This Is Us often relies on major life events to activate its plotlines, and tonight’s Season 2 finale was no different. Just as Kate is about to start a new life with Toby, she must first let go of the baggage she’s tightly held on to: the loss of her dad Jack. But stirring up this profound love on this very significant day also rattles something in each of her family members.
Meanwhile, as tides shift, they make way for new narratives and characters to may their way into the Pearsons' lives - for better or worse.
Kate believes if her dad were still alive, he and Rebecca would be renewing their vows today.
It’s Kate’s big wedding day, yet the episode starts with a dream sequence that shows what it would've been like if Jack was still alive today. He and Rebecca are renewing their wedding vows on their 40th anniversary, and this is a ceremony we spend a lot of time with - because it's one Kate's been dreaming of in the weeks leading up to her wedding.
She knows if Jack were alive, he’d be able to walk her down the aisle today. But he’d also renew his vows with Rebecca, because their love for each other was like Teflon. Rebecca would sing at the reception, moving Jack to tears. All of this makes sense for Kate, and that's what makes her wedding day without her father so hard to face.
In order for Kate to start her new life, she must let go of past traumas and present fantasies.
As expected, it's a traumatic day for Kate, because moving forward undoubtedly means she must also let go - of her grief for her father, of contempt for her mother, and of a general fear that progress somehow means dismissing her dad. She comes to this realization about midway through the episode, but it wasn’t easy to get there.
First, Kate freaks out after she realizes Toby forgot to pack her “something old,” her father’s Daytona t-shirt, which she was going to pin to her dress. (Both Randall and I had the same look of horror when she admits that, but Kate cries, "I know I'm weird!" to alleviate the tension.) Even Toby jokes that she may be a runaway bride because they decided to get married at the family cabin, which brings up a lot of triggering memories. Kate assures Toby she won't leave him, but this was before the t-shirt fiasco.
After Kevin and Randall fail to lift her spirits, Kate decides to go off alone to the local ice cream shop, where she and Jack used to spend time together. Of course, this would be her “something old” - the ice cream her father used to love. But the shop is under new ownership, and that particular dessert is no longer on the menu. This is the moment I thought Kate might actually hit the road, but she walked out of the shope so calmly, I held on to hope that she was working through something.
She calls her mom, who’s frantic on account of Kate's absence, and she tells her about her dream . The whole family is there, except one important person: Toby. Rebecca notes this, but assures Kate there’s nothing wrong with that. Kate hangs up the phone with a clear mind, relieved of the burden of grief that’s kept her anchored for so long. She takes Jack’s urn out to “the tree” where they used to spend time, and releases his remains.
Of course, there's a Pearson game that requires them to recite their worst fears in order to release them.
Only the Pearsons would rely on a game that requires them to share the most traumatic, heartfelt, and frightening things that come to their minds first. And for tonight’s recurring theme of letting go, it makes sense. We first see Beth and Randall play the game, as they release their alarming concerns over Deja's current attitude. She's angry and hurt because her mother went to court to terminate her parental rights, and now Deja has been a “nightmare” ever since - barely speaking to the family and snapping at them whenever she does.
The second time we see Randall play this game, he's with his Kevin. The two are roaming the streets, looking for Kate and hypothesizing all the ways the wedding could turn into a disaster. Randall says Kate calls off the wedding and Toby consequently kicks her out of their house. Kevin adds to that and inserts himself into his greatest fear: Kate is forced to live with him and they end up being single and alone - together - for the rest of their lives.
This time, it's Rebecca who falls into Kate’s arms.
Kate has a knack for pushing people away when she’s hurting the most, but there's no one she's kept at a further distance than her mother. As a child, Rebecca was always the parent who put her foot down and said no to Kate. She was the one Kate envied, even though she was too stubborn to admit it - even to this day. Rebecca has always known this, but as she said in an earlier episode this season, she would always be there for Kate, whenever she needed to fall into her mother's arms.
But now, in Kate’s new clarity, she doesn't necessarily need to fall into her mother’s arms. She walked into an intentional hug with her, and in fact offers her own arms to her mother, who was terrified of offending or triggering Kate. Rebecca carefully chose a dress that wouldn’t upstage Kate, and meticulously chose her words when her daughter called her from the road. As the two reunited when Kate reached the clarity she needed, she was the one who had to assure her mother that any tension between them has dissipated. She even admits to the jealousy she’s bottled for so long. Kate owns up to her own misguided standards, ad as she does this, she opens her arms to embrace her beaming mother.
