This Is Us Season 2, Episode 18
Posted by Shannon
If all of Season Two was about Jack’s death (and it was, for better or for worse), then it’s only fitting that the finale take a step back and refocus. Set us up for what’s to come, acknowledge how far it’s traveled. This episode had to mark the transition and move everyone forward, and unlike “Moonshadow,” I’m happy to report it was up for the challenge. It’s time for a new normal with This Is Us, and “The Wedding” delivers. I’m also happy to say we’ve moved past the days of a Big Twist at every milestone (we still get a brutal cliffhanger, but more on that later). The show on the whole feels like it’s relaxed into a new identity. It’s a little less “feel-good family drama,” a little more “life is tragic but we can and MUST find comfort with each other.” I personally feel great about this development, and even while I screamed at the television for the last few moments of this episode, it all felt real. Honest and true, and hard and sad, joyful in the face of misery. Which is exactly what I want this show to be.
Kevin, Randall, Beth and Deja
We’ve jumped ahead in time by at least a few months to arrive at the day before Toby and Kate’s wedding. It’s a big Pearson family event, which means all hands on deck. Wedding Planner Kevin has gone full taskmaster, keeping everyone on a minute-by-minute schedule, while Randall’s entire kitchen has turned into a Ka-Toby gift bag assembly line. Beth’s cousin Zoe is even flying in to take the photos. But it’s not all cute name tags and scented candles. In the weeks since we last saw Deja, her mother has taken her case to court, openly telling the Judge in front of Deja that she wanted to terminate all parental rights. It’s brutal to say the least. Beth and Randall are at their wits end with the (understandably) miserable, DEEPLY angry teenager in their midst. Even Beth, who’s usually pretty unflappable when it comes to the girls, is talking too fast and trying too hard to get Deja to engage. Randall’s just sad (“I miss Deja 2.0, when she was all used to us and sweet…”), but he knows he has to show up for Kate and Toby. Cue my favorite game of all time: Worst Case Scenario. I’ve been playing this game for my whole 32 years on this earth and can confirm that it does (almost always) make you feel better.
Still, Randall gets the whole crew up to the cabin and joins his siblings in the throws of wedding prep. Kevin’s been holding down the fort with Kate; it’s been going fine so far, until Kate realizes she can’t find Jack’s old Daytona shirt. The plan was to pin it under her dress (“I KNOW, I am WEIRD, Randall!”) but after a quick call to Toby, the boys find he’s forgotten to pack it. They’re quick to assure Toby it’ll all be fine, even while they mime disaster at each other, and quickly formulate a new plan. “It’s a t-shirt. We can roll with this, right? He was more than a t-shirt,” Randall gently asks Kate, before they leave her to a Sandra Bullock movie. (“One of the romantic ones, not the one where they’re trying to kill her through the internet.”)
I need to take a few moments here to talk about Randall and Kevin. Cast your mind back, if you will, to the time they were literally rolling around on the curb wrestling each other, years of pent-up aggression and disdain finally coming to a head. Or to the midst of Kevin’s family therapy session, Randall overflowing with bitter resentment. I’m not going to say that all their brotherly animosity is behind them; it’s surely not. But personally, my cold, dead heart grew at least three sizes when I saw Kevin casually throwing his arm around Randall on the porch, telling Toby that “Randall wants to say sup!” Not to mention their plan of attack to replace Kate’s something old: scouring the family cabin to find an assortment of weird house tools and summer accessories, which they both know are completely off base but still throw themselves into presenting with the dedication of Vanna White. This isn’t solidarity in the face of a crisis, like it was after Randall’s breakdown. It’s something else. Something comfortable, safe, loving. The Pearson Boys are in fine form, and I hope their relationship keeps moving in this direction.
When Kate takes off on a mystery errand, Kevin and Randall are in charge of Wedding Central. They keep up appearances, making sure the bridal party has all the champagne and cheesy compliments they could ever want. (“I did not know that Kate hired professional models to be her bridesmaids!” “I think she did, Kev, cuz this room’s full of a whole lot of daaaaayyyuuuum.”) Ultimately, they have to abandon their posts to try to find Kate. It’s mere hours until the wedding and she’s not answering her phone. Kevin’s twin senses are a little delayed, but still point in the right direction; the two take off to the old ice cream shop in town, only to find they’ve missed Kate by moments. They drive away without a new destination in mind, and Randall suggests a round of his favorite game.
I’ve already spoken to the progress between Kevin and Randall. But this scene just takes it to the next level. The thing about THEIR “Worst Case Scenario” game, as compared to Randall and Beth’s, is that Kevin and Randall are giving voice not just to their worst case scenarios but to their deepest internalized fears. It’s not about the future – it’s about the past. They’ve both been sitting on the agonizing suspicion that they have already failed their sister. They haven’t; Kate has never been in a healthier place, and it’s down to the work she’s done for herself. But they both needed to voice those fears to someone who could understand and feel it in their bones. And now that they’re here, now that they can speak truths to each other? They can finally get it out.
