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'This Is Us' finale recap: Wedding bells

For The Baltimore Sun

Exhale, my friends.

Like the surviving prime Pearsons — Kate, Kevin, Randall, and Rebecca — we’ve been holding our breaths collectively all season long, waiting anxiously for two events: Jack’s death and Kate’s wedding.

We made it through the former with the aid of many tissues, lots of wine (or maybe that was just me) and some folksy caustic wisdom from Dr. K.

Fortunately, the latter is much easier. Less heartbreak, more sweet than bitter, and — minus a few exceptions, which we’ll get to in a bit — happyish endings all around.

So, here’s your spoiler warning. If you haven’t yet seen the Season 2 finale of “This Is Us,” you might want to “x” out here and come back when you’re all caught up.

Everyone else, grab your mini-bottle of Champagne, pull up a tastefully decorated folding chair, and let’s celebrate “The Wedding” -- and a recap structure with a twist!

What Could Have Been …

Throughout the episode, we’re treated to short, dreamlike vignettes of a festive outdoor occasion, warmly lit and softly filtered.

At first, we think it must be Toby and Kate’s wedding. But then we see Kate sitting with her brothers, Beth, and her nieces.

Then we see current-day Rebecca in a beautiful champagne-colored dress, walking down an aisle.

And at the end of that aisle, there’s a handsome silver fox waiting for her.

No, not Miguel: Jack!

In these little scenes woven throughout the episode, we see Jack and Rebecca renew their vows for their 40th wedding anniversary. She sings “Moonshadow” for the guy who walked into that bar so long ago. He reminisces how she stopped writing notes for his lunchbox when they started “Big Three Homes,” but that was fine with him, since he got to eat lunch with her every day. They dance. Their kids watch them happily.

It’s the sweetest kind of fan service, and it’s also the best kind, since it serves a legitimate show purpose: to highlight Kate’s struggle to honor her past while looking forward to her future with Toby.

These are Kate’s dreams leading up to her wedding day. Is she going to “runaway bride” Toby, as he begs her not to do (only half-jokingly, I think)?

… What Is …

We are, in point of fact, gonna have a KaToby (I still like Tate better) wedding!

It’s taking place at the family cabin, which Rebecca apparently decided not to sell yet, and plenty of wacky wedding preparation shenanigans ensue, mostly thanks to the tag team wedding planners Kate has put in charge: Kevin and Randall.

But right away it goes off the tracks. Toby forgot to pack Jack’s Daytona T-shirt, which Kate had planned to pin to her gown as her “something old.”

Kevin and Randall launch into fix-it mode, rounding up every single item anywhere in the cabin or its vicinity that had any connection to Jack, so that Kate can pick something meaningful to carry with her during the ceremony. But Kate has other plans. She actually takes off from the cabin to “run some errands,” brushing off her brothers and her mom with vague reassurances.

Toby, meanwhile, has been tasked to go pick up his squabbling, divorced parents. In a move of pure casting genius, the actors playing his parents are the incomparable Wendie Malick and Dan Lauria. And they continually snipe at each other.

In fact, they only agree on a single point, and it’s entirely the wrong thing: their disapproval of Toby’s choice of bride. Not that Kate’s not a lovely woman, you understand, but they see him rushing to prop her up and think she’s unstable. They remember how utterly devastated Toby was and how the depression almost killed him after the breakup of his first marriage.

And I know they mean well, but they have no idea what’s going on underneath and behind the scenes with Kate, so they feel free to jump to conclusions and issue horrible life advice on the basis of those wrong conclusions. Toby basically tells the to get on board or leave, because he IS marrying Ms. Pearson.

Speaking of secret battles, Deja is … different. Apparently, ever since Shauna gave up her parental rights in court, Deja has been super-grouchy and generally unpleasant to be around. She doesn’t want to spend the weekend at some wedding in the woods. She may not even be planning to change out of her dingy grey hoodie and jeans for the ceremony!

Even SuperParents Beth and Randall can’t fix this.

Enter Zoe! Beth’s cousin, who grew up with Beth and her sisters, is the official photographer for the wedding. She volunteers to have a little chat with Deja about being abandoned and growing up in a house that doesn’t belong to your parents. And while Deja seems resoundingly unimpressed by Zoe’s story, sounding so much like her own as it does, she does eventually put on a dress and some lip gloss for the ceremony, much to Beth’s amazement and gratitude.

