The family has converged to say goodbye to the woman who held it all together -- but will everyone make it in time?
Fans finally learned why Kate has been absent in all of those flash-forwards to Rebecca's final days on "This Is Us" as we finally reached this ... her final day.
The penultimate episode of the time-twisting, tear-jerking series was a heartbreaker of one for sure, paying off literal and figurative years of story as the family converged on Rebecca's dream home to help send her off on whatever her next story will be.
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It was a beautifully creative hour, having Rebecca's internal journey take place on the type of fancy dream she and her father always wanted to take a ride on someday. Along the way, she crossed paths with so many who'd crossed paths with her over the years, and yet there was always hesitance, too.
In an interesting choice, the show again returned to a format we've seen before, introducing us to a brand new cast of characters and even checking in on them across more than one era. Did it take away from Rebecca's final story, or enhance it? We suppose it depends on your perspective.
That's another thing this episode was doing. We've no idea yet exactly how "This is Us" is going to say goodbye as a show, but this was very much a farewell to the long narrative of these character's lives we've been following for generations by this point -- but it was also a farwell, of sorts, to the show itself.
There were several nods to that effect throughout the hour, including a tongue-in-cheek jab at Milo Ventimiglia, as well as some language that could perhaps help viewers come to terms with having to say goodbye to something that has brought so much love and laughter and tears (and did we mention tears?) to our lives.
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.
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"Strangely Ripped for a Dad in the '90s"
We had to laugh at the self-awareness of what a thirst trap Milo Ventimiglia has been all season, and how appropriate for it to be Justin Hartley's Kevin who brings this up, considering he had a career around taking off his shirt. Death is such a heavy moment, we need moments of levity, and this turned out to be a much-needed moment, as well as a wink and a nod to the viewers which was well appreciated.
1 tissue (we may have laughed a little too hard)
"Everyone Had a Crush on Mom"
While Kevin and Randall were sitting by Rebecca's side, Kevin shared that he thought a ball player they'd gone to meet once had had a crush on Rebecca, and Randall spoke for all of us. We may have been impressed with Jack, but wasn't it always about Rebecca. Jack was this larger than life, almost fictional character. Rebecca lived and breathed and she was wonderful. Everyone did have a crush on Rebecca, both within the world of the show, and watching at home.
1 tissue (farewell to our favorite fictional crush)
"Great Nose, Great Legs"
Miguel got a bit of a short shrift, considering he was married to Rebecca even longer than Jack was. Nevertheless, even he knew that Jack was always her one true love. She and Miguel had something wonderful and something sweet, but Miguel was never quite the same as Jack in her heart, or ours, or her kids. It was also interesting he was the only character we specifically saw disappear when she turned away. What they had was sweet, but apparently not as deep as some of her other connections.
2 tissues (Miguel, dissed to the end)
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"I'm Very Happy, Dej"
The circle of life is always at the heart of these stories, and that was very much the case here from the moment we discovered Deja was pregnant. We also discovered she didn't feel ready, didn't feel her and her baby daddy were ready for this. But isn't that always the case. Who is ever ready? And yet, we make it happen. Randall, to his credit, kept his cool, kept his quiet and shared his love. He's grown a lot, while still being wholly himself in all the best ways.
2 tissues ("This Is Us: The Next Generation"? ... just sayin')
"I'll Take Him the Rest of the Way, Mama"
Beth was first to step in and say goodbye to Rebecca. They'd known each other so many years, and it was beautifully touching for Beth -- who is a stellar mother in her own right -- to admit that when she was faking it (as all parents do) she was emulating Rebecca. She knows what a challenge those three kids were for Rebecca, and look how they (finally) turned out. It was also sweet that she let Rebecca know that Randall would continue to be taken care of; and after six seasons, we know there is no better Randall wrangler than Beth!
3 tissues (we stan a queen respecting a queen)
"It Really Isn't, Dej"
We were holding out hope that Deja's baby daddy would be Malik. They'd had such a sweet love story; just one that struck at such a difficult time in their young lives. Knowing that they managed to work through it and still find one another -- much like Kevin and Sophie did -- was heartwarming. Deja has had a tough journey in her life and she deserves all the love and joy she can find, so knowing she's found it is everything.
3 tissues (to support and love waiting for the right time)
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"How Did That Become Our Family Motto?"
It turns out the side family we were finding was one that wound up in the hospital the same night Jack died after the house burned down. Theirs is a story about legacy and the powerful impact we can have on anyone in our lives, even in the briefest of moments. Jack shares one exchange with the father of this family after their own car accident leaves their son in surgery. In doing so, he shares Dr. K's advice, "There's no lemon so sour that you can't make something resembling lemonade."
In a flash-forward after the son, Marcus, has lost his funding for cancer research, we discover that this became a family motto for them, which the three siblings find both ridiculous and endearing. But it's also a powerful driving force, because Marcus takes that passion and loss and moves on to receive an award for his pioneering work in drugs for Alzheimer's patients. One moment of compassion from Jack just moments before his own death played some role in this. Sometimes we don't know the power of our impact on everyone we might ever meet. So tread carefully.
