If the pilot of This Is Us, with that game-changing twist in which we realized we had been unknowingly watching the same family in different time periods, was a sharp, shocked inhale, then its series finale is one long exhale. Let’s be real: Last week’s heartfelt journey on Rebecca’s train into the afterlife was the showstopper of This Is Us’s final run of episodes. This finale is more about quiet catharsis. And you know what? We need it. You think This Is Us can just throw us out into the cold, dry heaving into our wine glasses, distraught over a good-bye so emotional and gut-wrenching that we all end up being Kevin Pearson on that nice lady’s lawn, yelling “I just need somebody to help me! I’m in pain here!”? No, it can’t. Well, technically, it can — we’ve allowed the show to be our emotional overlord for six seasons, and it has demonstrated more than once that it can decimate us by speech, montage, or single tear any time it wants. But This Is Us has decided to go out a different way. Instead of just gutting us one last time, This Is Us offers what feels like a reassuring handhold and a longing stare out a car window as it bids us farewell.
In fact, appreciating small, quiet moments is really what this episode hammers home. Never forget: This Is Us loves a goddamn through-line. Early on in Rebecca’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis, she told Miguel she wasn’t scared about forgetting “the big stuff,” but she was afraid of losing her memories of all the small moments that made up her life — “the regular Saturday when the kids were little,” when “nothing big really happens” but they were together and they were laughing. And so This Is Us gives us one of those regular Saturdays. Nothing big happens here; it’s full of little scenes with conversations about mostly unimportant things. But holy hell were there several times when I said aloud to my houseplants, “Whoa, that was a good scene.” Mom and Dad Pearson are bringing it. How are we supposed to watch shows in which Mandy Moore and Milo Ventimiglia don’t play husband and wife? My brain can’t compute that.
Like that first scene of the episode? It’s just a whispered conversation between Jack and Rebecca in bed — mirroring how they look on Rebecca’s train — about a tiny scar under Rebecca’s eyebrow that Jack has never noticed before. The kids haven’t woken up yet, and Rebecca tells the story of how she got it: Her dad used to take her to a playground near their house where he’d push her on the swings. The scar is from one moment when she looked back at him and accidentally smashed into his watch. But that’s not the point of the story. She loved the swings. And she loved being there with her dad. And she wishes she had enjoyed the moments more back then rather than worrying about when they’d end. We see Rebecca on the swing with her dad. “And we swing,” he says, pushing her higher. And we see Rebecca pushing her own kids on the swing, and then each of them pushing their own kids, and finally even Adult Baby Jack pushing little Hope. And we swing. And we swing. And we swing. Rebecca may be worried about not treasuring those moments with her dad enough or not remembering the small stuff, but she shouldn’t: She passed these things on to her own kids even if she didn’t know it. It’s funny what you pass along and what gets remembered and passed along in turn.
So many times it’s the small, inconsequential things that pop into your brain, like this Saturday, when the Pearsons have no plans and spend the day together (much to the chagrin of the two boys who seem to be diving headfirst into being moody teenagers). Jack teaches his sons how to shave; later, we see Kevin on the morning of his mom’s funeral looking at his beard, and you know he’s thinking about that. They play four square in the driveway, and we see Adult Kate now watching her kids and nieces and nephews doing the same.
As Jack is teaching the boys how to shave, they start ragging on their sister for wanting to spend the day watching home movies and playing games together — that’s for babies, and they’re basically adults now that they’re shaving, you know? But Jack tells them to slow their roll. The way he sees it, Kate is the one who actually gets it. She gets that life is about “collecting these little moments” because when you’re young all you want to do is grow up faster, but when you’re old, all you want is to be back in those moments. And well, damn, if that isn’t exactly what this entire show has been: looking back and forward and in between all the moments the Pearson family has collected. Jack Pearson, he is very swole and he is very wise and he will be missed.
Speaking of forward, in the “present day,” it’s Rebecca’s funeral. Good on This Is Us: We don’t spend all our time with long, emotional eulogies about how Rebecca was magic. We already know all of this! Instead, we spend this very depressing day giving each of the Big Three one nice moment full of closure.
Kevin has spent so much of his life worried about whether he’s a good man, regretting being a little shit to both of his parents. Here, we get a scene (full of sarcasm, sure) about Nicky thanking Kevin for saving him. Kevin gave him the gift of a second chance. It took him a little while and a lot of work, like Rebecca told him it would, but in the end, Kevin did a very, very good thing.
When we first met Kate, her relationship with her mom was … dicey. So much of this series, especially the later seasons, has been about mending that relationship and highlighting how they’ve really been there for each other (oh God, remember Rebecca comforting Kate when she had her miscarriage?). Toby comes up to Kate on the morning of the funeral to tell her three things: Yes, he loves her and he’s proud of her, but most importantly, her mother was proud of her. That’s full circle right there.
