The Pearsons are at a crossroads and must agree who and how Rebecca will be cared for in her waning years as Alzheimer’s continues to take her over.
These final few episodes of “This Is Us” look like they’re going to be very difficult to watch and get through, but that’s also kind of the point. The ending isn’t always easy, but it’s still so important to move through it with grace and compassion.
This is what the Pearson Big 3 are looking at in the wake of Miguel’s passing during last week’s Miguel-centric episode. Now, with her primary caretaker gone, Rebecca’s children are faced with the daunting task of figuring out what’s next for her.
It’s not something that is often handled with such delicacy and directness as “This Is Us” has been doing, framing this week’s entire episode on that inevitable “Family Meeting” that must precede the final years of a parent’s life if and when they’re no longer able to care for themselves.
No one wants to have to go through it, most of us don’t even want to think about it, but it’s an eventuality that waits for almost all of us. But even as we are stepping up to take care of them in their final years, we must never forget all they did for us at the start of our lives.
Mandy Moore again gave an incredible performance across so many different eras, playing Rebecca all the way from the moment she discovered she was pregnant through the immediate aftermath of Jack’s death — and that was just the flashbacks.
As her kids were trying to figure out her future, we got healthy glimpses back of how incredibly devoted and loving and present she was for them in their lives. It wasn’t all sunshine and roses, but it was always Rebecca. She was there for them when they needed her, and she knew how to tailor what she gave to the needs of each of them in turn.
Seeing those vignettes are so important, to remind us of the vibrant woman she once was, and the woman her children still remember when they think of her. This person they see now is jarring and uncomfortable, and perhaps a shadow of her former self, but it is still their mother.
Now, the tables have turned and she needs them. But can they possibly come to an agreement about what’s best for her, with little time to hash it out? And could her sons allow Kate to actually make any final call, considering Rebecca appointed her the one to make decisions on her behalf.
As we do every week, we’re going to single out the show’s most powerful moments, scoring them by how many tissues we tore through just to watch them. Believe us, these are happy tears of anguish.
“He’s Gonna Want to Move Her to Philly”
We love us some good Beth humor and she definitely delivered this week. As far as spouses go, Beth has got this family on lock, and especially her husband. Sophie may date back to grade school, but she escape the Pearsons for a long time. Beth has been all in for 30 years by this point. As we’ve seen, Randall is a headstrong person, confident and convinced almost always that he’s got the best idea. He also tends to think he’s the only competent one in the room when it comes to his siblings. It’s Beth who knows how to rein in his ego, keep him in check, and she does this by loving him through all of his flaws.
1 tissue (love means knowing your spouse better than they know themselves)
“Better Man and Son Pissing Contest”
Of course, Sophie spent her formative years with the family, and even got to know Beth in the early going before Kevin cheated on her and ruined everything for a very long time. She also knows that Randall and Kevin have been at loggerheads their whole lives — because she was there for it. At some point in the conversation about Rebecca, it will become about Randall and Kevin and who knows best and who loves her move and who is thinking about her more, all of which means, of course, that neither of them. They’re getting lost again in their bizarre brotherly competitiveness.
1 tissue (it’s so hard to put away those childhood rivalries)
Part of Randall’s ego when it comes to Rebecca came from Rebecca herself. As we’ve seen throughout the series, and we’re glad of it, Rebecca and Jack were not perfect parents. They brought their own insecurities and baggage into their relationships with their kids. For Rebecca, that may have meant relying on Randall a bit too much at times, because he did make it easier on her than Kate and Jack. But that also put a sense of responsibility that wasn’t his to carry alone on his shoulders; a burden he put on himself and would never see that way. In his mind, he has to be the one because it was always him. He was always the one.
2 tissues (the things we do to our children, even well-intentioned, they carry for a lifetime)
“It’s Been the Greatest Burden and the Greatest Blessing
When the Pearson siblings start going at it, Beth knows to find a bottle of wine and somewhere else to be. She also knows that at the root of all the bluster and pride and arrogance is genuine love, so it should all work out in the end. But they are also interminably exhausting. We saw it when Toby felt confronted by the united three, and on so many other occasions throughout the series. So we were dying when Beth talked about their grand speeches and sharing their feelings, as those are some criticisms people have levied at the show. So we can appreciate the show acknowledging this isn’t how we’re saying all people are or should be … but it is how these people are.
2 tissues (it’s hard having to wait for people you love to work through their nonsense)
“This Is Clearly Too Much for Her”
A savage statement from a frustrated Randall after he trapped Beth and sucked her into the “Family Meeting” vortex — our girl just wanted some of that good Chinese food. But it also speaks to how Randall has seen his siblings his whole life; and especially after Jack’s passing. Kevin was the screw-up, and Kate was the sad, broken girl. Neither of them had it together, and so it was always Randall who had to step up and take control and fix things. That driven personality got him to the Senate, but it can also have a cruel tinge to it, as he can be dismissive of people who operate in a way different from him.
2 tissues (words can be such powerful weapons and inflict such damage)
“Two Out of Three Isn’t Bad; Take the Win”
Making things even worse, Kate has also been plagued with self-doubt her entire life. Taking us all the way back to her brothers losing teeth before her, Kate has felt in competition (and losing) with her brothers for as long as she can remember. After Jack died, Kate couldn’t figure out how to get her life together, Rebecca was no help, and so she saw her brothers again exceling beyond her. This line came from a young Kate trying to tell Rebecca to just accept that her daughter was going to be the failure of the lot. It would take her years and years to work through these feelings of inadequacy; and even today, those voices are hard to silence.
