This Is Us finale recap: A tale of two weddings
This season of This Is Us has been long and winding for both the Pearsons onscreen and the show itself off-screen. COVID forced a delayed start, multiple hiatuses, and shortened the season by two episodes. But fans got just as much heart-wrenching drama as ever, as among other events, Randall learned about his past, Uncle Nicky got a backstory, Toby lost his job — which created a different dynamic for him and Kate — and Kevin navigated starting an unexpected family with Madison.
It's the latter story that's driven much of the season, particularly the back half, and it's Kevin's wedding to Madison that serves as the finale's premise. Last week, doubts sprung up about whether the wedding would happen, but in the season 5 finale episode, titled "The Adirondacks," things begin on an apparently positive note, as the episode opens with Kevin wearing a tux rehearsing something wedding-related — seemingly vows. But a lot transpires over the next hour, and it's not clear until the end what that rehearsal scene is about. On that note, let's get into the crazy finale.
A Pearson flashback
One night when the Big Three are young children, Rebecca and Jack fight in front of the kids about Jack taping over an episode of the show Dynasty — an epic wedding episode she was looking forward to watching during her special one-night break from caring for the triplets 24/7. In the morning, Rebecca awakes to find all three kids standing by their bedside, staring in creepy silence, until finally, Kate asks her parents if they still love each other. Jack and Rebecca show the kids their wedding tape to prove their love. But that stirs up another fight. They try to recover by claiming they're so in love that married couples hate them for it, but unsatisfied, the kids declare their parents must get married again.
So, Jack and Rebecca play along with a family wedding in the living room. Jack vows to always love Rebecca and the Big Three forever. All five Pearsons then join hands in delight.
Throughout the day, Madison seems down, and she reflects on moments in her past. In one flashback, a young Madison clings to a teddy bear as her mother tells her she's leaving because she can't spend another minute with Madison's father. Madison's mother begins the conversation with: "There's no other way to say this…" and she leaves her with earrings, suggesting she wear them on her wedding day and adding that maybe Madison will find a better man than she did. In another flashback, Madison's in middle school, and her father tells her not to be choosy about boys. She doesn't need magical sparks, he says. She should accept what she can get.
Next, just a couple of hours ahead of the ceremony, Madison remembers a past break-up. The man starts the conversation similarly to how her mother did all those years ago: "There's no easy way to say this…" and proceeds to rudely dump her. Madison looks crushed in that moment. Afterward, she wants to eat ice cream but stops herself, spitting and throwing everything out before attending the eating disorder meeting where she first met Kate. It's a heartbreakingly full-circle moment.
When Madison mentally returns to the present, she walks out of her room, with an air of purpose.
Kevin's chaotic day
Kevin spends the day fretting about the wedding being absolutely perfect. Family and other issues exacerbate his stress. This includes the altar Madison designed collapsing, Nicky and Miguel fighting while working to repair it, and Toby asking Kevin how he managed long-term relationships — to which Kevin notes his resulted in divorce (Sophie) and almost missing the twins' birth. The final straw comes in the form of Nicky's wedding present — two engraved Adirondack chairs. Nicky always imagined marriage being "two people sitting in comfortable silence next to each other." It's sweet, but when Nicky asks Kevin for cash to tip the delivery men, Kevin's stress boils over and he storms off.
When he finally focuses on getting ready, Madison knocks on his door. She abruptly asks if he's in love with her. Shocked, Kevin says they're about to get married and become a family. Madison says they use the language of "family" a lot — e.g., that they've "fallen in love with this family" — but she has fallen in love with Kevin himself. She's tired of being what her parents made her, someone who's just grateful for any scraps of affection anyone gives her, so she wants to know Kevin loves her as herself. In response, Kevin says that he loves what they're building and what they have "will grow" — but he doesn't say he loves her. This confirms Madison's suspicions, and she says Kevin made her see she deserves better than marrying someone who doesn't really love her. Over Kevin's protestations, Madison insists Kevin knows, too, that it's not right.
Eventually, Kevin relents, and soon, sitting next to his mother in the Adirondack chairs, looking dismayed but not quite heartbroken, he says he couldn't tell Madison he was in love with her because he couldn't lie to her. Let the Sophie endgame countdown begin…
Kate and Randall join them, and they all imagine how Jack would have handled the day. Kate says Jack would worry about Kevin drinking to cope. Rebecca offers a project to keep him busy so he won't: building the house Jack designed for the cabin property because she wants to spend her last years there. Thus begins the creation of the house in which the Pearsons will say goodbye to Rebecca, an event we'll likely see fully in the show's final season. The family then holds hands, like they did during the living room wedding.
