This Is Us Season 6, Episode 18
Posted by Shannon
Here we are, fam. The series finale.
A tricky business on the whole, but they tend to have a higher success rate when both the creators and the fans have known for quite some time when the story would end. Aside from the obviously preferable artistic control over how to stick the landing, it’s easier on the psyche of those who watch week to week. It allows us to drink in the final stretch, appreciating every entry for what it is and what it’ll mean to the larger legacy. Over the last few weeks, as This is Us wound down to its finale, I was reminded of the closing episodes of Breaking Bad. (One last time – stick with me.) The final big bang for Walter White came not in the finale itself, but in “Ozymandias,” leaving the closing hours to stretch their legs and settle the story on their own terms. That’s what we got with “The Train,” too. All the major tears were shed, all the most intense final beats hit, all the goodbyes spoken.
So what was left with “Us”?
A denouement focusing on the best the show had to offer, that’s what. With several scenes filmed years ago to lock performers in at previous ages (particularly the kids – again, thanks to knowing years in advance when the story would end!), and with a laser focus on the Pearsons themselves, there were no last surprises or reveals. No strangers who suddenly turned out to be connected to our family tree. Just the tree itself, at a beautiful, stretching scale. “Us” was deeply emotionally satisfying not because it was vast or surprising, but because it gave the same feeling Rebecca always loved.
A lazy Saturday spent with family.
“Us” is told over the course of two days: the adult Big Three on the day of Rebecca’s funeral, and the middle cast Big Three, plus Jack and Rebecca, on a quiet weekend with no plans. The latter is the kind of day you fight against as a kid and crave as an adult. Randall’s mathletes event has been canceled, which means there are no standing playdates or football games or familial obligations. Just a quiet morning in bed for Jack and Rebecca, musing about tiny scars and the vitality and impossibility of living in the moment.
That contradiction is the main argument of the hour, especially in the past timeline. It’s impossible to live your life completely and totally in the moment all the time; we’re just not built like that. But sometimes – particularly on lazy Saturdays – it’s easier to zoom out. See the tiny moments for what they are, and live in them, and let time stop. Jack especially gets to that place, despite his sons’ best efforts.
Kevin and Randall want no part of that quiet day at home. But as always, Kate is on the same emotional plane as her father. She’s not only thrilled, she’s focusing on exactly the kind of nostalgic ideas that only fly for an emotional kid of a certain disposition. While Kevin and Randall refuse to come up with plans for the day, Kate immediately has “several ideas:” drawing with chalk on the driveway, playing foursquare, watching home videos and playing pin the tail on the donkey. It’s idyllic, and it almost wouldn’t be believable except for the fact that we all KNOW that kind of nostalgia, and Kate Pearson has always had it in spades. She gets it from her father.
While Kate is standing emotionally at a distance, seemingly chiseling every moment into her memory, her brothers are both mired in day to day realities of childhood. Kevin is upset, not because of the day without plans, but because he couldn’t manage a pull up during the President’s Fitness Challenge. (And what a special hell that was!) It’s perfect that Rebecca is the one to talk him down from this, not just because the show tends to jump to her connection with Randall, but because she’s visibly irritated by Kevin being so emotionally hurt at a jock-y challenge.
Rebecca’s disgusted face when he admitted to having Sophie tell some of the girls he was faking so the “non-athletic kids wouldn’t feel bad” gave me my whole life – especially because we KNOW Jack would have taken it completely seriously, and tried to turn it into some physical how-to for his son. Rebecca doesn’t do that, and it’s a good thing too, because that’s not what Kevin needed. He needed the reminder that “not everything is gonna come easy to you. I think you’re gonna have to work pretty hard to become the person I know you can become. And it will make the big victories in life that much more special when you have to work a little harder for them.” That, and some insider pediatrician intel that he’d grow to be over six feet tall.
Randall has been carrying a burden around, too: turns out mathletes wasn’t canceled. He was suspended after pulling a chair out from under a kid sitting in front of him. A decidedly un-Randall like move, except the motivation was to take the focus away from a bully who had been teasing him for starting to grow facial hair. Just like his brother needed a more thoughtful take on a physical problem, Randall needed the opposite: a practical solution to an emotional problem. Randall has the emotional burden of his misbehavior covered. (“You don’t need to say anything, I feel awful, I’m never gonna forgive myself.”) What he needs is for his dad to take a pause, acknowledge that additional parental recourse is impossible in this case (“I don’t know how to discipline someone who’s already harder on himself than I could ever be,”) and instead, to teach him how to shave.
As I rewatched this scene, I wrote in my notes that this is the best of Jack Pearson. And I believe it with my whole heart. It’s not the big speeches or the grand gestures that made Jack a wonderful character, as great as some of those were. It’s the small moments like this that made Jack Pearson great. This kind of quiet focus on his loved ones, providing for them and supporting them in exactly the way THEY needed. The ability to both hone in on them and to know in his bones that this quiet moment would be something he should remember forever. It’s the best of him.
And that quiet certainty around family is in Kate, too. It’s how she’s always so good at winning pin the tail on the donkey: she knows exactly where her family will stand, and exactly how they’ll behave, and she counts on it. She can count on it, because she can count on them.
