It's been a minute since we've spent significant time in the near future, or the evening members of the Pearson family congregated to be by Rebecca's bedside. But in the closing moments of Tuesday's episode, titled "The Cabin," that was exactly where we were transported to -- and it came with a surprising reveal that was nearly a year in the making.
After spending time with the Big Three in three separate timelines (as young kids, as teenagers and as adults), the episode flash-forwarded to a fourth when it closed with Jack's prized sketch of his dream home that he had hopes of building for his wife, Rebecca -- bigger, better, newer -- coming to life atop a secluded hill, just above the beloved family cabin. It was no longer 1993, when Jack first sketched out his dreams of the future, but the 2030s, the significance of the modern, rustic home we first laid eyes on in last April's season finale (and that everyone was gathered in) finally coming to light and adding that much moredepth to the story.
The episode-ending flash-forward meant we also got our very first glimpse at Kevin (Justin Hartley) in all his middle-aged glory, complete with salt-and-pepper hair. It's notable that this is the first time we've been able to physically place the oldest of the Pearson siblings in the future, though he's been mentioned in previous episodes as being around. In the season three closer, for instance, his look-alike son -- likely around eight or 10 years old -- mentions off-hand that his dad is getting takeout because there's no food left.
In the future, the older, bearded, well-groomed Kevin does just that, pulling up to his home in a slick super-fancy (aka $$$$) black luxury car and walking into the foyer with two bags of takeout. Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) meets him by the front door, taking the food off Kevin's hands and updating him on where everyone is. "Hey brother-in-law, everybody's in with Rebecca," she says.
And, as Kevin -- still stylish as ever -- walks past, you see Jack's sketch proudly hanging on the wall by the front door, perfectly framed and serving as the centerpiece of the entire abode.
But Kevin doesn't just magically come up with the idea to build Jack's dream home and make it a tangible reality. See, back when the Big Three were young kids, the family buried a time capsule that they dug up decades later, and one of the blasts-from-the-pasts the Big Three discovered from the time capsule was Jack's sketch. Being the dreamer (and hopeless romantic) that he is, Kevin kept the sketch for himself, getting a little nudge from Jack himself that maybe he should be the one to make the dream home a reality.
That's because Jack secretly left a cassette tape in 1993 from that day the family spent at the cabin -- and because it's Jack, the message was equally heartfelt, inspiring and gut-wrenching all at the same time. What did Jack tell his children in the taped message he intended for them to listen to when they turned 18? Here it is in full and yes, you may need a tissue or two:
"I had this crazy idea to build a bigger house for me and your mom to grow old. Your mom busted me while I was sketching, I got embarrassed, crumpled it up and tossed it in the trash. But then I thought to myself, your mom believes in me so why shouldn't I believe in myself, right? So I go back outside to get my crumpled piece of paper out of the trash to put in the capsule but it was gone... But then I realized that your mom must've taken it out of the trash so she could put it in the capsule. Again, because she believes in my dreams. By the time you guys hear this, you're going to be teenagers, probably harder on us than you already are. So let me just remind you that your mom is the kind of woman who buries the crap you doodle because when it comes to the people that she loves, she does not mess around. Bec, if you're hearing this and I'm growing stupid in my old age, I don't tell you enough, but man, do I love you."
Is it just us or is it getting a little misty in here?
The episode also seemingly unpacked a few big questions that This Is Us introduced along the way this season, from the aftermath of Kevin's ill-advised tryst with Kate's BFF, Madison, to the mysterious event surrounding Kevin and Randall's big feud by the time they celebrate their 40th birthdays. So, let's dissect these three other Pearson mysteries, shall we?
1. Kevin's hook-up with Madison comes out -- and it's not pretty
It didn't take long, but Kevin's questionable hook-up with Kate's best friend, Madison (Caitlin Thompson), doesn't remain secret for long. But don't credit Kevin for being the one to come clean to his siblings. Credit... Madison? Literally moments after Kevin gets off the phone with Kate and Randall (pre-cabin trip in the present day), he and Madison have an awkward chat about how they're going to handle whatever this is between them. "I think we just tell her that we're falling in love... she'll be happy for us," a half-dressed Madison says with a completely straight face. It takes Kevin's jaw-drop and mental mind-freak for Madison to completely bowl over; she just pulled one over on The Manny.Ha!"I'm not crazy Kevin. We haven't even been on a date yet. What we did is pretty messed up. Best friend and brother hooking up is a huge violation of lady code."
While Kevin is all for keeping their sexual escapade a secret, Madison is not -- because she's a Great Friend, leaving multiple voicemails on Kate's phone, each one more frantic. It isn't until the last voicemail, when Madison reveals everything, that leaves Kate stunned. So much so that Kate forces Kevin to listen to all three voicemails on speakerphone... in the middle of a random supermarket... like a pissed off sister would. "I'm just going to rip the Band-Aid off because the guilt is eating me alive. I slept with Kevin! Your brother Kevin...," Madison rushes out. "I am really sorry Kate, it was a really stupid, selfish thing to do."
