The penultimate season finale was all about the wedding of Kevin and Madison -- but a seemingly permanent jump into the future held the biggest surprises.
With its penultimate Season 5 finale, "This Is Us" actually traversed to a time period we've not seen before. Enter, if you will, a world where the Big 3 are 45 years old ... so four to five years ahead.
And it looks like we might be staying there -- at least for the main parts of the storyline. The usual time jumps ahead and back are slated to continue, and even intensify as we move toward the planned endgame for the wild emotional ride that is the Pearson family saga.
There were plenty of emotions in this finale, too, as the entire family converged for the big wedding between Kevin and Madison. The two of them have become an adorable couple we've been rooting for, but it's not been an orthodox or easy road for them.
Certainly, a one-night stand leading to twins isn't the most traditional way to start a relationship. But one thing was made clear a couple of weeks ago. Despite how it began, Madison truly loves Kevin. But does he love her? If he did, would he even know?
Kevin's love life has been a mess for just about as long as it's existed. He's been married and divorced, hung up on ex Sophie and never really seemed willing to put a relationship ahead of his career or even his destructive behavior.
Here, finally, he saw a reason to settle down. But Madison's question was a valid one. She pulled him aside before the ceremony and asked him if he loved her. Not if he loved the kids or their family, because that much he's made clear. Does he love her.
It's a fair question, one with added emotional resonance when a few flashback sequences for her showed that her mother abandoned her with a cold dispassionate father who basically told her to be grateful for anyone willing to give her the time of day.
It turned out to be a big day for a lot of the family, with Rebecca finally having a real talk with Randall about all that she knew and hid from him over the years about his birth family, Kate and Toby finally opening up to one another about where they're at in their lives -- communication, people! -- and Beth and Tess finally coming together after a tumultuous year.
All of that was rendered nearly moot, though, as the closing five minutes jumped us ahead those four to five years and like the big flash-forward to Rebecca seemingly on her deathbed, we were left scrambling for context clues to figure out what's going on there.
As we do every week, we're going to single out the show's most powerful moments, scoring them by how many tissues we tore through just to watch them. Believe us, these are happy tears of anguish.
Then we're going to take some time to pick apart that flash-forward scene to see if we can put together any clues or thoughts about what's going on with everyone, and why we can't seem to pick our jaws up off the ground just yet.
We absolutely love Uncle Nicky. We love the sense of vibrancy and life he's finding, and we love his unending awkwardness, and how endearing it's turned out to be. His relationship with Kevin is absolutely adorable, too. We're happy for Nicky that he's found this family and found love and companionship -- we'll get to that later -- after all those years alone.
"I Need to Go Back to Work ... Emotionally"
It's about damned time that Toby finally opens up and is honest with Kate about what he needs in life. We give even more credit to Kate for realizing the meaning behind their wedding day, going from frustrated with him to determined to make it work. We've yet to see a long-distance relationship work on this show, but we've been on Team Kate and Toby for a while now, despite a rocky last year or so that saw them really not there for one another. As we said above, way more on this later, too.
Okay, as awkward and weird as Nicky is, Miguel is still the OG awkward dude on this show, and we kind of love it. We're glad to hear that his story will finally get told next season, though we're not sure yet if that's a good thing or a bad thing. Remember that flash-way-forward left it unclear if Miguel is even still in the picture. Still, we love that he was ultimately declared a little creepy wanting to love on his grandkids. He's sweet, but has always been a little socially awkward. He and Nicky would make great friends.
"I Went Five for Five"
We've not spent much time on Deja and Malik's relationship, but Deja got a bombshell this week when he revealed that he'd secretly applied to Harvard ... and gotten in! It's incredibly exciting, but it's also in Boston. Remember what we said about long-distance relationships. It looks like we've got two couples that are poised to give it a shot. Our flash-way-forward showed a pregnant Deja, but does that mean she and Malik made it work, or is the father someone else? Either way, they're a cute couple, but we'd feel more invested with them if they'd gotten a little more screentime of late.
Beth has been trying all year to connect with Tess, to understand her place in the LGBTQ+ community -- even as Tess herself seems to be uncertain. She's even tried to master the correct pronoun for Tess' nonbinary significant other, Alex. She didn't always get it right, but she never stopped trying. So when Tess told her that the bridesmaid dress wasn't her, Beth almost didn't hesitate to suggest just changing it, then. She was willing to go this far to meet Tess where she was at, to do what she could to make her daughter happy. And, importantly, she told her that nothing Tess could do (including murder!) would leave Beth disappointed in her.
"You Guys Need to Get Married Again"
This five- or six-year-old version of the Big Three is absolutely adorable. We liked that the flashback sequence this week singled in on a fight over "Dynasty" between Rebecca and Jack that prompted the kids to decide they needed to get married again right now. What followed was an impromptu marriage with Kate as the officiator, and it was the most precious thing. Even sweeter, was Jack vowing not only to love Rebecca, but the whole family. That's the kind of message Kevin was delivering to Madison, but with one major element left out.
