At the start of the It’s us finale, all-time great emoter Randall Pearson (Sterling K. Brown) effectively sums up my mood about writing this farewell to the NBC drama: “I’m fine. I am rightly sad and I am rightly anxious about this eulogy.
Last week, the extended Pearson clan said goodbye to matriarch Rebecca (Mandy Moore) in an episode that made me cry so much it hurt my head. It sounds like a terrible experience, and sometimes Dan Fogelman’s series leaned into misery – think bringing out the mystery of Jack’s death, for example. Headaches aside, “The Train” is a fine penultimate outing that highlights Moore’s terrific performance and Fogelman’s ability to weave an unexpected narrative into the familiar tapestry of Pearson.
“We” is much more understated by comparison, combining two elements the show excels at portraying: the mundane and the meaningful. In the “before” finale, the inclusion of Rebecca telling Miguel (Jon Huertas) that she’s not ready to let go of the memories of the days “when nothing big really happened” is a neon sign pointing to the Pearson family’s “Completely Free Saturday”. which coincides with the day of Rebecca’s funeral.
Choosing to pair a familiar weekend setup with a solemn ritual softens the overall tone, and the latter is (thankfully) less focused on the funeral itself and more on what’s to come. I haven’t lost sight of the fact that Rebecca’s demise in her twilight years spanned a decade, in stark contrast to the sudden nature of Jack’s (Milo Ventimiglia) death when the Big Three were teenagers. It doesn’t matter that Jack has been dead for 30 years, because his legacy lives on in his children, grandchildren, and younger brother Nicky (Griffin Dunne). (Sorry, Jack, I’m still not done with your abandonment of Nicky after the Vietnam War.)
In the case of Randall’s eulogy, we never hear of his oratory skills, because Fogelman keeps those words mysterious. The short montage in the church is deliberately disorienting, and Randall later tells his three now adult children, “I don’t remember a single thing I said.” His grief also took on an unusually nihilistic tone. “It all seems so pointless,” he intones before Deja (La Trice Harper) pulls him (and us) from the brink of despair.
No one is better at crying on screen or shedding a single tear than Brown, and his reaction to finding out he’s going to have a grandson after being surrounded by women his entire adult life is mood-shattering. Jack and Rebecca aren’t the only two parental figures commemorated by this family. Already told Randall he wanted to name baby William, which triggered my tear ducts. “Your grandson will be named after a man I’ve never met, but I know him because I know you. It doesn’t hurt.”
Already’s “very good news of a very sad day” highlights the cyclical nature of life (struggling not to sing Elton John Lion King hymn) that It’s us served from day one. The pilot episode combines tragedy and hope, and this pattern repeats itself throughout all six seasons.
Instead of opting for another abstract timeline, like last week’s depiction of the crash that happened on the same day as the Pearson house fire, this narrative is strictly Pearson-only. Spins are not necessary for the series finale which, on a scale of how I Met Your Mother for Six feet Under ground, draws closer to Alan Ball’s farewell to the Fisher family. (Although nothing reached the effectiveness of this final sequence set to Sia’s “Breathe Me”.)
The future isn’t quite mapped out, but we got a glimpse of Kate’s (Chrissy Metz) and Toby’s (Chris Sullivan) son’s rock star career. Adult Jack (Blake Stadnik) isn’t too out of touch to take his child to the park to play on the swings, as shown in the montage at the start of “Us.” If there’s one thing a multi-generational story tells us, it’s that swings are good no matter the era.
A swing is the reason Rebecca has a scar over her eye, but it’s a permanent reminder of her time with her dad. “I really wish I had spent more time enjoying it when it was all happening, instead of just worrying about the ending,” she says in the opening scene of “Us.” We don’t need Moore to break the fourth wall to understand that this line is a conniving nod to the characters we’re watching and our own lives.
We don’t know if Randall will become president or if Kate’s music school for the blind will turn into a global empire. Their mother told them to “live without fear”, and the Big Three have big ambitions to honor her wishes and their dreams.
Perhaps the most poignant part of this final conversation between siblings is when they do the “Big Three” chant that made its first appearance in the second episode. A cute invention by Jack connects the three children together and we see the origin of this ordinary Saturday at home. Young Kate wants to watch movies at home, and Jack pulls out the first performance, much to Kevin’s chagrin because he’s seen it “like a million times”.
Timelines pile up on timelines, and the scene cuts to Jack filming this original recital. Now it’s here It’s us may be considered too cheesy, but this is the last episode, and I welcome the additional cheesy encore.
In the present, Kate admits her nightmare is that busy lives will inevitably lead to the drift of the Big Three. The non-linear storytelling device revealed the many ups and downs, including the monumental falling out between Kevin and Randall, particularly over Rebecca’s healthcare. Differences are finally put aside and hurtful words are forgotten. Singing isn’t the glue that holds them together, but it is a tangible bond with their father. If only they had all inherited their mother’s musical talents. They could have taken this show on the road.
Flashes of the Pearson family’s past parallel what is now the near future. (One mystery the show doesn’t answer is what year it actually is, but I put it around 2032.) The paradox of always looking forward (when we’re young) or backward (as we get older) is essential to explain why It’s us strike a chord. Jack’s sentiments of “trying to enjoy the moments” sound like something you might find sewn onto a throw pillow or an affirmation to hang in your kitchen, but it also rings true. Clichés are cliches for a reason.
Covering large swathes of time in a family setup means most viewers will find something or someone that resonates. For my friends who had a baby during the pandemic, Kevin and Madison’s story struck a chord, and there are many details that match their new parents’ worldview.
To me, there’s so much about Nicky that reminds me of my dad, who died the year It’s us made its debut. Seeing this depiction of his struggles with alcohol and the warmth that Nicky exudes when he’s sober made me feel like I’m seeing my dad again. Therefore, I find it impossible to forgive Jack.
Every time I mention there’s a new episode of It’s us watch, my Catholic husband (with his tongue firmly stuck in his cheek) refers to this as “going to church”. The reason? “You don’t necessarily always want to go, but you always get something out of it.”
I lost count of the number of times through watery eyes I said the phrase “fuck this show” because of how close it was to bone. None of that sounds like affectionate terms, but I can assure you it is, and I’ve spent six years laughing, screaming (often at Kevin), and talking about this show, even when several crying emojis spoke louder than words.
The finale mixes levity and heartache with low-key MVP Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) shining in a final Worst Case Scenario game to unwind her husband Randall. Of the Big Three, Randall deservedly gets the lion’s share of “We.” This includes a poignant flashback to a conversation with William (Ron Cephas Jones) about the role of being a grandparent that explores the notion of unconditional love and the power of smell as memory.
Wrapping up a series of over 100 episodes is no easy task, especially in a time when the network shows like It’s us become a thing of the past. Fogelman and the extended set (thanks to the casting team) can rest easy since they blocked the landing. And luckily it didn’t give me a headache this time.