Photo: Ron Batzdorff/NBC
To honor a show that genuinely loves its football, let’s call it what it is: this latest set of episodes hands down This is us‘s Super Bowl. You’ve been training for this moment since day one! All those timelines and callbacks and interconnected stories, it all built up to this moment for the big win – tying it all together in a tearstained bow. This is us is another example of why it’s better to know your show’s end date; call it that Lost Principle. Did this series meander at times and give us plot lines that nobody asked for or wanted? Oh god yes. Did we really need to know about the creator of FaceTime technology? Or the John Legend concert? But still – can you imagine what a show looks like This is us would be without knowing the expiry date? Those last few episodes were a great tribute to the series as a whole, and I have to imagine part of that is because the end goal was always clear.
Sure, we still have a chapter in the Pearson story before we say our final goodbyes, but this penultimate episode feels like a real gift for fans of the series. It’s chock full of Easter eggs and direct callbacks, either through a familiar prop or someone literally saying, “Hey, remember when…” (that happens a lot). It’s a treasure trove for those who’ve been paying attention during their weekly crying. And hey, look This is us be confident enough to joke that something is too flashy! That’s called growth, baby.
What is the vehicle for all this remembering? Well, first there’s the “today’s” story, where everyone gathers in the Big House to say goodbye to Rebecca – it looks like she won’t make it through the night. And then there’s an actual vehicle: Rebecca’s journey out of this world physically manifests as a train journey. You will remember that in a previous episode Rebecca talked about how her father used to take her on the train into town on Sundays when he had to work and how much she loved it. Here she finds herself dressed all in a red dress as she makes her way to the red caboose at the end of the train.
That’s all in Rebecca’s head, of course, as she slowly lets go. In the real world, we’ve made it to the other side of this flash-forward of all the Pearsons arriving at the house, which has been a touchstone since this future twist was revealed in season two. Everyone hangs out telling stories to Rebecca, listening to Joni Mitchell and partying until it’s time to say goodbye. Beth tells Rebecca she’ll take care of Randall for her, and Sophie talks about how Rebecca and Jack’s story is “once in a lifetime.” Nicky’s farewell would probably have been the most interesting of them all, but we don’t get to see that and I’d be upset about it, but what should I do? Stop watching the show now?
But it’s not just retelling of signed baseball cards or a bout of appendicitis or Rebecca hanging out with a stripper; There is also a small storyline in this timeline. First we get the revelation that Deja and Malik got back together after all and she’s pregnant with his baby. Seeing Randall’s face as he finds out he’s going to be a grandfather really soothed my weary soul. If ever a man should be a grandfather, it’s Randall Pearson. But most of the tension comes from here This is us attempts a “Will Kate make it back in time from London where she presented her art curriculum?” (Reader, I rolled my eyes, it felt right) But come on, Kate wasn’t there for her mother’s last breath afterwards everything would call for at least three episodes of her working through her guilt-ridden anxiety, perhaps through cardio drums, and the show doesn’t have the time! Rebecca lasts until morning and Kate bursts in and the Big Three are all with her by the end. They tell her they love her, and they thank her because she “made it.” [them] good,” and maybe other things are happening, but folks, I can’t physically see through my tears at this point, and I’m not going to apologize for that. Randall holds her hand and says to her, “Tell him ‘Hey’,” and talks about Rebecca’s reunion with Jack. At that moment, Randall feels Rebecca squeeze his hand a little. she hears him It’s all as sad as one would expect.
So what’s happening during all of this on Rebecca’s imaginary train? It’s a real Rebecca Pearson, This Is Your Life situation. Your guide through this train? Oh, friends: it’s William. Didn’t you miss William’s warm and comforting presence? If I were Rebecca and needed someone to lead me to my death, I would choose William too. The guy reads her a poem by Dudley Randall. He puts his hat on. We all needed William at that moment, you know? This is us uses a lot of nifty tricks to make all of this work, the most effective of course being that the same characters can appear in all age groups. As Beth talks to Rebecca at her bedside, Rebecca sees Beth sitting in the train car and Beth switches back and forth between different versions of herself. At one point, she sees the three versions of Kevin and Randall all hanging out with each other. It’s trippy and awesome too. Grown up Randall doing push ups with Little Randall on his back?! Someone hold me!!
