With a midseason finale title like “Last Christmas,” you have to expect the episode will wrangle with issues of life and death (especially given that one character in the present timeline has terminal cancer and one character from the past timeline now lives in an urn on Kate’s mantel), but in typical This Is Us fashion, even I was left slack-jawed by the specific mortality in question.
We open on Christmas Eve 1989. Kate’s complaining of a stomachache. Rebecca’s sure the empty box of cookies in the kitchen has something to do with it, but when Jack feels Kate’s forehead, she’s burning up. Turns out she has appendicitis and needs surgery. Kate is obviously nervous about the operation, so Rebecca breaks off a small sprig of garland from the hospital’s decorations, telling Kate it’s a magical Christmas branch and that “nothing bad happens on Christmas Eve.” (We’ll ignore the multiple studies highlighting just how deadly a time of year Christmas is…)
While at the hospital, the Pearsons run into a familiar face: Dr. K, the man who delivered the twins and inspired them to adopt Randall. But this time, sadly, he’s a patient. Rushing out of town for the holidays, he hit a patch of ice and wrapped his LeSabre around a tree, and his family won’t make it in from Montana in time to say goodbye. Which seems a touch overdramatic, until Dr. K explains he has slow hemorrhaging between his lung and heart and doesn’t think he’ll survive a surgery.
“Don’t let this flattering hospital lighting fool you, Rebecca,” he says. “I’m old.”
Rebecca and Jack decide they will stay by Dr. K’s side (at least until their daughter is out of surgery). Randall, meanwhile, wanders down to the hospital gift shop and uses his savings to buy a snow globe for Dr. K, a get-well/thanks-for-helping-me-get-adopted present.
Dr. K demurs at all the praise: “All I did that day was nudge a man in a direction he already wanted to go.” Nonetheless, he accepts the thoughtful gift from the boy and suggests that when Randall has a chance to do good, he pay it forward.
In the current timeline, nobody’s Christmas seems to be going as planned. Kevin finds out on Christmas Eve his play — sans its leading lady, as Olivia vanished a month ago — has been canceled. As a small make-good for alienating his costar and getting her play axed, Kevin joins playwright Sloane and her family for Hanukkah dinner. (Sloane may or may not have told her family she was dating The Manny.) “I can’t show up with no play and no Manny,” she pleads. At the table, Sloane delivers a moving retelling of the Hanukkah story that inspires Kevin: “We have to have faith in each other,” he says. “Screw these producers, we can put this play on ourselves!” Kevin will front his own money to pay for the production, and Sloane will step into the lead role.
Meanwhile, Kate and Rebecca are at a consultation for Kate’s upcoming gastric-bypass surgery, and the realities are bleak. Post-surgery, Kate’s stomach will be the size of an egg; she’ll be able to eat only two ounces of food at a time; she’ll have to take vitamins for the rest of her life to avoid malnutrition. During the car ride home, distraught over hearing about her daughter’s struggle with depression and binging for the first time, Rebecca asks if it’s all her fault.
“Did I do this?” she wants — needs — to know. “I did, didn’t I? With the food.”
“I don’t know,” Kate answers honestly.
NEXT: Blue Christmas
Kevin and Kate won’t be the only ones missing Christmas Eve festivities at Randall’s house. It turns out William has even more secrets than we were led to believe, and one of them shows up at his group meeting. It’s Jessie (played by the always captivating Denis O’Hare, American Horror Story). William’s cat wasn’t the only companion he left behind when he decided to move in with Randall: He and Jessie were in a relationship at the time — one he abandoned unceremoniously. (Apparently even senior citizens ghost people!)
“I shouldn’t have run off,” William admits to Jessie.
“Why did you?” he asks.
“I wanted to spare you,” William replies. Of course, Jessie does not find this an adequate explanation, but given William’s declining health, he’s willing to forgive and forget.
“William Hill, I loved you and you left me,” Jessie says. “Now I’d like to spend whatever time you have remaining together.”
So, William calls to tell Randall he’ll be late. Randall receives the message while at the company Christmas party awaiting his bonus, and where we also learn he’s bought a boat from a coworker. (Apparently, Randall indulges in retail therapy just like the rest of us.) Beth insists he un-buy the boat, so William hunts down coworker Andy (Westworld’s Jimmi Simpson) to renege on the deal. But on the balcony, he stumbles upon a tableau he wasn’t expecting. Andy has removed his watch and wedding ring and is peering over the ledge. Randall quickly sizes up the situation and tries to talk his colleague down. Andy’s wife has filed for divorce, and coupled with several bad business deals, he’s come to the decision he’s better off dead than alive. (Definite shades of It’s a Wonderful Life here.) Randall appeals to Andy over the daughter he’ll leave behind.
“It is your job, as her father, to stay here until she’s ready,” Randall says. “Chloe will forgive you. I know she will.”
Randall seems to be getting through to Andy, but then Beth appears on the balcony — with Randall distracted, Andy suddenly disappears. Thankfully, he hasn’t gone over the ledge, just back to the party. Randall is clearly shaken up by the ordeal, and when Beth asks what he was doing out there, Randall’s response is one you could have predicted: “Because nothing bad happens on Christmas Eve.”
Instead of arriving home to an empty house as they had expected, Randall and Beth welcome each family member one by one. In fact, everyone ends up coming over, including Toby! He’s flown across the country — in a middle seat, no less — to win Kate back. He says he can live without pizza and brownie sundaes, but he can’t live without her. (Bold words, indeed. I’m not sure I could say that about any man I’ve ever dated!) Kate quickly concedes and takes him upstairs for a little exercise (wink).
William returns to Randall’s with Jessie in tow, which confuses Randall until his eldest clarifies things for him: “Dad, Grandpa is gay. Or at least bi.”
It’s then we flash back to the ‘80s and Dr. K being wheeled into surgery. He awakens hours later: “Well, I’ll be damned,” he says realizing he’s still alive. This won’t be Dr. K’s last Christmas, after all.
But it could be Toby’s. In the present, as he helps to clean up, Toby collapses into the coffee table. He’s rushed to the hospital where doctors try to revive him…
And that, dear This Is Us watchers, is where we leave you until January. Happy holidays?