(Photo by Ron Batzdorff courtesy of NBCUniversal Media)
WARNING: THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS AND CONTENT FOR MATURE AUDIENCES ONLY
Why I’m Saying Thank You To ‘This is Us’
By Sarah Komisky
Many have fallen in love with the show This is Us, now in it’s 4th season, because of it’s exceptional storytelling but also its relatability of the characters that mirror us. The newest episode entitled, “A Hell of a Week: Part Three” vividly depicted this spot on.
While prior episodes have unpacked many different real-life struggles and themes, this current episode introduced a new issue that had many stirred not only for it’s acting, phenomenal directing by cast member Justin Harley (Kevin), but also because of it’s subject matter that they courageously spoke up about – abusive relationships.
While there have been some TV shows that have tackled tough subjects, this show seems to best portray the reality of what it looks like to be in an abusive relationship in an unparalleled way. Maybe because the acting shows us instead of tells us what it’s like to be in this ugly situation. Giving an impactful visual, Kate’s story unfolds through the tragic fairy tale as told by her dad Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) to little four-year-old Kate (Isabella Rose Landau).
Furthermore, NBC along with creator Dan Fogelman and writer Laura Kenar got it right even more because they followed the life of a vulnerable 17 year old girl. A girl, that many of us can relate to and feel what she felt.
While sexual abuse has been in the spotlight and a part of our conversation in culture, many of us haven’t articulated the dangers of emotional and verbal abuse. The brilliance of This is Us is that they gave a platform to talk about it and where this abuse has become all too common. So common in fact, that girls just like teenage Kate (Hannah Zeile) are highly unaware they are in danger. And since many have become unaware (especially females) of the warning signs of an abusive relationship, This is Us showed us what these signs are through the temperament of these characters.
In the show, teen Kate gets lured into the charm of an older 23 year old rebel-type named Marc (Austin Abrams). As the boss of the record store, he gives her a job and becomes the guy in Kate’s life after her dad Jack’s sudden passing. Subtle scenes hint at Marc’s true character emerging as concerning when Kate is seen on the phone apologizing to her controlling boyfriend for something she is clearly unaware of. However, fans did not get a look into the whole story until last week when viewers were given access to this relationship from the beginning. Slowly we see the clues building of some unhealthy behaviors such as anxiety, codependency, exclusivity, and isolation. On Marc’s part, there is controlling behavior, manipulation, and hot and cold tendencies that escalate into rage at the end of the episode when Kate becomes his victim. Initially, Marc seems sweet because he buys Kate a used Patti Smith poetry book but is also too quick to say, “I love you.” Viewers are slowly hit by the foreboding of his flaws. Some of which include reluctancy to meet up with Kate’s mom Rebecca (Mandy Moore) as well his argumentative nature noted by Kate’s siblings, the reveal of his impulsive and reckless behavior seen when he quits his job, as well as his chiding Kate for “embarrassing” him in front of a customer while he drinks on the other line of the phone.
While his character seems to darken throughout the episode, Kate sinks deeper into the relationship even skipping her mother’s birthday plans to be with her boyfriend. Yet, the compass that remains is Kate’s parents, Jack and Rebecca. Beginning with Jack telling little Kate a princess story where he himself is the prince, Kate’s mom Rebecca also plays a big role in being a safe place for Kate. This is seen when Kate is in a distressing situation at the climax of the episode when Marc’s out of control speeding antics provoke him to drive them off the road and he throws Kate out in the cold night yelling verbal offenses. This is where Rebecca’s intuition causes her to go rescue her daughter (along with teen Kevin and teen Randall played by (Logan Shroyer and Niles Fitch) in a negative situation.
All in all, NBC did a fantastic job of illustrating the pivotal point for teens in abusive situations to find their safe place and to invite family into the mix to be their extra set of eyes.
While statistics note one out of three adolescents in the U.S. to become a victim of physical, sexual, emotional, or verbal abuse from a dating partner, it is clear the conversation on the subject is crucial. The reality is (as seen in the episode), most victims stay stuck in the cycle of abuse. This is illustrated when the episode ends with teen Kate returning back to her abusive and apologetic dating partner for time in their family cabin. This vividly portrays the typical negative behavior in a abusive relationship cycle that so many females get caught in.
Fast forward and audiences can also clearly see there is trouble in adult Kate (Chrissy Metz’s) marriage with Toby (Chris Sullivan). Anxiety is resurfacing as she continues to experience the trauma, weight issues, and effects of her past teen relationship. This drives home the point that trauma left undone still lingers.
With their signature past, present, future, style, it’s seems to have majorly paid off in showing the full and lasting wounds of trauma. Although it’s emotional to watch, it is absolutely necessary to have these discussions not only for our youth, but also for our parents. For that matter, anyone who is experiencing emotional or verbal abuse.
While evangelicals might be leery to tune into this show because it is seen as secular, I applaud NBC, the creators, as well as the cast of This is Us for bringing this issue of emotional and verbal trauma within dating relationships to light. I also give them major credit for being brave enough to decultter life’s biggest issues through visual media. This issue is unfortunately commonplace – even in the church. So, we cannot close our eyes and turn away in denial. We must face this issue head on and come out from under the shadows so we can become aware and change can occur. May we continue to speak up and have conversations so we educate the next generation to end cycles of abuse. Thank you This is Us for giving us a call to action.