Back at the cabin, Beth is overjoyed to see her baby cousin Zoe. Their whole vibe is a damn delight; it’s sisterly, fun, loving and playful. Zoe’s got another role to fill at this wedding though; she’s not just there to support Beth and take photos. She’s also there to try to talk Deja off the emotional ledge. Zoe gets the lay of the land quickly from Beth and doesn’t waste any time making a connection. She, too, was taken in by Beth and her family after her mother abandoned her. Deja’s not an idiot; she knows exactly what Zoe’s trying to do. But Zoe has genuinely been there. When Deja mutters that “I don’t care if my mom left me,” Zoe not only knows that it’s bullshit, but she knows exactly where it’s coming from. She’s the only person in the Pearson radius who can relate to Deja on this level. Deja doesn’t have adults in her life who know where she’s coming from AND who have the tools to help her move through to the next stage. So after hearing out Zoe in spite of herself, Deja puts “a pretty dress on and some lip gloss,” and shows up for Beth and Randall. But she’s still a teenager in the midst of some life-changing upheaval. The smallest shard of emotional damage could set her off. Sure enough, she ends the evening facing an unintentional, but significant emotional slight when Toby’s mother tells Deja that she looks “just like your father.” It’s too much for her to bear: she smashes the windshield of his precious car with Jack’s old baseball bat.
Kate and Toby have come so far – both separately and in their relationship. So please know how much I mean it when I say that this is the right time for this wedding. But be that as it may, they’re also both coming with serious baggage. This was always going to be a hard day for Kate. Toby’s done everything he can to make her feel comfortable and supported; he hasn’t even blinked at Kate’s request to put Jack’s urn next to the guest book (“It’s a fun twist on the sign in station”) or to pin her Dad’s good luck shirt under her dress. Kate sees the effort he’s making and rewards him with a bowtie previously worn by Leslie Nielsen in one of the Naked Gun movies, but you really get the sense that Toby didn’t need a thank you. He’s just happy to marry Kate.
Which makes it even worse when Toby’s own baggage shows up at the airport in the form of two phenomenally well-cast cameos. Before his parents landed, Toby’s biggest worry was that they would spend the whole 48 hours bickering over alimony payments. But they had a whole other way to be horrible hidden up their sleeves. Rather than spend the evening having dinner with his parents, Toby focused all his efforts on getting a task rabbit to fly Jack’s forgotten t-shirt across the country, to no avail. (“Apparently they are not up to the task rabbits.”) While I don’t doubt that Toby would have dropped anything and everything to try to fix that screw up for Kate, I also suspect he was glad for the excuse. AND WHO COULD BLAME HIM. (Sorry, I’m getting ahead of myself.) Unfortunately, it all played right into the picture of Kate his parents have drawn up in their heads. The morning of his wedding – WHILE he’s putting on his suit – Toby’s parents go in for an ambush.
Both his mother and father state that “we have concerns about Kate” before diving into the details as they see it. The fact that this exchange happens after Toby asked his mother for help with his cufflinks is a special kind of awful, but really the whole thing had me in a rage. Toby’s parents have spent precious little time with Kate, if they’ve met her at all. Their concern that Toby is “constantly bending over backwards to calm her” is completely unfounded, and it feeds on the worst kinds of stereotypes about emotional women being “unstable” or “fragile.” Kate is neither. She’s done a huge about of emotional work to support herself, be there for Toby and be a present member of their relationship. (Look no further than Audio the dog.) NOT TO MENTION the fact that weddings come with an overwhelming level of emotional difficulty for anyone who’s faced loss in their immediate family. Toby’s parents might not know the work that’s been done on the first point, but they sure as hell should know the second. There’s no excuse for their behavior. And somehow, it just keeps getting worse. They draw unfounded comparisons between Kate and Josie, and finally, try to “remind” Toby of the crippling depression he suffered after his divorce. I don’t know about you, but I for one don’t need anyone to remind me about my worst bouts of depression. I remember them just fine on my own. And I suspect Toby does too. Toby, bless him, sits through this bullshit and listens until he finally can’t take it anymore. He gives his parents more of an explanation than they deserve before kicking them out of his room with an ultimatum: “You’re gonna decide that coming to me like this was a terrible mistake, and you’re gonna show up to my wedding with bells on or you’re gonna take yourselves to the airport.”
It’s no surprise that Kate’s main mental focus on her wedding day is her father. Her subconscious has done a number on her, presenting her with nightly visions of her parents’ 40th wedding anniversary turned vow renewal. It’s an idyllic scene; everyone in the family is in attendance, looking completely at peace. Jack’s vows are an excuse for one of his patented beautiful speeches while Rebecca spends the reception singing Moonshadow. They all dance, happy to be in each others presence. It’s a lovely dream. In her waking hours, too, Jack’s everywhere. Kate has made every effort to keep her father’s memory an active part of her wedding. When Toby forgets to pack the lucky Daytona Beach shirt, it’s upsetting, but it doesn’t throw her into a complete panic. Not really. It’s the first sign that Kate’s starting to let go. She’s upset, but she thinks through all her options, deciding to try Frenchie’s for Jack’s favorite banana pudding ice cream. “Not something old, but an old tradition.” And when that falls through, Kate hits the road to think.
