It's been a long, weird road in season three of "This Is Us."
This year marked the first to not have the Great Jack Death Mystery to push things along, and you could tell it was a show in flux a bit, grabbing at a lot of different stories in a single season. We've come a very long way from the season premiere, in which Deja was breaking cars with bats, Kevin's movie (remember that?) had yet to premiere, Toby was flushing his depression meds down the sink and a trip to Vietnam was nowhere near the calendar.
What the season's lacked in coherence and an obvious and clear path, however, it's made up for in some great episodes – the Vietnam episodes, Beth's solo hour, last week's trip through Randall and Beth's lives together.
Tuesday's finale wouldn't register as one of those all-timer episodes, but "Her" was kind of perfect in its own weird way as a messy but compelling wrap on a messy but compelling season, answering questions and putting a (maybe too neat) bow on things while also leaving the audience with some signature "This Is Us" twists and reveals to debate until the show returns in far too many months from now.
But first: coffee.
Everybody's up and at 'em to the tune of the Cure's "Friday I'm In Love" (or at least some coffee shop approved cover of it). In both the present and future, Randall and Beth are looking forlorn at family photos and empty rooms all alone save for a cup of joe while Kate, Toby and Becca share coffee looking over Jack Jr. and debating whether Kate can have regular coffee. (I GOT BAD VIBES ABOUT THIS FORESHADOWING.)
As for Kevin and Zoe, they're sharing some fancy pour-over brew while Kevin brews up some low-key trouble with a few passive-aggressive comments about their decision to not have children. No sirree, no kids for Kevin. Couldn't be happier about this life choice. Who even wants kids? Kids are so silly. Yuck, right? Who needs them when you've got pour-over coffee? A most convincing dialogue they're having! No stress here! Ha ha; truly we're having a relaxed and normal one this fine morning.
Oh, and in the past, Becca gets in a car accident. No, she doesn't die and reveal that she's been a ghost this entire time. (What a historically awful turn that would've been!) But yeah, everybody's on shaky ground to start this episode off.
Let's start with the shakiest, not to mention its own kind of car wreck in a way: Randall and Beth's marriage. Randall's still sleeping in the office while Beth's sharing cute metaphorical anecdotes about that time the family did an escape room and everything was terrible until they found a door at just the right time, solving everything. Aww! Except right now, for this painful real-life puzzle, she's not seeing a door. Oh. Welp. I revoke my previous aww.
At least the kids are none the wiser about their marital strife – except they're totally onto them. At least Deja is – and, according to her, Tess can smell something's wrong too. So Deja fakes a debate team match and drags Randall out to her former foster home for a signature Randall Pearson Big Speech moment – which makes a sweet bookend with his opening talk with her in the premiere and also nicely avoids feeling too treacly and melodramatic thanks to both Lyric Ross' perfect performance and the script undercutting the emotion manipulation with some funny meta humor.
Case in point: When Randall tries to interject, she hilariously shuts it down with, "Not now; doing a speech." If we're going to keep getting one of those monologues every ten minutes, at least we can get some acknowledgement that they're a little ridiculous. And also Deja should deliver them all.
Anyway, Deja reminds Randall that he's won the lottery twice in life: once with his adopted family and one with meeting Beth. And he can't waste those wins. So Randall begins wondering about his most recent win in the election – and if he can revoke it by resigning before even taking office. Obviously, Jae-won is less than thrilled about this idea – and, as he tells Randall, the public will be even less so considering they'll be paying for another election after he spits in the face of all the voters he just convinced to take a chance on him over Saul Brown.
Meanwhile, Beth's out secretly shopping real estate in Philadelphia – so this may be ending all dark, sad and lonely like the flash-forwards portended after all. At least Beth's future house looks nice as hell.
But wait! Near the end of the episode, Randall and Beth have a talk, with the former announcing that he's going to resign from his newly elected post – even if it results in the entire district hating him forever (and more years of Saul Brown). But it turns out that won't be necessary: Beth wasn't looking for a place of her own, but instead a dance studio of her own ... along with a new house in Philly that would be cheaper and closer for all involved.
Great news, everyone: Randall and Beth found the door. And sure, it's been a lot of work and strife this season for a very pat ending – especially after last week's trip through years of strain between the two – but you know what, the world is a better place with Randall and Beth together, eating nachos and cutely snarking at one another.
As one relationship survives, however, another appears to die: Kevin and Zoe. In case Kevin's coffee asides weren't enough, the two babysit for Randall and Beth – and Kevin is charmed as hell by both interacting with the kids and watching Zoe do the same. So he pitches Zoe one more time on having kids, not now but sometime, and that turns out to be one pitch too many. As soon as they come back to their apartment, Zoe's smile turns to a stink face as she notes that becoming a parent is something she knows she doesn't want at all – and knows even more that she doesn't want to stop Kevin from doing.
Cue people putting their things into boxes. It's a bummer – Justin Hartley and Melanie Liburd had really charming chemistry, and it feels like her character still has far too much meat left on the bone for her to be gone – but maybe that's why we had Sophie's reappearance last week? It would be very un-"This Is Us"-like to bring her back, just to immediately drop that story yet again.
