This Is Us gets plenty of credit for its sob-worthy storylines, but what we really need to talk about is the fact that the NBC drama is obsessed with tricking its audience. Just when we think we're watching events occur in the present-day timeline, This Is Us decides to flip everything on its head.
It first happened in the pilot episode, when it was revealed that Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) and Rebecca (Mandy Moore) were actually the parents of Kate (Chrissy Metz), Randall (Sterling K. Brown), and Kevin (Justin Hartley). It happened again in season 2's "That'll Be The Day," when we realized that the elderly couple selling their home wasn't the one whom Jack was going to buy a house from. Instead, they were ultimately who hand-delivered Jack the instrument of his death. (Really dark, NBC.)
On Sunday, however, it was revealed that the next generation of the Pearson family was at the center of the twist — specifically, an all grown-up Tess (Eris Baker). At the end of "Super Bowl Sunday," Tess and Randall have a much-needed heart-to-heart. Tess has had a hard time with all of the changes that Randall has made — she thinks that he wants a "whole new life." Why else would he be so gung-ho to foster?
It's not the first time that we saw Tess struggle (she did hide in Kevin's car to get out of the house, totally unaware that Kevin was driving drunk at the time) but it was the first time that Tess put a name to her problem with her parents. Fortunately, Randall is the best dad (he gets it from Jack, of course) and insists that Tess is his whole life. He even predicts the future, in which he picks Tess up from her "fancy office" and takes her to dinner once a week to talk about life.
That's when the show cuts to a runner we've seen a few times over the course of the season. A little boy sits with his social worker (Iantha Richardson), who tells him that he's going home with a new family. It happens at the very same moment Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) gets a phone call on the landline. (Tess says earlier in the episode that the social worker only calls on the landline, which is why she had been disconnecting it.) At that point, it would be obvious to assume that the little boy will become a part of the Pearson family — except, that's not at all what's going on.
Instead, it's an adult Tess who is the social worker, which we realize when a greying Randall shows up to take his daughter to their weekly dinner. Though honestly, we probably should have figured it out considering Richardson is a dead ringer for an older Baker.
It's an incredibly sweet twist — one that made me a lot happier than the whole slow cooker fiasco. It seems that Tess not only made peace with her father's decision to take in a foster child, but also saw an incredible value in it.
I mean, I'm honestly crying just thinking about it.
The Tess twist could also suggest something larger about the series. While we've been focusing on the adult Pearsons, the series could, at least occasionally, move into a future timeline. Creator Dan Fogelman teased as much in an interview with the The Hollywood Reporter.
"[This Is Us is] going to new places where people don't even know quite yet exactly where the show is going and what it's about and that's going to start revealing itself as we move forward," the writer told the outlet.
Could these "new places" be following Tess into her life as a social worker? This is one heartwarming storyline I certainly want to see more of — and not just because it's confirmation that Randall is alive and well in the future timeline.
But, you know — because it doesn't hurt.