screens in a long time, and it is full of things that other network TV shows lack: heart and positive values. In fact, the entire premise of the show is based on principles that we as Latter-day Saints believe completely.
The Family Is Central to the Creator’s Plan
Monologues are a huge part of This Is Us, and perhaps the first monologue of the series came when one of the main characters, Kevin Pearson, an actor, confides in his nieces that when he reads a new script, he paints the way the script makes him feel. He then says:
“I painted this because I felt like the play was about life, you know? And life is full of color. And we each get to come along and we add our own color to the painting, you know? And even though it’s not very big, the painting, you sort of have to figure that it goes on forever, you know, every direction. So, like, to infinity, you know?
“’Cause that’s kind of like life, right? And it’s really crazy if you think about it, isn’t it? That a hundred years ago, some guy that I never met came to this country with a suitcase. He has a son, who has a son, who has me. So, at first, when I was painting, I was thinking, you know, maybe up here, that was that guy’s part of the painting and then, you know, down here, that’s my part of the painting. And then I started to think, well, what if we’re all in the painting, everywhere?
“And what if we’re in the painting before we’re born? What if we’re in it after we die? And these colors that we keep adding, what if they just keep getting added on top of one another, until eventually we’re not even different colors anymore? We’re just one thing. One painting. I mean, my dad is not with us anymore. He's not alive but he’s with us. He’s with me every day. It all just sort of fits somehow.
“And even if you don’t understand how yet, people will die in our lives—people that we love—in the future, maybe tomorrow, maybe years from now. I mean it’s kind of beautiful right? If you think about it the fact that just because someone dies, just because you can’t see them or talk to them anymore, it doesn’t mean they're not still in the painting. I think maybe that’s the point of the whole thing. There’s no dying. There’s no you or me or them. It’s just us.”
Family bonds that don’t end with death? Generations that are connected together? An existence that began before we were born? Sounds familiar.
Elder Robert D. Hales said, “When families are functioning as designed by God, the relationships found therein are the most valued of mortality. The plan of the Father is that family love and companionship will continue into the eternities."
The Pearsons consistently value and prioritize their family relationships. They work at them. They show up for the big moments in each other’s lives. They cultivate traditions. They forgive and let go of hard feelings.
It’s Never Too Late
Addiction plagues at least three generations of the Pearson family that we see on the show, but we watch them work to overcome these addictions. The gospel of Jesus Christ teaches us that there is “no habit, no addiction, no transgression, no offense exempted from the promise of complete forgiveness.”
You, like me, may have loved ones who have battled addiction, and maybe that’s why one particular storyline a few seasons ago really hit me hard. As I watched the character on the show fight his dependency on pills, I found myself feeling more invested than I probably should’ve been in a television show. I was rooting for this character to overcome his demons like I would my best friend, and I hadn’t even been a huge fan of his character up to that point.
And that’s when it hit me: The stories shared on This Is Us don’t just highlight one isolated moment in someone’s life. You don’t see them singularly in their finest hour or only in the depths of their despair. Because the show bounces around various stages of each character’s life, you understand a little more why they are the way they are or what might be causing them to make a particular decision. And while that certainly doesn’t excuse certain behaviors, having that kind of perspective does help you feel greater empathy for them.
In a way, the show gives us an opportunity to see a life the way that God sees it. As Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin said, “We see ourselves in terms of yesterday and today. Our Heavenly Father sees us in terms of forever. Although we might settle for less, Heavenly Father won’t, for He sees us as the glorious beings we are capable of becoming.”
We Are All Brothers and Sisters
The Pearsons have had some really tough conversations over the course of the last six seasons, but none have been more intense than their conversations associated with racism. It is interesting to note that This Is Us began having these conversations long before June 2020 when George Floyd’s death led many of us to have conversations about racism—some of us for the first time.
As a Black man adopted by a white family as a baby, Randall Pearson faced the challenges of racism from the show’s first season, but they all came to a head in a conversation with his brother, Kevin, in the fifth season.
“I never wanted to be special, man. I just wanted to blend in like everybody else. But that was impossible in our family because I always stood out,” Randall says. “Everywhere we went. The store, the park, vacations. And the last thing I needed, man, the last thing, was for my brother to use my Blackness to ‘other me’ also. You had racial blind spots, Kev. Deep ones that affected me.”