The most important part of Kevin's subplot this week, however, didn't come with Zoe but with Tess, as she stresses about finding the perfect picture day outfit – and much more. If you remember (and it sure feels like the writers just did) Tess came out this season, and while she thought the official announcement would be the hard part, it's now she's struggling with: attempting to figure out who she is and feeling uncertain about what makes her herself now, who is the authentic Tess after years of keeping a part of her quiet.
It's a nuanced, thoughtful point – again, when "This Is Us" has the time between all the plot mechanics, it's great at discussing and opening up about things that most shows don't bother – that makes you wish Tess had more time this season. Maybe a solo episode next season please?
Somehow, it's Kevin coming to a sort-of rescue (the show nicely makes sure he notes he couldn't know her particular situation and makes sure he's no savior) with ... wait for it ... yes, a "This Is Us" speech. But a good "This Is Us" speech about how we don't find out who we are all at once, that it doesn't just simply snap into place right away but instead is something gathered over time through experience – and, most of all, the show argues, through the people we meet and share our lives with, for no matter how long.
We each help build and complete our constantly evolving idea of ourselves – a sweet and very fitting overall theme for a "This Is Us" finale.
That theme is obviously present in the Randall and Beth subplot as well as to a lesser, and slightly trite, extent in Kate's storyline featuring her resentment and jealousy toward Becca reemerging as Jack Jr. is getting healthy enough to leave the hospital.
At first, it's just a classic case of a mom just momming annoyingly all over the place, asking too many questions and hovering too much over Kate (at least she's not moving into the neighborhood OH NOOOO!) but then Kate's old feelings of standing in her mother's perfect shadow bubble back up when, during an emergency, Becca knows exactly what to do to bring Jack Jr. back to normal breathing while Kate has a mild panic. After Kate sees the notes Becca's been making and the care her mother clearly feels, the two hug it out.
Listen, Kate clearly drew the short straw this season – despite having a major subplot involving a life-threatening pregnancy. For some reason, however, her character – along with Toby and his quickly wrapped-up fight with depression – has felt very pushed aside for most of the year, serving more as a tool to move other plot lines and characters forward. (Looking at you, barely seen back-to-college story arc.) Even the finale's story felt pretty familiar compared to the rest, and tied up pretty quickly and neatly after all the work that went into it. Here's to next season putting her back into the spotlight.
But before we talk about the future, we must talk about the past. Eh, actually, we don't. The flashbacks have felt more and more irrelevant this year – especially the ones involving Jack as the show has moved beyond his character and mysteries. The Vietnam subplot made sense and felt tied to Kevin and his present day journey, but otherwise they felt more obligatory than necessary, rarely connecting all that satisfyingly with the rest of the stories being told – and the finale is more of the same, with Jack quirkily struggling with the kids while Becca recuperates in the hospital from her crash. Maybe it's worth it, though, for the Blockbuster shade and Kate's perfect look of silent distain as Jack serves up an emergency dinner of corn sandwiches.
So let's go back to the future – and to the part of the show that'll inspire the most conversation until the season four premiere many months from now. A few questions get answered during the flash forward to a Pearson reunion of sorts: Randall and Beth are, indeed, still together and cute as hell, and while Kate's yet unseen, she's still alive – and so is Jack Jr. But there's much more teased out than settled.
For instance, a dour Toby shows up to this future family gathering alone – and Randall's greeting of "Thanks for coming" doesn't seem like the kind of thing you say to a happy brother-in-law still in the clan. Are those two kaput? And Jack Jr. isn't the only kid around as an also unseen Kevin appears to have a boy – but how? Sophie? A new yet-to-be-met character? Adoption? And how did Kevin get this sweet massive house?! Did he get that Oscar for Ron Howard's war movie? Will anyone merely mention said Ron Howard war movie ever again? I have questions.
In the meantime, here's an answer – a gut punch of an answer at that. The "her" everyone's off to visit in the future, the "her" this finale is named after and the "her" that everyone seems so ominous about ... is Rebecca. I originally guessed Kate – partly because of Toby's presence in the future tease and partly because Becca seemed too obvious for "This Is Us," which famously zags when you expect a zig.
Even though Becca is the "duh" choice for a character in tough times in the future, I wasn't prepared for the emotional hit of seeing her future state: stuck in a hospice bed, clearly afflicted with Alzheimer's, dementia or some disease requiring Randall to ID himself as her son entering her room. It's a sad way to see our beloved matriarch – and even harder considering the finale's theme.
After an episode about how other people help complete you, how you're always building upon your idea of yourself, how you become who you're meant to be through memories and those you share the world with, how teamwork makes the dream work, we end on a woman having all of that coldly taken away from her. It's a low-key brutal end – but on a happier note, Nicky's back! And with a haircut!
In the end, it's a solid way to end a tricky season – with what looks like an even trickier one to come next.
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.