Not to sound like Stefon from "SNL," but Tuesday night's fall finale of "This Is Us" had everything: big twists, emotional tears, A GENDER REVEAL CAKE FILLED WITH CANDY.
Indeed, if you've spent this somewhat scattered third season surprisingly dry-eyed, you probably had a deluge at least at one point. And if you've spent the season wondering when you'd get one of those big "This Is Us" shockers that completely readjusts the story and your expectations, well, you got not one but two of those. It may have been an imperfect season – and even an imperfect final episode – but when it comes to the big stuff people watch the NBC drama for, Tuesday night delivered and then some.
Let's start with the Vietnam storyline – far and away the best plot line of this season. Back in the past, Jack is clinging to his brother as much as possible, feeding him and pleading to his COs to let him keep him in his company and finish getting him off whatever stuff he's hooked on.
Unfortunately, Nicky still has no interest in being saved. He still doesn't think he can. You'd think the two brothers getting into a fist fight and landing punches on each other would be their low point, but that actually comes later when Nicky finds some drugs and gets high. Jack is obviously disappointed, but a dazed Nicky explains that he's never wanted to get clean. When he gets clean, he sees it all again – the violence he's witnessed and likely the violence he's committed. (Earlier in the episode, he grimly notes the mission is not merely to stay alive; the mission is to kill.)
Meanwhile, back in modern times, Kevin's still on his quest through Vietnam to find out who the mystery woman is and the meaningful origins of his trinket necklace. He's getting restless in a hotel room when he finally gets some good news: A hotel employee knows a local historian in the village where his father served. Trade a shirtless selfie, and he's got himself a meeting. Kevin's finally getting his answers – though Zoe keeps warning him (and therefore the audience) that you can't force reality to end the way you want it to.
What follows are two of the best sequences of the episode: Kevin walking through the village, cross-edited with his father trotting through that same village, a beautiful wordless moment of echoes through time, as well as the scene of Kevin sitting down with the historian. As Zoe expected, the meeting doesn't end the way Kev wanted it to, as the historian doesn't really have anything to tell him about his father or the mystery woman – but he does want to tell him about how much he enjoys him on television and how his father, a Vietcong soldier, was an actor too.
It's disappointing for Kevin (and for anybody who thought you were getting all the answers tonight – though you really thought it was going to be that easy?), but the historian does have a nice message to pass along to Kevin about how the two of them, different in so many ways, with fathers on opposite sides of a horrible conflict, are not as different as they think, both living happily and living harmoniously together with dads who buried their experiences of war where nobody – including hopefully themselves – would never find them.
But SOMEHOW I get the impression those aren't the Vietnam scenes people are talking about this morning. No, the big moment comes at the very end when Jack hears a sudden explosion from the water. A boat's exploded – and certainly Nicky's on board. Right? RIGHT!? As it turns out, wrong – Nicky didn't die there. In fact, Nicky didn't die at all in Vietnam. He's still alive somewhere in a dusty-looking apartment.
I mean, props to the "This Is Us" writers for a solid twist – though not completely and utterly unexpected, most thanks to actor Michael Angarano feeling like too good of an actor to lose this quickly on the show. Sure, nobody really DIES on "This Is Us" (seemingly half the cast is technically dead already) but no matter the case, it didn't seem like he was going away.
But now comes the tricky part for the show: explaining such a massive moment – one that could easily fall apart or play like soap opera. I mean, I can see why Nicky would never return home after the war; it's not like the Pearson home was a happy one when he left, and his one solid connection – Jack – has been broken by the conflict. Still, you wouldn't want to at least say hi to mom? Or he certainly must have friends from back home that he wouldn't want to ignore for the rest of time? There's a lot of emotional room to fill in order to make "he was alive the whole time" ring as true and not just as a crazy twist.
Which brings us to our second big twist of the night, this time coming in the Randall storyline, where he's got a big debate coming up against Sol Brown – and even bigger tectonic plates shifting at home. Deja's begun calling her biological mom again, who apparently started a new and improved life in Delaware, while Tess is sulking around the house for reasons we know thanks to last week and are sure Randall and Beth will find out by episode's end. Rebecca already knows, thanks to Kate passing it along, and Tess is super not about that, annoyed on the car ride to Randall's debate that suddenly more people know about her secret than she anticipated – or currently wanted.
