This is Us did the impossible again.

I’m thrilled the series is back, but I’m heartbroken that this is the final season, and This Is Us Season 6 Episode 1 made it even harder.

It’s fitting that this beloved show focused on loss and light throughout the hour. Thanks to real-world darkness, it’s not only this season’s theme but also something that viewers may need right now.

41st Birthday / Tall - This Is Us Season 6 Episode 1

Little Kevin’s comment that his parents would someday die summed up so much of what is brilliant about this series.

It’s not just that This Is Us features multiple timelines or started the trend of TV series playing with time.

The way the timelines blend makes the series almost like a generational novel. For the past six years, viewers have been privileged to get glimpses of the Pearsons’ futures as well as their pasts and presents. The series, at its heart, is about how people and families change over time, including how beloved characters grow old and die.

Knowing that Jack dies young makes all of his scenes with Rebecca and the kids so much more poignant. And now, in the present and future, it’s Rebecca’s turn.

Birthday Surprise - This Is Us Season 6 Episode 1

Rebecca’s cognitive decline storyline is one of those things that I both love and hate. I’ve dealt with dementia in my own family, so I know there’s only one way this story can end. And the flash-forwards of the past several years confirm it.

It’s hard enough knowing that Rebecca will eventually succumb to dementia and may not recognize her loved ones at the end.

But her medication seemed to be working, for the most part, until the big reveal that her PET scan shows otherwise.

Damn it. The writers pulled the rug out from under us in a painfully realistic manner with this one, making it hurt twice as much.

Beth Supports Randall - This Is Us Season 6 Episode 1

Rebecca’s obsession with remembering the word she lost made total sense once we learned that she’s aware of where she’s headed with this disease.

To her, the loss of the word symbolized the disease. If she could remember it, she could prove to herself that she wasn’t hurtling toward a sad end as quickly as it seemed.

I was surprised that no one jumped in during the train ride to remind her of the word she was searching for. Nicky was preoccupied with his lack of courage when it came to Sally, and I guess Miguel knew better than to try to help Rebecca out in this regard.

Either way, Rebecca’s obsession with the lost word interfered with her enjoyment of the birthday party. Hopefully, even though it was a sad day for everyone, she at least could focus on her present and not miss any more of it once she’d gotten the truth out.

Big Decisions - This Is Us Season 6 Episode 1

Juxtaposing these scenes with the Challenger explosion was brilliant. Like that particular tragedy, Rebecca’s cognitive decline is not something anyone can control, and each of the Big Three handled it in their own way.

Kate is still the optimist who makes the best out of tragedy, while Kevin bottles his feelings and Randall overcompensates for pain by being, as Beth suggested, compulsively compassionate.

Mom is really sick, Kate. I can’t believe this is real, that this is happening. It feels like the world should stop for Mom, you know? And it infuriates me that this is happening to us and the world is going on, people are living like nothing’s going on.

Kevin

One of the most compelling sequences was grown-up Kevin turning to Kate at the same time as little Kevin did. Kevin realized the day of the Challenger explosion that life was fleeting and that his parents would someday die, and now it is happening.

Facing It Together - This Is Us Season 6 Episode 1

Rebecca’s illness represents Kevin’s worst fears, and that’s as it should be. It’s a testament to how strong a mother figure Rebecca was to the Big Three that they all view her as their rock and are struggling with this latest news about her cognitive decline.

The good news is that the Big Three all have each other. Kate’s speech about that was something audiences needed to hear while dealing with COVID surges and personal tragedies.

Some viewers might prefer escapist television during these times, but This Is Us’ central message is that while people may pass on, families endure. And that’s a message we desperately need nowadays.

Despite the grief, This Is Us Season 6 Episode 1 wasn’t depressing, in large part thanks to the bits of humor sprinkled throughout.

Dealing With a Tragedy - This Is Us Season 6 Episode 1

Nicky and Rebecca’s sparring had several laugh-out-loud moments.

Nicky: Every morning I Facebook stalk the girl who got away. Did I tell you about her?
Miguel: Sally? Only every day.
Nicky: Yeah so I haven’t got the nerve to talk to her and now I’m sitting on a baby train.

Although it was tinged with sadness too, Rebecca’s insistence that Nicky search out Sally so he can stop giving her a headache was classic Rebecca.

Only Rebecca could put Nicky in his place, and she did it while he was being self-absorbed and ignoring her tragic news.

Mandy Moore on This Is Us Season 6

Elsewhere, it felt like the series tied up some loose ends.

Randall’s experience with the robber wasn’t something I’d thought a lot about since it happened, but the arraignment worked as a catalyst for Randall to focus on outreach to people with addiction problems.

Hopefully, he can find better solutions than bailing out someone who isn’t going to take the chance they’ve been offered. Also, let’s hope that guy doesn’t rob anyone else.

And I’m not sure how I feel about Kevin working on the reboot of The Manny, either. It’s a bit too full circle for me, and it’s incredible how Kevin went from heartthrob to “too old” to play the title character in five years.

Practicin.g Her Vows - This Is Us Season 5 Episode 16

I’m glad, though, that he realized that living in Madison’s garage wasn’t going to work.

Madison seemed to be moving on with Elijah, and Kevin wasn’t going to get his dream of being married to his kids’ mother. So he needs to move on, too, for everyone’s sake.

As for Kate, I don’t know how she could fall for Philip after witnessing him being so blunt and rude to the woman he was breaking up with, even if the surprise at the school was sweet.

She and Toby seem like they’re in a good place, too, so I’m curious about how they end up divorced.

Over the next several months, hopefully, This Is Us will answer that question as well as fill in the blanks about that fateful last day in Rebecca’s life. There’s so much story left to be told before the series wraps up, and it’s going to be a wild ride.

In the meantime, what did you think of This Is Us Season 6 Episode 1? Hit the big, blue SHOW COMMENTS button and let us know!

Missed the episode? No problem. Just watch This Is Us online right here on TV Fanatic.

The final season of This is Us airs on NBC on Tuesdays at 9 PM EST/PST.

Jack Ori is a senior staff writer for TV Fanatic. His debut young adult novel, Reinventing Hannah, is available on Amazon. Follow him on Twitter.

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