William leads her through the train. Rebecca hears more people talking to her over the speaker and sees versions of them sitting nearby. dr K is there in the bar car making drinks while holding an awful towel. Yes, there is a bowl of lemons. How could it not be? She worries that she made mistakes, but Dr. K assures her that “there are no perfect games in parenting.” He tells her how he thought he would lose her the night he delivered their babies, but that she is a survivor. And that despite the sadness and confusion, Rebecca made something beautiful and wonderful out of it: “You survived only to lose a child and then a husband, and still what a thing you made of it all. What a big, chaotic, gigantic, spectacular thing.” And if that’s not just the thesis This is us has had our throats stuffed since Kevin painted this painting in season one—a painting, may I add, that receives multiple praises in this episode, both lovingly and scathingly.
Miguel is waiting for them in another car. He sips wine and tells her she’s his favorite person – all Miguel about him. I hope he can hang out with Rebecca the whole time, whatever his version of the move, because otherwise, yeah, this guy had a tough draw. Things are moving much faster on the train now and William leads Rebecca to the galley door. She doesn’t want to go in at first – the whole time she’s been telling William she’s waiting for someone, and it turns out she was waiting for Kate. When she finally hears Kate’s voice over the speaker, she’s ready to move on, move on. She remarks how sad it all is, “the end”. But William reminds her that the ending of something is only sad because “it must have been pretty wonderful when it happened.” He also tells her that it’s easy to just look at life as “sad,” but sometimes you need a broader view; you have to look at the whole picture.
This is us becomes real This is us with this idea because throughout the episode we’ve unknowingly gotten a bigger glimpse of a major event that reframes it a bit: we’re going back to the night Jack dies. Anyone want to relive that moment in Pearson’s history? No, but Dulé Hill is there, so it’s a little better. ok well its still upsetting and i wish we would never go back to that hospital with all the candy bars and the dying!!
The episode actually starts with the Brooks family, a married couple and their two sons and a daughter – another big three, you know – in the car. The youngest son, Marcus, unbuckles his seatbelt to get his football in the back, things get chaotic and the car rolls off the road. Later in the episode, Marcus is brought in for surgery while the rest of the family sits in the waiting room. Well, who do you think Dulé Hill meets when he gets coffee at this hospital? it’s Jack He is covered in soot and his hands are bandaged. It’s the night of fire. The guy might have a few hours to live and he doesn’t know it yet. He’s waiting to be brought in so they can clean him up and run some tests, he says. We meet Marcus and his two siblings when they are older: Marcus is researching cures for cancer and he is having a rough night as he hits a dead end. His siblings laugh as they remind him of something their father used to say about turning lemons into lemonade. You know what that means. Back at the hospital, Jack and Mr. Brooks share the trauma they experienced that night and how this is the worst night of Mr. Brooks’ life. Jack’s digging into that lemon-in-lemonade speech. Leave it to Jack Pearson to turn his final act into a cheesy, heartfelt speech. Damn this man! I love him so much! We learn that Jack’s doctor was not with Jack in the 20 minutes it took him to go from fine to very dead because he was rushing to the OR – Marcus coded. Jack dies and Marcus lives. Marcus continues to develop drugs to help Alzheimer’s patients. I know you might want to roll your eyes, but come on, the Super Bowl, remember? You go into it. That’s it, and they’re laying it on thick.
Alone in the last room, Rebecca lays down on the bed and rolls over to find Jack next to her. “Hey,” she says, smiling at him. “Hey,” he replies. “Hey,” I repeat over and over while lying on my floor in the fetal position. One more episode, my babies! I’d like to remind you to bring the tissues, but come on, we’re pros at this point.