April 14, 2021

This Is Us Season Finale Recap: The First Birthday

This Is Us sure loves symmetry in its storytelling. I mean, the whole point of flipping back and forth through time is to point out this symmetry in the Pearson family history. Like, if you don’t think it was purposeful to have a story about Jack and Nicky, two brothers who could never make amends, when now we’re watching a story about the rift growing between two other Pearson brothers, I don’t know what to tell you. Whether in the actual plot or in the format of the storytelling itself, this show thrives on that symmetrical shit. Look no further than season four’s bookends: We started this season with “Strangers” in which we were introduced to some randos who eventually would cross into our story — remember Cassidy, Malik, and Adult Baby Jack? — and now we’re finishing it out with some new strangers to add to the list in the season four finale. “Strangers: Part Two” introduces us to newbies including Hailey, a woman who runs an art gallery and is freaking out over a one-night stand with a movie star, and a guy with a horse who has a sassy daughter I do not care for. Plus, Adult Baby Jack is back and he’s having a baby. See, guys? Symmetry.

Even the characters on this show ache for these clean, orderly distinctions. Our Rebecca and Jack flashback to when the Big Three turn 1 is really about these two being unable to process their grief for Kyle, the triplet they lost during childbirth. A year before, on the day they had the Big Three, it was their OB/GYN Dr. K who gave them advice to heal their very open wounds. You know, that whole turning lemons into lemonade thing. So what do they decide to do on the one-year anniversary of that speech? They go to see Dr. K. I’m always here for Gerald McRaney’s dulcet tones. Dr. K gives a new inspiring speech, this time about how we should let the joys and tragedies of life be intertwined or something like that. He knows it’s not his best work.

Back in the present day, we’re dealing with more tragedy than joy at the moment. It is Baby Jack’s first birthday (say it with me, symmetry), and as is tradition, it ends with two grown men yelling at each other on the front lawn. And cake, obviously.

Since the entire family has gathered in Los Angeles for a 1-year-old’s birthday party (release your frequent flier mile totals, Pearsons!), Rebecca really has no choice but to share her change of heart regarding the clinical trial. She makes it sound like she and Miguel made this decision, but Kevin is immediately suspicious. When he hears Rebecca describe the trial as “an investment in [her] future,” which is the exact phrase Randall used when the Big Three were having a post-announcement powwow, he puts it all together. Thankfully, Kate, Toby, and Baby Jack are out on an errand and Beth gets Rebecca, Miguel, and the girls out of the house, knowing the rage fest that’s about to start. (Beth does not approve of how Randall got Rebecca to change her mind, in case you were still wondering if Beth is the best.)

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This fight between Randall and Kevin is so fucking intense, guys. I don’t know how many ways I can say it but Sterling K. Brown and Justin Hartley are just so good and their scenes together are always the best of any episode. On top of that, this entire, lengthy argument (directed by TIU stalwart Ken Olin) is shot by tracking the guys from the backyard, where they yell at each other for being selfish, into the living room, where they yell at each other for being selfish, and then out on the front lawn, where they yell… well, you get it. It amps up the intensity in all the best ways.

There is one quick thing that interrupts this fight. When the boys are in the living room and Randall is saying that he did what was best for their mother and Kevin is saying lol you did what you wanted regardless of what mom needs, there is a knock at the door. It’s Madison. This! Poor! Woman! She is always showing up when the Pearsons are being Peak Pearson. Randall walks out and Kevin stands around stewing. Unfortunately, she really needs to talk to Kevin at this exact moment. Like, really needs to talk to him.

