As the sun sets on the penultimate episode of THIS IS US, it’s here to raise questions for next week’s season finale, as well as the inevitable season two just around the corner. Though the ending of “What Now?” tries so hard to get the audience to look forward, and to surprise us with new information, this episode thrives when it focuses on smaller things. A heartfelt speech or a moment between family members is a lot more significant than the set up’s that get tacked on to the end of the episode. Luckily, some of the sentiment is left over from “Memphis,” but not enough to avoid falling to the same old This Is Us patterns we can’t escape from.
Even in death, William brings the best and most genuine part of this episode. He had tasked Randall’s daughters in planning a funeral that brought joy and smiles instead of a somber affair. There’s something so pure about the two kids taking this task to heart for their grandpa. The standout of this plot, though, is Beth, who should take a lead in every episode, as she is one of the best and most likable characters on the show. She has a touching scene where she breaks down about how William had a special goodbye planned for Randall and the kids, but she loved him too, and got nothing. It’s one of the sweetest moments of the episode, seeing this character who is always putting others first be genuinely hurt about not being included. It leads to Randall being a stellar husband by passing the eulogy microphone to her, proving once and again that Randall and Beth are the only couple worth a damn in this show. The payoff of this plot also feels earned, when Beth gets a postcard from William at the end. Her reaction alone is what makes the episode so touching.
Alas, all plots of This Is Us can never live up to the Randall/William/Beth plot. If we’ve learned anything from seventeen episode of the show, it is this. Everything else just pales in comparison. None of the other storylines were outrageously bad, just seemed stunningly mediocre in comparison to the beautiful portrait of a grieving family. Kevin’s storyline actually had some very nice moments thrown in with the logical inconsistencies. It seems that everyone was pretty okay with him bailing opening night, which seems extraordinarily unrealistic. Kevin is bummed that the New York Times theater critic won’t got to opening night 2.0, but the fact that he gets to have a second opening night with no consequences is pretty nice. It turns out better than nice even, as Kevin, for all intents and purposes, crushes it. It’s very sweet to see his whole family give their congratulations and be just a bit surprised by how talented he actually is. That would be a great way to end his plot, on him having actually done what he came there to do, and proved that he is an actor with real talent. The show takes a weird left turn at the very end though. After Kevin sleeps with Sophie (who he’s real committed too now) he gets a call from Ron Howard. Yup, that’s Ron Howard playing Ron Howard to call Kevin up and offer him a part in a movie. That’s not how that happens! Wow, great thing ol’ Ron just happened to be a that show! It takes away so much of the gravity of the really hard work that Kevin had to do, just to have that success immediately followed by a gratuitous cameo, and hollywood being handed to him on a platter.
Kate’s plot is also screwed over by a reveal in the last five minutes. Poor Kate is always going to be stuck with the short end of the stick, often within the show and narratively. Her role in this episode is just refusing to open up to Toby about her dad’s death. The best part of this is scene where she breaks down to Randall (a common theme) about how she can’t imagine him going through this twice, and all of the memories it brings up. Randall is a good brother as well as a good husband, and him comforting her is a such a genuine sibling moment, that we don’t get enough of in this show about siblings. After that it seems like maybe Kate is going to open up to Toby about Jack’s death, but instead of a nice moment, we get the gem of a This Is Us classic twist dropped on us with Kate saying her dad’s death was her fault. And there we have it. Either she loves hyperbole, or we are going to explore that dynamic for the soon to be season two. It’s just disappointing that an episode that was so good at small, sweet, scenes had to revert once again to unnecessary plot twists.
Season 1, Episode 17 (S01E17)
This Is Us airs Tuesday at 10PM on NBC
Raina spends most of her time watching television and trying to find the perfect bagel and lox, because she likes being emotionally distraught.
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Raina Deerwater | Contributor