This Is Us has been telegraphing Rebecca’s death for several seasons. So it’s a credit to the show that this loss we all knew was coming is utterly devastating, nonetheless, when it finally arrives in Tuesday’s episode.
“The Train” is a highly satisfying, very tearjerking hour of television that touches on — and in a bunch of instances, gently skewers — some of the show’s biggest touchstones.
Read on for the highlights of “The Train.”
THIS IS… WHO? | At the top of the hour, we’re in the car with a family we’ve never seen before. The dad is played by Dulé Hill (The Wonder Years). As his wife laughs, he jokes with their three kids siting in the backseat. The youngest, a boy named Marcus, unbuckles his seatbelt and dives into the wayback when his brother bats his soccer ball out of his hands. And at that exact moment, a car veers into their lane. When Dad swerves to avoid a collision, the car skids out of control and winds up flipping onto its side. Sorry to leave them in such a precarious situation, but we’ll be back to this family in a moment.
IT BEGINS | At Kevin’s home, nurse Laila rubs some lotion on Rebecca’s hands, but the older woman is unresponsive. Inside Rebecca’s mind, we see, she’s a late 20s version of herself, she’s dressed in a gorgeous red dress, and she’s riding a very ornate train. When a man approaches, she says “I’m waiting for someone” without tearing her gaze from the window… until she realizes it’s William.
She asks him to sit, and to remind her of the poem that gave her the idea for Randall’s name. It was “Luzon” by Dudley Randall, and he recites it for her, at her request. Then he asks her to accompany him to the bar car. She hesitates — remember, she’s waiting for someone — but he says it’s OK, so they go.
‘THINGS ARE HAPPENING QUICKLY NOW’ | Throughout the episode, the action toggles between Kevin’s home and Rebecca’s Railway to the Great Beyond; I’m going to consolidate some of the action here. At Kevin’s, everyone digs in to the Chinese food he brought home. Philip, Hailey and Jack arrive, but without Kate; Philip tells everyone that his wife was able to get a seat on a plane home from London, and she’s scheduled to be there in the morning.
Déja sees her dad sitting alone in the living room and decides to give him some good news, provided he can be “totally cool” and keep it to himself for now. “I’m pregnant,” she says. “You’re going to be a grandfather.” She starts to list her worries — she and the baby’s father aren’t married yet, he works all the time, she just started her residency — but the joy in Randall’s eyes can’t be dimmed. “I’m very happy, Déj,” he says, teary, as she adds that she hasn’t told her boyfriend about the baby yet.
And when the action jumps to a lab where a young scientist named Marcus is getting all excited about the results of some cancer research he’s been doing, of COURSE we are led to believe that Marcus is Déja’s significant other. And when he walks with a cane as he goes to tell his boss about the encouraging preliminary findings, and the camera pans to the family photo that confirms he’s the Marcus that was in the backseat of the doomed car, it all makes sense, right?!
But back to Not Long For This World Rebecca. Laila tells Kevin and Randall that her blood pressure is dropping and her legs are growing cold. “Things are happening quickly now. I don’t see her making it through the night,” she says. So everyone gathers in the living room, and one by one, go into the bedroom to say their farewells to the Pearson matriarch.
Beth goes first. As she tells Rebecca that she can rest easy (“Thank you for helping me with that complicated, incredible, beautiful boy that you raised. But I got him now”), Train Rebecca hears her via the car’s overhead speakers. And she sees Beth, both as an adult and as a college student, sitting in the car with her. But then William reminds her that the train is moving fast, and they have to keep going, so they move into the bar car…
… and see Dr. K slinging drinks! He’s cleaning glasses with a Terrible Towel and there’s a Steelers game on the TV behind the bar. He asks if she wants a limoncello, “or is that too on the nose?” She smiles, nodding at the bowl of citrus fruit on the bar, and says, “Hey, if life gives you lemons.” But he winds up making her a vesper, the fancy drink her father always said he’d have if he took her on a trip like this. Dr. K compliments her on how beautifully the kids grew up, and we see that the adult versions of Kevin and Randall each are chatting with two versions of their younger selves at nearby tables. (Side note: Very creative way to get so much of the cast in this episode, This Is Us!) But as pleased as Rebecca is with the tableau, something’s still not right: “Kate’s not here.”
HURRY UP, KATE! | Indeed, at that moment, Kate is FaceTiming with her brothers from the tarmac in London, where her flight is waiting to take off. She was there because the curriculum she wrote is going international, but she laments that she shouldn’t have gone. Both Randall and Kev assure her that Rebecca wouldn’t have wanted her to skip the trip. As she cries, she asks them to tell Rebecca that she loves her, and she’s on her way.
Elsewhere in the house, Beth won’t tell Randall what she said to Rebecca, so he teases her that he has a whopper of a secret, too. “Déja’s pregnant,” she flatly responds, and I love how he STILL marvels at her omniscience. “I’m that girl’s mother, Randall,” she says. “I knew she was pregnant before she did.”