Since Kate’s miscarriage, her relationship with her mother has started to come around. But they haven’t really been challenged by anything since then; the bond is still tenuous. Rebecca’s terrified that she’ll do something to ruin the progress they’ve made – pick the wrong dress, say the wrong thing, do anything to remind Kate that “he’s the one she lost, and I’m the one she got stuck with.” When Kate calls her Mom to talk about her dream, Rebecca asks a sweet, if potentially provocative question: “What’s Toby doing in the dream?” Kate freezes up. In a decidedly Freudian turn of events, Toby hasn’t been in the dreams because Jack was.
I would feel more conflicted about the symbolism here if it didn’t fit SO perfectly with Kate’s evolution. A huge part of Kate’s character arc this season has surrounded her jumbled relationship with Jack. He relied too heavily on her emotional support during his recovery; she placed her self-esteem directly on his shoulders, insisting his death was her own fault. It’s messy and complicated and difficult stuff. But Kate has done the work. And while it might seem obvious to say this, never forget that Kate and Kevin are twins. Kate could identify the work Kevin needed to do because she saw it in herself. They BOTH needed to say goodbye to Jack this season, to come to terms with what that loss has meant for them. Kevin had his farewell at the tree; now it’s Kate’s turn.
Once Kate’s back at the family cabin and all dressed up, Rebecca comes in for a visit. She’s anxious, edgy, even scared. Rebecca is convinced she stepped in it by asking about Toby, and it’s painful to watch her approach her daughter with such caution. But again – Kate has worked SO hard this year. In finally scattering Jack’s ashes, she’s not only made room for Toby; she’s made room for her Mom.
The wedding is beautiful and fun. Randall and Kevin walk Kate down the aisle. Toby’s beside himself. His parents do the right thing and show up (bleh). Just as they did in Kate’s dream, everyone dances, comfortable and at peace with each other. And then we get the toasts. Toby doesn’t have a strong connection to his side of the party and I’m willing to bet he’d rather have Kevin and Randall as his groomsmen anyhow, so the speeches are all-Pearson all-the-time. These two did not come to play. They’d have made Jack proud, that’s for damn sure. Yes, Kevin’s toast is doing a lot of text work here. He’s acknowledging the journey the family has gone through, and he’s speaking to the end of the season just as much as he is to his sister. But just like Zoe, I’m a sucker for a good speech. And this one HAD to acknowledge the grieving the show has moved through. Yes, it’s meta. But it’s also spot-on. The Pearsons needed this exhale. The audience needed this exhale. This Is Us needed this exhale. When these four breathe together, it feels like the beginning of a whole new show.
The show is out from under Jack Pearson’s shadow, and it’s better for it. Freer. But that doesn’t mean it’s abandoning all its plays with past and future. When Randall toasts to “Katie Girl and Tobias,” he takes the opportunity to speak to time. We never know where we’ll be in a year, or three, or ten. The painting is vast, the opportunities endless. Over Randall’s speech, we see flashes of where our beloved Pearsons will be in a year’s time: Kevin flying to Vietnam with Zoe (which I am SO on board for, by the way). Toby, deep in a bought of depression, motionless on his bed. It’s the ten year flash that packs the worst punch; adult Tess and Randall in her office, getting ready to see an unnamed woman in some kind of trouble. It could be any one of Randall’s worst case scenario games come to life: Deja doesn’t end the episode in a particularly healthy place, Beth could have fallen ill, or even Annie. None of these options are good. But for now, at least, they have a wedding.
Colors of the Painting
- Wedding Planner!Kevin is my very favorite Kevin. Case and point: “I’m gonna go check on the caterers, some of those clowns wouldn’t know an amuse-bouche if it bit ‘em on the ass.”
- “We got nine hours until I do’s, people. Little less texting, lot more tenting.”
- Beth’s recurring childhood crush on D’Angelo is everything.
- When last we saw the family cabin, Rebecca was getting ready to sell. The Big Three must’ve gotten her to change her mind.
- It’s played for laughs but Madison is exactly the kind of person who he’d fall into bed with, leaving chaos in their wake. Kevin has grown SO MUCH.
- In Kate’s dream of the 40th wedding anniversary, Randall accompanies his mother on the piano. It’s a small touch and a GREAT one. I still want Randall to take those piano lessons.
- “If I could wear all brown and pretend to be a tree, I would.”
- Shout out to the costume designers, who have been killing it on the regular but really took it up a level this week. Zoe’s turquoise earrings against her red scarf? Stop it. Rebecca’s navy overlay matching Miguel’s tie? C’mon. This pink on Chrissy Metz? PERFECTION.
- “Rough car ride.” “Really? Deja?” “She’s belligerent. It’s like I’m raising Russell Crowe.”
- The smallest moments in the receptions were my favorite touches of the whole episode: Randall’s Dad dance moves with Beth, Kate’s spin round the dance floor with Miguel, and Jack twirling Tess in Kate’s dream.
- Kevin and Randall calling their sister Katie-girl is my whole entire heart.
And that’s our season! What are your thoughts on the finale and the season as a whole? Let us know in the comments!