It's not surprising that Kate has some choice words for her brother and Randall finds the whole situation absolutely amusing, but ultimately, they're not shocked. Should we be surprised at this point at their non-plussed reactions? (Short answer: no.) Whoever Kevin's mysterious pregnant fiancee is, it doesn't appear to be Madison, but don't be surprised if in classic This Is Us fashion, they pull yet another misdirect and it ends up being her. When Hartley connected with ET, he alluded to a payoff for the Kevin-Madison storyline, saying in January, "I don't think our show would do something like that, show you something like that and then not tell a story to go along with it."
2. Kate's boyfriend, Marc, is a real douchebag
But we knew that already, especially after Marc (Austin Abrams) ditched Kate on the side of the road after they had that huge fight in a previous episode. Tuesday's hour only cements the fact that Marc really is a no-good S.O.B. who is an emotional abuser with some real issues he needs to work through. It all comes to a head when Kate and Marc arrive at the family cabin for what's supposed to be a romantic evening in; we know it's going to be anything but. And it was anything but.
They have yet another one of their epic arguments, causing Kate to storm out of the cabin and when she comes back, after gathering up firewood to heat up the place, Marc has locked her out. On a freezing, snowy winter's night. Seriously, what a douche. It becomes apparent to Kate that she's going to be stuck in the cold for the rest of the evening if she doesn't think of a Plan B, since Marc won't do so much as unlock the door to let her in. So, she takes a branch and breaks a glass window so she can unlatch it and climb in, cutting her hand on a jagged edge of the glass with a deep, nasty gash -- no thanks to Marc. The next morning, Rebecca, Kevin and Randall -- who drove all night to get to her -- realize that Kate needs out of her unhealthy relationship after the truth comes out. And fast. Thank goodness for family, right?
"I don't think that it's one of those things that never happens to people," Hartley told ET of Kate's teenage nightmare of a boyfriend. "It's something that happens to people all the time and people are just afraid to speak their mind. Then you see the long-term effect of every relationship you've ever had in your life and it's like, wow, you have the choice and power to make things better for yourself. We see her in that place." Is this the end of Marc? Man, we sure hope so.
3. Kevin finds out about Rebecca's health issues -- and he blows up
It's long been teased that a major conflict comes between Kevin and Randall that creates such a big schism between the two siblings that the bonds of their brotherhood cannot be easily mended. The easy answer would have been something to do with Randall keeping Rebecca's health issues under wraps. This Is Us, though, doesn't do things the easy way -- and that turned out to be true. Again, too simple! It sure looked like things were headed down that path early in Tuesday's episode, however, when Kevin -- the last of the Big Three to be in the know about Rebecca's health struggles -- finally was let in on the secret. And he didn't take it well at all.
It didn't help that Randall was in L.A. (the city Kevin calls home, for the record) to visit specialists to help diagnose Rebecca's health issues and that Kate knew about the trip and didn't tell Kevin. Randall and Kate finally break the news to Kevin at the cabin that their mother is going through "cognitive impairment," which could possibly lead to Alzheimer's. When Kevin, clearly in denial, notes that Rebecca was fine when he last saw her weeks before, Randall rubs salt in the wound, saying the symptoms are "subtle... and I noticed them." "And I didn't," Kevin snipes back, growing understandably angrier by the second that Randall went behind his back about this whole thing. "Mom didn't think I could handle it. Kevin couldn't handle it so you guys just agreed with her. Honoring her wishes? That's great!" a pissed-off Kevin huffs as he slams the cabin door shut behind him.
If the Big Three weren't mature enough, they would have let this whole situation simmer before it threatened to break the family apart. Thankfully, that just didn't happen. (Because they're growing and evolving and becoming better people!) Instead, Randall and Kate let Kevin cool down before fetching him and digging up the once-forgotten time capsule. And so, all was well among the Pearson siblings -- with Randall even opening up about his struggles post-break-in to keep a level head about his family's safety, and Kevin potentially giving him the nudge to seek out professional therapy to help abate his anxiety.
So, if Rebecca's health isn't the root of Kevin and Randall's feud, then what is? As Hartley hinted to ET, we haven't even scratched the surface on what it may be -- and if his teases illuminate the trouble that's to come, it's far more serious than we can even imagine. "This one's for real," he said, sharing that they just started filming the brothers' season-ending conflict. "This is not like we're going to argue about something. This is two men, two brothers each taking a stand that suggests that if they don't bend, the other one will not be in their life. I mean, it is a big deal. It just gives them... it's a big deal."