But later, at the reception, Toby’s mom mindlessly mentions how much Deja looks like her “father” (meaning Randall). Deja storms out. We next see her standing next to a car (I think it’s Randall’s) with a baseball bat in her hands — and she smashes the windshield with it.

Kate, meanwhile, is striking out on her mission to find something that reminds her of her dad on her big day. After striking out at the old ice cream shop (which now includes the word “artisanal” in its name and offers lavender balsamic ice cream? Oy.), Kate finds herself in a secluded part of the woods where she and her dad once sat and had a long conversation.

So that’s what Kate does now, too. She has her dad’s urn with the remaining ashes, since she’d planned to put the urn next to the guest book for the ceremony.

Kate admits to her dad that she’s been holding on too much to the past. She needs to let go a little so she’ll have enough space to grab onto her future as Toby’s wife.

And as she walks back to the car, her brothers are there. They’ve tracked her down and were waiting for her to have her moment. She confirms for them that she finished spreading Jack’s ashes there, and she seems much freer and lighter of spirit as she urges them to follow her back to the cabin — she’s got a wedding!

The bride is utterly lovely in a gorgeous lace dress that brings the mother of the bride (and yes, your recapper, sue me) to tears. There’s a lovely mother-daughter moment there, where Rebecca frets that she doesn’t want to get in Kate’s way, and Kate tells her mom firmly that could never happen, because Rebecca is all she wants to be. She isn’t in her way — she IS her way.

We don’t hear vows exchanged, and I think that’s good. We get a simple, soft montage and then we’re at the reception where Kevin starts the toast. He remembers Kate told him earlier that if he didn’t grieve their father’s death, it’d be like holding a big breath for the rest of his life. He asks his siblings and mom to exhale with him, and as corny as it sounds, it’s a sweet moment that sort of presses a much-needed reset button for this family.

Then Randall takes over and brings it home. Sterling K. Brown is a national treasure and I will brook NO dissent on this point. He does his quiet, controlled, assured dad voice thing, but by the end there’s that single tear tracking down his right cheek and I’m undone.

Both her brothers have now called Kate “Katie girl,” just like Dad would have done, and now Randall reassures Kate that while he knows no one can control what happens to them, we can choose who we go through those experiences with. And he knows Kate and Toby chose “perfectly.” There’s this sweet, firm nod from Rebecca as he says this, with a whispered “Yes,” that almost brings me to tears again.

And as the happy couple and their loved ones celebrate with dancing and champagne, we are granted some sneak peeks of ….

… What Will Be

We see a series of flash forwards Some are sweet, but some are troubling …

Zoe (!) snuggled on Kevin’s shoulder on a plane; as they prepare to land in Vietnam, Kevin kisses her forehead gently, then looks at an old photo of Jack, Nicky, and other impossibly young soldiers;

An obviously deeply depressed and bedridden Toby, covers pulled up to his shoulders, staring at a wall, as Kate informs him that the doctor wants to see him the next day;

And perhaps most distressingly of all, old Randall and adult Tess sit across from each other, as Randall tells his daughter “It’s time to go see her,” and grown-up Tess says “I’m not ready.” Her dad concurs — neither is he.

OK NOW.

Who’s it time to see and more importantly why do they not want to go see her? So many possibilities. I’ve seen many theories posited, from “Beth, but she’s dead,” to “Rebecca is dying in a nursing home” to “Deja is in jail,” which …. um, really?

Now, this isn’t totally an out-of-left-field guess. The way the flash-forwards are framed, the camera focuses on Randall and little Tess at the wedding, talking about Deja, then flashes to older Randall/adult Tess talking about “her.” What’s more, there’s a similar expression on the two Tess actresses’ faces. It certainly seems like we’re supposed to assume the future scene is also about Deja.

And yet. Is this show really that classist, to suggest Deja (as the product of the foster care system and a mother with a criminal record) is doomed to the same future? I thought Randall said Deja has this big, beautiful amazing future life ahead of her! Wasn’t that the plan?

To Mr. Dan Fogelman: I absolutely firmly reject “incarcerated Deja” as a good idea. Please don’t go there. ‘K, thanks. Bye.

What’s Next for the Pearsons?

Who knows?! We’ll find out together in the fall! Be good to each other and to yourselves in the meantime, my friends!

One Last Time This Season: “This Is Us” on Twitter

Susan Kelechi Watson has a special treat for us all.

So what did Kate ultimately select as her dad-connected “something old”? His screwdriver. In her bouquet.

We’d expect no less from our Mr. Sullivan.

Speaking of, he had quite the day!

Me, every wedding ever, including my own.

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