Decades later, on a more classically memorable day, Jack Pearson’s descendents inhabit the home of his dreams. It’s more than he could have imagined – and yet, you get the sense that none of it would have surprised him. Not even his brother Nicky in attendance, teasing Kevin the morning of Rebecca’s funeral for putting him in a position to care about people again. (“Your mother and father would be ashamed if they knew what you did to a sweet and sensitive old man like me. You dick.”)
His respective kid’s reactions wouldn’t have surprised him, either. Kate is nostalgic and emotional, looking at pictures of her family and centering herself as best she can with the knowledge (and an assist from Toby) that her mother was proud of her. Kevin is holding it together well, after finally coming into his own the way his parents always knew he would. And Randall is despondent and existential.
Loss strikes everyone differently. Randall has had so much loss in his life, and his reaction to each has been similar yet varied based on the emotional state of his connection to the person themselves. After the loss of his mother, after a lifetime of trying to protect her seemingly undone, his overwhelming feeling is that of pointlessness. That all his efforts were ultimately for naught; that he’s betraying her memory somehow by being hungry, or listening to the birds, or thinking about work. Which of course isn’t a betrayal at all. It’s exactly what she would want him to do: to carry on, to celebrate his life and that of his family.
I’d like to think that Tess and Annie know precisely the news that Deja carries with her, and that’s why they leave her and Randall alone so quickly. (A less generous read is that the other adult Pearson girls just don’t have as much of the spirit of their teenage counterparts as the actor playing adult Deja, or that the characters themselves are just that blatant about Deja being his favorite. Basically, every other read – casting or character based – is no good.) Regardless of the motivation, his girls do know what he needed to snap out of it: a reminder of the many forms legacy can take, and that we are carried on after death by those who remember us. Even if they didn’t know us in life.
Here’s the other main thesis of the episode, and of This Is Us’ own legacy: our histories are not merely our own. They belong to our loved ones. Our histories – our legacies, our stories, our loves – stretch far beyond anything we can possibly imagine. Deja never met William, but she knows him in Randall. William will never meet his namesake, never could have imagined that he would ever have one – but he will carry on through that child, and through everyone that child grows to know and love. The smell of shaving cream and old sweaters may strike them differently, and they won’t know why, but it will.
We end our time with the Pearsons with two main sequences. The Big Three, remarkable, extraordinarily successful adults, assuring us of their continued successes in honor of their parents and themselves. Of their magnificent adult family all brought together at the cabin, still pinning tails on donkeys and sharing secret celebrations, with Jack and Rebecca’s legacies so clear they’re nearly palpable. And the Big Three as kids, on a lazy Saturday, with their parents. Their core. With Randall looking at Jack, and Jack – somehow, intangibly – seeing straight through time and knowing that he and Rebecca built a family that will be known above all else for its steadfast love.
They did good.
Colors of the Painting
- It would have been striking – if not shocking – in the early 80’s to see a family that looked like the Pearsons on the cover of a Pin the Tail on the Donkey game, and the inclusion of them finding that cover and reacting appropriately was a perfect reminder of that.
- Tween Kevin doing an impression of Jack was shockingly good.
- Kim correctly pointed out that as she got older, Beth Pearson’s style slowly morphed into that of Phylicia Rashad, and she is so right and I cannot unsee it and now none of you can either.
- “It’s not a math thing, it’s a group of math enthusiasts who perform and compete.”
- I was so struck by the similarity between Beth and Nicky’s handling of Randall and Kevin before the funeral, respectively – both men were too in their heads and needed someone to make a knowing crack at their expense, and both loved ones knew exactly how to rise to the occasion.
- We are so lucky to have Ron Cephas Jones’ performance from YEARS ago locked in for this episode. He is a magnificent actor with a magnificent scene partner and that sequence was probably my favorite of the hour.
- Sterling K. Brown’s delivery of “It ain’t nothing but women! All of my life I’ve got Black women here, Black women there! I love you and your sisters and your mama… But a little boy?!”
- One last time, give it up for Siddhartha Khosla for knowing exactly how to score this show – and exactly when to leave it in silence. From Rebecca and Jack’s opening to William and Randall speaking about grandparents, the moments he chose not to score were – as ever – just as beautiful as the moments he did.
- I leave you all with one final moment of Beth Pearson celebration: “After burying your fourth and final parent, you lose it. No parents left to bury, you spend the rest of your days going to other people’s parents’ funerals. Just crying single tears at funerals of parents you don’t even know. You buy an RV. Wake up one morning and say, ‘Beth, we need an RV.’ I say, ‘Sure, I can get down with an RV.’ You spend the rest of your days traveling back and forth between your parents’ various resting places, just driving from tree to tree. Mind you, I didn’t even mention Miguel. I just realized that. Maybe you realize it, too. You decide you need to go to Puerto Rico. Try and learn about his deceased great-grandmother’s story, come back talking about swimming in the Atlantic Ocean with Miguel’s great-grandmama’s ghost.”
Editor’s Note: I can’t even begin to thank Shannon for recapping This Is Us for the past six years. When I first floated it to Sage, and then later to Shannon, I never expected that she would say yes, much less stick with recapping over the entire course of the series. I’ve barely been able to make it through one season of a show recapping by myself, much less six. Thank you, thank you, thank you Shannon for bringing so much color to OUR painting. It’s been an honor and a pleasure reading, lightly editing, and formatting you for the past 105 episodes. –Kim