This Is Us recap: The Pearsons say their final goodbyes to Rebecca
In tonight's This is Us series penultimate episode, us viewers begin our final goodbye by watching the characters we've come to love through six emotionally stunning seasons say goodbye to Rebecca Pearson (Mandy Moore), the family matriarch. Inevitably, the episode packs a heavy punch of nonstop tearjerking moments.
That applies to side/subplots of the episode, which include an unfamiliar family experiencing a fateful night, and adult Déjà revealing some major news. Of course, at the center is Rebecca's final moments, which the family endures at the Poconos house and Rebecca endures in her head, picturing her younger self on a fancy train, like her father always talked about taking her on — thus the episode title "The Train."
Naturally, life lessons abound — perhaps even more on the nose and (beautifully) corny than any others in the show's run. There's also the sense that although the show was long framed around superdad/husband Jack Pearson (Milo Ventimiglia), as this final season particularly worked toward and these last episodes solidified, it's been just as much Rebecca's story all along. It is her life and legacy we're ending this journey on and it's beautiful. Let's dive into that story, and those woven around it.
The Marcus Mystery
The episode opens in an unknown time period on an unfamiliar family – parents, two boys and a girl – playfully bantering in the car. The family soon gets into a car accident, but everyone is okay except for one boy, Marcus, who requires surgery.
At the hospital coffee station, Marcus's father encounters … Jack Pearson – turns out, it's the night of the Pearson house fire. Jack seems fine except for bandaged hands and a soot-covered appearance. The men get to talking and to comfort Marcus's anxious father, Jack offers the advice the Pearson's beloved obstetrician Dr. K (Gerald McRaney) shared 18 years prior (in the pilot episode): when life gives you lemons, make something resembling lemonade. Jack then gets taken to a room to get checked out, and Marcus's father returns to his family in the waiting room.
Marcus crashes on the operating table, while Jack seems fine sitting on his hospital bed. The doctor rushes to Marcus and Rebecca heads to the vending machine. Marcus recovers, while Jack abruptly dies of cardiac arrest from smoke inhalation. The doctor is astonished by both reversals; there's a message implied about life and death, the cycle and yet spontaneity of it all. (At Rebecca's deathbed, Randall keeps making this kind of observation but no one embraces his philosophical soliloquy).
Intertwined with this night, we meet adult Marcus as he's conducting cancer research in a medical lab. When he rushes to tell his boss about a potential breakthrough, he walks with a cane and limp, presumably from the childhood accident. Marcus's boss says his results aren't significant enough to save the project from shutdown for lack of funding. Marcus subsequently laments to his siblings about spending years chasing something to no avail. His brother notes it's crazy to think he'd cure cancer on his first try, and his sister mentions the family motto — the lemons advice Jack shared all those years ago.
In a flash-forward, it seems Marcus followed that advice, as from his cancer research he ultimately made a breakthrough on another illness: Alzheimer's. Thus, the circle of life as it relates to the Pearsons resounds. That revelation and the hospital parallels make Marcus relevant to the Pearson story, but throughout the episode another connection is implied: that Marcus may be involved with Déjà. However, that proves to be a misdirect and Déjà's mystery is unrelated.
Déjà (La Trice Harper) arrives at the goodbye gathering with a secret: she's pregnant. However, she soon informs Randall (Sterling K. Brown). He's ecstatic, and when he hugs Déjà, she lets his joy spread to herself. But initially, she seems more stressed than thrilled about pregnancy, noting the timing is complicated since she just started her medical residency and the baby's father, whom she refers to only as "him", is a workaholic, and they aren't yet married. She seems uncertain of their relationship, and it seems her man is Marcus because from this scene, it cuts to Marcus in the lab, and then when Marcus's boss asks if he has someone to go home to, it cuts back to Déjà in another scene. That back-and-forth continues, but then comes the reveal.
While Déjà is sleeping that night at the Poconos house, her man arrives. That man is not Marcus but … Malik! Yup, she and her first love found their way back to one another, after all – he even opened the restaurant he dreamed of. And contrary to Déjà's concerns, Malik is thrilled about the pregnancy. He's loved her since age 16 and is eager to marry her and raise their baby together. Another Pearson young love happy ending? Yes, please!
