Big Three no more? 5 takeaways from the "This Is Us" season four finale
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"This Is Us" must know we're all stuck inside with nothing much to do, because Tuesday night's season finale – "Strangers: Part Two" – gave viewers plenty to unpack and digest.
We've got big new reveals (somebody's pregnant!), big new characters (who is this museum lady and her weird co-worker friend?) and big announcements. (Rebecca's going to St. Louis. Yay?) There's so much to parse out and discuss – and oh yeah, that's all without me mentioning that the Big Three may be no more after Randall and Kevin finally have their big brawl that was everything we thought it would be. Which is to say it was as mean and vicious as we feared – and now I need an ice pack for my soul.
Let's talk about it – as well as the four other major takeaways from all the major twists and turns from Tuesday night's season finale. But first, let me try to get "Blue Skies" out of my head.
1. Randall versus Kevin versus my heart
Strangely enough, for the big fight that everyone was waiting for in the season finale, with all of the new characters and twists milling about, I almost forgot that the Kevin and Randall grenade was set to burst on Tuesday night. Then it actually happened – and I wish I could still forget it again.
As the whole Pearson clan gathers for Jack Jr.'s first birthday, Rebecca makes an important announcement: After doing some research, she's actually going to move to St. Louis with Miguel and do the medical trial. Now, of course, we know that "doing some research" translates out to "Randall guilt-tripped me into changing my mind," but Rebecca tries her best to cover for her son and say that the decision was exclusively her idea. (Though considering her chilly hugs and glances with Randall at the party, she's not happy.) But still, for a while, the ruse works, and while Kevin and Kate are confused, we still get a nice scene of the Big Three goofing around with each other on the porch and busting each other's chops.
Enjoy that scene and the actors' chemistry together while you can, because I don't think we're going to experience that again for some time.
Kevin eventually goes back in the house to talk to his mother about her sudden decision, and she uses the exact same words and phrasing that Randall did when he and Kate asked their brother about Rebecca's choice. And while Kevin may not be the smartest in the family, he's certainly intelligent enough to put those two pieces together and confront Randall on what he did to change Rebecca's mind – all while Beth clears the family out of the house because she knows this isn't ending well. Because Beth knows best. She also knows her husband is in the wrong, as earlier in the episode, she admits to Randall that, while he may have the best intentions for his mother, she can't agree with the way he goaded and guilted her into the medical trial. Again: Beth knows best.
Unfortunately, she can't stop the war brewing, and Randall and Kevin get into their fight – which starts unpleasant enough, with the brothers accusing each other of trying to sway their mother's mind for their own selfish wants. So far, so rough – but nothing completely soul-punching quite yet. But that's OK, because that's coming: After a brief intermission, the two renew the fight on the front lawn, and without the comfort of the camera cutting away, the gloves come off. Kevin says that the "Randall's the noble responsible one taking care of everyone" myth is exactly that – and if he was there for the fire all those years ago, he would've raced into the fire to save their father unlike Randall who did nothing. (Ow, my heart.) Randall retorts with the fact that Kevin wasn't there, and as a result, Jack died ashamed of him – ashamed that he was a dim-witted goofball actor who wasn't there when his family needed him and isn't there now because he's too busy delivering bad performances. And his attempt to be there for Rebecca now? Just another one of those bad performances. (OW, MY HEART!) Kevin gets the final verbal punch, though, as he tells Randall that the worst day of his life was when his parents brought Randall home. (Please, ceasefire, have mercy.)
It's brutal. It's ugly. It's done in one take, refusing to give the audience a break or a release from the viciousness. And for something we've been building to for much of the season, it wounds and then some – both the viewer and these characters, it seems, as in a flash-forward to the far-off future, Grey-Haired Kevin and Grey-Haired Randall still don't seem chummy, simply giving each other just a glance and a nod while standing around their dying mother's bed. Hopefully I'm just reading too deep into that interaction – but after this verbal barbed-wire lashing, clawing and cutting at painfully deep scars, I wouldn't be surprised if they're still not healed. I know I won't be for a while – so thanks for that, fellas.
2. I'm sorry, do I know you people? (Again.)
All the way in September, the season debuted with an episode almost entirely based around complete strangers: Cassidy, Malik and Franco Harris. Obviously, the finale had too much Big Three business of its own to try that trick again – but it did introduce several more strangers into the mix that had me confused and playing mental Tetris in my head trying to figure out how they fit into the Pearson lineage.
First, there's an outdoors man with a bucking bronco – that is, until his horse whisperer daughter Sadie pops out to calm the animal. So that's nice – BUT WHO ARE YOU!? Meanwhile, there's also an art museum curator batting away annoying advances from her co-worker friend Zack. (Pro tip, Zack: Never a good idea to try wooing somebody while you have pencils stuck up your nose. And when you're both at work. And when that somebody is your friend, and you've made it weird.) Unlike the mysterious horse wrangler, there are at least some clues offered about the museum woman – mainly that she had some relationship of some kind with a movie star and that her mind is preoccupied by something. Obviously, that's nudging in Kevin's direction – but "obvious" is rarely something "This Is Us" gives into.
So who are you people?