But, like Randall, it's time to get distracted with politics as it's debate time in Philadelphia's 12 district! Randall gets off to a poor start, boring the crowd with numbers and stats while Sol Brown continues to score cheap and easy points by referencing that his opponent doesn't technically live in their district. Randall also messes up the moderator's name, a local television anchor – a moderator who, might I add, does an absolutely garbage job moderating this debate. She just lets these dudes interrupt each other and go off on tangents. She might as well not have shown up.
Randall finally gets into his groove, however, when he starts listing off all of the complaints and all of the issues Sol Brown's constituents have brought to his desk over the years, only to be completely ignored save for around election season. "The 'look into its' are endless," Randall preaches to the crowd, sitting on the stage before rallying the crowd into a roar and asking them to take a chance on him. (If only there was a MODERATOR.) Such an impressive debate performance seems like a total game-changer for Randall's campaign ... except it isn't. Jae-won arrives with the numbers after the debate, and Randall is still down – too far down to come back in time for the election. Jae-won doesn't say it's over ... but he doesn't have to.
While one storyline is closing up, however, another is beginning to open up as Rebecca talks with Tess about how she buried all of her pain and emotions and feelings over the years, leaving her now aching. It's a really nice and tender moment – Tess and Rebecca: who knew that was the combination I needed in my life? – that leads to the first scene this season (so far) to get me to truly well up and get teary: Tess coming out to her parents. "This Is Us" could've hit the emotional pedal hard on this moment, but instead it plays just right, quiet and tender and empathetic and a little awkward – and just perfect. I've realized that one of the things that one of my personal cry buttons is characters allowing themselves to be vulnerable and being received with love, respect and acceptance – and this moment was all of that and more. And young Eris Baker was wonderful in the scene.
So clearly all must be well in the Pearson household now! Wellllllllllll ... remember when I said Jae-won didn't have to say the campaign was over? Well, apparently he did, because while Beth assumes Randall is ready to come back to the household and find some steadiness in a house going through a lot, Randall says he can't quit on the campaign. And finally, the moment this somewhat confused storyline has been building to hits: The perfect marriage of Randall and Beth begins to break – leading to a flash-forward to the future where Randall and Beth (now a ballet director, which cool!) are divorced, amicable but clearly separate.
I thought we'd never get here. This storyline was so in love with Randall's charisma and optimism during the campaign that I was concerned "This Is Us," like Randall, was fine ignoring the obvious issues in their relationship and fine ignoring that his hero act was coming at a cost. They'd set the groundwork, with the flashback to William's speech about Randall at some point needing to be the base for Beth's jazz solo, but they also just kept building Randall up on the trail. But now the roof's finally collapsed, and Randall's attempt to fix others in the hopes of fixing the issues in himself has created an ever bigger mess he can't repair – or at least he doesn't appear to, judging by that flash to the future.
Oh, and the mystery woman everybody's so dour about in the future? It's Rebecca. (Even if they don't say her name, the Pin the Tail on the Donkey kit seals the deal.) This can't be good.
But let's end on a happier note: Kate's in this episode too! Kate and Toby really got the short shrift this week – which made their storyline feel a bit disconnected. You see, their doctor says that, while Kate's baby looks good, she wants her to stop Adele-o-gramming – not because she's more of a Beyonce fan, but because the constant car rides are impacting her blood pressure. But when one door closes, another door opens, as sweet innocent Madison finds her a gig as a high school chorus teacher. However, despite being a delightful interview, Kate gets thrown out as a candidate since she doesn't have her college degree. But, uh, when god closes a door, he opens a window (I'm running out of inspiration quotes) leading Toby to encourage Kate to pop back into college and finish getting her diploma. It's long-winded, sure, but it's also sweet and nice – and they make fun of the word "bursar," so it's all a win.
Also, after some stressful conversations about whether or not they believe their baby is actually going to happen, Toby and Kate have a quiet little gender reveal party for themselves. And thankfully they don't blow anything up and start a 47,000-acre fire; instead, they just do a cute little cake that reveals they're having a boy. The odds of that baby being named Jack are one billion percent.
So even considering the sad drama of the finale, I've ended this recap on a high note – much like how "This Is Us" ended on a high note. This half-season's been a bit scattered, hitting on some things only to fade away – remember when Toby's depression battle seemed like it was going to be a big deal this season? Or when Kevin's movie supposedly came out? Or when Randall and Kate got into a fight for ten seconds? – and emphasizing others for confused reasons (re: Randall's political campaign). But the lows haven't been horribly low, the highs have still been high and now we've got an unexpected bonus Pearson out there in the world.
See you again in January to sort THAT all out.
As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.
When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.