When NBC’s weepy family drama This Is Us premiered last fall, it unloaded a big twist on unsuspecting viewers: The show planned to tell the story of one family across several different timelines. In the present day, we follow Pearson triplets Kevin (Justin Hartley), Kate (Chrissy Metz), and Randall (Sterling K. Brown), and in the past, we see the story of their childhood, and most importantly, the story of their parents, Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) and Rebecca (Mandy Moore). While the present-day story line has so far played out chronologically, the past timeline jumps around quite a bit, giving us glimpses of the Pearsons at various points throughout their lives.
It’s an excellent (and very successful) way to make a familiar type of show seem new. But let’s be honest: It’s tough to keep track of what exactly went down when. To alleviate that problem, Vulture has put together a chronological guide to This Is Us. For accuracy’s sake, this timeline only sticks to events we’ve seen onscreen. Although we’ve been told Kevin that gets married and divorced, we haven’t watched that marriage play out, so you won’t find it listed here. Same goes for Jack’s death. There are still lots of missing pieces to the puzzle that is the Pearson family saga, but we’ll have at least two more seasons to figure out just where and when they fit.
Here are the major moments of the first season of This Is Us, from beginning to end.
Jack’s grandfather arrives in New York City.
As Kevin explains, the man has a son who has a son who has the Big Three. So he’s the dude is to blame for all the crying. Mystery solved.
William Hill’s father dies overseas and leaves behind a pregnant war widow.
But not before singing the sweetest version of “You Are My Sunshine.” It’s obvious where William gets his musical talent.
William Hill is born.
He’s born with the gift of poetry, and eventually uses it to achieve minor success while in a cover band with his cousin Ricky (Brian Tyree Henry). It is the first “almost” and “could’ve been” in a life full of them. Raise your hand if you downloaded William’s song “We Can Always Come Back to This” and listened to it on repeat for the past few weeks. And if you didn’t, don’t judge.
Jack’s abusive dad leaves.
This guy is the king of jerks, but his awfulness did turn Jack into the perfect husband we know him to be. Every dark cloud has a silver lining, I guess?
William moves to Pittsburgh.
He promises his cousin that he’ll be back once he tends to his sick mother, but we all know that never happens. This is a huge move which sets into motion … well, everything.
Jack returns from the Vietnam War.
After working as a mechanic during the war, Jack has to move back in with his parents. (Yes, his terrible father is back.) He’s forced to take a series of odd jobs which are at times deflating, but also lead to the moment when…
Jack and Rebecca meet!
It’s a tale as old as time: Rebecca saves Jack from a life of crime, and Jack saves Rebecca from a life learning about stock options from a milquetoast finance guy.
Jack and Rebecca tie the knot at City Hall.
Flower crowns. Facial hair. Vows that make you believe in true love again. What were you expecting?
William turns to drugs after losing his mother.
Sweet, soft-spoken William falls hard for Randall’s mother and pain-numbing drugs. Oh, William.
Rebecca gets knocked up in a bar bathroom after Super Bowl XIV.
Probably not the only time Terry Bradshaw has acted as an aphrodisiac.
Jack and Rebecca learn they’re having triplets, proceed to freak out.
In order to be a provider for his growing family, Jack does the unthinkable and goes to his estranged father for money so he can afford a house in which the eventual family of five will fit. Meanwhile, we have to watch Jack be mistreated by this awful man again. Not a fun time for anyone involved, really.
Happy 36th birthday, Jack Pearson! Also, welcome to the world, Big Three!
For the big day in 1980, Jack receives a gross banana-nut muffin/Twinkie-filling cupcake concoction, a pseudo lap dance from his pregnant wife, and the most intense roller coaster of emotions in experiencing the elation at the birth of his children, the devastating loss of one child, and the hopefulness in recovery brought by finding baby Randall in need of a family. This is a very big day.
Dr. K and Firefighter Joe find ways to heal.
Thanks to the divine intervention of the Pearson family, Dr. K (Gerald McRaney) can finally move on from his paralyzing grief over the loss of his wife and goes on a very cute date with a very cute lady from the neighborhood. Firefighter Joe (Brian Oblak), realizing the baby dropped off at the station will not solve his marital problems, does the right thing by little Randall and then goes home to start rebuilding his marriage.
Rebecca meets William.