The Goodbye Gathering
As joyous as the Déjà and Marcus mysteries turn out, the Rebecca goodbye is overwhelmingly difficult. That story begins with the family eating together. Toby (Chris Sullivan) thanks Kevin (Justin Hartley) for the invitation, and banters like the Toby we first fell in love with. Then Phillip (Chris Geere) arrives with Toby and Kate's kids and with that, everyone is present except for Kate (Chrissy Metz), who's rushing back from London, where she's introducing her California arts curriculum. Boss babe, much?
After the nurse reveals she doesn't expect Rebecca to survive the night, Nicky breaks the mournful tension by joking about who should say goodbye first. Beth volunteers (MVP, always). Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) talks about how motherhood requires faking it, and even though she had her own great mother, she often used Rebecca as her model. Beth then thanks Rebecca for her part in making Randall who he is and says she'll take over caring for him now.
Meanwhile, Kate learns as her plane is taking off that she might not arrive in time. She immediately regrets her trip but her brothers remind her that Rebecca didn't want them to sacrifice their dreams. So, Kate just urges her brothers to tell Rebecca she's coming.
Back at the house, Kevin plays Rebecca's favorite artist Joni Mitchell on a record player, and tells the story of he and Rebecca breaking into Joni's house. Then everyone shares Rebecca memories together, as individuals have private moments with the matriarch.
Sophie (Alexandra Breckenridge) tenderly compares Rebecca and Jack's love story to her and Kevin's, and Toby reflects on the love and faith Rebecca always showed him. Annie (Iyana Halley) reflects on Rebecca helping her through struggling to fit in with the family. Oddly, we don't see a similar moment between Rebecca and Tess, Déjà, or Nicky, but Annie's is beautiful nonetheless.
Eventually, Kevin and Randall take to Rebecca's bedside together. They reflect on random memories, and more. Soon enough, it's morning, and against the nurse's prediction, Rebecca clings to life. Thus, Kate arrives in time, running through the door desperately. The siblings express their love for Rebecca, Randall says they're good and thanks her, and as he feels her finally slip away, he says to tell their father "hey."
As the Pearsons say goodbye in the real world, Rebecca imagines herself on a fancy train, as her younger self, donned in a gorgeous reddish-pink dress. Randall's biological father William (Ron Cephas Jones) appears. She asks him about the poem from which she got Randall's name. He recites it for her, then urges her to accompany him to the bar cart. She's waiting for someone, but ultimately follows him. In the next car, Rebecca sees both adult and college-age Beth, as she hears real Beth's goodbye.
William then urges Rebecca on to the bar car, where the bartender is Dr. K. In the conversation that follows, Dr. K praises Rebecca's parenting, expresses shock that she survived her child birth and the subsequent loss of a baby and then Jack, praises what she made of her and her family's life, commends her toughness and says she earned a rest. As he talks, Rebecca sees her sons at different ages — but Kate isn't there.
Rebecca thanks Dr. K and she and William continue down the train. As real-life Sophie, Toby, and Annie say goodbye, Rebecca sees Sophie and Kevin together as children and teens, then Toby with baby Jack, then little Annie. Eventually, she sees Miguel (Jon Huertas), too, who lovingly says she's still his favorite person. Then, William and Rebecca arrive at the caboose — which we learned earlier this season is special to Rebecca. Rebecca won't step into it because she's "waiting for someone," but then she hears Kate's voice and she's satisfied. In the caboose, young Kate sits beside a bed, with her jar of lightning bugs, the inspiration for "Bug," Rebecca's endearing nickname for Kate.
Rebecca laments the sadness of "the end," but William offers comfort in a very This is Us speech: "if something makes you sad when it ends, it must have been pretty wonderful when it was happening … the end is not sad … it's just the start of the next incredibly beautiful thing ..."
With that, William departs, and Rebecca sits on the bed, then lays down. As she turns over, she finds Jack beside her. She says "hey," and we the audience collect our tissues, release more tears, and prepare to do it all again for next week's aftermath series finale episode that will cap off this precious Pearson story.
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NBC’s beloved era-hopping drama tells the story of the Pearson family through the years.