I shouldn’t find it shocking in the slightest that a season finale that had me crying less than 20 seconds into the start of the episode had this much of an impact on me. And by impact, I mean emotions. By impact, I mean tears. By impact, I mean dry heaving brought on by said tears. By impact, I mean it left its mark.
So before we get started, let’s take a moment to breathe in. But most importantly, let’s take a moment to exhale.
Exhaling. Letting go, but not necessarily forgetting. It was an important lesson that This Is Us taught us in the season 2 finale, which centered on Kate and Toby’s wedding and also paralleled it with Kate’s dreams of her mother and father’s 40th anniversary and renewal of vows that would never be.
It takes everything in us to want to hold on to what we’ve always known. To want to hold on to the things that made us feel safe. To want to hold on to the things that made us who we are. But it’s also important to remember that you have to let go. Eventually.
Let’s take a look at some of the storylines in This Is Us’ emotional season 2 finale:
Holding On & Letting Go
From the first seconds of This Is Us’ season finale, there was a palpable desire of what the present could’ve been. A present that never came to be. A present that will never come to be. The shot of an older Jack and Rebecca renewing their vows on their 40th anniversary was enough to send me into a fit of tears in less than the first 20 seconds. It was like the show was dangling a carrot in front of our noses, and we were immobilized; incapable of reaching said carrot and getting the very thing we desire most in this world.
But it turns out that it wasn’t This Is Us emotionally torturing us. Although, you have to admit it did manage to accomplish that — intentional or not. It turns out that Kate was having a recurring dream of watching her parents renew their vows. A dream where Kate, her dad, her mom, and her brothers were all together and all happy.
“The way it was supposed to be.”
In its first two seasons, This Is Us has focused on the effect of Jack’s death on Rebecca, Randall, Kate, and Kevin. In that, it created a similar feeling within its audience to desire that as much as these characters have. “The way it was supposed to be.” It was always supposed to be the Pearsons. Jack. Rebecca. Randall. Kate. Kevin. But we’re not always dealt the “supposed to be’s.”
There are several relationships on this show that I relate to personally — whether it’s in shared circumstances or just the feelings that are elicited from watching these dynamics. But the one that has tugged on my heartstrings the most has been Jack and Kate’s relationship. That close father-daughter relationship. I have that. I count myself lucky enough to still have that to this day. My dad is my best friend (as is my mom), and watching that relationship on screen always brings tears to my eyes.
Jack and Kate’s relationship was a focal point in this episode. In fact, it’s been a focal point in this entire series. To Kate, her father was her whole world — the sun, the moon, the stars. She would go to him when she wanted to have fun or when she needed him in a time of need. She trusted every part of him. She loved him with every part of her. He was her hero.
While Kate has dealt with her grief, it’s not something she has overcome. I don’t you ever overcome that kind of pain. So this — her wedding aka the most important day of her life — is heavy with emotion and the shadow that Jack Pearson casts on all involved.
We find Kate frantically searching for her dad’s old t-shirt as her something old. But as we saw, and as her brothers have seen, it was extending beyond the line of frantic. Everyone wanted to say, “It’s just a t-shirt” or “he was more than a t-shirt.” But the thing that they don’t understand that, to Kate, it’s so much more than that. It’s representative of the first man she loved. She’s trying to make her dad a part of her wedding because he can’t be there. SHE NEEDS HIM TO BE A PART OF THE MOST IMPORTANT DAY OF HER LIFE. He promised her, after all, that day at school.
When Kate realizes that in her dreams — the ones where her family is there together — Toby isn’t a part of them. And it’s not because she’s having second thoughts or because she doesn’t love him. It’s because she’s holding too tightly to the memory of her father. To the point where there’s no room for someone else, yet alone a husband.
In one of the many emotional flashbacks, we saw Kate looking at her father as if he were the center of the universe and ask, “Can I marry you when I grow up?” to which he replied, “That’s not how it works.” We proceeded to get that speech about how one day, someday, she’s going to meet someone. Someone that’s better than him. Someone that she’ll love more. And that’s the man she’ll marry. And Jack would be the one walking her down the aisle.
Just the thought makes me emotional. Letting go of anything in your life, especially a person that you’ve loved for your entire life, isn’t something that’s easy to do. It’s not even easy to consider. But Kate realized that she’s been holding on a little too strong.
“I have to make room for Toby. I gotta let go a little now,” she says to her dad’s ashes.
But let’s get one thing clear. Just because Kate is deciding to let go, a little, of her father doesn’t mean that she’s forgetting him. She’s choosing to open herself up to another person in a way she wasn’t capable of before when the only person that mattered was her father. It’s what Jack wanted. He told her as much.
The Power of Family
Saying This Is Us is a show that preaches the power of family is like saying that water is wet. It’s common knowledge and something we accept and expect every time. But when you have significant moments like in this season finale — Kate’s wedding — it really allows you to see the beauty and power of family in action.
You already know my thoughts about Jack and Kate. It’s a relationship I could for hours about. That love, that trust, that friendship, that joy that comes in knowing each other and having the privilege to have gotten to know each other makes me emotional every time. And while that relationship was certainly a focal point in this family-centric episode (as always), there were other dynamics on display, including Kate’s relationship with her mom and Kate’s relationship with her brothers.
