[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for “This Is Us” Season 2, Episode 18, “The Wedding.”]
Is… is it over? No, not Season 2. Clearly, that has come to a close. But are we really, truly, 100 percent done fixating on Jack’s death? After an entire season built around revealing, in excruciating detail, exactly how the Pearson family patriarch met his early end, as well as teaser trailers for the finale that showed Jack aged well beyond his actual lifespan, the Season 2 finale wrapped up with what feels like finality.
It’s hard to trust — after all, we’ve been duped before — but it seems like Dan Fogelman’s NBC drama is ready to move forward. The episode itself, ostensibly built around Kate and “The Wedding,” was far from a smooth ride. (Far too often we covered our eyes like Rebecca crossing a bridge.) But if in a year we’re not talking about the explicit details of a father and husband’s untimely demise, this is an hour worth remembering as fondly as possible.
So let’s start with the best, which is, as always, Randall (Sterling K. Brown). From the moment Kevin revealed it was his brother being chastised on the other end of the phone — why haven’t you started the gift bags yet, Randall?! — it was clear this would be another great hour of dad jokes and obsessive planning. Between “worst case scenarios” and a pit stop for ice cream, Brown balanced comedy and drama well, delivering memorable moments and clever quips. (Best quote: “I think she did, Kev, because this room is full of a whole lot of damn.”)
And honestly, it was a pretty good episode for Kevin (Justin Hartley), too. A lot of drama was put on his shoulders this season with mixed success, but letting him stress over Toby’s parents airport pickup and finding a semi-runaway bride let him take it easy and have some much-needed fun. Oddly, only Kate (Chrissy Metz) came across as a bit bland. Her dialogue with her dad’s urn played out about as well as that scenario could, but she was hamstrung by the bait-and-switch Old Jack dreams.
It’s not that we wanted or even expected Jack to have miraculously survived the fire, abandon his family for 20 years, and then decide to show up for his daughter’s wedding. It’s that even this obvious fantasy couldn’t be labeled as such until late in the episode: The cutaways were confusing because we didn’t really know where they were coming from, and by the time Kate told her mom she’d been dreaming about a fictional 40th wedding anniversary, the whole thing earned a Liz Lemon-level eye roll.
Kate’s flashback to when she asked her dad to marry her worked far better, as silly as that might sound. It set up the first of three key speeches (four, if Kate’s address to her dead dad is the actual kick-off), and Milo Ventimiglia nailed his. Hartley had a much harder task; it’s never a good sign when a character has to apologize for a “weird” speech that was prepared by a staff of TV writers, and Kevin’s deep-breathing exercise was pretty rough. It felt like the editor was aware of how awkward it looked to watch people breathe into camera, one after the other, and each shot was clipped just short of the typical time given for big, relevant moments.
What matters, though, is that it was a big, relevant moment. Kevin saying it’s time for everyone to let go of Jack’s death indicates the show can do the same. So does the final speech, enhanced with clips of what’s to come in Season 3: Kevin strikes up a relationship with cousin Zoe and takes a trip to Vietnam. Toby slips back into a depression. Further into the future (approximately 13 years, per Fogelman), Randall and Tess are preparing to go see someone they’re none too happy with.
“It’s time to go see her, Tess,” Old Randall tells Older Tess. “I’m not ready,” she says. “Me either,” he replies. Are they talking about Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson), Annie (Faithe Herman), or Deja (Lyric Ross)? Given the speculative concerns both parents had about bringing Deja 2.0 into the house, as well as her physically and emotionally damaging actions toward Randall’s beloved Benz, we’re thinking it’s her, but now is not the time to play the guessing game.
Now is the time to be glad the guessing game is over — the morbid one anyway. “This Is Us” had a rocky journey in Season 2, and its finale was again overshadowed by a far better episode airing shortly before (“Memphis,” Episode 16 in Season 1, and last week’s Deja-centric “This Big, Amazing, Beautiful Life”). But we made it, you guys. We’re over the bridge. Let’s see what’s on the other side.
“This Is Us” Season 2 is streaming now on Hulu. NBC has already renewed the drama for a third season. The Season 2 finale premiered at the SXSW Film Festival.