This Is Us
To honor a show that really loves its football, let’s call it what it is: This final stretch of episodes is undoubtedly This Is Us’s Super Bowl. They’ve been training for this moment since day one! All of those timelines and callbacks and interconnected stories, all of that has been building up to this moment, to the big payoff — to tie it all together in one tear-stained bow. This Is Us is yet another example of why knowing the end date of your show makes it better; call it the Lost Principle. Did this series meander at times and give us story lines that no one asked for or wanted? Oh God, yes. Did we really need to learn about the creator of FaceTime tech? Or that John Legend concert? But still — could you imagine what a show like This Is Us would be without knowing its expiration date? These last few episodes have been a gorgeous tribute to the series as a whole, and I have to imagine part of that is because the end goal was always clear.
Sure, we have one more chapter to go in the Pearson story before we say good-bye for good, but this penultimate episode feels like a real gift to the show’s fans. It’s chock-full of Easter eggs and direct callbacks either by way of a familiar prop or someone literally going, “Hey, remember when …” (this happens a lot). It’s a treasure trove for those who’ve been paying attention during their weekly cry. And hey, look at This Is Us being self-aware enough to make a joke about something being too on the nose! That’s called growth, baby.
What’s the vehicle for all this remembering? Well, first there is the “present-day” storyline in which everyone is gathering at the Big House to say good-bye to Rebecca — it looks like she won’t make it through the night. And then there is an actual vehicle: Rebecca’s journey out of this world physically manifests as a train ride. You’ll recall in a previous episode that Rebecca talked about how her father would take her on the train into the city with him on Sundays when he had to work and how much she loved it. Here, she finds herself all dolled up in a red gown as she makes her way to the red caboose at the end of the train.
That, of course, is all in Rebecca’s head as she slowly lets go. In the real world, we’ve made it to the other side of that flash-forward of all the Pearsons arriving at the house that’s been a touchstone since that future twist was revealed in season two. Everyone is hanging out and telling Rebecca stories, listening to Joni Mitchell, and celebrating her until it’s time to say their final farewells. Beth tells Rebecca she’ll take care of Randall for her, and Sophie talks about how Rebecca and Jack’s story is “once in a lifetime.” Nicky’s good-bye probably would have been the most interesting of the bunch, but we don’t get to see that, and I would be annoyed by that but, like, what am I gonna do? Stop watching the show now?
But it’s not just all retellings of getting baseball cards signed or a bout of appendicitis or Rebecca hanging out with a stripper; there’s a little plot in this timeline, too. First, we get the reveal that Deja and Malik got back together after all and she’s pregnant with his baby. Seeing Randall’s face when he finds out he’s going to be a grandfather really soothed my weary soul. If ever a man was meant to be a grandfather, it’s Randall Pearson. But the most tension here comes from This Is Us trying to pull off a “Will Kate make it back from London where she went to present her arts curriculum in time?” (reader, I rolled my eyes, it felt right) throughline. But come on, Kate not being there for her mother’s last breath after everything would call for, like, at least three episodes of her working through her guilt-ridden angst, perhaps by way of cardio drumming, and the show does not have the time! Rebecca holds on until the morning and Kate rushes in, and the Big Three are all there with her in the end. They tell her they love her, and they thank her because she “made [them] good,” and maybe other stuff happens, but folks, I cannot physically see through my tears at this point, and I won’t apologize for it. Randall holds her hand and tells her, “you tell him ‘hey,’” talking about Rebecca reuniting with Jack. At that moment, Randall feels Rebecca squeeze his hand a little. She hears him. It’s all as sad as you’d expect it to be.
So what’s happening on Rebecca’s imaginary train throughout all of this? It’s a real Rebecca Pearson, This Is Your Life sort of situation. Her guide through this train? Oh, friends: It’s William. Did you not miss William’s warm and calming presence? If I were Rebecca and I needed someone to guide me toward death, I’d choose William too. The guy recites a Dudley Randall poem for her. He puts on his hat. We all needed William in this moment, you know? This Is Us uses a lot of nifty tricks at their disposal to make all of this work, the most effective one, of course, being that they can have the same characters at all different ages show up. When Beth is talking to Rebecca at her bedside, Rebecca sees Beth sitting on the train car and Beth flashes between different versions of herself. At one point, she sees the three versions of Kevin and Randall all hanging out with each other. It is trippy and also awesome. Adult Randall doing push-ups with Little Randall on his back?! Someone hold me!!
