For every question This Is Us has answered over the course of its four-season run, it's raised many more, and it’s nothing short of amazing that after dozens of these reveals, the show has managed to maintain the same level of pathos. Over the last few episodes, a three-part series titled “A Hell of a Week,” the show has explored three different events across three different timelines, each from the point of view of one of the Pearson siblings. After each one experienced and processed their own episode’s worth of trauma, the present-day Big Three, now rechristening themselves the Sad Three, are on their way to the family cabin to recover from the events of the past week, revisit better times, and hopefully set the rest of the season in motion. While they’re on their retreat, we’re hoping we get closer to finding out the answers to these five questions.
In the preview for this week’s episode, Jack introduces the Big Three, circa 1990, to the concept of a time capsule. In present day, they’re digging something up in the woods behind the family cabin. While there’s an outside chance they’re uncovering the body of Kate’s terrible boyfriend, Marc, who’s shown being an all-around jerk to her at the cabin back in the late 90s, it’s more likely that the time capsule is being revisited this week, and that the items inside it will reveal something about the Pearson siblings in 2020. It remains to be seen whether it’s just a handy narrative framing device for one episode or if the contents will have broader implications for the rest of the season.
We know Future Kevin has at least one child. We also know he’s actively seeking a life partner in the present. And we know that by the time he turns 40 later this summer, he’ll be expecting a baby with his fiancee. But maybe the biggest question the series has raised to date that doesn’t somehow relate to the death of Jack Pearson is this one: who the heck does Kevin end up with?
Fans seem to be divided on the identity of Kevin’s future wife, with most suspecting his childhood sweetheart and ex-wife, Sophie, whom he met when she was Kate’s best friend back in grade school. The last time we saw Sophie, it seemed like Kevin had finally achieved closure with her and both were ready to move on, but there’s so much history (not to mention chemistry) between the two of them, it wouldn’t be a stretch to think he’d end up winning her back yet again. Then again, Kevin’s just had a one night stand with Kate’s current best friend, Madison, who seems like the other likely candidate. (Also, you’d think a rich, attractive celebrity could connect with nice women who were not his sister’s best friend once in a while.)
There are pros and cons to both theories. With five episodes left in the season, the show has enough time to give us a satisfying love story with Sophie, Madison, or even with a new woman we haven’t met yet. Whoever she is, let’s hope that in the words of Kevin’s latest confidant, M. Night Shyamalan, it’s the ending we’ll want, but we’ll still never see it coming.
”A Hell of a Week, Part Two” concludes with a scene in which Rebecca returns to the family cabin to a distraught Kevin, whose 40th birthday festivities have been interrupted by her misadventures. When she asks “where’s Randall?”, Kevin gently reminds her that he and Randall aren’t speaking, and based on his delivery, this doesn’t seem like a new development, nor does it seem like something that he intends to resolve in the near future.
Most likely, the fight has something to do with Rebecca’s diagnosis and the fact that Kevin is the only one of the Big Three who hasn’t been told about it. Being the last to know is a frequent sticking point for Kevin, especially since the Pearson siblings have long promised not to keep secrets from one another. But that’s only one theory. Randall seems to be reacting poorly to Kate and Kevin’s concern for his emotional well-being, which suggests this could be a flashpoint as well. Whatever triggers the fight, we know it’s going to be big, because their relationship has withstood some pretty awful things. If the fact that Kevin drove drunk with Randall’s daughter in the backseat of his car didn’t cause them to stop speaking for months, we have to assume that whatever happens next, it’s even more intense and awful than that.
It’s been very hard to feel sympathy for Toby lately. Rather than stepping up to the plate as a successful co-parent, he’s retreated to the local CrossFit box, funneling all of his stress into increasingly intense workouts — all because he can’t cope with the idea that his blind son won’t be able to watch Star Wars with him one day. And it’s hard to tell if his friendship with one fellow gym rat has really crossed a line or if he’s being truthful that he switched gyms when she came onto him. Either way, the Tobester is failing his wife and son.
Kate’s given Toby a final chance to pull up his big-boy pants and be a real husband as she leaves to join the rest of the Sad Three at the family cabin, and to his credit, he’s enthusiastically taking on solo-parenting duties while she’s gone. By the time she returns, he’ll either have stepped up to the challenge or he’ll be toast. We’ve seen Toby in the future, but we’ve never seen Toby and Kate together in the future, so either scenario seems possible.
“You’re the real hero of this family,” Jack tells Rebecca after a harrowing evening of assuaging all of the Big Three’s toddler fears over the course of the three-episode “Hell of a Week” arc. Viewers have long understood that while the Pearson family has had Jack on a pedestal for years, Rebecca’s role in keeping them together is just as crucial, though far more unsung. Lately, though, Rebecca’s heroism has taken a front seat across all of the Pearsons’ timelines, especially as 2020 Rebecca contends with the early stages of dementia and 1998 Rebecca helps her family rebuild after the fire that killed Jack.
The Rebecca we’ve seen lately is wiser and more self-assured than she’s ever been before. Where her relationship with Kate was previously complicated at best and strained at worst, she’s now Kate’s biggest cheerleader and strongest confidant. (“Am I turning into one of those women whose mother is her best friend?” Kate wonders.) Rebecca and Randall have shared some incredibly poignant moments recently as well. But it would not be out of character for This Is Us to make us love a character even more than we already do and then yank the rug out from under us.
Of course nobody lives forever, and it’s a near-certainty that Rebecca is no longer alive in at least some of these far-future flash-forwards. But now that she has begun to develop cognitive issues, it seems as though Rebecca has begun to grapple with her own mortality — and that means her children (and us viewers) may soon have to confront it more directly as well. Of course, This Is Us’ nonlinear storytelling style means that no character must ever fully exit the show, but its seeming delight in making us sob means it wouldn’t shy away from this plotline, either. By the end of the season, it seems highly likely that we’ll have seen at least one future scene in which Rebecca’s absence is conspicuous.
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Jessica Liese has been writing and podcasting about TV since 2012. Follow her on Twitter at @HaymakerHattie.