‘This Is Us’ Season 3 Ends With Broken Ties and New Beginnings

In its season finale, “This Is Us” uses every tear-jerker in the book to reassure us that all is well. While other shows tend to close it down with some nail-biting cliffhanger or shocking reveal, this one ends with blinding hope, even when characters break up. The big season finale travels through the show’s three timelines, giving us a big answer to a major question and setting certain characters on entirely new paths.

In the present Kate (Chrissy Metz) and Toby (Chris Sullivan) are still at the hospital watching over Baby Jack, still two weeks old but now able to breathe on his own. Rebecca (Mandy Moore) has also entrenched herself next to Kate, driving her daughter a bit crazy with an overprotective mother’s attitude. Meanwhile Randall (Sterling K. Brown) is still dealing with a marriage under pressure as Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) continues to be more away from home, focusing on her work as a dance teacher. Randall is preparing to take a city council position in Philadelphia, and the commute adds to the stress. The kids, in particular Deja (Lyric Ross), absolutely notice something is not right. Another relationship feeling growing tension is Kevin (Justin Hartley) and Zoe (Melanie Liburd). Kevin is feeling the paternal urge towards fatherhood, but Zoe just doesn’t want to have kids, ever. She’s starting to feel maybe she isn’t what Kevin needs in his life. Cut to the past where the siblings’ younger parents, Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) and Rebecca face a crisis when Rebecca suffers a car accident which lands her in the hospital. It’s not terribly serious, but Jack has to deal with taking care of Kate, Randall and Kevin in his own. Fast forward into the future as Randall and Beth wait for Kevin. In a room on a convalescent bed is a now an elderly Rebecca and a mysterious man sitting next to her.

No series does first world problems like “This Is Us.” What creator Dan Fogelman and his team do well is take every suburban American fantasy or crisis and transform them into highly engaging television. Every storyline in the season finale climaxes with a big, soaring speech. After Rebecca gets too intrusive at the hospital Kate confesses she’s driving her crazy. So later it’s all fixed when Kate delivers an endearing monologue about how she simply can’t compare to the example set by her mom. Deja single-handedly saves Randall’s marriage by making him drive her to the front of her old foster home, describing in heartbreaking detail her time there with horrible foster parents who spent their government stipend on lottery tickets. Deja then illuminates Randall with the sobering thought that he’s won the lottery twice, first with having Rebecca and Jack as foster parents, then by marrying Beth. Even Zoe gets a big speech when she tries to make Kevin see it just won’t work because there’s no chance of her ever wanting kids. The two have the most civil break up ever, with one shot of Zoe walking out of the apartment with their luggage, nearly shaking hands with Kevin. Beth uses the shortest time to announce her own, glorious daydream of a resolution to her and Randall’s problems. They’ll move to Philadelphia and she’ll open her own dance studio. The American dream lives!

It’s all acted quite well and the show does balance these moments of romanticized drama with more down-to-earth moments. The scenes in the past when Jack watches over the house on his own have a lively, relatable tone. Not the best cook, he tries to keep the kids satisfied with “corn sandwiches,” which are exactly as they sound. When he takes the kids to the hospital to see Rebecca, the episode intercuts this moment with the future, when the siblings gather to see a now convalescent Rebecca and the effect is incredibly moving. This is one of those montages where the show captures that powerful sense of life’s passage.

Fans are now be left waiting for season four to get the full story on why Jack’s estranged brother Nicky just happens to be sitting next to Rebecca’s bed in the future. That’s the kind of cliffhanger “This Is Us” delivers, nothing too fancy, but dramatic enough to have its fanbase wanting answers. It all works when tethered together, because the writing and acting is strong, and the show expertly knows how to make eyes teary. It is a series best enjoyed if you leave cynicism at the door.

This Is Us” season three finale aired April 2 at 9 p.m. ET on NBC.