Since its very first episode, This Is Us has been known for its mind-blowing twists, a phenomenon this writer (and her group chat pals) have dubbed “Fogelmans” (after creator Dan Fogelman). The pilot for the series, which was initially described to reporters as a drama about a group of people who share the same birthday, revealed that the people were, in fact, all related — siblings Kevin (Justin Hartley), Kate (Chrissy Metz), and Randall Pearson (Sterling K. Brown), and their father, Jack Pearson (Milo Ventimiglia) — and the storylines were actually taking place in different decades.
After six seasons of being the biggest show on broadcast television — three of those seasons are Certified Fresh — Fogelman tells Rotten Tomatoes that the pilot reveal is actually his favorite “Fogelman” of all.
“The reaction to the turn at the end of the pilot was one of the more rewarding moments of the show for all of us, I think,” he says, explaining that “people weren’t waiting for them at that point and not trying to [guess] them.”
Of course, the series, which followed the Pearson family throughout the generations — from the birth of the Big Three siblings to the death of their parents, flashing back to dad Jack and mom Rebecca’s (Mandy Moore) childhoods along the way, and even forward to the birth of the siblings’ own grandchildren — became known for its tear-jerking moments as well. If you weren’t being shocked by a This Is Us twist, you were likely crying at a particularly emotional monologue. Below, Rotten Tomatoes rounds up our eight favorite This Is Us moments as the series says its final goodbye.
(Photo by NBC)
The first episode of This Is Us featured scenes of a very pregnant couple celebrating the father’s birthday intercut between the three Pearson siblings celebrating their own 36th birthdays. But as the mom goes into labor, we realize that the children to whom she is about to give birth are those now grown-up siblings. The very first Fogelman, and Fogelman’s own favorite.
Not to be outdone by the premiere, in the second week, Fogelman dropped another bomb on the audience: In the present day, Rebecca was happily married — not to Jack, but to his best friend, Miguel (Jon Huertas).
This was not the first tear-jerker moment on This Is Us, but it’s one that resonated for seasons to come. Randall, stressed about his biological father’s cancer, spending time with his family, being a high performer at work, and everything else he’s juggling, notices the signs of an anxiety attack and cancels on his plans to see Kevin’s play. Through flashbacks, we learn that Randall has struggled with anxiety and panic attacks his entire life, which makes it even sweeter when Kevin comes to his brother’s rescue — something he didn’t always do throughout their childhood and young adulthood.
“Memphis,” which follows Randall and birth father William (Ron Cephas Jones) on a road trip to his birth father’s hometown, is the first of this type of episode that the series would come to perfect: a close-up look at a singular story or person. Sometimes the subject would be unknown to the Pearsons, like the person who invented video chatting, and others would be intimate glimpses into the lives of important Pearson figures, like Randall’s birth father. We learned about his life just as the man took his final breaths.
We’ve known since the beginning that Jack was dead in the present day, but the actual circumstances of his death were unknown to all until the show’s big post–Super Bowl episode. It began with faulty wiring on a Crock-Pot, but it ended with a heart attack in the hospital due to smoke inhalation.
This whopper of a Fogelman was actually three major moments in one: Kevin and then-girlfriend Zoe (Melanie Liburd) realizing that Kevin’s Uncle Nicky did not actually die in Vietnam despite what Jack had told everyone; Kate and Toby (Chris Sullivan) learn they’re expecting a baby boy; and a flash-forward to the future sees what Beth, Randall, and their daughter Tess are doing in the future.
You might’ve thought as you started watching that the fifth season finale was about Kevin’s wedding to Madison, the mother of his twins; in fact, that’s what they wanted you to think — until the Fogelman came. That wasn’t Kevin’s wedding, it was Kate’s second wedding. She was actually marrying her curmudgeonly new boss, Phillip (Chris Geere), and Kevin didn’t marry Madison (Caitlin Thompson) because she backed out at the eleventh hour (she knew he wasn’t in love with her).
A metaphor came to life in the penultimate episode of the series, as a young Rebecca boarded a train headed to the afterlife while future Rebecca lay in her hospice bed. She was met by many of the show’s most important figures, including Dr. K (Gerald McRaney), who delivered Kevin and Kate and who gave the show its most enduring metaphor about never meeting a lemon so sour you couldn’t turn it into lemonade. It was a culmination of all six seasons, bringing the Pearson family story to a close as Rebecca passed on — but not without all three of her children present.