William walks her through the train. Rebecca hears more people talking to her over the loudspeaker and sees versions of them sitting nearby. Dr. K is there in the bar car, fixing up drinks while holding a Terrible Towel. Yes, there is a bowl of lemons there. How could there not be? She’s worried she made mistakes, but Dr. K assures her that “there’s no perfect games in parenting.” He tells her about how he thought he was going to lose her the night he delivered her babies but that she’s a survivor. And that even in the sadness and the mess, Rebecca made something beautiful and wonderful out of it: “You survived just to lose a child and then a husband, and still, what a thing you made of it all. What a big, messy, gigantic, spectacular thing.” And if that isn’t just the thesis This Is Us has been cramming down our throats since Kevin made that painting back in season one — a painting, might I add, that gets multiple shout-outs in this episode, both loving and snarky.
Miguel is waiting for her in another car. He’s sipping wine and tells her she’s his favorite person — very Miguel of him. I hope he gets to hang out with Rebecca all the time on whatever his version of the train is because otherwise, yeesh, that guy had a tough draw. Things are moving much faster on the train now, and William leads Rebecca to the door of the caboose. She doesn’t want to go in at first — all this time she’s been telling William that she’s waiting for someone, and it turns out she was waiting for Kate. When she finally hears Kate’s voice over the loudspeaker, she’s ready to move forward, to move on. She remarks on how sad it all is, “the end.” But William reminds her that the end of something is only sad because “it must have been pretty wonderful when it was happening.” He also tells her that it’s easy to look at life as simply “sad,” but sometimes you need a wider view; you need to look at the whole picture.
This Is Us gets real This Is Us with this idea because throughout the episode, we’ve been unknowingly getting a bigger view of a major event that reshapes it a little bit: We go back to the night Jack dies. Does anyone want to relive this moment in Pearson history? No, but Dulé Hill is there, so it’s a little better. Okay, fine, it’s still harrowing and I wish we’d never go back to that hospital with all the candy bars and the dying!!
The episode actually starts with the Brooks family, a husband and wife and their two sons and one daughter — another Big Three, get it — in the car. The youngest son, Marcus, undoes his seatbelt to get his soccer ball in the back, things get chaotic, and the car flips off the road. Later in the episode, Marcus is rushed to surgery while the rest of the family sits in the waiting room. Now, who do you think Dulé Hill runs into when he’s getting coffee in that hospital? It’s Jack. He’s covered in soot and his hands are bandaged up. It’s the night of the fire. The guy has maybe a few hours to live, and he doesn’t know it yet. He’s waiting to be admitted so that they can clean him up and run a few tests, he says. We meet Marcus and his two siblings when they’re older: Marcus is researching cures for cancer and he has a tough night when he hits a dead end. His siblings laugh as they remind him of something their dad used to always say about turning lemons into lemonade. You know what this means. Back at the hospital, Jack and Mr. Brooks are sharing the trauma they’ve experienced that evening and how this is the worst night of Mr. Brooks’s life. Jack works his way into that lemons-into-lemonade speech. Leave it to Jack Pearson to make his final act a cheesy, heartfelt speech. Damn, this man! I love him so much! We learn that Jack’s doctor was not with Jack during the 20 minutes it took him to go from fine to very dead because he was racing up to the O.R. — Marcus was coding. Jack dies and Marcus lives. Marcus goes on to, get this, develop drugs that help Alzheimer’s patients. I know you might want to roll your eyes, but come on, the Super Bowl, remember? They are going for it. This is it, and they are laying it on thick.
Alone in the last room, Rebecca lays down on the bed, turns on her side, and finds Jack there next to her. “Hey,” she says, smiling at him. “Hey,” he replies. “Hey,” I repeat over and over again as I lay in the fetal position on my floor. One more episode to go, my babies! I’d remind you to bring the tissues, but come on, we’re professionals at this point.