Jack heads to Cleveland to make things right with Rebecca on the night of her first big gig with the band. Randall, Kate and Kevin make big decisions about their futures.
Across this first season, This Is Us has set itself up as a mystery show with big shocking twists just as much as being an emotional, family drama. That was abundantly clear in the series premiere when the speculation started on how all of these characters were connected. From then on, this season has had a number of big twists designed to shock the audience - Rebecca being married to Miguel in the present, Jack dying while the kids were teenagers, Toby's heart attack, Kevin having an ex-wife, etc. All of this paints a full tapestry of the life people live. How everyone is defined by the family they come from and the conflicts and stories that have rippled down throughout the generations. That's been a fascinating focus. But sometimes, the show builds up its mysteries a little too much. Early on in the season, it was a question of whether or not Jack was still alive. The audience got definitive answers on that after a little while. Then, it became when did he die. The audience got an answer to that too. And now, it has become how he died. It's clear that story was an important plot thread for the season. But it's a mystery that has been propped up too much. The show went into its finale teasing explosive answers as to how Jack died. That's what last week's hour set up. But instead, "Moonshadow" tells a simple Jack and Rebecca story that highlights just how difficult it is to maintain a relationship over time. It's a well-executed version of that story. Plus, when the show has cut back to only one story or focus in an episode, those have been the standout hours of the season. But it also feels like the show was being manipulative for no reason whatsoever as well.
Of course, I'm glad that this finale isn't entirely about the events behind Jack's death. I don't care how he died. That's simply not a mystery that engages me the same way it does some other audience members. However, the events of this finale make me retroactively hate last week's penultimate hour of the season. That episode built to the moment where Kate had to confide in Toby about her father's death. She did so by declaring that it was her fault. Meanwhile, the show was also purposefully showing Kate in the past pushing for her father to go see Rebecca on the first night of her tour. The series was manipulating the audience into believing that Jack went out that night because of Kate and he died in a car accident because he was also drinking. That's why she blames herself for what happened and why she carries the weight of that much more so than anyone else in the family. The fact that that's not what happened at all makes it very frustrating. Why did the show do all of this then? Just to tease the audience along? The creative team can only do that for so long before the audience revolts against it. Plus, the brief moment Kate is actually seen in the finale it's clear that she dealt with her issues and talked with Toby offscreen. So, that's just a cheap way to say that they are good now as a couple even though the audience hasn't seen them actually address their very real and emotional problems.
It's also not surprising that the majority of this finale focuses on Jack and Rebecca. The three siblings in the present all reached some resolution with their stories in last week's episode. Randall dealt with his father's death and quit his job for a better future. Kevin actually performed his play and got an offer to be in a Ron Howard movie. Kate realized that she could no longer keep the painful truth about Jack's death from Toby. All of those moments were strong ending points for those characters at the conclusion of the season. This finale teases their stories a little bit more as well. Those were a little unnecessary. Kate and Toby are back in Los Angeles and Kate wants to become a singer just like her mother. Kevin is meeting on the movie while also saying "I love you" to Sophie. And lastly, Randall decides that he wants to adopt other child to give someone else the loving family he had while growing up. Those are the journeys those characters will be on in the second season. Again, it's just a tease. It's enough of a sense of their lives continuing to go on after reaching some resolution with their stories this year. Meanwhile, Jack and Rebecca's story needed more time to reach that some place of closure. It ends in a much darker place while still allowing for more story in the future.
So, Jack doesn't die in this finale. He survives to live another day and hopefully make it up to Rebecca. The 1990s story has felt a little rushed and broad with Jack and Rebecca. The show has bounced around in time with them so much this season. In addition to that story, the finale also goes back to the '70s to reveal how Jack and Rebecca first met each other. It provides a nice contrast to the people they were and the people they are now. And yet, the two of them really didn't need an origin story. Yes, this story of how they met could have been told eventually. It just doesn't seem to serve a whole lot of purpose in this episode. It plays like a Jack and Rebecca story in its entirety for one episode in the middle of the season. Not something that suddenly brings new context to their lives just as they are about to separate in the '90s. So, it ultimately just plays as filler. It highlights how messy and scattered their lives were without each other. That shows the power and importance of finding the one who makes live worth living. But again, the audience has seen their relationship across decades this season. We know how they feel towards each other in many eras of their love. So, there didn't need to be a reminder of that or how lost they were without each other.
But of course, that big and climatic fight between Jack and Rebecca is great. It addresses a number of issues that have been bubbling under the surface for awhile now. And yet, they don't really say anything new in this fight. They just voice their opinions in much larger ways than before. Jack was right to be upset with Rebecca being in a band with her ex-boyfriend who was trying to get her back. That was a predictable twist. Meanwhile, Rebecca was right to be angry with Jack for not supporting her and her career. They are both right. That's a powerful thing to remember. It's what makes this fight so important. They both still love each other. But now, they've been together for so long and their dynamic has changed. They are trying to fall back into old patterns or lost loves. Jack has gone back to drinking while Rebecca has pursued music once more. But it's a lot darker than when they were chasing those things in their twenties. It's sadder and more complicated now that they have a family. They love the lives they've built together. Plus, Jack is still able to say why he loves Rebecca. But they still hold these feelings of resentment as well. They need to get their lives together separately and hopefully be able to return to each other. That's the ultimate goal. It should be fascinating to see if they do knowing that Jack is running against the clock. That makes me wish the audience didn't know he was going to die soon. It would allow this story to feel more real and grounded. Instead, it feels like the inevitable setup that will make his untimely death hit that much harder for the characters. That's just the wrong feeling to have in this moment.
Some more thoughts:
- "Moonshadow" was written by Dan Fogelman, Isaac Aptaker & Elizabeth Berger and directed by Ken Olin.
- How Jack died shouldn't be a big reveal saved for a premiere or finale. It should just happen at a completely random and unexpected time. That will give it some power as well. The audience already has a certain time frame. But it'd be great to just see the family struggling with separation and completely forgetting about the death that's about to come.
- Jack and Rebecca's origin story is very manipulative as well. It seems like they are being set up by a sweet grandmother who needs her car fixed by Jack and is friends with Rebecca's grandmother. It then seems like Jack completely missed their blind date. However, knowing all of this doesn't make the inevitable meeting more memorable. It just seems like the show finding a way to pad this story out for as long as possible.
- There is also a lame predictable quality to Jack's story pre-Rebecca as well. He goes on and on about being the good guy - unlike his father. He does a potentially dangerous thing and is beat up because of it. That makes him question his good guy status. But it's hard to take this seriously knowing how good he is for the next few decades of his life.
- Toby asks Kate if she's going to go back to her old job. As if that job is still waiting for her after she left for months with no mention of it whatsoever! That was a story the show just completely forgot about. In fact, it's surprising that Kate and Toby are back in LA. What's so special out there for them?
- Randall always felt a special connection with Jack. And now, he will honor both of his fathers' memories with another child. Of course, if he's serious about adoption, he better come up with a plan for employment soon because he'll run out of money very quickly.
- The show has already been renewed for two more seasons. So, the drama is perfectly fine at NBC. Plus, it has the time to slow down and just tell its stories. It doesn't need to rush some big shocking twist just to appease the audience that watches the show solely for those big mythology answers. The emotional and grounded stuff is so much better.