This week, This Is Us viewers finally got the Miguel backstory episode they’ve been hearing for years was in the works.
And not only does the hour chronicle Miguel’s past, it also witnesses his passing: Jon Huertas’ character dies at the end of the hour. (For a statement from Huertas, click here.)
Read on for the highlights of “Miguel.”
A TOUGH MOVE | In flashbacks to Miguel’s childhood, we learn that his family moved to Pennsylvania to live with a cousin after Miguel’s father couldn’t find work in their native Puerto Rico. He wound up doing landscaping, and during one job at a well-off white family’s house, young Miguel went into the home to use the bathroom but got distracted by a baseball game on TV. The man of the house invited Miguel to watch Roberto Clemente and the Pirates play, then asked if the boy had been to a game yet. Miguel said no, but that he’d be happy to sit anywhere in the park in order to watch Clemente do his thing. The home owner corrects him: “Son, where you sit is all that matters.”
MIGUEL MAKES IT |Then, we get snippets from Miguel’s life as a young adult. He lands the job at the construction firm where he and Jack eventually work, but he only gets an interview when he submits his resume under the name “Mike Rivers” — because the multiple attempts he made to apply under his true name, Miguel Rivas, “never got a call back,” he points out to the boss, Mr. Lundy.
Miguel’s professional success irks his parents, and what starts out as a happy Christmas visit ends badly. His folks don’t like that their son has straightened his curls because “I’m not trying to look like I just flew in from San Juan, Mami.” Miguel can’t understand why his father, in particular, is angry about the new car he just bought or his offer to help pay for the constant nursing his aunt — who had a stroke in her 20s — needs. “Why is it so hard for you to watch me make something of myself in this place, in this place that you brought us to?” Miguel asks, hurt, and his father doesn’t have a good answer. Miguel leaves in anger.
THE BALLAD OF MIGUEL AND REBECCA | Flashes of Miguel’s life with Jack, Rebecca and Shelly follow. We watch Jack engineer a bar hangout so that Miguel and Rebecca, who don’t like each other much at first, are forced to get to know each other better. Then Miguel meets Shelly, they get engaged, they bring their first child, Andy, home from the hospital. Things turn less happy. Mr. and Mrs. Rivas argue while Andy and his younger sister, Amber, watch from the stairs.
The story jumps ahead. As we know, Miguel tearfully says goodbye to Rebecca just as they’re realizing they’re more than friends. His relationship with his children suffers more after his move to Houston. In 2008, he gets a call from his mother that his father has died. After the funeral, his mother reassures him that his father “died proud of you. He’d want you to know that.” And after Miguel marvels at how his elderly mother still provides much of the physically taxing care for her sister, she says, “Love is giving your heart without expectation.” He says he’s lost, and she reassures him that he will find his way — and someone to love.
One night, after seeing Beth’s Facebook post about baby Tessa (and Rebecca’s tagging within), he direct-messages her. Their relationship builds to long, frequent phone calls, and then they have dinner while he’s in Pennsylvania for work. Though the interaction is a little awkward at first, Miguel quickly (VERY quickly, right?!) cuts to what he’s been waiting to say. “I’ve never felt at home anywhere. And if I’m being honest, the first time that I ever felt homesick in my life was when I left you on that porch.” Rebecca smiles, gets up from her seat, sits next to him, and kisses him. “It’s really nice to see you again,” she says.
He retires and returns to Pennsylvania. They move in together, but their plan to ease the kids into this new knowledge at Thanksgiving is thwarted when Randall, Beth, Kevin and Kate walk in on their mom and Miguel kissing in the cabin kitchen. Though everyone is freaked at first, Randall and Kate eventually become OK with the idea. Kevin, as we know from the show’s first season, is not — especially when Miguel announces that he’s in love with Rebecca.
FALL RISK | The present-day portion of the episode takes place with Miguel and Rebecca living in the home Kevin built for them. Based on that, and Rebecca’s general state of being, I’m guessing that we’re in the era not too long after Kate and Philip’s wedding. Miguel wakes at 5:30 every morning, gets his and her medications sorted, and is ready and waiting for Rebecca when she wakes up around 6:45. We see bits and pieces of Miguel’s doctor’s visits: He’s had a hip replaced, he has high blood pressure, and he’s been experiencing shortness of breath during exercise. Still, he maintains to the doc, he doesn’t have time for a stress test. It’s clear he is Rebecca’s primary caregiver.
Which isn’t to say that there’s isn’t an aide that comes to the house to help with physical therapy, chores, etc. But Miguel won’t let her do much and often dismisses her in the middle of the afternoon; Rebecca is often agitated and confused by a change in routine or a new face in the house, and he later explains that doing everything himself just makes life easier…
… until it doesn’t. One night, he wakes to find Rebecca missing from their bed. She’s outside, giggling and twirling in the falling snow. And as he tries to cajole her back inside, he slips and falls, badly hurting himself. Still, when Kev, Randall and Kate visit for Thanksgiving at the big house, Miguel downplays his injuries. And the moment he steps out of the room to take a painkiller for his back, Rebecca becomes very upset and won’t calm down until Miguel rushes back and takes her in his arms.
THE BEGINNING OF THE END | After inadvertently catching a glimpse of 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’d just slept on his back wrong), and The Big Three sit their stepfather down for a talk.
In short: It’s time to get full-time help for Rebecca. Miguel balks — “She’s my wife! I made a vow.” — and insists that he failed everyone else 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 straight with the older man: “We’re not doing this to you. We’re doing this for you,” he says. And realizing that they’re right, Miguel quietly relents.
The montage that follows finds the home health aide taking care of both Miguel and Rebecca. But when Billy Joel’s “And So It Goes” cues up on the soundtrack, you just KNOW things are going to get sad, quickly. Miguel’s heart is not in great shape. He starts using a cane. Kevin is around more to help both his mom and Migs. Eventually, Kevin visits Andy and lets him know that “your father may not have a lot of time left,” adding that his doctors are worried about heart failure. Andy doesn’t know how to react to that information, but Kevin leaves him with this: “Take it from me, man. You don’t want to leave things unfinished.”
Happily, Andy and his children are there as we watch a gathering of the families. And then less happily, everyone is wearing black, Rebecca is in a wheelchair, and Miguel is gone.
His ashes are spread at two places: the base of an apple tree in front of the new(ish) house, and a field in Puerto Rico on which he played baseball as a child.
Now it’s your turn. Did Miguel’s death hit you hard? Sound off in the comments!