The Pearson family came together to say their goodbyes to matriarch Rebecca on her death bed during Tuesday’s multilayered penultimate episode of “This Is Us” that, even by its standards, was emotional.
The episode, which caused star Mandy Moore to throw up when she read the script, played out over different time periods and realities in multiple storylines that intertwined and revealed how Jack's death would play a role in how Alzheimer's disease ultimately gets treated.
Rebecca’s children and her extended family (even Toby) all met at her home, although Kate was racing there from London after going overseas for a work trip. Rebecca remained in a deep sleep, dreaming she was on a train (her interest in taking the train with her dad as a little girl has been addressed before) where Randall’s biological father, William, was the conductor. She told him she was waiting for someone.
Deja arrived at the house and revealed to Randall she was pregnant, but didn’t say the father’s name. Randall was thrilled and Deja sent the father a text. Malik later arrived by her bedside to say he wanted the baby and to marry her.
The nurse told the family she didn’t think Rebecca would make it through the night and recommended people start saying their goodbyes. Beth shared a sweet moment with her, in which she said she was always doing her best Rebecca impression as a mom and we saw Rebecca hearing the words over the loudspeaker on the train. Other relatives followed suit by saying their final words to her.
Guests started to leave the house and Kevin and Randall went into Rebecca’s room. They talked about family memories and Randall wondered if anything was getting through to her. She was on the train, where the things they had mentioned in the room were there, implying she was indeed hearing what they said.
While on the train, Rebecca walked to the bar, which was being tended by Dr. Katowski, the doctor who delivered the Big Three (played by Gerald McRaney, who won an Emmy for his role). The doctor told her he thought he was going to lose her that day, but she survived.
“What a thing you made of it all,” he said, while noting she lost a child and then a husband. “What a big, messy, gigantic, spectacular thing.
“I said it to you once. I say again. You’re as tough as they come, Rebecca Pearson,” he added. “And you, my dear, have earned your rest.”
Miguel was on the train, too, and called her “my favorite person.”
Kate, meanwhile, boarded the plane and Randall and Kevin told her on a video call they didn’t know if Rebecca would make it through the night. She felt bad, but they said she did nothing wrong by taking her curriculum internationally and reminded her that Rebecca had implored them to take the big swings. She ordered her brothers to tell their mother that she was on her way.
Rebecca made it through the night and Kate arrived. Rebecca heard her words while on the train and she told William she was ready to go into the caboose.
“I love you, Mom. We’re good now. You made us good. So, thanks for all the meals. Thank you for making always feel loved,” Randall told her by her bedside.
“I love you, Mom,” Kevin said, while leaning into his mother’s ear.
On the train, Rebecca told William reaching the end is sad.
“Oh, I don’t know. The way I see it, if something makes you sad when it ends, it must’ve been pretty wonderful when it was happening,” he replied.
He said while a lot of the world is sad and everything dies, if she steps back and sees a wide perspective, she’ll realize it’s the start of the “next incredibly beautiful thing.”
Rebecca then climbed into the bed in the caboose. Jack was next to her and they simply said “hey” to each other as the episode ended.
The episode also featured another storyline that, in true “This Is Us” fashion, appeared unrelated on the surface, but was intricately connected in an important way.
A family got into a bad car crash and doctors worked on a child from the accident, while his family was in the waiting room. The father went to get coffee and wound up standing next to Jack. It was the night of the fire and they told each other why they were there, with Jack presumably sharing the doctor's lemonade advice he received after finding out Kevin and Kate were born, but their third baby didn't make it.
The doctor who had been treating Jack went to work on Marcus before he was summoned back to the ER, where he was stunned to learn Jack died. He then told Rebecca the news before he told Marcus’ family the boy will be fine.
Marcus was also seen in the future as a young man determined to develop drugs to help cure cancer. He became frustrated when he learned the funding had run out, but, as the episode wound down, he was honored for his “pioneering role in the development of drugs targeting Alzheimer’s disease,” with the implication being he lived the night Jack died to help fight a disease that would ravage Jack’s widow.
The episode resonated strongly with series creator Dan Fogelman.
"It did exceed my expectations," he told People. "That’s happened pretty consistently for me since the show started. Every time I get really excited about a big (episode) and think I know what to expect, when I see it up on a screen, the actors always really surprise me."
Fogelman also said he championed the idea of bringing in Marcus' family and the notion of one life beginning and another ending.
"I always thought that this second to last episode, in a way that hopefully surprises, would tell the story of another person, potentially a child, who had survived in that same moment that Jack had been lost," he said. "It’s very much at the center of the show."
Moore was also blown away by the episode and how the train served as a metaphor for Rebecca's life as she approached death.
"It’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever read in my life. I wrote Dan (Fogelman) immediately after finishing it and was just like, 'I’m so honored that I get to be a part of this and to tell this story, and to end this story in this manner just is wow,'" she told Entertainment Weekly.
"I never, ever could have imagined that this is what we would be doing at the end. It is the most beautiful metaphor, and my goodness, if this is what really happens to us at the end — it doesn’t seem all that bad, you know?"