As Latter-day Saints, we’ve been asked by our living prophet, President Russell M. Nelson, to “lead out in abandoning attitudes and actions of prejudice” while also pleading with us “to promote respect for all of God’s children.”
“God does not love one race more than another. His doctrine on this matter is clear. He invites all to come unto him, ‘black and white, bond and free, male and female,’ (2 Nephi 26:33). I assure you that your standing before God is not determined by the color of your skin. Favor or disfavor with God is dependent upon your devotion to God and His commandments and not the color of your skin,” President Nelson said.
This level of love and respect often requires tough conversations, and This Is Us provided a space that sometimes made us as viewers feel uncomfortable just watching. It made us reflect on our own biases. But maybe it was important for us to sit in that discomfort even if it was from the safety of our own living rooms.
It is an interesting thing to watch a show for six seasons, only to realize at the very end what it really was at its core. Last week, before the show’s penultimate episode, This Is Us creator Dan Fogelman tweeted, “This one is for my mom.” And that’s when it hit me: all along This Is Us was a tribute to motherhood. As my own mom put it, “They took a normal stay-at-home mom and made her the star of the show.”
Apparently I wasn’t the only one who was a bit slow on the uptake, because actress Mandy Moore, who is literally the star of the show, said, “I really had no idea about the scope … of this story, really, until we got into multiple seasons. Then I realized, ‘I think this is a tribute to [Dan’s] mom. I think this is all about her.’”
Fogelman lost his mother to pancreatic cancer when he was 31.
The show celebrates a mother who falls short again and again, who—in an effort to protect her kids and to be what they need—often makes mistakes, but who, in the end, is remembered by her adult children as being “magic.”
As Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said, “No love in mortality comes closer to approximating the pure love of Jesus Christ than the selfless love a devoted mother has for her child.” He later added, “To all of our mothers everywhere, past, present, or future, I say, ‘Thank you. Thank you for giving birth, for shaping souls, for forming character, and for demonstrating the pure love of Christ.’ To Mother Eve, to Sarah, Rebekah, and Rachel, to Mary of Nazareth, and to a Mother in Heaven, I say, ‘Thank you for your crucial role in fulfilling the purposes of eternity.’ To all mothers in every circumstance, including those who struggle—and all will—I say, ‘Be peaceful. Believe in God and yourself. You are doing better than you think you are. In fact, you are saviors on Mount Zion, and like the Master you follow, your love “never faileth.”’”
Mothers matter, and This Is Us has wholeheartedly succeeded in turning our hearts to our mothers.
The End Is Really a Beginning
A recent episode of the show portrayed life as a train, and before coming to the caboose of the train, symbolizing the end of life, one character says to another, “This is quite sad, isn’t it? The end?” The other character responds, “The way I see it, if something makes you sad when it ends, it must have been pretty wonderful when it was happening. Truth be told, I always felt it a bit lazy to just think of the world as sad, because so much of it is. Because everything ends. Everything dies. But if you step back, if you step back and look at the whole picture, if you're brave enough to allow yourself the gift of a really wide perspective, if you do that, you'll see that the end is not sad. … It’s just the start of the next incredibly beautiful thing.”
I believe that the gospel of Jesus Christ teaches us clearer than anything else that Kevin Pearson was right. We really are all connected in this big, beautiful, messy painting that has no beginning and no end.
A few years ago, the show’s creator Fogelman said, “Ugliness envelops us right now. The internet is filled with trolls and skeptics, haters and hackers. But I choose to see connections in our existences. I choose to see the romance, and the beauty that is often born from tragedy.”
Elder Neal A. Maxwell once said, “Recall the new star that announced the birth at Bethlehem? It was in its precise orbit long before it so shone. We are likewise placed in human orbits to illuminate. Divine correlation functions not only in the cosmos but on this planet too.”
None of this life is an accident. We are here because it is where we were meant to be all along. We were placed in our families, amongst our friends, in this specific time and place by the same God that has made incredible things happen since the beginning of the world. He needs us to try to see things the way He sees them. He needs us to love the way He loves. He wants us to root for each other and to work together, despite our many different experiences and perspectives, to connect with one another and bless each other’s lives.
As President Nelson has said, “In God’s eternal plan, salvation is an individual matter; exaltation is a family matter.” This life thing is a collective group effort, and I think we can do better. This is not me versus you. This is us.