March 25, 2020

ShowbuzzDaily Season Finale Review: “This Is Us”


The fourth season of NBC’s THIS IS US wasn’t a standout, relatively speaking, which in a way made the expertise of its execution more clear.  Even when it’s in second gear, Dan Fogelman’s series is constructed and acted so well that it holds its grip on viewers quite well  (This Is Us looked particularly good compared to its season finale lead-out, the much more cheesily sentimental family drama Council Of Dads, which NBC is hoping will keep audiences in place when it returns with its regular season in late spring.)

This was the first year of a 3-season renewal for This Is Us, and that may be part of the reason Season 4 lacked urgency, since the writers knew they had plenty of runway ahead.  There was no shortage of plot–This Is Us never lacks for plot–but no organizing principle, like the mysterious circumstances of Jack’s death, or even the Vietnam storyline of Season 3.  Instead, we got stories that came and went, like Deja’s (Lyric Ross) boyfriend, and Kate’s (Chrissy Metz) neighbor who was recovering from a stroke, and even Uncle Nick (Griffin Dunne), despite the fact that Dunne had been made a series regular.  Remember the crazy hour when Kevin (Justin Hartley) had John Legend perform at a deserted Hollywood Bowl to serenade Kevin’s latest infatuation?  The only strong throughline of the season was the discovery that Rebecca (Mandy Moore) had early stage dementia, and the implications of that for the family.

The season finale, written by Fogelman and directed by house director Ken Olin, used the same gimmick as the season premiere (also entitled “Strangers”), throwing us into the presence of several unknown figures and only gradually revealing who they were.  Fogelman seemed to be reaching for his mystery box effect when one of them turned out merely to be the OB/GYN for Madison (Caitlin Thompson), the better to stretch out the reveal that she was carrying what we eventually learned were Kevin’s twins.  (However, because Fogelman gotta Fogelman, any assumption that Madison was Kevin’s wife referred to in flash-forward sequences was blurred by quick glimpses of Jennifer Morrison and Alexandra Breckenridge in their roles as other loves of Kevin’s life.)  The other was more consequential, unwrapped as Kate and Toby’s (Chris Sullivan) adopted daughter.  Flash-forwards also brought us the birth of Kate and Toby’s granddaughter Hope, the daughter of Adult Young Jack, whom we’d barely seen since the season premiere.

This Is Us loves its tricks, and they’re certainly a key part of its appeal, but the strongest part of the episode was much more straightforward:  the rising tensions between Kevin and Randall (Sterling K. Brown) regarding the proper treatment for Rebecca, which exploded into a fight that ended just short of blows.  Brown has always been the show’s all-star, and he had dynamite episodes this season that explored Randall’s depression and need for control.  But perhaps the most notable development of this season was Justin Hartley’s step up to a level whee he could go toe to toe with Brown, no small accomplishment.  Their fight was as scorching as the series gets, even if Fogelman couldn’t resist indicating in the next flash-forward that at some point they come together again.

This Is Us continues to be one of the most-watched dramas on television (as with most linear TV, its recent ratings have been particularly high due to the homebound nation), and it offers enough compelling narrative and fine acting to go along with its puzzles so that there’s no reason to expect that to change.  It may be time, though, for the series to start aiming toward a certain end-date, so that it can steer clear of drift and move decisively toward a meaningful conclusion.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."