Unable to connect with her adopted newborn, Rebecca seeks out the man she believes to be his biological father. He’s in a very bad way, but still able to offer some helpful advice: Rebecca should give the baby his own name, not the name meant for the baby she lost. He also hands her a book of poetry by his favorite poet, Dudley Randall. You see where this is going, yes?
Jack takes a desk job to make more money.
On one hand, it is soul crushing. On the other, Jack looks nice in an Oxford and tie.
Jack promises Rebecca he’ll be a “12” for her, melts hearts everywhere.
After Rebecca gives Jack an ultimatum that he stop the drinking or else, Jack gets his act together, makes a big romantic speech, and wins Rebecca’s forgiveness. He also gives her that moon necklace — you know, the one she promises to never take off.
There’s a heatwave in Pittsburgh, and the Pearsons meet Yvette.
The gang heads to the local pool for a healthy dose of drama. Randall (Lonnie Chavis) makes friends with some of the other black kids at the pool, but one of the mothers, Yvette (Ryan Michelle Bathe), doesn’t warm up to Rebecca and her parenting style very easily. Don’t worry, though — they become buddies!
Jack gives up dreams of his own company so Randall can go to private school.
Plans for Big Three Homes construction company are shoved in the bottom of a drawer when it’s clear Randall needs the challenge of a prestigious private school. The kid solves Rubik’s cubes, for goodness sake!
Jack teaches Randall how to tie a tie.
We are all grateful for this.
The Pearson Thanksgiving traditions begin.
Creepy guys named Pilgrim Rick and gas station hot dogs covered in fake cheese have never seemed so lovely.
Rebecca meets William, the sequel.
So important, so sad. It brings to light Rebecca’s greatest fear: that Randall could, at any moment, be taken away from Jack and Rebecca. Her fierce need to protect her family is understandable, but it doesn’t make the look of heartbreak on William’s face easier to take when he receives Rebecca’s letter denying him any interaction with Randall. Of course, this moment in Pearson history also lays the foundation for the very intense and awkward Thanksgiving dinner in 2016.
Randall joins a dojo, Jack proves that push-ups can make humans cry.
Just kidding! We’ve always known they can do that.
Kate needs an appendectomy on Christmas Eve 1989.
And looky here: Dr. K turns up again, this time needing comfort from the Pearsons instead of the other way around. Both Kate (Mackenzie Hancsicsak) and Dr. K make it out just fine. Rebecca’s right: Nothing bad ever happens on Christmas Eve!
The Big Three celebrate the big 1-0.
It is a day of partying in which Rebecca and Jack learn that Randall is the most self-aware and self-assured 10-year-old on the planet, that Kate has some issues with her friends but not with voguing, and that Kevin (Parker Bates) is madly in love with Kate’s best friend, Sophie (Sophia Coto).
Rebecca joins her old band.
She feels alive again! Jack just feels threatened.
Kevin and Randall’s sibling rivalry boils over during a high-school football game.
All Randall (Niles Fitch) wants is the love and respect of his brother. All Kevin (Logan Shroyer) wants is to be left alone in his new basement bachelor pad. Teen Kevin is so mean! Not even Teen Randall’s offering of Yoo-hoo and Pop-Tarts melt his brother’s icy exterior.
Miguel gets a divorce.
The news from Miguel (Jon Huertas) throws both Jack and Rebecca into a bit of a spiral. Okay, it’s mostly just Jack, who realizes he and Rebecca have been getting complacent and he needs to fight for his marriage before he loses it. Rebecca, on the other hand, finds it upsetting but not upsetting enough to make her rethink her next big decision …
Rebecca decides to go on tour with her band.
Alongside her ex-boyfriend Ben (Sam Trammell), no less. Jack is less than enthused and his jealousy pushes him back to the bottle. Things are going downhill fast, people!
Rebecca leaves for her tour and Jack goes after her.
It sounds romantic until you realize Jack is completely drunk as he hops in the car to drive all the way to Cleveland to make things right with his wife. HOLD ME.
Rebecca and Jack decide to separate.
After an intense screaming match in which Rebecca admits to feeling like a ghost in her own life and Jack calls her “music career” ridiculous, they decide it is best to take a breather. Jack goes to stay with Miguel. Call me crazy, but I don’t trust that guy.
