This Unexpected This Is Us Guest Star Is My New Favorite Character
Episode three of This Is Us,“Katie Girls" focuses on Kate (all three iterations) as she undergoes an IVF procedure. And though the show makes a concerted effort to thrust one of the series’ main characters into the spotlight each week, it’s the Kate (Randall/Kevin/Jack, etc.) episode, the third installment buries the hour’s breakout star: Jane Kaczmarek, who plays Mrs. Philips.
Who’s this mysterious Mrs. Philips, you ask? She’s the mother of Rebecca’s high school boyfriend, Alan (Hunter Parrish), and she’s a wise and progressive network TV goddess.
In case you forgot, last episode Jack pulled up outside Rebecca’s house at the incredibly inopportune moment that she was reuniting with her former boyfriend. Alan brought her flowers, so he (temporarily) edged out Jack, who only had $9 in his pocket on their first date. Sorry Jack — Alan came prepared.
Anyway, Alan does what any respectable flower-bearing gentleman would do, and immediately brings Rebecca to his parents’ house. There, we meet Mr. and Mrs. Philips. (played by Jim Meskimen and Malcolm In the Middle matriarch Kaczmarek, respectively).
Mrs. Philips, first name unknown, is clearly Team Rebecca from the get-go — she tells her (and everyone else at the table) that she knew she was “great” when she turned down her son’s invitation to move to London with him. “She wanted to find her own path and not follow some guy halfway around the world, and I said, ‘good for you.’”
Then, as if on cue, Alan asks Rebecca to forsake her plans to meet with a record label in Los Angeles and instead move to New York with him. She's surprised, but clearly interested. Ugh. Mrs. Philips looks down at her plate, visibly conflicted.
After a grocery store run-in with Jack (the most meaningful grocery store run-in of all time, may we add), Rebecca is conflicted. She returns to the Philips’ home and asks her, "Would you go?" Kaczmarek's character tells Rebecca about how she went to college with a major she had no interest in and ended up meeting her future husband. And then, the unthinkable happens: Rebecca tells her boyfriend’s mom that there’s someone else (Jack, duh). And somehow, even though Rebecca is supposed to be into her own son, Mrs. Philips (kind of) gets it.
After their chat, Rebecca goes to find Jack and reassert herself as his prospective girlfriend, a decision I attribute at least 60 percent to Mrs. Philips and her early insistence that Rebecca not settle for playing second fiddle to someone else’s dreams.
For a show so focused on parenthood and family, there are shockingly few strong mother figures — mostly, they take a backseat to the highly celebrated fathers. We have Rebecca, of course, but her role forever pales in comparison to the late great Jack Pearson. The same goes for Beth, whose parenting moments are always second to Randall with his sentimental speeches and grand gestures.
Mrs. Philips is a refreshing character because she has no This Is Us male counterpart to play off of. Judging by the trajectory of the This Is Us timeline, it seems likely that Mrs. Philips’s screen time has played out — that being said, if Rebecca happens to run into her in a grocery store in 2018, we won’t object.