This Is Us “The Train” Spoilers Ahead
Full disclosure, I stopped watching NBC’s This Is Us sometime after Season 3 because I couldn’t handle the show’s darker storylines, but as someone who’s always been a fan of Mandy Moore’s Rebecca Pearson, I knew I wanted to watch “The Train.” And despite all the crying, I’m glad I did so because This is Us’ penultimate episode honors Rebecca beautifully as a woman, a mother, a wife, and a friend, showcasing with some of the most astounding performances what an incomparable gift the character has been for six years.
As a series, there is no denying how special This Is Us is—ask me the same question years from now, and I’ll still stand by the belief that its Pilot is one of the most incredibly written television episodes ever. It’s no small feat to achieve consistently poignant storytelling like this that hits audience members with such visceral reactions that almost make it hard to watch. If these actors weren’t as exceptional and if the writing wasn’t as powerful, it wouldn’t make it to six seasons. And powerful is a tremendous word to use, but there’s no other way to describe the storytelling that we watch unfold in This Is Us’ “The Train.” It’s a perfect episode from start to finish, tastefully encompassing a character’s strengths alongside the ravages of grief.
The show delivers on every emotional beat it sets out to evoke by quietly allowing us to witness Rebecca Pearson’s final moments as she patiently waits for someone while accompanied through her final journey with Ron Cephas-Jones’ William. No living human knows what happens in the end. We don’t know what happens in those last moments, and we all choose to believe in various forms of an afterlife based on the religion we follow or how we choose to imagine it. And the show’s rendition of those final few moments are beautifully symbolic of the kind of journey with a set destination that’s a mosaic of memories.
To sit here and pinpoint every single symbolic phrase or parallel would be nearly impossible in a single article, but This Is Us’s “The Train,” walking the audience through the lens of Rebecca’s awestruck wonder and gratitude allowed Mandy Moore to bring her best, most indescribable performance to date. What there are words for, however, is the idea that despite the brutal sorrow, the imagined end is another beginning. And for this writer especially, there is a lot that can be said about Rebecca’s final drink being a vesper. Vesper Lynd was the driving force of the Bond we know and love, and in the same way, Rebecca Pearson was the heart of This Is Us—complex and imperfect, but both women represent what it means to possess an immense capacity to love deeply.
And until her final breath, Rebecca Pearson loved profoundly. She stood her ground, held her head high, and walked with the most impeccable grace even while her heart shattered. She could’ve been the Bond woman, and I’ll stand by this because for Jack Pearson, she was everything and more. It’s why it’s imperative to look into how wondrous it is that Moore holds unyielding adoration in her eyes through every moment she’s on-screen. With every move, she responded to the love that her family spoke to her. Human beings are capable of mourning people even when they don’t deserve it, but to mourn someone who was deeply loved feels and looks different. Rebecca could feel every ounce of the adoration for her, which Moore showcased through every gaze, matching their love with double of her own, understanding with her entire soul that she’s done something right even though she’s never been perfect.
In every way that matters, Rebecca’s love shaped everyone around her. You could hear it through the stories they told and every tear each of them silently cried. She was special. And she lived—a long, beautifully significant life where her heart endured despite all the pain she encountered along the tracks. In the end, it was always going to lead to a place worth celebrating.
There’s also much to be said about how we all hold onto moments in our lives wherever we go—places and streets that evoke something special in us and bring us the comfort we need in dark times. And for Rebecca Pearson, that place was Sundays on the train with her father. It’s in those moments where Rebecca understood more about herself even when she didn’t realize that’s what was happening because the parts of our childhood that shape us only become more significant long after we’ve grown. We don’t think about the streets we walked with our fathers while we’re on the way to school, but we think about them when they’ve passed—when we’re walking those streets alone, hoping and wishing they’d be walking with us still.
We hold on to the lost moments, carrying them with us, praying that maybe we’ll get to revisit them again one day. Rebecca’s father might not have accompanied her on a train like this, but everyone else got to hold her hand through it. People don’t always have the chance to say goodbye, and of all people, the Pearson family knows this best after losing Jack unexpectedly after the fire.
In having the chance to say their goodbyes to Rebecca then, they each get to honor her. And in structuring an episode that’s this poetic, the series respectfully shows audiences why she’s been so extraordinary and why her long life has been a beautiful one worth celebrating. She wasn’t going to go until her daughter was there too. The big three needed to be by her side—she needed to hear their voices one last time, to listen to them say it’s okay. She needed to know that she’s leaving the world a better place than when she found it, and though most people aren’t fortunate enough to know, Rebecca Pearson is given a chance to understand her importance.
“The Train” might be a fictional episode, but it’s healing and restorative because it allows us to hope in the idea that those who pass somehow know how loved they are before they do so. It’s cathartic to understand that no matter how different we all are, grief isn’t a linear process, and even when it’s on a straight track like this train, there are detours to take before getting to the caboose car. It’s disjointed, messy at times, and like the idea of lemonade, where there is a bowl full of ingredients, like a family’s unceasing love, there’s always hope.
Now streaming on Hulu: What are your thoughts on This Is Us’ “The Train?” Let us know in the comments below.