Tess did a lot of growing this week, as she finally was able to step outside of herself -- not easy for a teen -- to see exactly how Beth has been trying. Telling her mother, after the beautiful tweak on the dress, that she "got a lot right" in trying to understand Tess' journey and her relationship with Alex. It's a lot to put on a parent, and even with the best of intentions, they're probably not going to get it all right all the time. But through it all, Beth continues to love her daughter fiercely, and finally Tess was able to see that and reciprocate.
"She's My Birth Mother"
What a cathartic season this has been for Randall. He's more at peace with himself, and in these last several episodes he's finally come to a peace with Kevin and now Rebecca. That last was a big one, because she was the reason he had to discover everything about his family on his own so late in life. She held so much back, and she had no real reason for doing so that she could justify. But just her brutally sincere and vulnerable apology seems to have given him peace. When she asked him to tell her about his mother and he corrected her to "birth mother," that line was everything. She's not a perfect person, but in his heart, she is still his mother.
And there it was, the hammer dropped and everything fell apart as hard as that altar did. To his credit, Kevin admitted later that he could not lie to her. He could have said he loved her. As an actor, he might have even been able to make her believe it. But he doesn't love her. He adores he, he's so impressed by her, and he loves the family they created. But unlike Jack in that second wedding, he's not in love with the mother of his children, too. It was real and heartbreaking, but Madison is right that she deserves that. As brutal as this scene was, and its immediate aftermath, we'll have more on it here in a bit!
"Build Me That House"
Knowing that Kevin is an addict and that he's better when he's busy and that he's just had what he thought was the next chapter of his life laid out, Rebecca and the Big Three converged outside in support of him. And so, Rebecca decided that one way to keep him busy would be to have him build Jack's dream house for her, the house we already know Kevin builds because that's where we're all coming together slowly in that flash-way-forward. Still, we kind of loved the connection to that timeline, and we also just really loved the healthy support these four people who've been through so much together were able to offer one another.
No tissues, because we're still trying to wrap our heads around everything that happened in those last five minutes. It's taking us back to when we first jumped into that flash-way-forward with Rebecca looking like she's on her death bed. Only this was a much smaller jump.
Once again, they faked us out with a shot of Kevin practicing a speech and even planning to drop in some "Princess Bride" mawwiage talk. That moment wasn't for his wedding day to Madison. That was for a different wedding, coming when he's 45 years old.
And it's not even his wedding. Nor was it the next wedding coming up for the family. As Kevin got ready, we quickly saw a magazine article featuring Randall as a "Rising Star," though we don't know in what capacity just yet. Perhaps he's a Congressman now? Governor?
In the hallway, we saw Randall helping rush Uncle Nicky down the hall to get ready and not only is Nicky sporting that wedding ring we saw in the flash-way-forward, he mentions specifically his wife. Was it his long-ago flame he started trying to research last week or someone else?
One theory from the flash-way-forward is that perhaps Nicky wound up married to Rebecca. He was seen sitting by her bedside with that wedding band on. Of course, he could also just be there in the capacity of being her brother-in-law and family who loves her. But where is Miguel?
Even that wasn't the biggest shocker, though, as Kevin then barged into a room where he saw Beth and Madison dressed as bridesmaids. Perhaps softening the painful blow of his wedding collapsing, there was such a genuine joy in all of these characters here.
As hard as that day was, and that moment with Rebecca and her children, this is a truly joyous occasion. And here are Kevin and Madison, obviously at least still co-parenting -- and Madison is Kate's best friend -- being very happy and playful and perhaps a little flirtatious.
Perhaps Kevin came to love her in these intervening years and they're now a couple. Perhaps his honesty at the wedding that wasn't was the foundation they could build something on. Or maybe they're just really good friends now.
That's a question for next season. But the big shocker, and why we mentioned Madison as Kate's best friend, didn't have to wait. This is Kate's wedding. Her second wedding.
And it's not a second wedding to Toby, like Jack and Rebecca did. After getting pushed out of the room, Kevin confronted the man who's about to become his brother-in-law and it's none other than Phillip, Kate's boss at the school who hated her and then refused to accept her resignation because he had to admit she was great at her job ... and sometimes her jokes are funny.
That's the bombshell! After everything we've seen them get through, and after showing real optimism that they can make it work, and after finally communicating, it turns out that Kate and Toby don't make it after all.
We suspected as much in that flash-way-forward, when we saw Toby without a ring and seemingly not in a great place. But he is still an accepted and expected member of the family. Still, we don't know how much further down that timeline we're intending to go, but we don't want this story to end with Toby in such a dark place. He deserves his happiness, too!
Creator Dan Fogelman has promised that we'll probably be spending most of our time in the flash-way-forward and this new timeline we just jumped to. In other words, while this is a show that plays fast and loose with timelines, we can probably consider this a traditional time jump for the final season.
With only one season left, there's really no reason to pick things up in the immediate aftermath of the wedding that wasn't between Kevin and Madison. There was a lot of resolution that day for a lot of characters, so it'll be exciting to get dropped into this wild new chapter. You can bet we'll be combing through every scene for clues as to what all is going on.
"This Is Us" returns in early 2022 for its final season on NBC.