This Is Us Season 4 Episode 17 Review: After the Fire

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After an intense therapy session, Randall seemed to have a breakthrough.

This Is Us Season 4 Episode 17 featured two alternative futures in which Jack lived, and Dr. Lee helped Randall understand that his anger at Rebecca for keeping William from him was at the root of his issues.

Too bad that after all was said and done, Randall went down the same old path of controlling Rebecca's treatment instead of making the changes he needed to make.

By His Side - This Is Us Season 4 Episode 17

I had high hopes after Randall's therapy session -- maybe too high.

Randall: I'm done. I don't want to do this anymore. What exactly are we doing here. What is the point of this exercise?
Therapist: I need you to acknowledge that even if your father had lived, the rest of your life could have gone a million different ways.

Randall was dragged kicking and screaming to the realization that he was trying to control everything because he had lost both his fathers and felt responsible for his mother.

His therapist even threw in the fact that she resembled Rebecca and that Randall might have chosen her because he needed to work through that old conflict over Rebecca not telling him about William until he was well into adulthood, and Randall acknowledged she had a point.

But then what did he do?

Everything He Missed - This Is Us Season 4 Episode 17

He went home and ordered Rebecca to go through the clinical trial whether she liked it or not, that's what.

That was such a disappointment.

Randall completely missed the point Dr. Lee was trying to make. He refused to talk to Rebecca about the stuff that was really bothering him, instead doubling down on his efforts to control her illness.

This is going to blow up in his face.

Miguel will resent him and so will Kevin, and who knows if Rebecca will go through with the clinical trial after all this turmoil.

Talking to His Father - This Is Us Season 4 Episode 17

That said, Sterling K Brown knocked it out of the park when Randall explained why he wouldn't talk to Rebecca about the past.

Randall was the most vulnerable he'd ever been, admitting that losing Rebecca on top of losing both of his fathers would be too much and that he couldn't risk hurting her. 

It was too soon after acknowledging those painful feelings for him to take the doctor's advice, but if only it hadn't been...

Randall: I think I lost two fathers, and if I had it my way I wouldn't have lost either one of them. So in answer to your first question, yes, I am aware that I am nothing but a cheap pawn on the Universe's chess table. I don't need a therapist in cheap shoes to tell me that. Sorry. That was uncalled for.
Therapist: That's okay. I live for this stuff.

Of course, the whole hour was an exercise in "if only."

William and Jack - This Is Us Season 4 Episode 17

Randall's initial fantasy was, predictably, this version of his life where everything was perfect because Jack had lived.

The only blip in Randall's happiness was that Jack didn't like him hanging around an addict like William, and that was a minor bump in the road.

Randall stood up to Jack and that was that.

It was a relatable fantasy. Anyone who has regrets -- whether or not it's because a parent died -- has felt that deep sense that if only this one thing was different, their whole life would have turned out differently.

Randall's fantasies about Jack were doubly poignant because we don't know what would have happened if Jack had lived. We don't know if Randall would have had the charmed life he imagined in the first half of the hour or lived the nightmare of the second half-hour.

Meeting William With Jack- This Is Us Season 4 Episode 17

But Randall's longing for his father and the hole that Jack's death left in his life was obvious.

There's Boggle and Connect Four in the cabinet behind you. You're gonna be sitting in that chair for another half hour. We can play games or you can be honest.


Dr. Lee did a great job of refusing to put up with Randall's BS. No wonder she came so highly recommended.

She didn't let him off the hook once throughout the session and that's what led him to the breakthrough, even if he didn't act on it.

There were several interesting aspects to the negative fantasy that Dr. Lee guided Randall through, but one of the most fascinating was that in this alternate universe, Kevin was the favored son who had made something out of himself.

In the nightmare scenario, Kevin worked with Jack and became super successful, while Randall was drifting through life and not taking anything seriously.

It was as if the brothers had switched places.

Randall's Feelings - This Is Us Season 4 Episode 17

I was surprised Dr. Lee didn't say anything about that, but there's only so much time in a session, especially if you're trying to fit it into one episode of a series.

But that role-switching speaks to the dynamic between Kevin and Randall as well as Randall's deepest fears.

Hey guys, listen to me. We're all gonna be fine. We're here, we're together. That's all that matters.


Randall's role has always been that of the good son, while Kevin has always been the misfit who every expects to screw up, and Randall is terrified of the idea of Kevin being more successful than him.

Now the conflict between Kevin and Randall over Rebecca's care make even more sense.

If He Had Lived - This Is Us Season 4 Episode 17

Randall wants to be the one taking care of Rebecca, and Kevin being able to do it too is threatening to him. It comes too close to that negative fantasy in which Kevin is highly successful and Randall is nothing.

It's clear that his identity is bound in the idea of being the good kid, which requires Kevin to be the bad kid eternally.

I thought everything would go back to normal, but it's not. It's never going to be again.


All of this goes to show that love and good intentions are no guarantee that your kids will grow up into mentally healthy adults.

There was no shortage of love for any of the Big Three, but all three of them have serious problems, and some of those problems stem from well-intentioned decisions that harmed them, like Rebecca's decision to keep William's existence secret from Randall.

So what did you think, This Is Us fanatics?

Hit the SHOW COMMENTS button and let us know what you think about Randall's therapy session, the decision he made, or anything else that happened on This Is Us Season 4 Episode 17.

Want to see the episode again? No problem. Just watch This Is Us online right here on TV Fanatic. 

This Is Us continues to air on NBC on Tuesdays at 9 PM EST/PST. The Season 4 finale will air on March 24, 2020.

After the Fire Review

Editor Rating: 5.0 / 5.0
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User Rating:

Rating: 4.6 / 5.0 (51 Votes)

Jack Ori is a senior staff writer for TV Fanatic. His debut young adult novel, Reinventing Hannah, is available on Amazon. Follow him on Twitter.

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This Is Us Season 4 Episode 17 Quotes

Randall: What's wrong? Mom, you're really freaking me out.
Rebecca: Sweetheart, when you were a baby, I met your birth father.

Hey guys, listen to me. We're all gonna be fine. We're here, we're together. That's all that matters.