Let's Discuss ‘This Is Us’: The Challenger Caboose Problem

Oh, Mother ... I do hope you're well.

THIS IS US -- "The Challenger" Episode 601 -- Pictured: (l-r) Isabella Rose Landau as Kate, Kaz Womack as Kevin, Ca'Ron Jaden Coleman as Randall, Mandy Moore as Rebecca, Milo Ventimiglia as Jack -- (Photo by: Ron Batzdorff/NBC)
Let's Discuss 'This Is Us'

This Is Us, a show about the Vietnam War, has returned for its final season. Of course, we are bereft. We are weeping at the rotting corpse of Father. We are girding ourselves for another look at the horrors of war with Uncle. We are wondering: Will Sister enjoy life with guy from You’re the Worst? And will Brother (white) and Brother (Black) be able to sustain their fragile (due to race) relationship? And is Mother dead?

These questions and more will be answered this season, and we begin with last night’s episode.


She is not yet dead. But in the past it’s time for the Challenger explosion, and I fear Mother might never serve her children Tang again. Yes, the kids have all taken it quite badly, I’m afraid, after seeing the shuttle explode in real-time on a wheeled-out television in school. Mother and Undead Father did their best to discuss the disaster with their children, however it seems to have scarred Actor Brother for life. Is seeing the Challenger explode in real-time what put him on his dark path to becoming “the Manny” (in the show) and divorcing Chrishell (in real life) or was that his, frankly, suffocating hotness? A question for another day.

Further in the past, Young Mother rides the train with Mother’s Father. They walk through each train car before getting to the — what’s the last one called? Modern Mother can’t remember because of plaque discovered on her PET scan, a sign of Alzheimer's disease. Oh, no … oh wait, she remembers now. It’s the caboose.


Well, it’s the Big Three’s birthday, and Sister is alone. Her husband, now in San Francisco after agreeing to take a job for which he has to appear in-office there three days a week, because even though we had to suffer through This Is Us COVID, a season during which everyone wore a mask and no character entered a room without being thanked for having isolated for two weeks prior and taken a PCR test, apparently in the modern This Is Us universe the pandemic has subsided and husbands are back to having long-distance relationships with their wives due to having to appear in-office three days a week in a city in which they do not live. Ah, well.

But, what? Oh — it’s Sister’s birthday, and the husband has arranged for Mother, Uncle, and Mother’s Special Friend to take her children so she can have an at-home massage. Very relaxing until her boss, the guy from You’re the Worst, (Future Husband), tells her she has to come into work. Ugh. She gets there just in time to see You’re the Worst breaking up with a conventionally attractive thin woman, the conventional attractiveness of whom he stresses several times.

Why does she have to come into work on her day off? Why, so the children she teaches can sing her a song for her birthday, of course. Could they not have done that another day, perhaps one she had not taken off in advance? Unresolved.


Oh, not well (although each remains hot). Councilmen Brother has gotten word the police have found the man who broke into his home with a knife last year, an event that led him to have several nervous breakdowns. Rather than have birthday sex with his wife, he attends the man’s arraignment, and then — after discovering the man’s humanity, and the fact that he had a dog at the time of his arrest — pays his bail, so that they might meet up later at the shelter where the police had dropped off his dog. A noble thought from a noble man, but the Bad Man ultimately does not show up, and Brother does not, for some reason, adopt the dog instead, which is what I assumed was going to happen. But he does eventually have sex with his wife.

Actor Brother is jealous of a nerd, I’m sad to report. Worse yet — he may star in a reboot of The Manny, this time as, gulp, the dad. Coming back as an aged crone to a reanimated version of a beloved franchise you were once part of as a young stud? Well, it couldn’t be me. His attempt at living in the garage of his kids’ mother’s house is not going well. This mother had a book club meeting that turned into a date, leaving Brother jealous of that nerd I mentioned. Unfortunate. Now he’s moved out of the garage and onto Sister’s couch, and he is very worried about Mother’s health (because of her cognitive impairment, but mainly because of the Challenger explosion).


Yes, Uncle is there. He is Facebook stalking that girl he knew. Next week, the whole Mother gang shows up at her door unannounced. We’ll see you then.