Oh, Miguel. Miguel!! How bittersweet to finally get a Miguel Rivas stand-alone episode in one of the last four episodes of the entire series. Bittersweet because the episode is moving and compelling and pays a lovely tribute to a great character, but it also makes it all the more clear that this guy deserved more than one of these kinds of episodes throughout This Is Us’s run. Miguel getting shortchanged and being undervalued? You know what, that tracks. Please, forgive me for taking a while to warm up to you, Miguel! Forgive us all! There are so many layers to why this episode will make you cry, and that is one of them. You dear, sweet man with a great head of hair who still married Rebecca despite her children being assholes to you for so long! You deserve the world and you did not get it!!
When we learned that the fourth-to-last episode of This Is Us would be Miguel’s story, it wasn’t hard to connect the dots and realize that Miguel would be departing this world ahead of Rebecca. And so, in “Miguel,” we get two threads: one that starts a few months after Kate and Phillip’s wedding and leads up to Miguel’s death, and another that fills in some gaps from Miguel’s life.
We meet Miguel Rivas as a boy in Puerto Rico, playing baseball out on an open field with his friends, straight-up stanning Roberto Clemente. We watch as his father decides to move the family to East Liberty, Pennsylvania, for better job opportunities and as a young Miguel grapples with feeling split in two: Puerto Rican and American, speaking Spanish and English. He’s never more aware of that split than in regards to his relationship with his father. Miguel has landed his job at Lundy (of course, he had to submit a résumé with the name “Mike Rivers” to even get an interview), and he’s proud of all the money he’s making, but all his father sees is him trying to hide where he came from instead of embracing it. Miguel’s confused because it’s his father who brought him here, who told him to learn English, to fit in. It’s complicated! And it is a crack in their relationship that’s never repaired. When Miguel gets the call in 2008 that his father has died (Miguel’s in Houston at this time, remember), his mother has to assure him that his father died proud of him. They drink coquitos in his honor.
There’s also the Rebecca of it all. Surprise! We learn that Rebecca and Miguel did NOT like each other when they first met. According to Jack, Rebecca thought Miguel was “a lot,” which is honestly a way to describe 83 percent of the characters on this show. Saint Jack Pearson will not hear of his two favorite people on this earth not getting along and so forces them to hang out alone until they become friends. Jack’s ploy works (of course!), and Rebecca seems charmed by Miguel when she asks what his story is and he borrows a line from his father: “I don’t know, but it’s a good question. Ask me again later.” I don’t know, folks, but it sounds good when Jon Huertas says it. This is the beginning of a beautiful friendship, as they say. We fast-forward through a beautiful friendship: Jack and Rebecca push Miguel to go talk to Shelly at the bar, they all celebrate Miguel and Shelly’s engagement, we see the Rivases bring home baby Andy, we watch as their marriage falls apart.
We have to relive some of the worst moments of Miguel and Rebecca’s relationship — her telling him Jack is dead, him leaving her on the porch to move to Houston — but we get some of the long-awaited good stuff too. Back in 2008, we see the other side of that Facebook conversation that reunites the two, and that conversation eventually evolves into long chats on the phone while they eat dinner alone at their respective dining tables. And then finally, FINALLY, Miguel is going to be in town and Rebecca suggests dinner IRL.
This dinner! This dinner, my friends. It is the dinner we’ve been waiting for. Miguel is so nervous, it is adorable. Eventually, he launches into a speech about how he’s never felt like he’s belonged anywhere and the only time in his entire life that he’s felt homesick is when he left her standing there on that porch. Rebecca promptly sits down next to him and plants a big ol’ kiss on that guy’s lips. The swooning I did!
We also get a conversation that I know I’ve been wondering about: the elephant in the room named Jack. Miguel and Rebecca are in bed together, it’s been months, and now Miguel is talking about retiring and moving back to be with her. He brings up the fact that they never talk about Jack. He wonders what he would think. Rebecca thinks that any guy who fought as hard as Jack did for his two favorite people to get along would want what’s best for them both. It turns out Jack’s blessing is the easiest one to get because the Miguel/Rebecca pill does not go down well with the Big Three, who find their mom making out with their dad’s best friend in the cabin one Thanksgiving (like, of course, this drama goes down on Thanksgiving, this is EXACTLY what Beth was talking about). Kevin is especially out of sorts, yelling about how the whole thing is ridiculous and canceling the entire holiday. He is, forever, the family drama queen.
But we know that Miguel and Rebecca forge ahead. We hear them recite their wedding vows. That whole bit about loving one another in sickness and in health until death parts them? Whoa, buddy, does that hit harder now.
And that’s what all of this backstory is supposed to do, right? Not just tell Miguel’s life story, but give context to the man he is in his present day. He feels like he’s failed so much in his life, with his father and his first marriage, that he refuses to fail in taking care of Rebecca. We saw him watch his mother take care of her sick sister because she felt like she failed her when they were younger. Those vows he made to Rebecca? He takes them beyond seriously. So seriously that when one night he finds Rebecca outside — they’re living full-time at the new cabin now — dancing in the snow and he slips and takes a hard fall while trying to get her back inside, he still doesn’t want to have a full-time nurse in the house. The Big Three sit down with him and explain that they know how much he loves their mother, that he has gone above and beyond for her, and that they not only want to take care of her, but they want to take care of him, too. They love him. This scene is juxtaposed with that last cabin conversation between these kids and Miguel?? It’s fine, I’m not, like, biting down on a pillow because those three love their stepdad so much, and it is all he’s ever wanted to hear from them or anything. IT IS FINE.
What a lovely decision to have Kevin (who is now wearing a wedding band in the “present,” by the way) be the one who goes to find Miguel’s son Andy, whom Miguel says he hasn’t seen in five years and tells him that Miguel doesn’t have much time and that he’ll regret it if he leaves things unresolved. Kevin fought the longest against Miguel being a part of their family, and here he is fighting the hardest for him now. Their relationship, out of all the Big Three/Miguel relationships, has been the most well-developed throughout the series, and it pays off here. So, all of Miguel’s family is there with him for a big Christmas holiday (even, I guess, his daughter Amber, just played by a different actress?). They’re all there as Miguel and Rebecca visit the apple tree he planted for her, promising she’d get to see it fully grown, even when she doubted. And they are all there again once Miguel has died. Well, sort of. Most of them gather at the apple tree to spread some of Miguel’s ashes there (as if Rebecca needs yet ANOTHER Dead Husband Tree to visit), but Kevin and Andy travel back to that baseball field in Puerto Rico to make sure part of Miguel’s cremains are laid to rest there, as well. It’s the two parts of him that made Miguel who he was.
I will never understand Miguel’s love of Borat, but I will miss the hell out of that guy. Anywho, can’t wait for these final three not at all emotionally devastating episodes, right?