You already know This Is Us is one of the best shows on television, but their mid-season finale truly raised the bar and set an example for how all storytellers can help normalize their LGBTQ+ characters.
If you’ve read my articles then you know how passionate I am about normalizing LGBTQ+ characters in media. I’ve mostly written about concerns over Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them but it’s important to me that all media moves to a more inclusive and less divisive portrayal of LGBTQ+ characters.
This Is Us has achieved this in their last episode, and I’m so damn thrilled about it.
For those who don’t watch the show: William is the father of one of the main characters, Randall. As a young adult he was not equipped to raise a son so he left him at a fire station in the 70s.
Randall found him 35 years later only to find out William has cancer and only has a few months left to live. With only a limited amount of time they still have many things to learn about each other and this week we learned that William had a boyfriend/partner that he recently left.
Part of what made this reveal so fantastic is the characterization of William and how he breaks stereotypes of what a gay character looks and sounds like. We’re so used to seeing the gay character in a story as nothing but a walking stereotype, someone flamboyant and characterized as a girl’s best friend. That is not who William is at all, and I am so thankful.
That’s not to say that overly-flamboyant gay characters are a bad thing, but in a world where all media portrays a gay guy as flamboyant and fun it’s a little frustrating to see an entire demographic forced into this one character type.
We had no hint of William’s sexuality before this reveal, and nor should we have. Prior to this episode William was more concerned about his son, his health and his family because all of those are way more important than what he identifies as. His sexuality didn’t need to be brought up just for the show to go, ‘Oh by the way he gaaaay,’ because that would have felt weird.
Instead of defining William by his sexuality, the writers on This Is Us defined him by his life experiences and his personality. In doing so they were able to create a well-rounded character just as they did with the heterosexual characters on the show. If the other characters’ sexuality don’t define who they are as a person then why should William’s?
When the scene started that ended up revealing William’s past I had no idea what we were in for. I thought he was just attending a support meeting, which wouldn’t be too surprising given his history as a drug addict, but it turns out he went to his ex partner’s support meeting so he could apologize for leaving.
This is exactly how we need to treat LGBTQ characters! Prior to this episode there was absolutely no reason for William’s sexuality to come to light because he had no partner in his life and had many other things to worry about, but this week we found out that he did in fact have someone he loved, and that someone happened to be a man.
It’s not surprising that we didn’t get this reveal earlier in the season. Given William’s history as a drug addict and someone who just reconnected with his son for the first time in 35 years, there wasn’t any room to fit in a love life. Until now.
William left his partner, Jessie, because he knew he was dying and he wanted to spare Jessie the pain of it all. I don’t know about you, but when I end a relationship I like to think about that person as little as humanly possible, and that makes this plot and secret all the more realistic. If you’re trying to avoid heartbreak and stress you’re not going to bring up the partner who you just left, just to tell someone your sexuality.
It makes sense that during the William’s (likely) last holiday season he would want to find his partner and apologize for leaving, and I’m so happy that this is how the show went about telling us that William is gay. It all felt so natural and normal, and that’s exactly what we need!
In addition to William’s characterization and reveal of his sexuality, This Is Us managed to ace the way his family reacts to the news.
Finding out that your dad is gay is a major thing, let’s be honest. Especially if you’re adopted and you just found your dad this year after 35 years of trying to find your birth family. So it stands to reason that Randall would be in shock when this information comes to light.
This Is Us has uploaded the final four minutes of the finale which includes the bombshell reveal, so take a look for yourself. Warning: Major spoilers in the final half of this video, so feel free to just watch the reveal if you want to avoid them.
Look at Randall’s face! It’s so adorable. That is not the face of someone who is disturbed or freaked out, simply surprised and caught off guard. The way he stares at his dad and smiles is amazing because it says “Well, I’ll be damned. Alright! You do you, dad!” Well, that’s how I read it anyway.
And the way Tess manages to figure all of this out before her dad is adorable, and she’s not phased by it at all. “Grandpa’s gay, dad. Or at least bi,” might be one of my favorite lines of any coming out story ever.
I’m not saying that every character on television has to react so well to someone they know and love coming out. We all know the realities of this world — not everyone is as accepting as the Pearson family.
However, when it comes to normalizing gay characters on TV and making sure they come across as normal people who happen to like the same sex, the Pearsons’ accepting nature is going to prove to be an invaluable lesson on how to do just that.
Bravo, This Is Us. Hopefully others can follow your lead!