This Is Us: “The Train” Explores the Act of Dying in a Beautiful Way

Rebecca and William stare at each other.
Screenshot / NBC

The following contains spoilers for This is Us, “The Train” (written by Dan Fogelman, Jon Dorsey, & Danielle Bauman and directed by Ken Olin)

When I was younger and would watch TV with my mom, she would cry for anything, and I mean anything. Toilet paper commercials could bring a tear to her eye, and I would enjoy making fun of her for it. “Wait until you get older, you’ll see,” she would tell me every time. I got older and remained stone-cold. That is until This Is Us came along.

If I could force the whole world to watch this series, I would. It is, and I mean this, the best show I have ever seen. The writing is superb, the narrative made sense, and they knew how to fuck with your emotions. I can go on and on but I won’t. My purpose here is to talk about the penultimate episode of the series, “The Train.”

This is one of those episodes you could watch without having seen the rest of the show, and it will gut you all the same, especially if you have experienced loss in your life.

Rebecca Pearson (Mandy Moore) is the matriarch of the Pearson family. The series long portrayed Jack (Milo Ventimiglia), Rebecca’s husband, as the glue that held the family together. After they were married, Rebecca got pregnant with triplets. Tragically, one of the triplets died during childbirth. Serendipitously, Jack and Rebecca adopted another baby born the same day and that made “The Big 3” Kate, Kevin, and Randall.

Jack dies when they are in high school. This alters their paths and who they become later in life. The show ran 6 seasons, and most of them were spent illuminating Jack and how special he was to the family. It was only in the later episodes that we started to understand that Rebecca was the one who held it all together and how special she truly was.

The realization makes it all the more devastating for her children and the viewers to see her decline in health due to Alzheimer’s. “The Train” takes place as Rebecca is at home in bed, actively dying. Her family are there and take turns sitting with her at her bedside. While they are doing that, Rebecca subconsciously finds herself on a train.

The Train is a sort of representation of her life. She is staring out of the window when she mentions that her dad always wanted to take her on a train like this. She looks up to see William (Randall’s real father who also died). He acts as a guide of sorts and asks her to accompany him to the bar, but she insists she is waiting for someone. Presumably, it is Jack.

William explains that they don’t have a lot of time and asks her to follow. As they go through the cars, she hears Beth (Randall’s wife) on the intercom. Simultaneously, Beth is by her bedside expressing her love and gratitude. Rebecca then sees a teen Beth sitting on the train.

No matter what religion you are or your thoughts on spirituality, you can look at this and truly envision that this would be how it all happens as you are crossing the life/death threshold. Doctors tell us that even though our loved ones aren’t awake, they can still hear us. I think this was a beautiful way to portray that.

Rebecca and Dr.K at the bar.
Screenshot / NBC

Rebecca makes it to the bar and is met with Dr. K., the doctor who delivered her babies and remained a good friend for years after. He tells her that her kids grew up well. She looks over to see both her boys are there, smiling and joking with their younger selves. Maybe it’s because I’m a mother myself, but this scene punched me right in my heart. Rebecca expresses how she spent most of her life worrying about her kids and that she made so many mistakes. Dr. K then reveals:

I thought I was going to lose you that day, after the birth of the first child when you started crashing, and I think you felt it too. A voice in my head said, ‘You’re gonna lose the mother. Save the children.’ But you survived. And then you lost a baby and a husband… but look what you made of it all.

Meanwhile, back at the house, everyone is questioning if Kate will make it in time. Unfortunately, she was on a plane when she was told that her mom didn’t have much time left. Then it becomes clear that Rebecca isn’t waiting for Jack, she is waiting for Kate.

Another kick to my heart.

Rebecca is almost at the end of the train. She tells William she needs to wait for Kate. Back at the house, Kate comes running across the yard and into Rebecca’s room. She lets her mom know she’s there. On the train at the same time, William opens the final door to the last car. Inside there is a bed. Next to it sits a young Kate, smiling at Rebecca. Rebecca turns to William and says it is all so sad. Then as is usual for This Is Us, William gives an amazingly heartfelt speech…

The way I see it, if something makes you sad when it ends, it must have been pretty wonderful when it was happening. Truth be told, I always felt it a bit lazy to just think of the world as sad, because so much of it is. Because everything ends. Everything dies. But if you step back, if you step back and look at the whole picture, if you’re brave enough to allow yourself the gift of a really wide perspective, if you do that, you’ll see that the end is not sad, Rebecca. It’s just the start of the next incredibly beautiful thing.

Then she looks back to the bed and sits for a moment. She lies back and rolls over to find Jack smiling at her. Then, with her kids by her bedside, she passes on.

Jack and Rebecca face each other in bed.
Screenshot / NBC

I lost my mom about a year prior to watching this episode. I struggled sometimes thinking about her final moments and what she must have seen/heard/felt. The way the writers portrayed the act of dying through the eyes of the person who will die was incredible to me. I find it ironic how this episode made me feel so much and how it opened a floodgate I didn’t know I had in me since it reminded me so much of my mother. She told me I’d understand when I was older, and I absolutely do now. My kids will catch the occasional tear at a random commercial and give me an eye-roll.

Like Rebecca’s life, it all comes full circle.

You can catch This Is Us on Peacock and NBC.

Written by Felicia Nickens

Lover of television, film, & the macabre.

One Comment

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  1. Beautifully written and well said. It was an awesome show. Loss is never easy but I believe that I will be with my loved ones again one day. I’m sure your Mom is resting in Peace.

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