And then there is Randall. We’ve seen him worry about wanting a big, far-reaching family tree and about carrying the parents he barely knew along with him, and in the end, he gets a moment that addresses both those things. Deja’s having a boy, and she wants to name him William. It doesn’t matter that she never met Randall’s father: “I know him because I know you,” she tells her dad. The series starts with Randall meeting his birth father, William, and it ends with him learning about his grandson William. I would be bawling my face off if it weren’t for Randall’s pitch-perfect reaction to learning he’s going to finally have a boy in the family. Sterling K. Brown might be known for his Single Tear Masterclass, but maybe he should also be known for his “I’m having a grandson” dance. They are equally spectacular.
These full circle moments for the Big Three are driven home by their final scene together — you didn’t think we’d have a finale without one last Big Three scene, did you? Sitting on the cabin steps together, they talk about what happens next. Kate wants them all to live their lives fearlessly as Rebecca asked them to. She’s going to start so many music schools for the blind. And Kate’s love for music? That’s all her mom. Kevin is going to focus on his nonprofit and his home and family. That’s a good man right there. And Randall, well, he’s been invited to the Iowa State Fair and is maybe possibly considering a run for president. And that’s certainly one way to honor all of his parents, isn’t it?
But whatever happens to them, they’ll be stuck with each other. Kate wonders if, without Rebecca, the three of them will drift. “If you drifted, we’d drift right after you,” Kevin tells his sister. Dear Lord, I know it’s cheesy as hell and earnest to a fault, and I think that Big Three cheer is kind of ridiculous, but this scene left me a mess! Our emotional overlord has won yet again, and I am 100 percent okay with that!
If you’re reading this recap and you’re like, Okay, but what, like, happened? This is what I’m telling you. The episode is all about these small moments and conversations. This Is Us is focused on the catharsis and not the twists! There are no big mysteries to be revealed —
Oh, wait! There is one! Last! Mystery! To reveal! I’ve said it before, and I will say it one last time, babes: This Is Us is always gonna This Is Us. Remember last week when Rebecca squeezed Randall’s hand right before she died? We go back to Rebecca and Jack in bed on that train, and Mom and Dad are looking superhot even in death. Rebecca talks about how she’s scared and doesn’t want to leave them, how she had so much more she wanted to do with them. Jack tells her not to worry. He can’t explain it, but she’ll be there with them through it all. He asks if she’s ready, they tell each other “I love you,” and she squeezes Jack’s hand. That was the moment we saw. Like, I cannot convey the level of anger I have toward this show for making me cry once again over a fucking caboose. How dare they!
Anyway, Jack is right about it all, isn’t he? Rebecca is with her kids and their kids; she’s in every moment with them. We see it as the family gathers in the living room after the funeral and they’re playing games as they used to when the Big Three were little. And we see Randall sitting there taking it all in, watching his family, collecting these moments. And then we’re back in the Pearson living room, and Little Randall looks over at his dad sitting on the couch, and Jack is sitting there, watching his family play and laugh together. He is collecting this moment of a regular Saturday when nothing big happens.
This Is the Rest
• We get one last “worst-case scenario” game with Beth and Randall all about how Beth is worried that, since Randall has now lost all four of his parents (plus Miguel!), he might spend his days roaming the country to go cry single tears at other people’s parent’s funerals or driving from tree to tree to visit his parents’ resting places. Listen, I love the “single tear” callout, but I’m legitimately worried about this! I do not trust that Randall is “appropriately sad.” That man has never been “appropriately sad” a day in his life!
• William gets one last scene, too. It’s a conversation with Randall right before they leave for Memphis about how wild it is that being a grandparent means unconditionally loving people who may not even remember you. Little does he know he’ll have a great-grandson named after him.
• There was one last “Katie girl” and a look at the very first time they did the Big Three cheer and a nod to that big “I’m done letting you lower our score” parenting average conversation Jack and Rebecca had in case you were wondering about callbacks.
• Little Kevin’s impression of his dad! “Appreciate the little things, Bec!”
• Indulge me on one little personal note? It’s been an honor and a privilege over these six seasons and more than 100 recaps to collect these This Is Us moments with you. I’ll miss our little TIU family over here, but I will remember it fondly any time I hear a Cat Stevens song or watch Jerry Maguire or see a hot dad with a porn-star mustache out in the wild. Thank you for reading, and I sincerely hope you find a new show that makes you cry every week because, babes, you gotta let that stuff out somehow.
• In conclusion: Give Mandy Moore her Emmys! Give her like three Emmys!