Shows

This is Us Finale Reaction. Reflections on what if Kevin was Child-free?

THIS IS US — Season: 2 — Pictured: (l-r) Mackenzie Hancsicsak as Kate, Parker Bates as Kevin, Milo Ventimiglia as Jack, Mandy Moore as Rebecca, Lonnie Chavis as Randall — (Photo by: Maarten de Boer/NBC)

The conclusion of This is Us was on this Tuesday. I have been watching this show since the beginning with my mom. When the show first came out, I was sixteen-years-old. Donald Trump had not yet been sworn into presidency and a worldwide pandemic was unthinkable for most of us. Back then, my favorite tv-shows were teen dramas. They were filled soap-opera drama and unexpected twists, but despite all the tragedies the characters went through–from their partner cheating on them to a dog eating their father’s heart before the transplant–they all lived in typical suburban happiness afterwards. People get married, have kids, and live their happily ever after. Friends tried to stay close, but they also had their own lives and families. They were supposedly very happy in the end. I can name a few of these shows easily: Friends, One Tree Hill, How I Met Your Mother, New Girl, and Gossip Girl. I haven’t watched too many shows in my life, but I have noticed they tend to follow a formula.

This is Us is a great show. It is not a perfect show, but it is heartwarming and makes an honest effort at telling the stories of characters with different life experiences and priorities. Of course, it can be overdramatic sometimes. No one really gives speeches like Randall, Jack, Rebecca, Kate, and Kevin do, at least not on a weekly basis. Perhaps this was why I was so surprised why the show ended on such a quiet note.

In the last episode, a scene of the triplets are at Rebecca’s funeral is juxtaposed with a flashback of them and Jack and Rebecca on a day when everyone is at home. Randall had a math competition that day, but he says it is cancelled, so the family all decides to do something fun; The Pearsons mostly spend the day at the house, and nothing extraordinary happens. Each of the kids get upset about something that day, and either Jack or Rebecca comforts them. They watch home videos; Jack teaches Randall and Kevin to shave; and the kids play pin the tail on the donkey. Other than Rebecca’s funeral, this episode feels like a typical filler episode of This is Us.

I loved “The Train”— it had the perfect ending. I didn’t mind this episode, but I feel a bit disappointed with a few parts. My first thought is that the ending felt rushed. I’m still in denial that it is over, and I wish they’d taken more time to show everyone’s future. Even though I have had this show in my life for six years, I selfishly want more. I want to know why Randall wanted to be a senator, or how Kevin and Sophie made their relationship work, or what happened to Kate and Philip.

After all, this series was never about endings; it is about how life keeps going, making bold moves and decisions about where we want to go.

Rebecca told her kids to:

Take the risks. Make the big moves. Even if they’re small moves. Forge ahead with your lives in any and every direction that life moves you. I’m asking you to be fearless.

Rebecca Pearson

This felt a bit unexpected from her; honestly, it gave me whiplash. She loves her kids, and I can imagine that she would want them around as she’s dying. But she does not expect them to “pause” their lives for her. But despite her focus on the future, the final episodes empathize the importance of their family–of the big 3–and those small but amazing moments together. The writers could create a conflict between staying close to your family and following your dreams.

But they refuse to create a dichotomy and make the triplets choose. They make the big moves. Randall moves to Philadelphia and becomes Senator and Kate goes to grad school and runs the music school with Philip. Kevin starts a business, builds the cabin, and marries his childhood sweetheart.

They also spend time together and grow closer. Kevin takes care of Rebecca in the end, and they all help out. When Kate worries that the triples will drift apart after Rebecca’s funeral, her brothers say that they will drift with her.

Disappointing Parts of the Finale

I didn’t mind the episode as a whole, but I do have a few complaints.

1. Tess and Annie are totally ignored

In the first scene of the future, the one when we learn they’re going to see Rebecca, we see Tess and Randall together. Tess became a Social Worker. But does this come up again? No.

Tess is totally sidelined. She is Randall and Beth’s oldest biological daughter and she has been on the show since the beginning. She isn’t like Kevin’s kids. She has a character and backstory. She also came out as gay, and her and Beth’s relationship was complicated. Tess starts dating Alex, who is non-binary, and we don’t learn what happens to them. Tess is barely in the future episodes, and we aren’t told what happens to her. What is she like in the future? Does she move away or stay close to home? No one knows.

We get to know Deja better. We see how she like science and goes on to be a doctor. We see her fall in love with Malik and marry him and have a baby with him.

We don’t know if Tess ends up with anyone or has a partner. In a show that gives so much attention to straight romances, it would have been nice to see her find happiness and maybe have a partner in the end.

