What is happening in our world? Who is doing what? what is going on now? These are questions that will be answered. Enjoy.
This Is Us Season 3 Fall Finale
NBC has been pushing the hell out of the This Is Us Season Three Fall Finale. The One That Answers Everything, they’ve told us 30 times in a single football game. The Most Explosive Episode Of The Year, they’ve shouted from passing cars. The Most Emotional Rose Ceremony In This Is Us History, they’ve printed on a sign that they’ve sent an intern to throw around in tricky ways on street corners. Well, we are vulnerable to hype, so we have decided to return, like Jack to the bottle, to recapping this show. (Only for tonight. We can stop at just one, we swear. Come on, lighten up, it’s the Fall Finale!)
Can this episode live up to its promise? Does it answer this season’s multiple Big Mysteries? Will you get a little teary, or will you run to your linen closet and pull out a fitted sheet to use as a giant hanky? Most crucially: which of my predictions will come true? Let’s dive in.
We begin in 1971 and immediately learn that things are not going well in Vietnam. The United States is mired in an unwinnable, interminable and deadly war, but more importantly, those Pearson boys are not seeing eye to eye. Nicky—who was drafted and acquiesced to please his difficult father—has turned to morphine to ease the pain, and Jack—who enlisted in order to, I guess, find his brother and do an intervention—is having trouble getting through to him. Jack is going to have to leave Nicky, and he begs him to just finish up his tour, not die, and make it home. Michael Angarano’s eyes tell us Nicky has other plans, and NBC’s casting of Michael Angarano tells us this story won’t wrap up in a half-season’s worth of episodes. (I mean, we have to see how he grows up to be a Sunset Strip comedian on Showtime’s I’m Dying Up Here.)
Kevin and Zoe are in ‘Nam, near where Jack was deployed, stuck in their hotel room due to bad weather. They’ve found themselves a guide, who will take them to the exact place where Jack’s camp was, and introduce them to the town’s historian, for the low low cost of one shirtless selfie from Kevin. (“For my sister,” says the guide. Suuure.)
When we left Randall and Beth, she had resigned from his campaign after clashes with his Slick Young Campaign Manager, so now she is just advising him informally, telling him cool shit like “whatever Councilman Young gives you in tonight’s debate, hit it back like Serena in that catsuit.” Tess is a little moody, because she is in early puberty, but also because she casually came out to Aunt Kate in last week’s episode and she’s nervous the secret won’t stay secret. Deja is talking to her biological mother again. Annie is also there and flash cards are involved in some way. The message is this: it’s a critical time for this wing of the Pearson clan, and Randall will at some point have to choose between politics and family.
Kate and Toby, meanwhile, are expecting a baby and also stuck in this episode’s least interesting storyline. The pregnancy is going fine, though they opt not to learn the sex of the baby, for reasons they will explain in impossibly self-aware monologues later in the episode. The OB-GYN advises Kate to wind down her Adele-o-Gram appearances, because the long drives raise her blood pressure. But those engagements are so important, Kate argues. Kate and Randall are tied for Shortest Time Between Taking On A Side Gig and Deciding It’s More Important Than Their Own Health Or Family Stability.
Rebecca is driving Tess to the debate, and clumsily asks her whether everything is okay. Because this is This Is Us, even the children have a high level of emotional intuition, so Tess immediately knows Rebecca is onto something. “Did Aunt Kate tell you?” Rebecca admits Aunt Kate did tell her, but what we know Rebecca is talking about what Aunt Kate really told her about, which is that Tess had made the grown-up decision to begin menstruating. Not, as Tess fears, that she might be gay, which Aunt Kate kept to herself. “I am here to answer any questions,” Rebecca says, “and you kids have things so much easier today.” All things that could apply to either situation. A real Three’s Company this episode is turning out to be, except with way more montages set to John Prine.
Kate learns there’s an opening as glee club director for the local high school, which as we all know is a role you can just step right into with no experience other than a handful of personal appearances dressed as Adele, so she is perfect for the job. Alas, after the best job interview in This Is Us history, the principal learns Kate doesn’t have a college degree, so he can’t hire her. Obviously, Toby marches her right to Encino Community College. Also, they admit that their reason for not wanting to learn the sex of the baby was that they’re afraid the baby won’t ever actually be born, even though like 20 minutes ago Kate was willing to jeopardize her pregnancy so she could sing “Rumour Has It” at office Christmas parties. I’ve had it with these two for the moment, and I make that decision before they get themselves a goddamn gender-reveal cake. (It’s full of blue M&Ms, so: it’s a difficult boy!)
