You are cordially invited to the "This Is Us" season five finale – and to quite the wedding spectacular.
To be honest, for most of the episode, Tuesday's long-awaited closing hour didn't feel spectacular at all. You could feel the script trying to get to all of the characters and wrap up all the threads in an hour – remember: we, and the writers, got two fewer episodes this season than expected – and the result was a mostly tame and often disjointed episode, unable to get particularly deep into any character beats and held together by a lot of monologues and emotional speeches doing the heavy lifting. (The Pearsons?! Why, they'd never!)
But then the ending happened.
Somehow, even five seasons into the audience figuring out the rhythms, misdirection habits and screenwriting tricks of "This Is Us," this show really knows how to pull off quite the exhilarating twist ending – or, in the case of Tuesday's finale, twist endings plural as the final minute mercilessly dropped enough massive revelations to fuel a whole network's worth of television shows. It was a pretty thrilling rug-pull, knocking the audience on its butt several different ways while setting up some fascinating threads for next season's final go-around.
But what do all these revelations mean? And hold on a second, don't we have a whole big wedding to talk about too? Well, kind of – let's get into it all with my five takeaways from last night's season finale ... just as soon as I get an apology from Kate and Madison for their cruel Theodore the chipmunk erasure. (I don't know what he did to deserve that.)
1. Did Kevin and Madison end up married?
We open on Kevin rehearsing his vows, doing the world's worst impression of the priest from "The Princess Bride" – so already things are boding poorly for this climactic wedding. Madison's already having second thoughts and concerns about this whole thing, so maybe keep the bad sketch comedy for your potential acting career pivot to YouTube.
Indeed, while Kevin's trying to organize the wedding and contain his groomzilla tendencies, Madison's zoned off somewhere else, remembering how her (as it turns out, British) mother coldly left her with a pair of earrings and some frosty words of advice about finding someone better than her father. She's brought back to earth for a little bit to have a very natural conversation with Kevin for Uncle Nicky, who's playing amateur wedding videographer with his atlas-sized iPad, but she's definitely still hung up on Kevin's hesitation in last week's video Newlywed Game answers.
Kevin, meanwhile, is too busy micromanaging the wedding and trying to fix everything all at once to care too much about his own creeping concerns about getting married, whether this is what he really wants or just what he thinks he should want. In particular, the altar – specifically designed by Madison – has provided a nice distraction by cracking apart, and instead of rearranging the wedding layout, Kevin insists on their perfect day and drafts together his misfit family to fix the altar. So we've got Miguel and Uncle Nicky bickering about how best to assemble the wood scaffolding, Toby woundedly picking at flowers and reenacting "Tombstone" with tulips, and Randall on ... holding umbrella duty because he too is looking for distractions and busy work. (More on that later ... ) So things are clearly going great.
But hey, if this episode's flashbacks are to be believed, love survives even stress and conflict – even a betrayal as great as taping over the "Dynasty" season finale with a Pittsburgh Pirates game. Yes, that was Jack's grave sin, leading to a fight in front of the whole Big Three – who gather together beisde their parents' bed the next morning like the Children of the Corn to ask if they're now getting a divorce. Of course they're not getting a divorce over "Dynasty" – but their attempt to calm the kids down leads to a brand new and exciting little tiff, so the Big Three pitches a second wedding, dressing up and performing a twee little ceremony right in the living room. Problem solved, love rekindled and "Dynasty" forgotten.
Unfortunately, things aren't going that light and breezy for Madison, who doesn't have those fond family memories to scroll through for happy vibes. Instead, she just has flashbacks to her wealthy heartless dad handing her a wad of cash and demeaningly telling her that she should just find a guy – any guy, don't be picky – to take her to the big dance, and an old boyfriend brusquely breaking up with her and treating it like an annoying errand as opposed to an emotionally devastating moment. Conveniently, it was that very breakup that sent Madison to the weight support group where she would meet Kate – which, at first, was yet another emotional rejection.
In a life full of rejections and being told and conditioned to expect less, Madison's deciding that she's not accepting less anymore – and even though she loves Kevin, she's not going to accept anything less than her significant other loving her just as much back. And when put on the spot to say "I love you" in return, Kevin says ... "I love what we're building together," and "I love watching you with our children," and a lot of other things that aren't "I love you." Because Kevin also knows that, while he loves the idea of this being his life and his incredible love story, he's not actually in love with Madison in the same way. And so that's the end of that: no wedding, no Kadison. Madison now knows what she truly wants while Kevin still needs to figure that out for himself.
It's certainly not a happy ending, but the nixed wedding also isn't a sad one either. I mean, did anyone really think this wedding was going off without a hitch? Both parties seemed to be playing the parts of the happy soon-to-be-newlyweds, especially over the past few episodes as doubt creeped in, and while it was nice seeing Madison become a part of the Pearson clan and watch the show develop her character out a bit more – I wonder if there was a solo Madison episode that we missed out on with the trimmed-down episode number – the two never clicked together like the most natural fit, eventually earned and sweet but never quite the final destination you'd want for the two. Or at least not yet.
