This Is Us Ends a Strong First Season with “Moonshadow”

I understand why many people are disappointed with this finale. The show teased us with a potential reveal of Jack’s death. Last week Kate finally opened up to Toby, and explained to him that she feels responsible for what happened to her father. In that episode’s flashback, Kate gave Jack advice which inspired him to visit Rebecca at her show. He was last seen leaving a bar after a few too many drinks, and stumbling into his car.

Yes, this is misdirection. Yes, it’s a little cheap. But despite this, I found the finale to be very enjoyable. I should note that I read an article last week stating that Jack’s death wouldn’t be revealed this season. So I didn’t have that expectation going into the episode.

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We didn’t receive a major character death. We did, however, witness a messy love story that was engaging in its own right. The episode picks up with Jack driving over to Rebecca’s show, and it also shows us the events that led up to the first time they met each other. “Present-day” Jack is a mess, and has been drinking heavily for weeks. He stumbles into the venue and punches Ben in the face after hearing about his transgression. This forces Rebecca to forgo the biggest show of her tour and drive Jack home. At this point, we witness their biggest on-screen fight yet.

Meanwhile, a young Jack is seen taking odd-jobs and barely scraping enough money together to get by. He’s 28 years-old and still living with his parents. His father drinks every night, is miserable, and constantly berates Jack and (presumably) his mother. Frustrated with always being the “good guy” and not getting rewarded for it, Jack makes a few bad decisions. First, he plays in a sketchy basement poker game. He wins a significant amount of cash, but ends up getting jumped and having the money stolen on his way out. This leads him to take even more drastic measures, as he plans to rob a local bar. As he’s about to go through with it, he hears a voice singing “Moonshadow” on stage. It’s Rebecca. This is the first time they lay eyes on one another.

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This episode is well-structured, in that it shows Jack and Rebecca coming together for the first time, while simultaneously revealing how they fell apart. Jack never wanted to become like his father. He tried desperately to do the “right thing”, but never caught the break he believed he deserved. Just when he’s reached a low point, he finds Rebecca. As Jack says years later — when he’s about to move out after their fight — Rebecca was his big break. This should be a heartwarming sentiment, but doesn’t end up feeling like one. This is because we’ve seen Jack become the man he never wanted to be. He drinks, acts selfishly, and has held Rebecca back from doing the one thing she truly loves — the same thing she was doing when they first met. It’s tragically ironic. So despite Jack’s final speech about how their “love story is just getting started”, we’re left believing otherwise.

Even though the finale focuses mainly on Jack and (to a lesser extent) Rebecca, it does take a moment to show us the Big Three in present day. Even their brief appearances tie back in nicely to their parents’ story. Kate announces to Toby she wants to pursue a career in singing, just like her mother. Randall tells Beth he wants to adopt a baby, which is no doubt influenced by his own upbringing. Rebecca is afraid that her and Jack’s separation would scar their children, but it’s clear that the Big Three share many of their parents’ best traits (along with a few of their worst).

Ultimately, the show is aware it has at least two more seasons left to tell its story, and the finale reflects that fact. There are no shocking twists or major plot developments here, but we do receive a closer examination of one of the show’s core characters. I’m okay with this, and I’m excited to see where the series goes next.

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