Kate and Toby
While Kevin's future remains uncertain, we learn something about where Kate and Toby are headed.
Early in the episode, Toby tells Kate he got a job offer, but to Kate's dismay, it requires him to be in San Francisco three days a week. Toby says they won't survive much longer on Kate's teaching assistant salary alone… and he wants and needs to go back to work. He says he loves their children, but… And at the implication that his family is not enough for Toby, Kate walks away upset.
But later, while trying to calm Madison's nerves, Kate remembers her wedding day with Toby and has an epiphany about marriage being a commitment to putting your partner's needs first (is it though?). So, she calls Philip, the music school teacher, to resign from her teaching assistant job so Toby can take the San Francisco job. But Philip rejects her resignation, saying she's great at her job and showering her with praise before hanging up.
Soon after, Toby tells Kate he won't take the job because he doesn't want to be away from the family. But Kate says they'll figure out a way to both do the jobs they want. Toby tells Kate that he loves her, and for the first time in a while, it seems these two might be ok. Them not being together in previous flashforwards must mean something other than divorce, because they're unshakeable soul mates, like Jack and Rebecca… right?
Well, at the end of the episode, we return to Kevin in the tuxedo practicing a wedding speech… but we know it's in the future because he's holding a card that says "Big Three Homes," Jack's fantasy development company. We then learn Kevin is 45 years old, so it's five years after his non-wedding to Madison, and it isn't his wedding. The bride is Kate. The apparent groom: Philip.
Boom goes the dynamite… it would seem Kate and Toby did divorce, as has been speculated, and Philip is destined to become Kate's unexpected love. There have been signs pointing to this twist, but color me shocked if anyone saw this, instead of a Kevin-Sophie reunion or something relevant, as the dramatic finish of the Kevin-focused finale. It's show-standard twisty — and heartbreaking, as Toby and Kate started out perfect, and it's hard to accept Toby could do wrong. Maybe the Pearsons and long-distance relationships just don't work. That's perhaps the only question remaining in Kate's story: did the long-distance job kill her marriage with Toby, or something else? Here's to our newest Kate mystery.
Tess and Beth
Tess seems down all day and she looks especially upset when she sees at herself in the mirror in the pink, flower-laced bridesmaid dress. Beth asks what's wrong and Tess says she doesn't feel like herself in the dress but doesn't want to disappoint anyone. Beth says she could never disappoint her family, and to make Tess more comfortable, Beth makes a new outfit: a black T-shirt laced with the pink flowers on the shoulder, like the dress, and a skirt made of the dress. Tess loves the revisions. She then apologizes to Beth for being so cruel to her lately. They exchange "I love yous," other sweet words, and a hug.
Randall and Rebecca
In other mother-child news, early in the day, Rebecca asks Randall to tell her more about New Orleans. Randall is reluctant, but eventually, he sits down with her and shows her photos of Hai and Laurel. Through tears, Rebecca says Randall has Laurel's eyes. Randall changes the subject, and then Kevin interrupts with the altar crisis.
Later, Rebecca tells Randall she never gave him a real explanation for keeping William from him, partly because there is no viable explanation. She says she remembers that during that long-ago family wedding in the living room, she saw Randall staring at Jack and Rebecca and wondered if he was thinking about his birth parents but didn't say anything. She apologizes for never giving Randall a forum to talk about his birth parents and says he can tell her about his journey, and if she cries, it's only because she feels bad about what she took from him. In response, Randall tearfully opens up more about Laurel and what learning about her meant to him. Like Kevin and Randall's reconciliation, this other long-awaited confrontation is as heart-wrenching as expected.
Randall and Nicky
In the flashforward, Kevin comments on an article about Randall being a "rising star." Perhaps he advances his political career past councilman in the future? Additionally, we learn Nicky is married. This essentially proves Nicky is going to reconnect with his first and only love, Sally.
Déjà and Malik
Before the ceremony, Déjà hears from Malik that he got into Harvard. He's ecstatic, but Déjà seems upset — because it's in Boston. If Kevin's past and now Kate's apparent past are any indications, long-distance might be a relationship curse for the Pearsons. Will the young couple last, or do the parallels between them and Kate and Toby (plus Kevin's past) signal that they're doomed? We'll (presumably) find out next season. Until then, here's to the Pearsons' latest journeys and the endings still to come.
NBC’s beloved era-hopping drama tells the story of the Pearson family through the years.