In the meantime, we get the Pearson clan together, in person, for seemingly the first time this entire season thanks to COVID and Mandy Moore's real life maternity break. You forget the utterly warm chemistry the main bunch has created over the years, seen at the end when they wind down this strange season on a fittingly bittersweet note, a wedding canceled but realities accepted, Kevin in particular lost but at least now knowing he is instead of denying it.
But hey, at least he has a new goal to keep him preoccupied while he figures out his next career move and life move: building the house Jack imagined for the family before he died. And unlike this wedding, we happily know that's a project that gets to the finish line.
2. How did Rebecca handle Randall's revelations?
One of quietly the biggest tensions heading into Tuesday night's Pearson family gathering was if Rebecca and Randall's tight bond survive the night. Last we checked, Rebecca wanted to hear more about Randall's trip to New Orleans to learn more about his birth mother (and coincidentally score some more free property), a touchy topic since Randall's still parsing out his experiences and memories as a Black child adopted into a white family. Would Rebecca be OK with what Randall potentially has to say about his "ghost kingdom" and the faint echoes of resentment he's processing through? After all, Rebecca was one of the key reasons why Randall didn't get to have an earlier relationship with his birth father, keeping his identity away from him – something Randall attempted to use to guilt Rebecca into the experimental therapy last season.
So yeah, there's potentially a lot to unpack there – and not all of it good, something Randall seems aware of as he meanders around the wedding grounds, keeping his head up and avoiding the conversation. And even when that conversation begins, with Randall showing Rebecca some photos of Laurel and Rebecca quickly coming to tears, Randall ejects out of that discussion right quick. Luckily, with everything falling apart around them (quite literally, in the case of the altar), Randall has plenty of excuses to bail to choose from. Maybe hang out with Beth and Tess as they rejigger her bridesmaid dress and have a reconciliation of sorts? Perhaps give Deja a shoulder as she just found out Malik secretly applied to Harvard – and just got in? (I wasn't kidding when I said every subplot got touched upon in this finale.)
Eventually, though, Rebecca and the conversation he's been dreaded chase Randall down ... and it goes much better than expected, as Rebecca takes the lead on the discussion, apologizing for how she rationalized and retained her deception for all those years – even though, as far back as the second "wedding" with Jack, she had guilt about the questions in Randall's mind that she refused to be answered. In the end, she lets her son know that he can let her in on his journey here; if she cries, it's not because he's hurting her, but instead because she knows started the hurt decades before. And with that, Randall finally opens up to Rebecca about his birth mother and his emotional journey – all at some level of peace.
It's nicely convenient that Rebecca happens to be the most self-aware and self-reflective parent on the planet, and I think we still may have missed a beat in this storyline in the axed two episodes that would've really helped this subplot hit hard – but Sterling K. Brown and especially Mandy Moore tearfully sell the heck out of their scenes here. And really, did we need another multi-episode arc about Randall and a family member having a fight about the past? Though it's realistic that nothing would be entirely fixed immediately, for a television show, ending yet another season with a Randall-related falling out would border dangerously on repetitive.
In the end, it's a lovely way to fully bring the Pearsons back together – but speaking of people being together ...
3. Did Kate and Toby's marriage survive?
OK, so Madison and Kevin fell through – but that was far from the only relationship on the rocks coming into Tuesday night. In fact, if I was a betting man, I would've put most of my money down on Kate and Toby – who, last we checked, were struggling to communicate, topped with the latter taking on a job interview in San Francisco on a whim – on not making it to the end of the season.
The good news: Toby's no longer unemployed! The bad news: It's the job in San Francisco, which he didn't bother to tell Kate about until after he broke the news about getting the gig. Yeah, these two aren't doing great. Kate's understandably not pumped about Toby getting a job that'll take him well out of their area – and well away from their very young children – most of the week. And Toby's argument that he loves their kids but he needs a career win and a sense of purpose again doesn't win her over, especially the phrase "he loves their kids BUT."
So Kate does the logical thing ... and calls her school to resign, seemingly without telling Toby about this decision either. What is with these two and going rogue on major employment decisions these days? It certainly doesn't give me confidence in this relationship, that's for sure! Luckily for everyone, though, Kate gives her verbal resignation to Mr. Grumblypants McBritish, who turns out to be Mr. Pleasantpants McBritish today as, after reiterating how much he very much didn't want to hire her, he says that she's turned into an incredible teacher and that he won't be accepting her resignation so too bad.