We also know nothing about Annie. She was ignored so much during the show. What does she do with her life? The writers give us nothing. For a show so focused on new life and different generations, they could have put a bit more effort into showing what happens to the youngest generation of Pearsons. I mean they showed us adult Tess only to ignore her. Come on!

I didn’t care as much about Kevin’s kids. They seemed like they were in the background. It would probably take more time to introduce them, but I wouldn’t mind seeing more of Kate’s son Jack and his wife and child or her daughter Hailey.

2. The Final Episode Ignored Kevin and sidelined Kate

In the finale episode, we don’t hear much from Kevin. The actor who plays Kevin, Justin Hartley, said he was pretty disappointed:

“So, I go up there — I had no dialogue that day, I was basically an extra.”

He is a big part of the big 3, and his arc was sidelined. I feel like Kevin’s ending in general was rushed. The writers created all this drama about who he would marry. Who is the love of Kevin Pearson’s life? They asked us. Some readers shrugged. Who cares? They said. But I am kind of invested. I’m a sucker for a good love story, and I like to know who ends up with who. The stakes are high. It is unlikely that all fans will satisfied with the ending; but if a couple is written decently well and it improves a character’s distort, fewer people won’t complain.

The writers presented a few choices: Madison, the mother of his twins; Cassidy, a war veteran and close friend; and Sophie, his on-and off again girlfriend since childhood and his ex-wife. Of course, there were other options. He could have ended up with someone he met in the last two seasons, or Sophia Bush, who he had more chemistry with in a single episode than he did with anyone. At least, that is what the internet seems to think. I personally love Sophia Bush (I was a big One Tree Hill stan back in the day), but I can’t picture him with her.

Honestly, Kevin’s love life was one of the least popular aspects of the show. Viewers have complained that the writers spent too much time on his love life.

But I like Kevin, and I feel like he deserves a good love story as much as Kate and Randall. I didn’t notice any strong chemistry between him and any of the cast. His story with Cassidy was one of my favorites. They were both adults who had been through a ton of crap, but together, they were a little less alone. I wouldn’t have minded them getting together, but I don’t mind that they ended up as good friends. There are far too few men and women on television who are good friends.

I liked the idea of him and Madison together. They have kids, and they’re close friends and parents. They could have been cute. But Kevin wasn’t in love with Madison. He loved her as a friend, for sure, but not romantically. I didn’t love her and Elijah, but she was happy with him.

So, that leaves Sophie. I’ll be the first to say that I don’t love childhood friends to lovers stories. I enjoy them when they’re done well. Not everyone ends up with their childhood sweetheart, especially after you cheat on them and then they marry someone else. I’m not sure what I would do in Sophie’s situation. Honestly, I like them together. They have chemistry. Sophie is the one who laughs at Kevin’s jokes and he never seemed to fully get over her. My main complaint is that their reunion was underdeveloped.

This is Us creates so many great love stories, and Kevin always dreamed about a love story like his parents. I wish they’d taken a season or two to develop their relationship instead of playing will-they-won’t-they for so long.

Final Thoughts

The other couples were pretty good. I wish Miguel got more screen time. His episode was rushed, but I enjoyed what we saw of his backstory, and he and Rebecca were one of my favorite parts of the last season. Philip and Kate’s relationship was rushed. The writers gave Toby more care then they did Philip. I don’t blame them, in fact, this worked well. Toby was a part of Kate’s life and always will be—Philip is still kind of an outsider.

The show is not really about the Big 3’s future. I’m not sure I would say the show is about Rebecca. It is about their family and maybe Jack; he got the most backstory. I mean, we have his brother, his father, the Vietnam storyline. The writers keep including him in all these flashbacks.

But even though Jack and Rebecca are major characters, I still wouldn’t say what this show is all about. the show is about a family, it is about life, and it is about us.

That is what they call the show. Look at how the writers use characters that aren’t even related to the Pearsons to make a statement about people. Look back at the painting scene; Kevin’s painting is all about the connection between death and life. Rebecca’s death is not truly the end, no one’s is—and the impact we have on the people around us —for better or for worse—is never truly finished.

The final episode spent so much time on Deja and Randall, because they needed a way to tell us that life keeps growing. Rebecca’s death and the void that she left in the Pearson family is not a total loss. Showing a new Pearson pregnancy is a simple way not to make this show so sad it’s a message like The Lion King, circle of life sort of stuff. I’m happy with that. I like Deja, and I’m happy that she is happy with Malik and pregnant with their child.

