Rebecca (Mandy Moore) is on a vintage train, reflecting on train rides with her father. She looks beautiful in her red dress, and she has aged down to her 30s. “I’m waiting for someone,” she says while staring out a window.
She’s talking to William (Ron Cephas Jones), Randall’s biological dad, who offers Rebecca an escort to the bar car. She insists she’s waiting for someone, but William says it’s fine for her to go for a drink.
At the house, Phillip (Chris Geere) brings Jack and Hailey, who are pre-teens, but Kate (Chrissy Metz) is boarding a plane from London. She’s still 12 hours away when Rebecca’s aide reveals that the family matriarch going to pass soon, likely before the night ends.
Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) decides to go in first to say her goodbyes. She talks about how motherhood feels largely like she’s pretending to have all the answers. “All these years, so many times when I was faking it, I was doing my best impression of you, Rebecca,” she says. “I’ll take him the rest of the way, Mama. Thank you for helping me with that, complicated, incredible, beautiful boy that you raised. But I got him now.”
Rebecca can hear Beth in the train over the PA system. She sees Randall’s wife as a young mom reading The Little Red Caboose, before the scene briefly flashes to 18-year-old Beth.
William tells her they need to move along to the bar car. Dr. K (Gerald McRaney), who delivered the twins, is the bartender. The car is decorated with Pearson family memorabilia, from the Big Three’s height charts to Jack’s coffee mugs.
Rebecca knows Kate isn’t there. She looks at Randall (Sterling K. Brown) and sees a child, a teen and an adult version sitting at a table in one corner of the bar. She sees three versions of Kevin (Justin Hartley) too — but not her daughter.
Rebecca says she made mistakes while parenting, and Dr. K said everyone does. He reveals that he thought Rebecca would die in labor. “You survived just to lose a child and then a husband — and still, what thing you made of it all. What a big messy, gigantic, spectacular thing,” Dr. K says. “You’re as tough as they come, Rebecca Pearson, and you, my dear, have earned a rest.”
Rebecca thanks him for being her doctor — even if it was just hat one time — and moves through to the next car.
In the house, Kevin puts on a Joni Mitchell record. The family talks about how Rebecca and Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) went on a cross-country road trip on their third date as Sophie (Alexandra Breckenridge) goes in to say goodbye.
“You two really had a once in a lifetime love story, just like me and Kevin,” Sophie says. “Minus all the turbulence and psychotherapy, obviously.”
Toby (Chris Sullivan), meanwhile, says that he hopes that he lived up to Rebecca’s expectations as a dad. Annie says goodbye to her grandmother, recalling that Rebecca told her, “Quiet was OK as long as I wasn’t afraid to be loud.” Eventually, everyone heads to bed having said their final words, and it’s just Kevin and Randall left. They decide not to leave their mother’s side until her passing.
The Big Three and Rebecca
They remember their childhood, from Kate’s appendicitis surgery one Christmas to their dad’s trips to the dojo with Randall. They joke that Jack was “strangely ripped for a dad in the ’90s,” and Randall wonders if anything they’re saying is getting through to their unconscious mother.
While on the locomotive, Rebecca passes their memories of baseball cards and Jack’s dojo pushups as the men discuss them, but it’s Miguel (Jon Huertas) who she’s heading toward. She sees her recently departed husband, who says she’s still his “favorite person.” Their reunion is brief, though. William leads Rebecca to the caboose, but the singer insists that she’s waiting for someone.
At the house, Rebecca makes it through the night and Kate arrives. “Hey Mom, it’s me, Bug. I’m here. I’m here. I love you, Mom. I love you so much,” Kate says.
On the train, Rebecca can hear Kate’s voice, and she tells Randall she’s ready to enter the last car now. Inside is a bedroom with young Kate with a jar of fireflies.
“I want to say the perfect thing to you, Mom, but I’m not sure what that is,” Randall says. “I don’t even know if you can hear me, but I love you Mom. We’re good now. You made us good. So, thanks for all the meals. Thank you for always making us feel loved. Thank you for that one time you beat down David Adams for hitting me in the head with a baseball bat.”
Kevin adds, “I love you, Mom.”
On the train, Rebecca turns to William and asks, “This is quite sad, isn’t it? The end?”
The poet doesn’t think so. “The way I see it, if something makes you sad when it ends, it must have been pretty wonderful while it was happening,” he says.
He tells her that if she steps back to look at the whole picture, the end isn’t so sad. “It’s just the start of the next incredibly beautiful thing,” William says.
At the house, the Big Three know the end is near. “You tell him, ‘Hey,’” Randall says after he kisses Rebecca’s forehead. She squeezes his hand.
Rebecca says goodbye to William and lays down in bed. “Hey,” she says. Jack is laying in bed with her. “Hey,” he responds.
While Rebecca’s family was saying goodbye, audiences got a glimpse of that “big picture” that William mentioned. The episode starts with a family of five getting into a car crash right as one of the children had taken their seatbelt off to retrieve a toy. This boy, viewers learn, is Marcus Brooks.
At Rebecca’s house, Deja tells Randall she’s pregnant, and he is overjoyed. Deja, on the other hand, is stressed. “We’re not even married yet,” she says. “I just started my medical residency. He’s working all the time. You know how he is about work.”
She reveals that the father doesn’t even know yet. He’s working late — and This Is Us cuts to Marcus Brooks, a lab worker hoping to cure cancer. He walks with a cane after the accident as a young boy. He’s down on his luck after hearing that his project lost funding, so he won’t be able to continue his research.
Meanwhile, Randall tells Beth he has a secret, but she already knows about Deja’s pregnancy. “I’m that girl’s mother, Randall. I knew she was pregnant before she did,” Beth says.
As Beth reveals that Rebecca talked her into marrying Randall when she wasn’t sure and the two engage in some PDA, Deja doesn’t seem as grossed out as her sisters. Instead, she texts her fiancé a photo of her positive pregnancy test.
Later, an adult Malik sneaks into Deja’s room and wakes her up. This Is Us used Marcus as a red herring. After all Malik and Deja went through as teens, they’re still together, and he is the father of her baby. “I’ve loved you since I was 16. I want to marry you. I want to have this baby with you,” he says.
The Real Big Picture
Marcus, meanwhile, is being consoled by his family. His brother and sister tell him that he shouldn’t be too bummed about not curing cancer in his first attempt. After learning that he isn’t the father, however, viewers are wondering why Marcus is important. That goes back to the night of his childhood accident.
In the hospital after the car crash, Marcus’ father meets Jack at the coffee machine. The accident took place in 1998, the same night the Pearson family home burned down.
Jack recalls Dr. K’s advice after his children were born. “I’d like to think that maybe one day you’ll be an old man like me, talking a younger man’s ear off, explaining to him how you took the sourest lemon that life has to offer and turned it into something resembling lemonade,” the OB said as Jack contemplated adopting Randall. “You can do that and you will still be taking three babies home from this hospital — just maybe not the way you planned.”
In the future, Marcus and his siblings laugh about “something resembling lemonade” becoming their family motto. They don’t realize that the saying came from Jack’s final encouraging speech.
Jack and Marcus had the same doctor that day. Dr. Spencer was saving Marcus as he was coding, so he rushed off since Jack wasn’t presenting any symptoms of a heart attack. While Jack went into cardiac arrest, the doctor saved Marcus.
When William tells Rebecca — who spent the last years of her life battling Alzheimer’s and dementia — to look at the big picture, the audience sees Marcus accept an award for developing Alzheimer’s treatments.
This Is Us airs on NBC Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET. The series finale will air on May 24.