Mothers and daughters have complicated relationships. One minute, you love each other and you’re sharing laughs and secrets. The next, you’re yelling at each other over the silliest of things. And still, there’s nothing in the world that could convince me that they love each other less. The fact that most mothers and daughters can have that — where you can yell and know that you love each other in spite of that — is really powerful. They say you take out your anger on those you love, after all.
For Kate and Rebecca, their relationship has been a struggle. I’m not talking the extent of your usual mother-daughter struggles. Kate had pent up anger towards her mom over the years because she always felt like she wasn’t good enough. And while a big part of that was her dad’s death and misunderstanding, it was there. Until these two had a beautiful moment where Kate realized that in spite of everything — the criticisms that were never meant personally, the pressures that make you want to scream — her mother is someone that has always loved her, always cared about her, and will be there at her darkest moments. In this episode, we saw that Rebecca was more hyper-aware than ever. She didn’t want to do or say anything that might upset Kate on her most important day.
“I feel like I’m this walking reminder of Jack…He’s the one she lost and I’m the one she got stuck with.”
Rebecca isn’t blind. She saw Jack and Kate. She saw herself and Kate. She knows Kate had a special bond with her father that she can’t replicate. But who says she has to replicate it? It’s about creating a unique bond.
And one of the most heartfelt scenes came when Kate told her mother just how much she loves her; just how much she wanted to be her.
“Mom, you are not in my way. You are my way.”
Then you have Kate and her boys. Her boys being her loving brothers that, while not perfect, always mean well. Both Randall and Kevin realized in this episode that they haven’t always done what’s best for their sister. For Kevin, he realized that Kate spent so much time taking care of him that she stopped taking care of herself. For Randall, he realized that when he got a family — Beth and his girls — he forgot a little bit about what was best for his sister.
But as we saw in their reception toasts, there is nothing but love from Randall and Kevin towards Kate. She is their sister. They are her brothers. They’ve been through good times and bad times. They’ve grown up together and they’ve grown up apart. But when it comes down to it, they always know what’s best and they always love each other.
And knowing exactly what Kate needed to hear — words that dad would’ve said and a reminder to choose the people in your life — that’s all the proof you need.
Following last week’s emotional hour where Deja returned home — that’s right home — with the Pearsons, we were dealt the aftermath of her mother deciding to leave her behind with a situation that was in her best intentions. Deja is acting out after her mother’s departure, and Randall and Beth are just trying to keep their heads above water. But, they have been here before. They know that sometimes all Deja needs is time and space to sort things out.
Beth’s cousin, Zoe, decided to have a talk with Deja because she came from similar circumstances. Where her mother left her and where there was this intense desire to stay loyal to her mom through lashing out at the ones that were taking care of her; lashing out at the ones that loved her. We all know that’s what Deja is doing. Hell, even Deja knows that’s what she’s doing. But this is a tough situation for a child — a child — to have to experience. Of course she’s acting out.
But that talk really helped center Deja. It didn’t miraculously mix things, but it was enough to get her to a good place for this wedding and moving forward. That was, until Toby’s mom mistook Deja for Randall and Beth’s birth daughter and she lost it again. Only this time, Deja took her anger out on Randall’s car.
It almost feels as if we’re back at square one with Deja and the Pearsons. But the thing is, Deja’s had to undergo this deja vu several times now. And that’s just not fair for a child. This is an emotional situation that needs to be dealt with carefully and with loving intentions. Deja is not in a good place right now. But I have hope that she’ll get back to where she knows she’s truly happy and truly at home.
The BIG THREE Flashforwards
It wouldn’t be This Is Us without some kind of long-range emotional trauma. This time, it came in the face of three big flashforwards with implications in the coming season and even further down the line. So let’s take a look at these three flashforwards and speculate what they might hold in store:
1. Kevin going to Vietnam with Beth’s cousin, Zoe
Cue our first flashforward of Kevin sitting in an airplane staring at a photo of his dad in Vietnam. My first instinct is to say that Kevin is going to try to connect with his dad by getting to know him a bit better. Perhaps visiting the places that have shaped the man he’s become. Or maybe he’s giving back as a way to honor him? But throw into the mix the added appearance of Zoe, Beth’s younger cousin, who seems to be dating Kevin, and we’ve got all kinds of questions about that one.
2. Toby struggling with depression
In the second flashforward, we found Toby lying in bed while a concerned Kate talked to him about his “meds.” But Toby looked to be in a bit of a depressive state that suggests something quite bad has happened. Does it have to do with his family? Kate? Something else? What could possibly be happening? I haven’t the faintest idea.
3. Future Randall & Tess being afraid to visit “her”
“It’s time to go see her, Tess.” More ominous words have not been spoken in this episode. But as we saw future Randall and Tess struggling with having to go see “her,” you can see that this is a painful situation. A death? A deathbed? Something else? But the real question is: Who is the her?
It’d be too easy to guess Beth. And I don’t want to guess Beth. But that wasn’t my gut reaction. My gut told me that the “her” was Deja. But it could be any number of people, given the amount of hers. Given the amount of “hers” in this show that mean an incredible amount to both Randall and Tess. Because it wasn’t just Tess that was shaken up and dreading it. It was Randall, too.
This Is Us returns for its third season this Fall 2018.