3. Papa Kevin
Let's start with the horse whisperer: As it turns out, he's ... dramatic drumroll ... Madison's doctor! OK, so that's seemingly a random and unnecessary person to add to an already packed folder of characters ... until you realize that he's telling Madison that she's pregnant. And she knows who the father is: Kevin. Well, that explains his kid from the flash-forward from last season's finale!
So Madison goes to tell Kevin the news, but unfortunately he's right in the middle of exploding his relationship with his brother and, therefore, slightly distracted. However, after the tremors from his knock-out, drag-out fight with Randall wear off, he goes back to Madison to tell her that he's all on board to help raise their baby, that the child is going to be his focus and that the baby will be the love of his life. To which she clarifies: LOVES of his life. Yep, she's having twins. Cut to the far-off future, and cut to Grey Fox Kevin having two precious kids – a boy and a girl.
So that certainly answers some questions – like who was the horse whisperer man, who was the mysterious blonde at the cabin in the near-future flash-forward, who's the mother of Kevin's child in the far-off future and what was the point of his hook-up with Madison earlier this season. But there are still some mysteries here to be solved – mainly that Kevin is very prominently married in the distant future, wearing a ring and everything. So who's Mrs. The Manny?
The obvious answer now would be Madison since she's the mother of his children, but we don't see her in the future – and no offense to her character, we just don't know her well enough right now for that to feel like a satisfying conclusion to his search for a grand love story. Plus, if Madison was his wife, then why does the show cut away to both Sophie – who sees Kevin's flirty new cologne ad and laughs and smiles JUUUUUST a bit too much for it to mean nothing more than amusement – and Cassidy, who's still hanging out with Nicky. (I missed Griffin Dunne so much; he's so great as Nicky, and I hope this wasn't the last we saw of him – especially with Kevin, who he wishes a happy one-year sober.) So while one mystery is solved, there's still plenty to ponder over the break.
A quick side-note: I definitely wasn't the only one who thought Cassidy was about to tell Nicky that she's pregnant too, right? She looked so concerned and preoccupied – and everyone else is apparently having babies in this finale, anyways. Which speaking of ...
4. A sibling for Jack Jr.
It certainly wasn't just Madison with babies on her mind. In the far-off future, music star Jack Jr. and his girlfriend are waiting on their own new family member, a baby who's taking its sweet time making its way into the world. But after Jack Jr. busts out his soothing hit song about taking wrong turns into right directions (can't imagine that pertaining to the plot and unpredictable fate themes of "This Is Us" at all ...), the youngest of all the Pearsons is on the way. And there, rushing to greet her and the happy new parents at the hospital is ... the museum curator, who turns out to be Jack Jr.'s sister.
Yep, Toby and Kate weren't done with one.
Throughout the episode Toby and Kate are coyly hinting at a special secret thing that they're going to do for Little Jack's first birthday, but everyone else is so preoccupied that they don't particularly care. Maybe a bunch of them are still mad at Toby for being so bad at Pictionary last week. But luckily, they get out of the house just before Kevin v Randall and make their way over to their special secret surprise: a visit to the NICU to post Jack Jr.'s photo on the unit's wall of happy families. It's a sweet and pleasantly low-key twist, followed by the real reveal: After apologizing for being such a mess over the past year, Toby says that he wants to adopt another baby and give Jack Jr. a sibling. They both like the idea, but they also want to make sure it's not just the NICU and being surrounded by babies talking, so after they leave the hospital parking lot and let the idea marinate a bit, they ask whether or not they still want a second child. And they both happily say yes. DAWWWW!
So get ready for more babies next year for Kate and Toby – and hopefully get ready for a larger role for the two next season, since they do always feel like the third most important side of the Big Three.
5. Remember Malik?
Hey, remember when Mailk, Deja's boyfriend, was introduced in the first episode of this season, and we thought that meant he was going to play a significant role this year? I do – and apparently so did the writers of "This Is Us," who politely gave Deja and Malik a quick scene of being cute and in teen love before going back to completely forgetting they exist again. Oh well, it was a busy episode in a busy season; what are you going to do? Plus, at least he got more to do than Cassidy, with her four seconds of screen time. (Sorry, Franco Harris; nothing for you.)
It's been a strange, odd season, going a little all over the place before honing in on Rebecca, her mental health and her effect on the family in the second half – but it's also been very satisfying, with the show truly appreciating Rebecca (and Mandy Moore's performance) the way it should, as well as developing Kevin, Randall, Rebecca and others in fascinating and in-depth (if heartbreaking) ways. And the finale even gave us an all-too-timely message about the emotional unpredictability of life – about how joy and sadness, hope and despair, often coexist side by side, and we have to do our best to accept them both with grace. It's a message we could all use during these stressful, unpredictable times – based around hospitals, at that – and a message movingly delivered by classic TV character actor Gerald McRaney, returning yet again as Rebecca and Jack's doctor as well as accidental therapist as, one year later, she still copes with losing one of her children.
So yes, it's been a peculiar and disjointed trip – but also, looking back at it all, a good and often lovely one as well. Then again, this season also gave us scummy Dark Universe Timothee Chalamet named Marc, and that's something I just simply can't forgive. Or at least it's something I'll have to work on forgiving while we wait for season five.
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