It's exactly the nice wakeup call their marriage needed, as Toby and Kate reconnect and FINALLY talk to each other about how they're going to work this out. Sure, they don't have a plan entirely yet, but Kate, reflecting back on their own wedding, decides that four days a week with Toby is better than no days a week with Toby or seven days a week with anyone else. (Or even eight days, which Toby helpfully reminds is not how weeks work.) So he's taking the San Francisco job, she's keeping her gig and they're just gonna figure out how to make it work. How exactly is that going to be? Well, I guess that's what season six is for.
So Toby and Kate avoided falling apart, Kevin and Madison avoided a marriage that's not on the most firm footing, Randall avoided a big falling out with his mom and, most important, the world avoided having to see Kevin do that just abominable impression of the priest from "The Princess Bride." Looks like everything turned out alr ... wait, why are we going back to Kevin rehearsing his speech in the bathroom again?
4. Wait, who's getting married now?!
Looks like I spoke too soon about no one getting married on Tuesday night – and about the world being safe from Kevin's impression, because it turns out that speech wasn't for his wedding at all. It's a wedding in the near future. That's right: We've got another timeline jump.
And as for the happy couple about to discover that giving Kevin a speaking role in your wedding is a poor decision? It's Kate ... and Mr. Grumblypants McBritish. Well, I guess her and Toby didn't figure out how to make it work after all.
So obviously "This Is Us" has laid the groundwork for Toby and Kate to go their separate ways – we've known for a while that Toby's bummed out and arriving solo to the big far-off future gathering, and the whole back end of this past season was about putting the two on thin ice, which they resolved with romantic notions as opposed to any real plan – but how are they going to go about turning Kate into Mrs. Grumblypants McBritish? We've only known this guy for a whole two episodes at this point, and in the first one, he spent most of his time as just a cliche persnickety boss – not exactly the most fertile ground for a happy romantic ending.
The show will have to do some significant work next season turning him from a glorified extra into a character I want to see end up with Kate at the end of the show. We've had five years of Toby, and while it would be a shame if the two didn't make it, the show set that up enough that we'd understand. It's had time to develop and evolve, in good ways and clearly now bad ones. What would be an even bigger shame is if Kate ended the series with a shrug of a relationship that the audience has no connection or feeling about, a dart throw of a final form.
They've now got one whole season to develop Mr. Grumblypants McBritish into a suitable sweetheart – or even just a character whose name is worth learning.
5. And what about everybody else too!?
Oh, you thought revealing that Toby and Kate were divorcing, with the latter marrying her basically-nameless (I know he has a name; I just fully do not care) snooty British boss, was the big twist? That was merely just the LAST big twist, as the final minute pulled an Oprah and just had shocking reveals under just about every character's chair. YOU GET A REVEAL! AND YOU GET A REVEAL! EVERYBODY GETS A REVEAL!
So in the near future – not to be confused with the grey-haired future of Rebecca's final days – Kevin is no longer a movie star, unless he really learned how to impressively multitask because he appears to have started Jack's dream company, Big Three Homes, based on the branded stationary that Kevin's written his terrible "Princess Bride" toast upon. So it would seem Kevin didn't stop at just building Rebecca the house Jack wanted for them; he built the whole housing company Jack wanted for them.
While Kevin's taken to the construction business, the famous face of the Pearson clan is now Randall, who we see has a glistening New Yorker profile calling him a "rising star." It would appear his political career – or at least we assume it's his political career that got him a fancy write-up – has rebounded quite a bit since his shirtless Zoom call snafu. (Fun fact: That was this season! It's been a long one.)
And you thought Kate and Benedict Cumberbatch would be the only wedding surprise in this final twist-apalooza? Nope, because we briefly see Uncle Nicky racing past Kevin delivering some stockings to "the wife." That's right: Uncle Nicky is now a devoted married man. We have to assume that Sally – his long-lost roving photographer love – is the unseen wife, right? So we all gathered here on Tuesday night for Kevin's wedding, and in the end, he's just about the only person NOT married in the finale.
OR IS HE?! When Kevin goes to check on the bridesmaids, not only is Beth there but so is Madison – and while we have no confirmation of a marriage, the two are VERY chummy in their brief interaction, playfully pushing him out of the room and noting that she told him 12 times earlier that day that no boys were allowed. So they were hanging out that morning too? My guess is that they're not married and they're just very good and close parents together – and that Sophie is somewhere in that scene, to be revealed later. I know he deleted the number, and I know much of the audience has moved on, but I can't help thinking that the show didn't reopen that door for nothing. But it's very heartwarming to see Kevin and Madison so pleasant and peppy together – a happy ending, no matter their marital state.
So that's going to be a lot for the final season to parse through – and we didn't even see Rebecca in this new timeline, so we don't even know what to expect there. But I feel confident the show will pull it off. As this season finale proved, "This Is Us" is pretty good at sticking the landing. (And plus, next time they won't have to take 11 COVID-19 intermissions!)
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.