… and sometime after that, we see Jack’s funeral.
Happy 36th birthday, Kevin, Kate, and Randall!
Welcome to the big twist, everyone else!
Kevin goes full Jerry Maguire on the set of The Man-ny
Kevin doesn’t know the human head weighs eight pounds, but he does know that he deserves more than a character whose basic function is to take off his shirt while tending to a child.
Kate meets Toby.
She cannot fall for a person like Toby (Chris Sullivan) right now, but guess what? She totally does.
Randall knocks on William’s door.
After a lifetime of searching, Randall finally meets the man who gave him up … only to find out that he’s dying from cancer. William (Ron Cephas-Jones) moves into Randall’s house to live out the end of his life, and all the Pearsons’ lives are the better for it. William was right: That was some thing Randall did, knocking on his door.
Sterling K. Brown calls Mandy Moore “mommy.”
All of our lives are forever changed.
Rebecca meets William, part three.
This time with 100 percent more wrinkles! Rebecca wants William to keep their secret just a little bit longer, until she finds the right time to tell Randall. Girl, there will never be a right time to tell your son you’ve been lying to him about his birth father for his entire life.
Kevin moves to New York City.
Knock, knock! It’s Uncle Kevin, here to stay in the basement at Randall’s house indefinitely so that he can try out the New York theater scene and become more than just the Manny.
Kate introduces Toby to Jack’s ashes.
The three of them watch the Steelers game together. Kate won’t say much about her father’s death, which eventually becomes a big problem for Toby, which eventually becomes a big problem for everyone else. Give the girl some space, dude!
Kate gets a new job … sort of
It looks like Kate has finally started a life for herself when she takes a job assisting a woman (Jami Gertz) who runs charities or something of the sort. We’ve only really seen Kate in this role once. Is the biggest mystery of This Is Us how Kate has any money? Will this be the biggest twist of all?
Kevin finally calls Randall his brother.
It happens during a physical fight in the middle of New York City, but still, it is all Randall has ever wanted from his brother. Let the fraternal healing begin!
William accidentally tells Beth that he’s met Rebecca before.
In all fairness to William, he and Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) are totally high and he is moved by the poetry of Dudley Randall. But of course, Beth and Randall’s marriage is one based on trust and not keeping secrets from one another, so she is in a tough spot. She tries to get Rebecca to tell Randall, but Rebecca doesn’t move fast enough.
Randall teaches us that a Thanksgiving Dad is a Hot Dad.
The greatest lesson to come out of This Is Us so far.
Kevin and Olivia kiss.
Olivia Maine (Janet Montgomery) is very dark and twisty inside, but Kevin seems very into that. He calls the kiss one of the greatest of his life, but I’m pretty sure she was just in it for the pumpkin pie.
Kevin lets Miguel be Pilgrim Rick.
Of the three Pearson kids, Kevin’s relationship with stepdad Miguel is the most fraught. This not-so-small gesture of letting Miguel participate in Jack’s Thanksgiving tradition is a huge step for their relationship.
Kate dumps Toby and decides to get gastric bypass surgery.
Toby giving up on his diet is too much temptation for Kate to handle at the moment. She needs to focus on herself, so she kicks him to the curb. After a not-so-near-death experience on a plane, Kate decides life is too short and she wants to start living her best life immediately. Gastric bypass surgery, it is!
Randall discovers that Rebecca and William knew each other.
When Randall goes to William’s apartment to grab some music recordings that are part of his birth father’s Thanksgiving traditions, he happens upon Rebecca’s letter, which reveals her decision to never tell Randall about William. Randall confronts Rebecca at the Thanksgiving dinner table, tearing apart one of the most important relationships in his life.
Randall trips hard at the family’s cabin and chats with his dead father.
Hallucination Jack takes Randall’s face into his hands and tells his son that he was never a choice, he was a fact. He also tries to show Randall that Rebecca was constantly fighting to protect her family. Maybe that could offer some explanation as to her choices. Even in hallucinatory form, Jack Pearson is wonderful.
Olivia goes off the grid and Kevin’s play is canceled.
Kevin’s pretty upset about losing his love interest and his chance to become a “serious actor,” but everyone else, including the audience, is pumped because, geez, was Olivia Maine the worst or what?
William reconnects with his great love, Jesse.
