As is tradition, the This Is Us season finale is packed with time jumps, pain, joy, and juicy twists.
The episode, “Strangers: Part Two,” is framed as a continuation of the season premiere, “Strangers: Part One.” In that episode, we met several new characters: Cassidy (Jennifer Morrison), a veteran whose PTSD and related alcoholism strains her relationship with her husband and child; Malik (Asante Blackk), a sweet teenager and the too-young father of a baby girl; and an unnamed young blind man.
Cassidy gets close to Kevin, helps with Nicky’s recovery, sleeps with Kevin, then parts ways with him on platonic good terms, working toward getting her family back. Malik dates Déjà. The blind man is Kate and Toby’s son Jack (Blake Stadnik). In the premiere, he meets and ultimately marries a waitress named Lucy (Auden Thornton), learns she’s pregnant, and performs before hundreds as a successful musician.
Like the premiere, the finale has new faces (hence the "Strangers" title, perhaps): a man with a horse, and a young brunette woman working at an art gallery. And like the premiere, Jack’s adult story serves as a key plot, though the present-day tale is framed around Jack as a baby. But the Pearsons who started it all are still here too, as young, new parents.
Let’s start there with the recap, shall we?
Rebecca & Jack & Babies
A few scenes in, we’re treated to Jack — a.k.a. muscly, tanned Milo Ventimiglia — naked save for a well-placed Steelers towel. Rebecca’s about to give him a sexy birthday gift, but the couple’s plans are interrupted by their crying one-year-old babies — it’s the Big Three’s birthday, too.
Later, mixed into a slow-motion montage of baby Jack’s first birthday party, we see OG Jack and Rebecca celebrating with their babies. The scene beautifully captures the joy of family, with parallels of cake-cutting, photo-taking, and other festivities. But Rebecca suddenly leaves the room in tears.
She’s been thinking about all the kids’ “firsts,” and it’s made her sad about the baby they lost — Kyle, Kate and Kevin’s biological triplet. Jack says he thinks about Kyle often too, but he doesn’t know what to do with the sadness it brings. Then he has an idea.
Rebecca and Jack seek help from Dr. K, the man who delivered the babies and gave the duo a killer speech the year before that helped them feel comfortable adopting Randall in the wake of Kyle’s death.
Dr. K says when his wife was pregnant with their first child, he sang “Blue Skies” to her belly. They lost the baby but kept listening to the song until they wondered if it was self-punishment. But when she got pregnant again, Dr. K sang the song to the unborn baby and eventually danced to it with his daughter at her wedding.
“That song made us happy, it made us sad, it made us happy again — the whole human experience wrapped up in that one song … the trick is not trying to keep the joys and the tragedies apart. You’ve got to let them … coexist … If you can … forge ahead with all that joy and heartache mixed up together inside of you, never knowing which one’s gonna get the upper hand … life has a way of shaking out to be more beautiful than tragic.” Dr. K for the win!
His words again help Jack and Rebecca … and of course, they apply to future Pearsons, too.
Kate & Toby & Their Future
The episode opens on Kate and Toby’s Jack as an adult in bed with his pregnant wife Lucy.
Two scenes later, we meet the brunette art gallery woman, Hailey. A coworker asks her out. She says it’s not good timing. He wonders if she’s seeing someone.
Cut back to Lucy and Jack. Soon after Jack starts singing Lucy and the baby his song (from the premiere), Lucy begins having contractions.
When we next see them, they’re at the hospital contemplating baby names. They don’t know the sex yet because they planned on keeping it a surprise, but soon a nurse reveals it’s a girl.
Later, Hailey rushes out of the gallery.
Meanwhile, Toby and Kate host Jack’s first birthday party. As Toby approaches the Big Three outside, he tells Jack the sound of the siblings chatting and laughing is the best. Soon after, Kate and Toby leave their own party with Jack for a trip to the newborn intensive care unit (NICU) where premature-born Jack fought for his life. They put a family photo on the NICU’s baby photo wall.
Toby reminds Kate of how he promised when Jack was born that they’d get through everything together, and even though Toby hasn’t been great, they’re all still a family. After watching Kate with her bothers and Randall with his girls earlier, Toby tells Kate he wants Jack to have a sibling to spend childhood with. Kate says she can’t handle another pregnancy. Toby notes the Pearsons have a good adoption record.
In the hospital parking lot on their way out, Kate says another kid isn’t practical — their marriage barely survived the year, Jack has special needs, they have a bad mortgage, adoption comes with risks. Toby relents, suggesting the NICU made him too emotional. Kate suggests they wait until they've left the parking lot to continue talking about it. Toby agrees, but once they've driven away, he pulls over and says “we’re out… I still want it.” Kate does too. Decision made. Linking back to Dr. K’s words, the NICU is a place where they experienced a major struggle, but now it’s also where they celebrated Jack's first birthday and decided to have a second child.
Cut to Hailey running into a hospital room — Jack and Lucy’s room. She’s Jack’s sister. Hailey rejoices in meeting her niece. The episode ends with Hailey learning the baby’s name: Hope. Cue happy tears.