Randall is struggling in the debate with Councilman Brown, who keeps harping on Randall’s status as a carpetbagger from Alpine, NJ. But then Randall begins to talk about his upbringing, and since Jack-talk for the Pearsons is like spinach to Popeye, before you know it, he is fully Beto O’Rourking his way through the crowd, getting them on their feet, making them believe.
It is then that the full power of Rebecca’s emotional restraint is unleashed for good. She pulls Tess aside and basically says: “I kept my emotions so bottled up for so long that it now affects me physically.” She tells Tess to be honest about what’s going on in her life, and what she’s afraid of, and when she needs help, so that she’s not stuck like her, popping Advil instead of engaging emotionally. I have never related to anything more fully in my life. Also, it is delightful that Rebecca still thinks she’s talking about menses.
Kevin meets the town historian, who doesn’t remember anything about Jack or Nicky or the mystery Vietnamese woman who gave Jack her necklace. But he does say his own father, who fought for the Viet Cong, was an actor just like Kevin is, and even though his father and Jack were on opposite sides, all either of them wanted was for their sons to be healthy and happy enough in the present day to be able to connect like this. It is a sweet moment, until you remember that the cost of this meeting was soft-core porn. (PS: I saw Justin Hartley at the gym the other day, and I would absolutely accept a shirtless picture from him as currency.)
Though his debate performance was good, Randall is too behind in the polls to catch up to Councilman Brown, so Slick Young Campaign Manager suggests he drop out. Of course, he doesn’t want to, because he made a promise to a community, but he also promised Beth he’d drop out of the race the second she was no longer cool with it. The Second She Is No Longer Cool With It comes pretty much right when they get home, when Tess, emboldened by her grandmother’s elderly Catholic repression, tells her parents that all her friends are getting crushes on boys, but she finds that she might be attracted to girls, and she just wants them to know, because the secret is hurting her stomach. They take it exactly as warmly and wonderfully as you would expect, but it’s obvious that the family is going to need more time and attention. Tess is a maybian, Deja wants to see her mother in Delaware, Annie is also there—this is no time to be tilting at city council windmills. Beth says he should drop out. Randall says he won’t. Beth makes a nice bed for him on the living room couch.
We then go right to where we started: the future facility where Future Randall and Tess are preparing for a difficult visit with an undefined “her.” We also see Future Beth, fully living a Debbie Allen truth as she coaches young ballet dancers, maybe including Future Annie. “We’re going to see Randall’s mother” she tells an underling. Now, we should note: she doesn’t say “my mother-in-law,” or “my former mother-in-law,” and we have learned that Kate and Toby are having a boy, so it is very likely that they will name that kid Randall for some heart-tugging reason, and everyone is going to see Kate. Or it’s Mandy Moore on her deathbed, done up like Gloria Stuart in Titanic. One thing we know is that Beth has been told to bring “Pin The Tail On The Donkey,” so that’s a mystery for the second half of the season.
Back in present-day Vietnam, the guide says it’s not true that Kevin lost any family in Vietnam. He looked on the Vietnam Database, and found that there was no record of a Nick Pearson dying in the war. And before you wonder why nobody in the family had thought of doing that five-second search, we’re back in the war, where Jack hears an explosion and swims toward it, fearing that his brother is involved.
But then we are back to the future, perhaps not the present-day but certainly after the war, where a middle-aged man throws his mail down on the coffee table of his double-wide. Nicholas Pearson, in Bradford, PA. (A mere three-hour drive from the family’s hometown of Pittsburgh, which I know, because there is an internet and some of us know how to use it.)
So indeed Nicky is very much alive, and Jack’s guilt over not having saved him, the catalyst for the self-destructive behavior that marked his adult life, is all for naught. Or they’ll stretch this out some more, and we’ll find out Jack really helped him go AWOL, thereby fulfilling his promise to be his brother’s Superman, while at the same time making his parents view him as a failure. Fun stuff, you guys.
So there it is. We still don’t know who we’re visiting in the future, we still don’t know Jack’s role in his brother’s disappearing act, and we don’t know whether Randall and Beth are going to survive a city council election. (Imagine breaking up over a city council election.) But we do know that Nicky Pearson somehow faked his own death, deserted the United States Army, engineered an escape from enemy territory during a war, got himself out of Southeast Asia and back into the United States without detection, moved three hours away from his entire family, where he presumably got a job but never changed his name, and nobody in this needy, ever-searching family ever thought to look him the hell up. Try not to think too hard about it over the relatively emotionally-unchallenging holiday season!