Surprise! That man with the horse and the annoying daughter? He’s Madison’s OB/GYN. And guys, Madison is pregnant. With twins. Pearson twins. The Horse Doctor asks Madison if she’s talked to the father yet, but she tells him that all she knows about him is that he comes from a “long line of love stories and this would not be what he wants.” This is hilarious for several reasons, one being she definitely knows way more about her best friend’s brother than that. And two, what is the “long line”? His parents? That’s not a line. It’s a dot. ANYWAY, the doctor remembers some advice his daughter gave him about horses and he sees fit to use that on humans. He tells Madison that she’s given up on the father before he’s had a “chance to be himself.” You guys, I have a great OB/GYN, but between this dude and Dr. K I am really interested to know the kinds of OB/GYNs the people in this writer’s room are seeing. My doctor is nice and all but she has no time to dole out heartfelt advice ad nauseam. She has patients to see and vaginas to swab! What is this madness!

Okay, so Madison lays all of this on Kevin, and since she was bulimic for a long time and told she most likely wouldn’t be able to have kids, this is a miracle and she’s going to have them. She doesn’t expect anything from Kevin. Guys, this man’s head is spinning. Justin Hartley portrays this so well without a single word. By which I mean, he looks like he’s gonna barf. He needs to step out for some air…

…Where he immediately runs back into Randall on the front lawn. I’d run in the opposite direction, but not these boys! If you thought they got into it before, hold onto your butts. Basically, think of the meanest things Randall and Kevin could ever say to each other. That’s what they say! Kevin completely nails Randall for wanting to save their mother to ease his guilt. That Randall thinks he knows what’s best because he stayed behind after their dad died and “played martyr.” Kevin tells him that if he had been there the night Jack died, he “would’ve walked through literal fire” to save him. Randall couldn’t do that. And then Randall lays into Kevin for not being there that night or ever, and for not caring about any person besides himself for the entirety of his life. He tells Kevin that their dad died ashamed of him! That Jack was ashamed of Kevin and proud of Randall and Kevin can’t stand that. That is truly the dirtiest. And we haven’t even gotten to the moment when Randall tells Kevin that he’s a shit actor.

I know I should be upset by all this, but guys, I am truly living in this moment. We needed this kind of heat on this show. Randall is devastatingly mean in this fight, but it only ends when Kevin gets his turn to destroy his brother: He tells Randall that the worst day of his life wasn’t when Jack died, it’s when they brought Randall home from the hospital. How big can a person’s eyes get, because mine have reached the limit.

Randall gets in his car and leaves. Fueled by Randall’s insults about Kevin never being able to understand how to devote himself to another person, this boy walks back into the house and tells Madison he wants to be a father, more than anything. He’s tired of doubting himself Kevin is all in. It’s not really the moment for congratulations because I can read a room, but, guys: Kevin’s going to be a dad! And he finds out on his one-year sober anniversary. I am very happy for this tall man!

We flash forward to the gathering of Pearsons at Kevin’s house, as they come together to say good-bye to Rebecca. We get to see Older Kevin with his twins — a boy and a girl — and he looks like a very doting father. Two big things to note: First, he is wearing a wedding band in the future. We know in the summer of 2020 he has a pregnant fiancée, and although that woman in the cabin is probably Madison, since the show cuts to shots of Sophie and Cassidy, I don’t think Madison ends up being Kevin’s great love story. So be on the lookout for the mystery of Kevin’s Future Wife. The second item of note: Older Kevin lovingly (?) pats Older Randall on the back. Hopefully that means these two make up eventually. What a thing that could be!

There is one moment of semi-joy in the present-day timeline. To celebrate Baby Jack’s first birthday, Kate and Toby take him back to the NICU where he was born to put their picture up on the Wall of Fame there. Toby, moved by being back where it started and by seeing Kate with her siblings (what show has he been watching??), he tells Kate he wants to have another baby. He wants them to adopt. Kate is in.

And friends, they will adopt a girl, named Hailey, and she will grow up to work in an art gallery and have a one night stand with a movie star. She rushes into the hospital room where Adult Baby Jack and Lucy are having their child. She has a niece. And her name is Hope. Sorry not sorry, but I laughed out loud when Adult Baby Jack said that actual name aloud, as we were looking at older Kevin and Randall standing together at their mother’s deathbed. Sometimes this show really just can’t help itself.

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