This Is Us Season 3, Episode 18
Posted by Shannon
I do love a season bookend. We haven’t had one yet in This Is Us: season one ended with a whimper, season two with a wedding, and neither spoke directly to their season’s respective openers. So imagine my delight at finally getting a season finale that looked clearly back to its beginning – and stuck the landing. This entire hour is strong; it’s well crafted, thoughtful, paced, and hews to the show’s inner optimism. It feels complete (well, as complete as anything ever feels in this show) while also setting the stage for a substantial reset in the upcoming season. It reveals a mystery without holding the audience hostage to a plot twist. All in all, I think it’s my favorite of the season closers, and it wraps a season that, soup to nuts, might be my favorite as a whole. So before the Pearsons go traveling for the summer, let’s take a minute to celebrate them getting to this point.
Jack and Rebecca
A story cannot be told in Jack Pearson’s shadow alone. Rebecca doesn’t often get the acknowledgement she deserves in the kid’s eyes (I’m speaking holistically and not counting Randall, so stick with me). But she is (fittingly, considering the title) a throughline in the episode, and that all starts off with a pretty nasty car accident roundabout 1992. It’s nothing life threatening, but a broken arm and some nasty cuts to the face mean Rebecca will be stuck in the hospital overnight. The Big Three arrive safely with Miguel and their responses are all pitch perfect for their characters: Kate brings flowers but stays a little distant, Kevin saddles right up to Jack, and Randall is at his mother’s side immediately asking why she’s speaking so slowly. It’s all justifiably upsetting for the kids, which prompts Rebecca to send them home with Jack.
I’m not one for blundering dad caricatures and Jack is a grown man who is perfectly capable of providing a simple meal for his children, so I really rolled my eyes at the whole corn sandwich thing. But as annoyed as I was at that, I was equally delighted by the Big Three rattling off all the things they were supposed to be doing with Rebecca that night. The whole discussion spirals out of control in that perfect way the best family dialogue so often does, and before Jack knows it he’s gone from assuring Kevin that “Blockbuster’s not going anywhere” to demanding Randall stop looking up potential brain damage in his science books. It’s all a mess and one bad dream later, Jack carts the whole family off to the hospital in the middle of the night to see their mom.
This particular entry into the Jack Pearson SpeechTM canon isn’t really a standout. But there’s something endearing about the fact that the show has reached a point where one of his speeches is a little eye roll inducing; his car metaphors are strained and his audience is a nurse closing out a 24 hour shift who does not care what analogue brakes and exhaust pipes have to do with Jack’s attempt at steamrolling visiting hours. Still, his point is sound: for all the attention Jack gets as the dream patriarch, Rebecca is just as much the glue to the family as he is. After all, they’re “useless without the engine.”
Randall and Beth
When last we left our favorite couple, things were emotionally dire. I couldn’t see an easy out, and for that matter neither could Beth. “Her” opens with Randall and Beth making coffee across state lines – Randall in Philly, Beth in Jersey, taking care of the girls and not speaking a word about Randall’s absence from the breakfast table. To be fair, the girls are getting used to him coming in later in the morning, or else the Philly cot wouldn’t be so prominent. But Deja and Tess are very emotionally connected kids. They pick up on the tension immediately. Tess isn’t one to make a fuss and is more likely to sit to the side and worry (more on that later) but Deja knows exactly what this is and she is not going to stand for it.
Deja’s had a relatively quiet season, especially considering the bang with which she started. But the thing is, this girl is not to be underestimated. Deja is teen Randall 2.0: she’s smart as hell, she’s thoughtful, she’s sensitive, and not only does she register emotional trauma just as well as Randall did when he was a kid, but she takes it one step farther and knows exactly what to do to help. I practically stood up and cheered when she tricked Randall into a long car ride for a non-existent debate club meeting, instead bringing him to one of her old foster homes. (“You’re not the only one in the world who can drag somebody on a long car ride just to give them a big speech at a meaningful location.”)
Deja and Randall have always trusted each other to speak truth. They’ve always known (or at least hoped) that the other person would have their back and hear what they have to say in the tone in which it was meant. It’s why Deja was able to push back on Randall’s big speech at the top of the season, and why she’s able to deliver her own now. Randall NEVER doubts Deja. Not for a second. When she broaches the subject of Beth, he doesn’t even try to dismiss her, instead just asking if the other girls have noticed the strain. And when they arrive at the house where Deja and countless other foster kids were starved by a family who was only using them to get more money for scratch tickets, he never has a hint of frustration or overt pity. He only even interrupts her once, and is shut down immediately. (“Not now, doin’ a speech.”) What makes this such a perfect bookend to their first road trip at the beginning of the season is that Deja’s whole point is a continuation of the same discussion they had all those months ago. Randall and Deja could have had very similar lives, but their paths have been different, and it’s important for both to recognize the differences and learn from them. In this case, Randall needs a gut check. He needs to be reminded of just how special his relationship with Beth is. And he needs to pull it together and not lose sight of their connection.