3 tissues (you can quiet your inner demons, but they’re almost impossible to silence)
While arguing about what was best for Rebecca, it was clear that Kevin and Randall were deep in their feelings about what she meant to them over the years. That’s why it was so jarring when the Rebecca of the here and now was walked in by her nurse, before Kate took over and took her out for a walk. Randall declared that this wasn’t their mother, to which Kevin agreed. And yet it is. She’s not the same, but she is still their mother. At least, they were acknowledging in the moment that even though Rebecca’s spark is no longer visible in this woman, they still owe her so much, and so there was no hesitation that just as she was always there for them when they needed her, it’s their turn to be there for her.
3 tissues (we’re always changing, but some changes are so much harder)
“Your Mom Chose You for a Reason”
We knew we weren’t going to be done with Toby, and what a great way to bring him back into the narrative. More than anyone, Toby knows how much Kate has grown over the course of this series, because he was right there growing alongside her for all those years. They may have grown apart, but he holds onto his admiration and respect for her. We adored him asking permission before overstepping, but he was absolutely right to remind her of how far she’s come as a person, how much stronger she is than she ever believed she could be. He noted that she is this incredibly strong and confident person, designing an arts curriculum for the entire state of California (go Kate!), and yet she falls into familar self-doubt when she’s with her brothers. It’s common to regress in those moments, as we fall into old habits, so it was great to see him be her cheerleader from afar.
3 tissues (the end of a relationship doesn’t have to mean the end of love and respect)
“You Are Talking About Versions of Them That No Longer Exist”
Just as Kate found herself falling into those familiar patterns of quiet insecurity, Randall found himself falling back not just himself, but in how he perceived his siblings. In one moment, Beth (it’s always Beth) had to remind him that Kate is not the insecure, uncertain little girl he grew up with, and Kevin isn’t the royal screw-up he’d been for so, so many years. Randall needs to take off his own nostalgic glasses and see Rebecca for where she’s at now, but also see Kate and Kevin for where they’re at now. Maybe, finally, he doesn’t have to feel like he has to carry the incredible weight of the entire family on his shoulders.
4 tissues (it can be hard to see growth even when it’s right in front of your face)
“I Was a Pain in Her Ass Her Entire Life”
As evidence of Kevin’s growth, he is fully aware at this stage of his life what a difficult and impossible child (and adult) he was for so many years. His siblings may have found him obnoxious and frustrating, but it was tenfold for Rebecca, trying to wrangle a good human being out of him. Some of it was just his personality, some of it was the idolization of Jack, which led to him villainizing Rebecca to a degree, and some of it was just the sequence of poor choices, and lack of taking any responsibility, that plagued him — for a really damned long time. But finally, after several false starts, he’s there. He’s grown up, and he can see it and himself for the truth that he is, and the truth that he was. That’s why he’s as dug in his heels as Randall about what’s best for Rebecca. Randall believes he needs to take control because his siblings are incapable. Kevin wants to honor Rebecca’s final wishes by letting her live in Jack’s dream house that Kevin built for her.
4 tissues (some take longer, but it’s a beautiful thing when we finally own it all)
“You Two Have Got to Be Able to Look at Her”
Coming full circle to an early moment in the episode, Kate took her time gaining her confidence while allowing her brothers to lay out their thoughts for Rebecca’s care. But she also saw a fundamental piece missing in their plans. They were intellectually looking at a problem and seeking a solution without truly seeing that the problem isn’t a problem, but a person. It’s their mother. Because she isn’t how they remember her, Kate noted, they weren’t even really looking at her, barely interacting with her. It’s as if she’d become a piece of delicate furniture they were arguing over how to care for. And so, brilliantly, she had them help take care of her, brushing her hair and putting lotion on her hands. Small gestures to remind them that she is a human being, she is still that person who took care of them.
4 tissues (even when people are situations that need to be deal with, they’re still people)
Kate finally came to her decision, saying that she and Phillip had talked it through and decided Rebecca would move in with them. Kevin, with tremendous respect for Kate’s power of attorney, offered up another solution. He suggested that he and Sophie could move into the house with Rebecca, which is how we saw things in that deepest flash-forward. His kids being there was explained by Madison and Elijah also moving back East, as his family is in New Jersey and Kevin being in Los Angeles was their only reason for staying on the West Coast. Add Uncle Nicky and Edie and there is so much family care present for Rebecca. Before she couldn’t, Rebecca had told the family she would not allow them to reduce themselves for her. Randall was going to do just that, preparing to impact his political career. Kate would have done it, too, as she’s just finding herself. But with “The Manny” ending, Kevin has always dreamed about being a family man. There’s no diminishing anything for him. He gets to have it all. In a tense moment after Kate agreed to this plan, Randall paused before shaking Kevin’s hand with two quiet words. In the tears and the tone, you could almost see that tremendous weight lifting off of Randall’s shoulders. It was self-inflicted, much of that weight, but now he sees that it’s time to let it go, to trust in his siblings, and free himself to soar as high as he can.
6 tissues (for the first time ever, all three of them are finally at internal peace)
“They’re Saying It Won’t Be Long Now”
We’re not ready for this. Next week’s episode looks to bring us crashing into that flash-forward future with the family converging on the cabin to say their final goodbyes to Rebecca, as she’s not expected to last much longer. A lot of questions have been answered about that timeline, but there are still more. Was that phone call to Randall a call to a sitting president, or a Senator, or something else? Who got Deja pregnant; was it Malik? We’ll need these distractions to keep up us from sobbing for an hour straight as the entire extended family appears ready to figure out how do you say goodbye to a force of nature such as Rebecca Pearson? And how do we say goodbye to such an incredibly unexpected and beautifully heartbreaking series as “This Is Us”? There’s only two episodes left to find out!
7 tissues (are you ever really ready to say goodbye?)
“This Is Us” airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET on NBC.