Kate, also on the road, finally calls her mother — who’s trying hard not to step on her daughter’s toes, fully aware of their delicate dynamic — and tells her about the dreams she’s been having. Rebecca asks Kate what Toby does in the dreams, to which Kate seems surprised, and reveals he isn’t in them. She hangs up on her mother — seemingly upset by the discovery — and pulls up to a spot somewhere in the woods. It’s a familiar spot, too: a place she once found comfort in as a girl, with her dad by her side.
Kate sits on the old stump with her father’s urn in hand, and she talks to him. She says she knows Toby is the perfect guy for her, dream absence be damned. And because of that, she has to take a step forward. She recalls the irresistible feeling of safety and fear that met her riding the town carnival roller coaster, sitting beside her dad. “I’ve been holding on to that feeling for a really long time now — that feeling of you next to me,” she says. “But Dad: I’m getting married today, and I’ve got to make room for Toby. I’ve got to let go a little now.” She opens the urn, and while we don’t see her scatter the ashes, she does tell Randall and Kevin — who find her at the location — that she “did it.” “Maybe we didn’t fail her after all,” Randall says, as the Big Three head back to the cabin.
Kate arrives for her wedding, puts on her gorgeous dress, makes newfound peace with her mother — telling her, poignantly, “You aren’t in my way; you are my way” — and walks down the aisle. We don’t hear any of the ceremony, only watching it in nostalgic, romantic visuals against the words Jack once said to young Kate. “That’s not really how it works,” he said to her after she asked if he’d marry her one day. “But you want to know the exciting part? One day, a long time from now, you’re going to meet someone who’s better than me.” He said he’d walk her down the aisle, and maybe cry a little, on her wedding day — a painful but beautiful memory that informs why this has been such a specifically emotional experience for Kate.
We arrive at the wedding party, the jovial images mirroring those of the Jack-and-Rebecca 40th fantasy. Kevin is dancing with Madison, an unnerving but thankfully misleading (more on that in a minute) sign. Deja is finally loosening up a bit. (Earlier, she had a long talk with Zoey, who talked about how she’d resented Beth’s family on her mother’s behalf when she was young, until it stopped “making sense…. to hate the people who love you.”) And Rebecca and Miguel are happily dancing in the room, surrounded by love. It’s a milestone for the family.
For his toast, Kevin puts things in perspective and guides his family out of this long, difficult chapter and toward the next one. He shares his recent conversation with Kate, who told him, “If you don’t allow yourself to grieve Dad’s death, it will be like taking a giant breath in and just holding it there for the rest of your life.” He then asks each Pearson — his two siblings, his mother, and himself — to take that deep breath and let go, as Kate promised she’d do hours earlier. In a beautiful, quiet sequence, we watch them inhale and exhale, one by one. After, Kevin shares how happy he is for Kate and hands the mic over to Randall, who offers an important sentiment: You can’t control what the future will bring, but you can control who you experience it with.
This Is Us, naturally, uses the idea to jump ahead in time for the finale’s final moments, both to tease what’s in store next season but also to reflect on Randall’s point — that things will change for better or worse, new people will enter your orbit while others exit, and life goes on.
We see that Toby, in the future, will become bed-ridden and cripplingly depressed. The day before the wedding, his parents had expressed worry about his marrying Kate, saying it seemed like he was walking on eggshells around her to keep her sane. But they also revealed that during his last marriage, to Josie, he got deeply depressed. Toby hints he may be the unstable one, and not Kate. As the future shows, this may turn out to be true.
We see that Kevin, in the future, is on a plane to Vietnam with Zoey — of all people — by his side. Zoey had told Deja she was “a sucker for a good toast,” and a good wedding toast Kevin certainly gave. They met at the wedding and apparently hit it off; in this snippet of the future, on an airplane, we see them intimate and comfortable with one another. (We’re also reminded of Jack’s military service, sure to be built out next season.)
And we see that Randall, in the future far more years in advance, is with Tess, who’s working as a social worker. “It’s time to go see her, Tess,” Randall says, maybe (but not necessarily: There’s also Beth and Annie to consider) referring to Deja. At the wedding, Toby’s mother had approached Tess, Annie, and Deja, referring to them as Randall’s three children. “You look just like your father,” she’d said to Deja, referencing Randall. It was a searing moment that shook Deja to her core; she got that baseball bat and smashed it against her foster dad’s windshield in a rage. Her damage isn’t magically going away — it may even be, as Randall and Beth so feared, one of those worst-case scenarios. We don’t know just yet.
But Randall has learned what’s out of his control. And as this tender, wise season finale of This Is Us reminds, life will go on.