Beth doesn’t have anyone to take her by the shoulders and give her a good shake. But she also doesn’t really need it. Instead, while standing at the dance studio and agreeing to cover a shift that Sunday, she takes a beat and looks around the room when inspiration strikes. Now I do just have to pause to talk about this a little, because while I love the sentiment behind it, I’m not super crazy about how it all went down. Randall’s dig a few weeks ago that Beth was just “teaching moms how to twirl better” was brutal because it was phenomenally dismissive but also because it was pretty sexist. And the dance studio owner makes a similar comment about some of her students, which is what spurs Beth’s lightning bolt idea. I obviously don’t think Beth should stick it out in a studio that doesn’t speak to her heart. But the idea that middle aged women trying to connect to art in some way – in ANY way – is silly or less than is very condescending and I’m not here for it.
I am, however, very much here for the way out. Randall tries to come up with a plan of his own, calling Jae-won to ask what would happen if he resigned before being sworn in (nothing good!) and while he’s willing to go through with it, it’s a blatantly bad idea. Moving to Philadelphia, though? It’s a pretty great one. There’s nothing keeping them in Jersey. Not Rebecca and Miguel, not Kevin, neither of their jobs. (It could, however, be detrimental to one or all of the three girls – which I’d guess is going to be a major topic for the next season. But there are also significant potentials for positives, so we’ll see what comes of that.) While selling the house is heartrending, Beth is right to say that it’s given them everything it can. It’s time to go.
Kevin and Zoe
Oh, Kevin. Dear, sweet Kevin. I should have known better than to trust any emotional decision you made in haste. The moment he started revisiting the subject of kids even in jest, I knew where this was all headed. And honestly so did Zoe. She knows he’s not just joking when he comments about the impossibility of spending “20 minutes doing pour over coffee if there’s a screaming baby in the house.” To her credit, she lets him think he’s kidding, and doesn’t push the matter just then. But you can see it in her eyes. Babysitting their neices while Deja and Randall road trip and Beth teaches was a mercy in that way; at least it forced the matter.
I love that the best “big speeches” of the finale came from Deja and Kevin, and the latter’s is especially meta. (Do not sleep on a Kevin Pearson speech. Never forget this is the man who inspired “colors of the painting.”) While Annie and Zoe make brownies, Kevin comes up to Tess’s room and finds the place in chaos. (“It’s like a Forever 21 exploded!”) She and her Aunt Zoe had been working on an outfit for yearbook photos and while they’d landed on something in the moment, Tess already hates it all. In fact ,she’s in the middle of a teen identity crisis and hates every item of clothing she owns. But she doesn’t want to trouble either of her parents to do anything about it, because Beth is “too busy teaching all the time and fighting with my Dad.” Tess Pearson has a lot of those same qualities I was referencing in Randall and Deja earlier. But unlike Deja, she’s more retiring, more reserved. Way less likely to push, and certainly not inclined to inconvenience anyone for what she sees as her own sake. She’s also in the middle of a massive moment of transition. Tess has told the rest of her family she’s gay, but she hasn’t told any of her friends. She’s the only queer person in her community (that we know of) and just needs someone to help guide her through all of this messiness – or at the very least, tell her she’s not alone.
Kevin does this SO well. He never once presumes to know the specifics of how she feels or what she’s going through. Nor should he. She’s a young queer woman of color; he’s a straight white man. Their life experiences are and will continue to be remarkably different and that should not be glossed over. But Kevin is smarter than he’s given credit for, and he’s done massive emotional work over the last few years. Plus he’s just removed enough from the situation to be a trusted voice. I love that he pulls a Jack and full-names Tess, and that he even responds with a joke when Tess asks if he thinks she, too, will continue to find herself over the years. (“Nah, probably not, I mean you’re not that special.”) It’s all so perfectly pitched to his niece, and it’s so genuine and lovely. He just nails it.