Randall & Kevin & Women They Know
In the present, the day before Jack’s birthday party, Rebecca helps Kate bake the family’s traditional three-layer birthday cake, Kevin chats with Nicky on the phone, and Randall’s family prepares to fly to California for the party.
Malik and Déjà share a cute goodbye. Malik disappeared in the second half of the season, but perhaps we’ll see more of him next season.
Meanwhile, in a conversation between Randall and Beth, we learn Beth doesn’t like the tactics Randall used to change Rebecca’s mind about doing the clinical trial, and Rebecca still hasn’t told everyone about the change of plans.
At the party, things are tense between Randall and Rebecca but it goes unnoticed by all but Beth amid the birthday festivities.
At one point, to make peace after their fight in New York, Kevin says he knows Randall had good intentions with the trial but says he’s coming from a good place, too — Rebecca’s happy with the family and wants to stay. Randall doesn’t respond but congratulates Kevin on his sober anniversary.
Soon after, and without implicating Randall in her decision making, Rebecca tells the Big Three she will move to St. Louis in three weeks for the trial. Kate and Kevin are stunned. Randall quickly expresses support. Rebecca, unconvincingly, assures Kevin it’s what she wants.
Cut to the man with the horse, George. We met him earlier in the episode, struggling to tame the animal. In this second scene, his adolescent daughter joins him and succeeds in calming down the horse. When we see them again, Sadie scolds George for not giving the horse the chance to be himself before giving up on him.
George then heads to work. He’s an OB/GYN and his patient that day is… Madison. Madison is pregnant — which comes as a shock since her bulimia had supposedly damaged her reproductive health. Noting it’s her third appointment alone, George asks if there’s someone she can tell about her pregnancy. She says she’s not close with her family, can’t tell her one good friend, and barely knows the baby’s father (Kevin). The only thing she knows about him is he comes from a long line of great love stories, and this situation — an unplanned pregnancy after a one-night stand — is not what he’d want. But using Sadie’s words, George suggests Madison give the father a chance.
While Madison’s appointment unfolds, the subject of Rebecca’s trial decision lingers among the Big Three at the party. Kevin wonders why Rebecca changed her mind. Randall suggests she “sees it as an investment in her future.” Kevin and Kate tease him for his word choice. Randall jokes back.
But when Kevin later asks Rebecca herself again about the decision change, she uses Randall’s same line. Rebecca tries to follow Kevin as he storms off to confront Randall, but Beth insists they get the girls and Miguel and leave. They flee as the blow-out begins in the backyard (before moving inside).
Upon Kevin’s insistence, Randall admits he did what he had to do. Kevin says Rebecca wanted to spend whatever time she had left with her family. Randall says when that time ran out, everyone would’ve regretted not having fought for more time. Their fight is interrupted by Madison at the door.
Kevin says it’s not a good time, but Madison comes in anyway and over Kevin’s rude dismissiveness, blurts out that she’s pregnant and he’s the father. Kevin is stunned. She says since she’s basically a stranger (episode title reference), she won’t ask him for anything, and he can still find his great love story. Kevin steps outside for air.
His fight with Randall resumes. They rehash much of their New York fight — Randall calls Kevin selfish, Kevin suggests Randall has a martyr complex — and then things escalate. Kevin blames Randall for Jack’s death, saying if he’d been at the fire, he would’ve saved Jack. Randall takes a dig at Kevin for not being there and says Jack died ashamed of Kevin and proud of Randall. He adds that Kevin has been chasing his shadow (not Jack's) and he’ll never be as good as either of them because he’ll never devote himself to anyone else. And even if he does find someone, it will be fake — a stale performance, like all his performances. Kevin says the worst thing that ever happened to him was his parents adopting Randall. At that, Randall leaves.
Kevin looks regretful but instead of following Randall, he goes inside to talk to Madison. But before he does, he gets a sober anniversary congratulatory text from Nicky. Nicky’s joined in that moment by Cassidy, who’s taking him to a meeting. Cassidy smiles when Nicky mentions Kevin. Cut to Sophie in New York smiling when she sees Kevin on a billboard ad. Does this mean either woman still might become Kevin’s lasting love, despite Madison’s pregnancy? #TeamCassidy.
Cut back to Kevin. Between flashforwards of Rebecca’s deathbed scene and Jack and Lucy’s baby birth, Kevin tells Madison he’s sick of chasing ghosts and doubting himself. He’s all in on fatherhood — the love of his life will be his child. Madison reveals she’s having twins.
Flashforward to older Kevin joined at Rebecca’s bedside by his son… and daughter. Then, despite apparent lingering coldness when Kevin sees Randall, Kevin lovingly places his arm across Randall’s shoulders.
Do they make amends here, or sooner? How far ahead is this? Does Kevin marry Madison or just co-parent with her? So many questions. So long until we get answers…
Thanks, readers, for joining me on the This Is Us season four journey. It was a pleasure to be your recapper — hope you enjoyed everything. May we survive without our regular Tuesday source of all the feels until next year! Cheers!