These two guys! Jesse (Denis O’Hare) was heartbroken when William left to live at Randall’s without telling him, but is willing to forgive him as long as William promises not to shut him out anymore. Jesse wants as much time with him as William has left. Aww!
Kevin and Sloane (Milana Vayntrub) decide to self-produce The Back of an Egg
Terrible title be damned! The show must go on!
Randall talks a co-worker off the ledge … literally
Randall saves his suicidal colleague (Jimmi Simpson), but where did we land exactly with that boat purchase?
Toby collapses in Randall’s living room on Christmas Eve.
Toby flies out to New Jersey to try and win back Kate with a very lovely speech, but hours later he collapses to the floor. So it turns out Rebecca was wrong! Bad things do happen on Christmas Eve.
Kate and Toby get engaged.
After Toby makes it through a second heart surgery, Kate unloads all of her feelings on the guy, assuming he is asleep. He’s not. He hears everything she says, including that part about wanting to marry him. He’d marry the hell out of her, too. And thus, an engagement!
William tells Randall he wants to stop his chemo treatments.
It is the beginning of the end.
Kate puts gastric bypass surgery on hold and goes to fat camp.
While in an aerobic drumming class (!), Kate has an emotional breakthrough and realizes that her weight issues are very much tied to the death of her father and her inability to deal with her grief and guilt. Don’t knock aerobic drumming class until you try it.
Kevin makes a grand, romantic gesture to win back … his ex-wife?
Kevin and his childhood sweetheart Sophie (Alexandra Breckenridge) divorced after he moved to Los Angeles and cheated on her, and they haven’t seen each other in 12 years. She’s hesitant, but he wins her over by taking her to their old haunts and professing his love for her in a dramatic speech. He really is his father’s son!
Randall teaches William how to drive.
Randall begrudgingly gives his father the gift of his perfect day: driving a cool car while wearing a new pair of shades, sipping on his favorite drink (an egg cream) with the music up and the windows down. What a cool cat that William Hill is.
Toby tells Kate they should slow down their marriage plans.
He doesn’t think they should be getting married if she can’t openly talk about her father’s death with him. Oh, Toby, so pushy.
Randall has an anxiety-induced breakdown on Kevin’s opening night.
The mounting pressure at work, the pile of responsibilities at home, not to mention the emotional stress of watching his birth father slowly die after just meeting him months ago all becomes too much for perfectionist Randall. He becomes paralyzed with stress in his own office. Thankfully, Kevin realizes what’s happening and rushes to his brother’s rescue — even though it means ditching opening night of his play. Brothers come first, finally.
Randall and William take a road trip to Memphis, where William dies cradled by his son.
“Roll all your windows down, Randall. Crank up the music. Grow out that fro. Let someone else make your bed.” Be right back, need to go slide down a wall while ugly crying.
Randall forgives Rebecca.
The Pearsons honor William’s memory with a plethora of breakfast foods, balloons, and confetti, and a nice stroll through the neighborhood while wearing fedoras. During this walk, Rebecca stops her son to once again say how sorry she is that she kept William from him, denying Randall more time with his birth father. She did it because she was scared, but she knows how selfish that was. It was enough time to know William loved him, Randall tells her. And that’s enough. This new peacefulness also seems to be in honor of William’s memory.
Kevin has a second shot at opening night.
He finally makes his big stage debut with The Back of an Egg’s opening night re-do, and it is quite the success. Almost unbelievably, Ron Howard happens to be in the audience that night and he calls Kevin to offer him a part in his next movie. Too bad he just told Sophie that he realized he moved to New York City to be with her and that he won’t mess this up a second time. Sounds like some drama is afoot!
Kate (almost) opens up about Jack’s death.
William’s memorial brings on another swell of emotions for Kate regarding Jack’s death. It’s Randall who encourages her to finally deal with her grief by talking about it with the people she loves … including Toby. Later, Kate tells Toby that she has such a hard time talking about Jack’s death because it was all her fault.
Randall quits his job.
William’s greatest gift to his son was showing him that life’s short and we should enjoy every moment we have. With that in mind, Randall shows up at work and tells his awful co-workers that he’s had enough. He’s going to live his life more like his father did — slow it down a little, go on more walks, talk to his mailman. It is a brave new world for Randall Pearson.