I do wonder if we could have balanced their story with Kate and Kevin’s. More episodes would have helped for sure. The series had to handle a difficult task. They had to manage and tell the stories of a large cast of characters, and they had to give development to characters outside the Pearsons. The writers insisted that this cannot be merely a family story.

I think the show sometimes suffered for this approach. Tess’ story, Annie’s, and Kevin and Kates kids took a backseat. I sort of wish they focused more on the generations.

One of my earliest attempts at a novel was the story of a family. It was a fun story about a bunch of crazy siblings, but I enjoyed it a lot. The decision to make a big statement about life as a whole is a difficult one, but somehow, This is Us managed.

The writers are good at developing characters, especially Randall’s family. Some of my favorite episodes were about Randall’s father, mother, and Beth.

I can’t say I entirely mind that the show ended with a focus on Randall. The writers did a good job. They also made a decent attempt at showing the lives of those who exist outside of the nuclear family structure. I don’t quite want to make the analogy, but this show reminds me of Friends, and how none of the characters have children the traditional way.

This is Us highlights surrogacy and adoption. It shows a couple who almost marry after getting pregnant, but then decide they work better as friends and co-parents. And that’s great. A lot of times, it can be better that way.

The show does not quite explore the idea that not everyone wants a sexual and/or romantic relationship.

I found it interesting that Kevin longs to be married and have children, not necessarily because the idea of changing diapers appeals to him, but because he wants to be like his father. He wants to be a good man like Jack. In Jack’s case, being a good man was being a husband and father. Jack certainly was good at both, not perfect, but pretty good. He made a huge impact on his kids lives.

But when I think of Kevin, I can’t help thinking back on Zoe, Beth’s cousin and Kevin’s love interest. Kevin and Zoe had good chemistry and they came together when both were in a somewhat broken place. But they worked together. They communicated; they moved in together.

But they didn’t work out because Zoe didn’t want kids. I have to applaud the writers for showing a woman who didn’t want kids and didn’t change her mind.

If we compare this with Friends, where everyone married and had children, and The Big Bang Theory, where Penny had gave birth after adamantly not wanting kids, this is a big step up for respecting womens’ choices. I will say that I haven’t watched the entire series of Big Bang Theory, but this does not sound great. Why does she have to change her mind?

The weird thing is that to some of the audience, it doesn’t matter what tv characters want. We have to acknowledge that a lot of TV is full of wish fulfillment; characters do not always follow the rules of character development, realism, or logic. Sometimes the writers keep a couple together or create an ending to please the audience. That is why in Pretty Little Liars, all of the characters ended up with their high school sweethearts. That is why Arthur Conan Doyle brought Sherlock Holmes back from the dead, even though Doyle himself wanted Holmes dead.

I don’t think wish-fulfillment is always a bad thing. Stories belong to readers (and viewers) in a sense (to paraphrase John Green), and sometimes the fans have better ideas than the writers.

Fans are a mixed bag—they can bring different perspectives and challenge the norm for better or worse, or they can cling to convention with a death grip. They might beg for stasis and a return to a story’s roots. Fans are like that. I feel like this is a rather complex topic, but essentially, Kevin isn’t a completely autonomous character. His development doesn’t rely on simply what he would do or want.

Disclaimer: Not everyone wants children. Not everyone wants to be childfree. Some people are in the middle. I feel like I am personally in the middle at the moment. Those people in the middle might be lukewarm about kids. They might be okay about the idea, but later realize they really want kids. Some people feel like they should have kids because “it’s what people do.” My reading of Kevin is that he grew up idealizing his family and thinks that he should do it because it is what people do.

Conceiving also isn’t easy for everyone, and not everyone has kids regardless of the strength of their desire for them. There are more child-free people than you’d think, but they are generally in represented in tv.

I think with Zoe, the show took a step outside of the nuclear family that the show centers on. So, when I think of Kevin, I can’t help but think of Zoe. They built a relationship and got to know each other as adults. Kevin chose her over kids at first. They had potential to be something great. So, when I think about Kevin’s future, I can’t help but think about Zoe. She is a what-if.

I’m not saying it would be perfect. Showing how a couple shouldn’t settle if one partner does not want kids and the other does is a good one to tell. Especially when other shows end up showing one partner to “give in” and agreeing to have kids. You rarely see the reverse.

I’m no expert, but I’m pretty sure that reluctant parents don’t automatically turn into perfect parents. The same is to be said with someone who really wants kids—it isn’t an easy dream to give up. I don’t think their storyline was handled badly. Zoe and Kevin shows how relationships help us grow, even if the person isn’t in our lives forever.