While Kevin is killing the uncle game, Zoe is killing the aunt game, coloring with Annie and just generally having a great time. But it just drives home for Kevin how much he wants kids, and how much he thinks he wants to have them with Zoe. When they get home later that night, they both know they have to talk about it. Neither of them particularly wants to. They truly do love each other and their relationship is a good one. But a good aunt does not a willing mother make. (Trust me.) Zoe knows she will not change her mind, and I love her for sticking to her principles and not wavering, even in the face of a loving partner. She wants Kevin to be happy, to go off and “raise 500 perfectly symmetrical kids.” But it can’t be with her. And she’s not willing to let him make that sacrifice when his real feelings are becoming so clear.
This breakup is my nightmare, and the whole thing was painful on a visceral level. But I am SO proud of Zoe (and of the show) for not wavering, especially after Kevin tried to reference Rebecca’s change of heart regarding kids. And I am proud of Kevin for accepting what he really wants, and taking ownership of what that means. Kevin will be a great dad, and I can’t wait to see how he gets there.
Kate, Rebecca and Toby
Back on the west coast, baby Jack is hitting two weeks on this Earth, surrounded by his parents and grandparents. Toby seems to be settled into his usual self, correcting Kate’s grammar as she chats with Jack (“He’s young and impressionable!”). Rebecca is back to her usual self too, but that’s not without its pains. Not only is she there for her daughter and grandson, but she’s making executive decisions on what kind of coffee Kate should be drinking and examining apartments no more than five minutes away from Kate and Toby’s so they can just “pop over.” This would all make Kate itchy under the best of circumstances, even with all the work they’ve done on their relationship this past year. The strain of Jack’s breathing test and the potential for apnea and bradycardia start to add up to a perfect storm. The good news is that as long as it’s caught early, the risk to Jack is minimal. But it all puts the family on an understandable edge. Rebecca’s reaction to those nerves is to ask a ton of questions and write everything down, while Kate occasionally pushes but more often defers. This is a little bit on both of them: Rebecca shouldn’t be talking over Kate when it’s clear that they have limited time with the Doctor, and Kate shouldn’t let her.
It all spirals out quickly and predictably to their characters. Rebecca is a little careless with her phrasing (“I’m probably just being a little overly cautious”) and Kate is a little defensive (“You think I’m not being overly cautious?”) and it’s all exacerbated by little Jack beginning to brady. Rebecca does just as the Doctor ordered and taps Jack’s foot, while Kate goes off into panic to try to find a nurse, setting off the worst of both of their emotional baggage and leading Rebecca to remove herself for the afternoon after Jack is safely settled so she can take Audio to the dog park.
This relationship has not been fixed overnight. That’s not how things work. But it’s notable to see how pained Kate looks later that night when Rebecca apologizes for overstepping, and it’s notable that Rebecca apologized unprompted. All in all, they both have some work to do, but it’ll only get better from here. Their apologies are so sweet and genuine and speak perfectly to where they both are in their life and relationship. Kate wants Rebecca and Miguel around so her son can “grow up with the Rebecca Pearson level magic.” And Rebecca is comfortable being a bit of a punching bag for Kate’s triggers. (“It’s what I’m here for.”) All in all, it’s a perfect place for their relationship to grow.
Especially when Uncle Kevin heads back to LA to take up permanent residence once again.
Colors of the Painting
- “I knew I should have taken that job at MSNBC when I had the chance.”
- I just. My kingdom for Milo’s reactions here:
- It might be a long-shot but I really hope this isn’t the last we see of Zoe. She’s been such a wonderful addition to the show and Beth is gonna need her support and friendship.
- The transition from a more modern cover of “Friday I’m In Love” playing in the kitchens of the current timelines to the original track by The Cure coasting through Rebecca’s car was masterful. Give the entire music department an Emmy.
- And while we’re on the subject, the track from Darlingside which plays over the final sequence is a pitch-perfect song for This Is Us. Not only is it the perfect combination of haunting, meditative and inspiring, the lyrics include tailor-made Pearson phrases like “nothing is forever / everything is soon / and my father as he stands / a perfect cartoon man / heavy-sighed and open-eyed, I heard him speak.” Get. Into. It.
- The final sequence of “Her” comes along with the last bookend of the episode as we see the beginnings of a resolution to the flash forward. Randall and Beth (still happily married, THANK GOD) have arrived at Kevin’s house where his 12-ish-year-old son (!!!!!!!!!!!) is walking around with his face in his phone. Toby arrives (not wearing a wedding ring, note) and comments that she and Jack are on their way. Presumably, the she is Kate – and let’s also take a moment here to exhale with relief that this means no dire medical stories with baby Jack. Randall walks in to see “her,” and finds Rebecca, deep in her 80’s and slightly unconscious, with Nicky sitting quietly at her side. BRING ON SEASON FOUR.
Were you satisfied with the season three finale? Let us know in the comments.