This Is Us recap: A lesson in living in the present
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It's cliché to say all good things must end, but it suits a show built, in the best way, around wonderfully corny sentiments. For six seasons, NBC's family drama This is Us has delivered a consistent stream of life lessons that sound like Hallmark cards — but with a deeper and more intellectual twist. We've cried endless tears of joy and happiness as we've watched these lessons unfold via the complex but loving Pearson family.
We watched handsome scrappy working-class Jack Pearson (Milo Ventimiglia) fall in love with Rebecca (Mandy Moore), a beautiful musician and dreamer from a country club upbringing. We saw the lovers start an unconventional family in the form of triplets turned twins by loss, then turned triplets again by adoption. We saw those three siblings grow up as The Big Three, and grapple with sibling and parental dynamics as they built their own lives, separately and together. Their journey of love, loss, soul-searching and finding was messy but always beautiful, thanks to a brilliant cast, crew, and creators.
Tonight, we reached the end of that journey. What unfolded in the series finale — episode 18 of season six, aptly titled "Us" — revolved around three storylines: a Saturday in the Big Three pre-teen era, Rebecca's funeral ceremonies, and Rebecca speaking with Jack at the end of the train ride which marked her perspective of her final moments. Let's break down the Big Three's big end.
A Pre-teen Saturday
Following her Alzheimer's diagnosis, Rebecca was most afraid of forgetting not big memories, but things like a Saturday when the kids were little where nothing big happened and the family just played a game together. The finale flashback showcases the prime example. It begins with Jack noticing a scar under Rebecca's eyebrow. She explains that once, when her father was pushing her on a swing, his watch accidentally struck her. Time at the swings was her favorite bonding activity with her father. But Rebecca regretfully says she was always too busy wondering when those moments would end to properly enjoy them. Enter a life lesson on living for the present, and a poetic montage of three successive Pearson generations pushing their kids on swings.
Coming out of the reverie, Rebecca notes that for once, they have no activities scheduled that Saturday. Over breakfast, Randall (Lonnie Chavis) and Kevin (Parker Bates) express disinterest in family bonding, but Kate (Mackenzie Hancsicsak) happily offers ideas for spending time together. They play four-square, then watch home videos, including one where the Big Three were younger and Jack taught them a chant about themselves (which we first saw early in the series):
Jack: First came…
Jack: And dad said…
Jack: And then came…
Jack: And mom said…
Jack: And then came…
Jack: And we said…
Randall: That's three!
Jack: Big Three
The kids: Big Three
Unamused by the video, Kevin and Randall storm off. Rebecca confronts Kevin. He admits he's upset because during the school fitness test, while he did the best mile and most sit-ups, he couldn't do pull-ups. Rebecca says not everything will come easy to him; he might have to work hard to become the person she thinks he can be, but working hard will make the big victories more special. To Kevin's delight, she adds his doctor thinks he'll grow up really tall, like a real jock. Rebecca seems uncertain about Kevin's mindset, but Kevin praises her for always saying the right thing. Meanwhile, Jack confronts Randall, who confesses he got suspended from mathletes because in order to stop a classmate from bullying him about hair growing above his lip, Randall pulled a mean prank on another student. Randall feels so guilty, that Jack doesn't feel the need to further punish him. Instead, he shows him how to shave.
Hairless Kevin insists on learning, too. Rebecca gushes at seeing her sons experience such a milestone. The boys then say they're too old to play baby games like Pin the Tail on the Donkey with Kate. Jack urges them to not underestimate Kate, because she wisely understands the importance of living in the moment. Jack says when you're young, you want to be older and when you're old, you want to go back to the past — and it's strange, what you'll remember and want to return to. The boys dismiss Jack's musings but Jack says they'll eventually understand.