But part of me wonders what Kevin’s life would be like if he chose to live a child-free life with Zoe. I can only imagine what the writers could do if one of the major couples of the show didn’t have kids. Imagine if Zoe and Kevin built their lives together. What if he decided that he could be happy with her without children, and that he could still be like his father, a good man, without creating a new generation. What if he realized that maybe fatherhood was something he thought he wanted, but it wasn’t what he needed?

If we look at the scenes with Kevin and his kids, they aren’t anything special or memorable. None of his scenes with them are like the scenes we get with Rebecca, Jack, and the Big 3.

I imagine if he was child-free he would still take care of Rebecca when she got older and build his mother’s house. I’d like to think that he would have been there for her just as much, if not more.

Would they have stayed together and settled down in LA eventually? What would Zoe’s career have looked like? Would she stay a photographer? That’s a cool job. I wish we’d learned more about her overall.

Kevin has been a great uncle to Tess, Annie, and Deja. We’d get to see all of them and the girls. Maybe we’d get more of a focus on their stories if they went that route. I think it could also be important for people to see how you can live a full life without kids. You can be a part of a great family and live a great life without having children.

Imagine instead of all this rush to settle down and have a family, he spent the series building something. I loved watching Kevin build his mother’s house and start a business. What else could he have done if the writers took screen time away from his love life drama and focused on his character development and relationship with someone who had been there with him for years?

I think their story could have been great, just as flawed and full of ups and downs as Randall and Beth, Jack and Rebecca, and Kate and Philip. The two of them together would put a childfree couple into the center of the Pearson story.

Zoe is a bit of a foil to Kevin’s family. She grew up with an abusive father, and she is independent. Beth describes her as a “maneater” who goes through different relationships with men. We learn later that this is because of her abuse. But she likes Kevin. She didn’t grow up with Jack and Rebecca, the super parents.

Jack and Rebecca created an amazing family and had a great life together. But not everyone’s lives will look like that. Look at Miguel and Nicky’s stories.

The writers concoct a one-night stand and then bring back his high school ex just so that he can get the marriage and babies fantasy that everyone is told is what life should look life. It is what you’re told is what happens; but it doesn’t, always, and often for the better. If Kevin and Zoe stayed together, the show would look very different. But I think it could be a good thing, a great thing for TV.

I think for future shows, it could be interesting to think about what it means for someone to have a happy ending or to live the good life. So many shows follow this path. Start with lost characters who don’t understand themselves. End their stories with them a changed person. Sometimes means they’re single, in a relationship or marriage, or with children. All of these are parts of life, and it is tiring only seeing mostly one to live a fulfilling life on tv.

My Thoughts

I wrote another article about parenthood a while back. This one is called BoJack Horseman Argues Parenthood is a Choice. This topic is one that I think about quite a bit. I am a woman in my twenties, and as I started my last year of college, I started to think about these things. When I was a student at Grove City College, I remember that marriage and children were part of a lot of people’s futures.

If we look at the US, the stereotype of married with kids in a baby carriage, isn’t the truth for a lot of twenty-somethings and millennials. I had a college professor that would mention this to us all the time, how people aren’t having kids, how sad it is, etc. It always made me feel uncomfortable. I mean, it is a very binary/hetero view of the world, but it is also useless to bewail. Some people won’t be happy with kids. And it is a terrible idea to tell those people they need to be parents to contribute to society. Those situations can leave kids miserable.

Why does it matter what decisions other people make? I also think that I’ve always felt uncomfortable with people assuming that I would have kids someday. I felt uncomfortable with people assuming that everyone should be a parent–or that life without a marriage and children is inherently tragic.

That brings me back to This is Us. So many shows want to end and tie everything up in a bow. He meets the woman of his dreams, they have kids and name the child after their grandparents. Are we scared in a way, of imagining a life where someone is happy without those things?

A feminist reading could be that people don’t think (especially) women should be happy making their own choices, and that essentially they want people to surrender to a higher force, God, or destiny. Yet, they always hope that destiny ends one way– marriage and children. The thing is, you’re not broken if you don’t want or don’t get those things.

Note: In these few weeks, I can’t talk about this without thinking about the recent Roe ruling. Not everyone one needs to be a parent, wants to be one, or should be. Not everyone has the resources: financially and emotionally. Even with resources like child support centers or even a helpful family, it isn’t all fixed after giving birth, or after the child is enough to outgrow diapers.

So, that is why I think I wonder what would have happened if Kevin could have ended up without kids. I mean, he grew up in a world where he couldn’t imagine any other life.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. I think it could be nice to see life in all its forms. Say, this is a family with three daughters. This is a couple who fell in love, had kids, divorced, but still cares for each other. And this is someone who is child-free and found happiness. This is Us.