by GARY YAMASAKI The NBC hit “This Is Us” is known for its deft interweaving of one family’s experiences back in the ’80s and ’90s with its experiences in present day, and this skillful juxtapostion of past and present events is, of course, point-of-view manipulation. . .the first scene serving to position the viewers in a particular vantage point to enhance their experience of what is to come. Often, the two scenes appear one after the other, though sometimes, the second is not even in the same episode. . .or even the same season. Consider, for instance, the first time you saw the middle-aged Rebecca not arriving to a family gathering with Jack, her husband in the ’80s and ’90s, but rather with Miguel, Jack’s best friend. This is a major plot twist, and yet, no indication is given as to why Jack would not be there. And this serves to impact how the viewers experience everything from that point on. They have been given a point of view lacking in this key piece of information, a point of view that leaves them especially vigilante to find details in subsequent episodes that would serve as clues to solving this mystery.
The recent episode “That’ll Be the Day” (1/23/18) contains a scene that has the same type of “point of view lacking information,” but the dynamics of this one are significantly different from those of the first. Kate is shown in an animal shelter looking to get a dog for her fiance Toby, and it appears that she is ready to seal the deal on one. But then, a sullen look comes over her face, at which point there is a short flashback to her and her dog from back when she was a teenager. When the camera returns to the present-day Kate, she is clearly upset, and she says to the dog, “This isn’t going to work. . .you come with a lot of baggage that isn’t your fault,” and she walks out of the shelter dog-less.
As with the first example, the viewers here are given no indication as to why Kate is behaving like this. However, this lack of information does not impact how the viewers experience everything from this point forward like it did in the first example; it’s just not that big a deal this time. and so, as the viewers continue on their way through the storyline, they are likely not going to give this scene a second thought. . .not, at least, until a climactic moment in the following episode–“Super Bowl Sunday” (2/4/18)–where (spoiler alert), on Super Bowl Sunday of 1998, Jack has just managed to get his whole family out of their house as it’s going up in flames. However, Kate cries out that her dog is still in there, prompting Jack to go back in, and he succeeds in rescuing the dog. But, despite the fact he appears to have survived the debacle unscathed, he ends up having a fatal heart attack as a result of having inhaled too much smoke.
Here, then, the viewers’ minds are thrown back to the scene of Kate in the animal shelter. They experienced that scene the first time from a point of view lacking in some key information. . .a point of view from which the scene had minimal impact. But now, the viewers are replaying that scene in their minds from a new point of view. . .a point of view informed by the fact that 20 years earlier, it could have been Kate’s crying out for her dog that ended up sealing her father’s fate. Therefore, in contrast to the effect of the point-of-view manipulation in the first example, where a lack of information resulted in the viewers looking for clues in subsequent episodes as to what happened to Jack, the effect of the point-of-view manipulation in this second example results in a “backward glance” to help explain an enigmatic moment in an earlier episode.