Later, as everyone hangs out in the living room, Kevin puts on a Joni Mitchell record and everyone listens to “The Circle Game” as they tell stories about Rebecca. Sophie steps away to say her goodbyes to her mother-in-law. Then Toby, who of COURSE can’t do it without getting in a joke (“Rebecca, you can tell me: You love me more than Philip, right?”) Annie goes in, too, and thanks her grandmother for telling her that it was OK to be small, as long as she knew she could be as big as she wanted to be. While all of this is going on, Déja lets her baby’s father know that the stork is on the way by texting him a photo of the positive pregnancy test with a bunch of emoji.
People peel off in ones and twos, and eventually just Kevin and Randall are left to go into their mother’s room and wait for the end.
‘YOU, MY DEAR, HAVE EARNED A REST’ | In the bar car, Dr. K tells Train Rebecca that he feared he was going to lose her on the day her babies were born. But she pulled through and thrived, even after Jack passed away. “You’re as tough as they come, Rebecca Pearson,” the obstetrician tells her admiringly. “And you, my dear, have earned a rest.”
At Actually I Will Go Gently Into That Good Night Rebecca’s bedside, Kevin and Randall have a few chuckles about their upbringing as they debate whether Pilgrim Rick was a real person or whether Jack just made him up (the verdict: Jack wasn’t a good enough storyteller to invent him) and discuss how atypical their father’s physique was for the time (“Strangely ripped for a dad in the ‘90s, wasn’t he?” Kev notes). Randall lightly mocks the painting Kevin talked about in Season 1, which hangs on a frame next to Rebecca’s bed. As Randall wonders whether Rebecca is hearing anything they’re saying…
… she’s seeing snippets of it as she makes her way through the train. And then, hey look, it’s Miguel! He’s sipping wine and calling her his favorite person, but then William has gotta be a buzzkill and usher her along. Poor Miguel, getting the shaft even in the afterlife.
BUT WAIT. Déja is asleep when her boyfriend — WHO IS MALIK, YES THAT MALIK — wakes her up. “I ran out of the restaurant when I got your text,” he says, the happiness oozing out of every molecule of his body. “I want to marry you. I want to have this baby with you.” Aw, guys!
But what about Marcus? Dejected after the research he was working on gets shut down, he commiserates with his brother and sister. They try to give him a pep talk. “I can’t listen to some greeting-card platitude about lemons,” he says, but he’s laughing even as he does so. And via flashbacks, we see that Marcus and his family were at the hospital the same night as the Pearsons’ house fire, and that Marcus’ father had a conversation with Jack while both were grabbing some coffee in the waiting room! Marcus’ father is worried about his kid, whose leg is broken very badly and who is waiting for a trauma surgeon right at that moment. “Sorry, you’re pretty much catching me on the worst night of my life,” he mumbles. So Jack tells him about the night his kids were born, and how terrible that was, and what Dr. K said. And as it turned out, Marcus’ father took it to heart just the way Jack did all those years ago. (“How is this our family motto?!” Marcus and his siblings joke in the present-day. )
It also turns out that the same doctor who made a critical call in Marcus’ case was doing so at the exact moment that Jack suddenly died in the emergency room — AKA if he hadn’t been upstairs saving Marcus’ life, he might’ve been downstairs to save Jack’s. So we’re once more subjected to parts of that awful scene by the vending machine, but at least we then get to watch the doc tell Marcus’ family that their kid is going to be OK. And later, we learn that Marcus goes on to develop a drug that is fundamental in battling Alzheimer’s Disease.
THE BEGINNING IS THE END IS THE BEGINNING | Eventually, Train Rebecca and William arrive at the caboose, but she won’t go in: “I told you, I’m waiting for someone.” Accordingly, It’s Only a Flesh Wound Rebecca is, indeed, not dead yet the next morning while her grandkids play Foursquare outside her window. (Side note: THIS is the big payoff to the childhood games clues in the flash-forwards, This Is Us?! Anyone else feel let down?) But look, Kate made it in time! She rushes to her mom’s side and lets her know that she’s there. Then Randall thanks Rebecca for “making us feel loved.” Kevin leans close and whispers, “I love you, Mom.”
On the train, Rebecca allows William to open the door, which reveals a room with a bed in it. “This is quite sad, isn’t it? The end?” she asks. “The way I see it, if something makes you sad when it ends, it must have been pretty wonderful when it was happening,” he replies.
He says a lot more Wise William things, culminating in: “The end is not sad, Rebecca. It’s just the start of the next incredibly beautiful thing. It’s like that dopey painting your son made that time.” She laughs and defends Kevin’s artistry, then kisses his cheek as he leaves and closes the door behind him.
Back at the deathbed, Randall kisses Rebecca and says, “You tell him ‘Hey.’” She squeezes his hand, seemingly in response, and all three kids are taken aback.
On the train, Rebecca lies down on the bed, then turns and sees Jack there, lying next to her. “Hey,” she says, smiling. “Hey,” he answers.
Now it’s your turn. What did you think of This Is Us’ penultimate episode? Sound off in the comments!