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‘This Is Us’ review: Season 2 finale is emotionally satisfying

Chrissy Metz and Chris Sullivan in the season

Chrissy Metz and Chris Sullivan in the season finale of "This Is Us." Credit: NBC / Ron Batzdorff

THE SERIES “This Is Us” Season 2 finale

WHEN|WHERE Aired Tuesday at 9 p.m. on NBC/4

Warning: This review contains spoilers about the “This Is Us” season 2 finale.

WHAT IT’S ABOUT Kate (Chrissy Metz) and Toby (Chris Sullivan) finally have their big wedding. Meanwhile, fans get to meet Toby’s parents – played by a pair of TV classics, Wendie Malick and (Lindenhurst’s own) Dan Lauria. And, an important newcomer arrives on “This Is Us”: Zoe, Beth’s (Susan Kelechi Watson) cousin. She’s played by Melanie Liburd.

MY SAY What if?

What if “a” versus “b” or “c” versus “d?” What if you walked through one door, but could have walked through another? What if you took one road, then wondered long and hard about that road not taken? “Choosing our people,” said control freak Randall Pearson (Sterling K. Brown) during his wedding toast, “is the closest we come to controlling our destiny.”

But as “This Is Us” has established so eloquently — and elegantly — in its best episodes, most other choices aren’t ours to make. The choices we do make have unintended consequences — cut to foster child Deja (Lyric Ross) smashing the window of his car with a baseball bat — and the ones we don’t make do as well: What if, as an obvious example this season, Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) had replaced the batteries in the fire alarm?

Life’s a game of pinball, and where the ball ends up . . . who knows? At least it makes for good TV. “The Wedding” was good TV.

In the opening frames, Jack was alive and 40 years older, in either an alternate timeline or a baffling one. That “what if” scenario here had him renewing his wedding vows with Rebecca (Mandy Moore), with the Big Three (the kids) in attendance. But who’s missing seemed important, too: No Toby or Deja or Miguel (Jon Huertas). In a “what if” world where Jack survived, the family dynamics — naturally — were reordered as well.

But the curveball here was that the renewed wedding vows had simply been Kate’s recurrent dream, or her own “what if” dreamscape of a different outcome to her life. Had Jack lived, this would have, in some psychic sense, taken the place of her wedding day. In some sense, that would have been triumphant for her, and in another, it would have been tragic, for no Toby, after all. “We are there and happy,” says Kate. “You know, the way it was supposed to be.”

But what exactly is the “way it’s supposed to be,” and what was “The Wedding” really trying to get at? As usual, that was left to Randall to answer. There’s “zero point” in trying to control the future, he declares, but that doesn’t stop him from playing games of “worst case scenario,” where the worst that can possibly happen almost certainly will. Those were pretty funny scenes – the funniest of this episode – masking a desperately sad undertow to the wedding. Randall knows that playing “worst case scenario” is as futile as playing “what if,” but that doesn’t stop either game.

Life’s a tragedy, Randall suspects — almost all evidence of his own life to the contrary — but life sometimes has other plans, too. In the closing seconds, viewers caught a glimpse of Future Randall cryptically saying, “It’s time to go see her,” to which Tess replies: “I’m not ready.”

Cut to a year from now, to Kate and Toby. He’s in bed, wracked with depression.

Then, cut to Kevin (Justin Hartley). Zoe is by his side, while both are en route to Vietnam, where viewers can expect more Jack flashbacks next season. He’s smiling. She’s smiling. Life – and “This Is Us” – can be funny that way.

BOTTOM LINE Excellent emotional wrap to a solid sophomore season.

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