Beth’s long-lost cousin Zoe alleviates Deja’s tension.
Even after driving all the way up to the cabin, Deja is still angry. She’s not speaking to the family at all once they arrive, and immediately goes off on her own. But as one family member is sidelined, another one enters the picture: Zoe, Beth’s cousin, who’s also the wedding photographer.
From just this one episode I know that Zuri is going to be a fabulous addition to the cast. For one thing, she gives Beth a confidante other than Randall, boosting the presence of a much-needed female relationship on the show. For another, she’s another black woman Deja can look up to who isn’t her biological mother or her soon-to-be adoptive mother. With Beth’s encouragement, Zoe has a conversation with Deja. When that doesn’t work (pep talks do not work on Deja like they do with the other Pearsons), Zoe asks that Deja just listen to her talk instead. Like Deja, Zoe's mom left her to be raised by Beth's mother. She, too, was angry about it, and took it out on her family. But one day, she woke up and decided to release her animosity and let go.
Zoe didn't invite Deja to tell her own story. She just smiled at her, shared a moment, and walked away. The next time we see Deja, she's finally put on the dress she resisted wearing for the ceremony - much to Beth’s delight.
Meanwhile, Toby’s parents enter the picture and are far less helpful.
I love that we finally meet an extension of Beth and Toby’s families, because it really adds some much-needed dimension to their characters. But while Zoe turns out to be amazing, Toby’s parents are real tools. They’re arguing in the car as soon as we meet them, then they try to discourage Toby from marrying Kate because she has a lot of “issues,” pointing out how he unconditionally dotes on Kate like he used to with his - shocker! - ex-wife Josie. We learn a lot about him in this one scene, though. He apparently gave so much to Josie that he lost himself in the process and became clinically depressed. But he defends Kate, assuring them that this relationship is different. He dismisses his parents from his room.
Kevin tries and fails to deal with the fact that he’s often put himself first in his relationship with Kate.
It was supposed to be a sweet moment when Kevin took the mic to toast the bride and groom at their wedding reception - especially since he made a point to say he wanted to make today special and all about Kate. For all intents and purposes, he and Randall did a fine job as wedding planners, making sure all the decorations, seats, and gifts were properly arranged. But once again, he inserts himself into his speech, noting how much of a burden he’s been to Kate - creating more unnecessary drama by getting arrested and going to rehab. He ends the toast by talking about how wonderful Kate is, though that's based mainly on what she’s done for him. That's apparently still effective for Kate, because she's visibly moved by it. These two have such an interesting relationship.
Something Kevin does get right is encourage the entire room to close their eyes and take a breath. You can almost feel the tension vanish. All are in the moment except, notably, Miguel, who instead glances with eyes wide open at Rebecca, who’s in deep concentration. It’s a compelling moment given how now all the key characters have had a chance to expand on the show - except Miguel, who remains an outlier.
Randall’s toast highlights a rather grim future.
In the spirit of letting go, Randall also encourages the crowd to let go of control, as the episode wanders off to a series of bleak montages foreseeing a sad future for some of them. We see Toby curled up in a fetal position, presumably depressed, in bed as Kate takes care of him. We also see another flash-forward scene to an older Randall and Tess, this time with him trying to convince the two of them to vaguely go in to see “her.” It’s unclear where they are (on a previous episode it looked like they were at a hospital an adoption agency), and it is unclear who “her” is. My hunch is that it’s Annie, who’s not appeared in this scene at all, and my fear is that she's debilitated in some way. Either way, I’m worried about what this is predicting.
Back in the present, Deja, triggered by Toby’s cold mom unknowingly saying that she looks like “her father” Randall, Deja smashes the windshield of Beth and Randall’s car.
But things aren’t all terrible in this futuristic montage. Zoe and Kevin apparently become an item as we get a glimpse of them on a plane. They're traveling to Vietnam, and Kevin has a photo of his father in his hand. He kisses Zoe on the forehead, and they seem so happy together. That’s a nice silver lining for next season.