Review: 'This is Us' finale was heartfelt, but unrevealing

So this is it.

If you watched Tuesday’s season finale of NBC’s hit This Is Us expecting to finally find out how Milo Ventimiglia’s Jack died, well, those expectations weren't met. Instead — and if you don’t want to know what happened, stop reading now — we found out ... practically nothing.

 

 

As indicated in a previous episode, Jack was indeed drunk when he drove to see his wife Rebecca (Mandy Moore) sing, but there was no disaster, other than Rebecca’s realization that Jack was drinking too much again. That discovery led to a wrenching, beautifully written (and played) argument that capped an episode split in time between the beginning of their relationship and its possible end, in a fight-induced separation.

That separation could be the answer some have sought to another question: How did Rebecca end up married to Jack’s best friend, Miguel? Except that the last words between the separating couple belonged to Jack: a promise that their love story is “just getting started.” He could be wrong, of course, but it certainly didn’t feel like he was in that moment.

The absence of anything approaching closure may rankle some viewers, particularly those for whom plot is all. But This Is Us is not a mystery, and providing a solution to a puzzle is not the point. It's a show about life, and one that presents life as happening all at once, all around us, past and present. What happened in the past will be revealed when the present demands it, and not before.

Granted, the show's all-at-once storytelling technique is not without its issues. The series relies heavily on coincidence (the bar Jack plans to rob just happens to be where Rebecca is singing) and “if only” misunderstandings (if only Rebecca had seen Jack before he ran into her ex). It can be a bit too eager to surprise, and a lot too tidy in its circularity and its urge to wrap things up with a speech and a lesson.

Still, all in all, the finale solidified This Is Us's status as one of the season's best series, and one of the few that attempts to explore the intricacies of everyday life without relying on a procedural hook or falling into cheap, grim pessimism. In a way, it's a Little Women for our times, a sentimental drama that captures the joys, twists and traumas of family life in all its glory. There's no question it's manipulative, but it's also heartfelt, well-observed, well-cast and unusually inclusive. And it’s not afraid to build itself around a hero in Jack, who is all the more interesting for not being the perfect guy he first appeared to be.

Which just makes him more perfect. Because on This Is Us, that's life.

RELATED: Recap - 'This is Us' finale focuses on Jack and Rebecca, together and apart

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