The boys do, at least, become more supportive of Kate, eagerly playing Pin the Tail. Cut to a flashback of Rebecca and Jack finding the game in a store when the Big Three are babies and noticing the cover features three children just like the Big Three: a white girl, a white boy, and a Black boy. Rebecca insists on buying the game because, "when the world puts something this obvious in front of you, you don't just walk away from it. You could be missing out on something very important."
That Saturday in the pre-teen era, Kate shows off her tail-pinning skills, and the family proceeds to goof around.
Earlier in the show, we wondered why Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) brought Pin the Tail on the Donkey to Rebecca's goodbye gathering, and why Toby (Chris Sullivan) brought sidewalk chalk and the Big Three marveled at the kids playing four-square. Now we know these games were part of the kind of memory Rebecca most wanted to retain, so incorporating them into the end of her life makes sense.
More pressing following Rebecca's death than the relevance of the games is the Big Three's reaction. Before the funeral Toby comforts Kate, and Nicky (Griffin Dunne), in his way, comforts Kevin. Randall (Sterling K. Brown) struggles to write a eulogy but insists to Beth that he has his emotions in check and is looking forward to the future with his wife and eventual grandchildren.
Later, though, after the funeral, he tells his daughters everything feels pointless — he spent his childhood worrying about losing Rebecca, the last decade terrified of it, and now she's gone and things are just going to continue like normal. Tess and Annie leave Déjà (La Trice Harper) to comfort Randall. It's odd Déjà instead of Tess was given this apparent role of Randall's best friend daughter throughout the series. I can't help but feel Tess was slighted as a character, but perhaps it makes sense since Déjà and Randall share the bond of adoption, or simply because Déjà is older.
Anyway, Déjà says the fact that Randall is going to be a grandfather proves it's not pointless. Cut to William (Ron Cephas Jones) reflecting lovingly on being a grandfather to Tess and Annie and the role of a grandparent … and back to Déjà telling Randall she's having a boy and will name him William, whom she never met. After raising only women, Randall is ecstatic for a boy to help raise. I dislike parents feeling differently about different genders, but as it were, Déjà's good news effectively cheers Randall up.
Soon after, the siblings sit together and Kevin wonders what they do without parents. Kate says to do what their mother wanted — live fearlessly. Kate (Chrissy Metz) will open an abundance of music schools for the visually impaired, Kevin (Justin Hartley) will focus on his nonprofit and spend more time at home, which he took so long to get. Pending Beth's approval, Randall will continue his political climb, apparently toward president. Kate does, however, fear they might drift from one another in the process.
In response, Randall says when he thinks of his family, his siblings and parents come to mind before his wife and kids. Kevin and Kate say the same. The siblings then recite their Big Three chant and Kevin assures Kate if she drifts, they'll follow. Capping off this final sibling interaction, Randall wonders what it meant when Rebecca squeezed his hand in her final moment.
Rebecca's (and our) Train Ride Ends
When Rebecca joins Jack on the train, Jack says he missed her scar. She says she's scared and doesn't want to leave the children. Jack says she won't — she'll still be with them for everything important. Then Rebecca muses about she and Jack — "us" — finding each other in the bar that night. Jack repurposes what she said about the Pin the Tail on the Donkey game. The couple then exchange "I love yous" and Rebecca … squeezes Jack's hand (Randall's hand) as she crosses over.
Cut to the Pearsons mourning Rebeccca joyfully together, and the pre-teen era family playing that Saturday. Randall gives his father a knowing look about appreciating the present, and with that, our ride ends.
It's shocking the show didn't end with the exact words "this is us," and it's interesting Randall got the final frame to himself. Yet otherwise, for the most part, the goodbye hit plenty of feel-good notes worthy of the series. But like Kevin said, what do we do now? Well, share reactions below. Consider divesting in Kleenex stocks. And maybe wish for a reunion special to see the next generation of Pearsons get their happily ever after? In any case, it's been an honor being your recapper through this journey. Thanks for reading, and may we all remember the lessons This is Us dispensed about life, death, and everything between!
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