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'This Is Us' season finale review: Sweet, melancholic wrap with a sobering kicker

"This Is Us" stars Justin Hartley as Kevin,

"This Is Us" stars Justin Hartley as Kevin, left, Chrissy Metz as Kate and Sterling K. Brown as Randall. Credit: NBC / Maarten de Boer

Spoiler alert: This review contains key details about Tuesday's season finale of "This Is Us."

There was a world of possibilities in the title of Tuesday's finale, "Her." Half the cast, after all, is a "her." "Her" could've referred to Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) or Kate (Chrissy Metz), Tess (Eris Baker) or Déjà (Lyric Ross). "Her" could have been Zoe (Melanie Liburd). "Her" could've been all of them and, in a way, "Her" was. But as devoted fans knew all along, there could only be one "her" here, and she was revealed in the closing seconds:

The camera pulled back, and there she was. Reclining in a bed, her hair flowing gray, verging on white, her eyes blank, her memory too, there lay the "her" those fans have been wondering about all season.

Just to draw this out a little more — because "This is Us" certainly did — the "her" refers to a cryptic line in the closing seconds of the season 2 finale when a flash-forward older Randall (Sterling K. Brown) says to his flash-forward older daughter, "It's time to see her, Tess."

Tess: "I'm not ready."

Some viewers concluded this flash-forward was about Beth's death. Instead, it was Rebecca's (Mandy Moore).

These little super flash-forwards have a nice way of stoking the fire, and Tuesday's stoked it hot: Toby (Chris Sullivan) arrives at the house but whither Kate and baby (now teenager) Jack? Randall greets Beth, who prominently wears an engagement ring — but the one he gave to her so very long ago? Most likely not. Miguel (Jon Huertas) is no longer in the picture. Instead, Jack’s brother Nicky (Griffin Dunne) was by her side.

Masterful at delayed gratification as well as delay, "This Is Us" is also particularly skillful at subverting expectations — ours and sometimes its own. As an example, Randall's moving toast at Toby and Kate's wedding a year ago — "choosing our people is the closest we come to controlling our destiny" — sounded then like a nice summation of the show's entire belief system. But a year later at the end of "Her," when held under the cold light of the distant future, they are just words. Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) was killed by a defective crockpot. Rebecca is nearing death, her memories wiped clean. That's it, nothing more. The past is forgotten as if it never even happened.

"This Is Us" is probably at the halfway mark of its own life, which means three, maybe four, seasons more to explore these lives in intimate, convoluted, layered and occasionally soap-operatic detail. "Her" suggested that all those details may one day lead to something momentous — or lead to nothing at all. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Talk about your cliffhanger.

In short, a sweet, melancholic wrap — with an unexpectedly sobering kicker.


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