Ron Batzdorff / NBC

This Is Us Closes Out A Beautiful First Season With Multiple Cliffhangers

And many, many tears.

Okay, so last night was crazy. Already nervous about how much I was going to cry at the finale of what turned out to be one of the finest first seasons in television history, Maddow tweets that she's got the president's tax returns. I was just recovering from that adrenaline rush when I had to engage with this intense episode of heartwrenches and cliffhangers. Speaking of, are we worried that the drive toward a cliffhanger every week will begin to eclipse the family stories? Then again, isn't life sort of series of cliffhangers? When I look back on mine for the last two decades...yeah. I was going to say that none of my own cliffs seemed as steep as the Pearsons' but, when I think about it, there has been plenty of drama to go around.

Anyway, as we pull ourselves together, let us grab on to something and rank the white-knuckle moments of last night's This Is Us, from "oh, no!" to "OH MY GOD."

  1. Rounding
    I don't claim to understand why poker is like this -- why you're obligated to keep playing after you win, like there's a gentlemen's code that applies? That's some Man Nonsense. Jack was there to make money in a game of chance (and skill, whatever, it's a game). Job done; boy bye. But, no, all these naugahyde sport coats have to throw punches like someone's honor is being besmirched. Then again, is Jack such a goody two-shoes that he didn't know it was going to happen? That's why you walk out the door and take off at a dead sprint. The answer is yes, he is one of the good guys, but the problem with slipping one past the bad guys is that the bad guys play much tougher offense when they're angry. Even after that reality check, Jack figured he'd take a shot at being a badass and...rob a bar? I know desperate times lead to desperate measures, but please come on.

    Ron Batzdorff / NBC

    Ron Batzdorff / NBC

    Jack's friend Cute Darryl, who didn't stop him from entering the poker den of iniquity, let him turn around and concoct this dumb plan -- one which, by the way, had no hope of working.

  2. The Drive
    My relief that Jack (and other drivers on the road) survived his two-hour drive to Rebecca's show was as real as something I would feel for an actual person. It serves as a painful reminder that even adults who have learned hard lessons and done hard things are still, somehow, capable of making utterly baffling teenage-style maneuvers symptomatic of their damaged pride. What makes a grown-up a grown-up? Not getting butthurt over a meaningful thing your wife wants to do that has literally nothing to do with you and putting multiple lives in danger because you feel left out. NOPE, don't @ me, I have no patience for it. I think Jack is the best and a great husband and father, but he's also this other thing and I know there are reasons for it, but let's not make him a hero for loving his wife: that's what he's supposed to do.
  3. Stupid Ben And His Stupid Hair!
    I don't even want to talk about the fight with Ben, because it was cheese, but it occurred to me as I was watching this that I wish Ben had never been part of the whole deal.

    Ron Batzdorff / NBC

    Ron Batzdorff / NBC

    I guess his macking on Rebecca is supposed to be catalyst for Jack going off, but Ben is just (like Communism) a red herring. The wave of Jack's ultimately dismissive feelings of Rebecca's desires was already cresting; stupid Ben with his hair swoop and his vest were just there to bring it crashing down. That being said, Ben and every man like him in the whole world can shut up for all time.

  4. Triple-what?
    They may have been on camera for only a few seconds, but each of the Big Three finishes the season standing on the edge of his or her own cliff. Kevin leaves a moody Sophie on the corner as he pursues the Ron Howard job opportunity, cutting short his pursuit of her. Kate, looking fondly at a picture of her mom happily doing what she loves, tells Toby she wants to, in fact, start a singing career. My heart swelled at this with hope that adult Kate will get to an empathetic place with her mom (though I hope it's not because Toby, like Jack, sows seeds of doubt about her motivations for wanting to sing). Randall's little moment reflecting on his life and family lead him to tell Beth he wants to adopt a baby. Even though I remembered their bleak reaction when they briefly thought Beth was pregnant, I still burst into tears, and I hope Beth says yes.
  5. "You Are A Forty-Year-Old Woman Singing Covers In Pubs."
    I don't care, I don't care, I don't care. He's Mr. Perfect and he didn't rob the bar and his dad was an asshole and he was in 'Nam. Still. That was the meanest thing I have ever heard on TV and Jack can suck an egg.

    Ron Batzdorff / NBC

    Ron Batzdorff / NBC

    The fight itself wasn't even that bad -- I mean, it was bad, but it was real -- but I love this show because it does not lie about what it's like to be married, to be a parent, to be middle-aged and middle-class, and that cut me deeper than even any of the other stuff. I took it personally. Lord, have mercy, the quadrillion swerves and sacrifices and choices and mistakes we make as human beings! A good marriage is the life preserver none of us really deserve and none of us really appreciate until we're shown the alternative.

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