4 tissues (widening your perspective widens your story and your impact)
"What a Thing You Made of It All"
It was such a delight to see Gerald McRaney make one final appearance as Dr. K as Rebecca moved her way through the train on her final journey. He poured her a Vesper, the fancy drink she and her father always want to have on this type of train, and again offered her some perspective on her own life. He was her doctor only once, but it was a "big one." His impact loomed large over the family for many years.
As a trusted voice, Dr. K was able to assure her that despite losing a child, losing her husband and all the challenges she faced, look what a "big, messy, gigantic spectacular" life she built for herself and her children. Her legacy is all around her, and it's one to be proud of -- and one to know is going to be okay now without her guidance, just the way it should be. We shepherd them so far only so that they can take the reins of their own stories.
4 tissues (you never know who may to take up permanent real estate in your psyche)
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"I'm Waiting for Someone"
Throughout the episode, there was a wistfulness in Mandy Moore's performance, as she repeated multiple times that she was waiting for someone. Was it her father? No, we saw him (along with her younger self)? Was it Jack? No. It was Kate. Even at the end of her life, Rebecca knew that she had to hang on a little longer because Kate wasn't there. It turns out Kate was on a redeye from Europe after getting the call; her curriculum was going international.
As she moved through the cars, beautifully encountering the multiple actors who've portrayed Kevin and Randall through the years, Kate's doppelgangers were conspicuously absent. As such, she was never fully committed to the finality of the journey -- at least not yet. It's so common at the end of life for loved ones to hang on until they know the moment is right, and this was beautifully illustrated by Rebecca's frequent insistences that she's still waiting for someone.
4 tissues (the long goodbye, but not until the moment is just right)
"We're Good Now, You Made Us Good"
What are the perfect words to say to someone who is dying? Randall -- of course it was Randall -- had apparently been sweating it for a while, trying to figure out the perfect thing to say. And yet, when it came to it, there was no grand speech from any of them. There were declarations of love, and small sentiments. Like Beth before him (and she did not share with Randall what was said), Randall assured Rebecca that her kids were okay. That she'd done her job, she'd brought them up right and helped them figure themselves out (which took quite a bit longer than she probably thought it would). But they are all now in a stronger, healthier place. He was giving her peace and assuring her they would be fine when she moves on.
5 tissues (she really was such a strong, wonderful and compassionate mother to all)
"Hey Mom, It's Me, Bug"
Rebecca wasn't expected to make it through the night, but she did. She was waiting for someone. And then Kate arrived, and the Big 3 were by her side. It was a simply and beautiful moment, and you could see the peace in the train when Rebecca heard Kate's voice. At that moment, she knew she was ready. We even appreciated that she didn't open her eyes and have a big, fake lucid farewell moment, because that's generally not how these types of goodbyes work. Instead, Rebecca was fully inside her head, on the train, and her kids were with her. But after all these years, family doesn't need those fantasy moments to say what needs to be said or hear what needs to be heard. Family knows.
5 tissues (waiting for her family to be complete)
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"You Tell Him Hey"
And then, it all comes down to Jack. No one said his name. No one needed to. Jack's shadow has loomed over this family and this series for years by this point. When Randall told Rebecca to tell "him" hey, we knew what he was referring to. Just as he knew that Jack remains her one true love, and if there is any happily-ever-afterlife, it would be with him. We didn't need any physical acknowledgment from Rebecca, but her squeezing Randall's hand in the end after these words was everything. Jack was her whole world, and he was theirs, too. In these words and in that single gesture, he was with them all at the end.
6 tissues (the whole family together, one last time)
"If Something Makes You Sad When It Ends, It Must Have Been Pretty Wonderful When It Was Happening"
What better guide for Rebecca on this journey than William. It was wonderful to see Ron Cephas Jones return for a farewell tour, as his small time on the show had such a lasting impact on all of them. Of course, for Rebecca, his gentle nature was always a part of her story; just one she kept hidden from most of the family. Any number of people could have served this role, but we loved that it was William because they shared such a unique and profound connection over Randall.
In this moment, as Rebecca acknowledged how sad all of these farewells were, William was speaking to all of us. If we mourn a life, than we cherished that life. And that goes for this show, as well. Those of us who've invested the past six years into this story and these characters are mourning these final chapters. But the fact that it continues to impact us and make us sad does prove that it's been "pretty wonderful." Of course, we're sad to see it go, but we can also appreciate that it's time. We've reached the end of the train; there's just one more car to go.
6 tissues (what will we do with ourselves after this?)
It was for the kids, it was for us, it was for her. It was the inevitable end of her journey through the train to the caboose, which offered a double bed and a place for her to finally rest after a long life. But she wouldn't rest alone. As Rebecca laid her head down on the pillow, we could already see him there. And she wasn't surprised to see him, either. In Rebecca's life, in her story, in all the stories -- even the side story tonight -- all roads lead to Jack. Rebecca is the beating heart of this famiy, the guiding force, but Jack has always been the spark, the inspiration. Both of them were needed, but one was definitely needed just a little bit long. And now, finally, they're together again.
"If you step back and look at the whole picture, if you're brave enough to allow yourself the gift of a really wide perspective," William told Rebecca before bidding her adieu. "if you do that, you'll see that the end is not sad, Rebecca. It's just the start of the next incredibly beautiful thing."
all the tissues (rest well-earned, life well-lived, heart filled with love, RIP Rebecca Pearson)
"This Is Us" comes to an end next Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET no NBC ... we are not ready.