‘This Is Us’ Season 6 Premiere: Everything Changes for the Pearsons (RECAP)

This Is Us Season 6 Mandy Moore Milo Ventimiglia
Spoiler Alert
Ron Batzdorff/NBC

[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for the Season 6 Premiere of This Is Us, “The Challenger”]

The beginning of the end has officially arrived for This Is Us and more change is on the horizon for the Pearsons.

In the sixth and final season premiere for the NBC hit drama, the Big 3 — Randall (Sterling K. Brown), Kevin (Justin Hartley), and Kate (Chrissy Metz) — ring in their 41st birthdays just as their younger counterparts experience the trauma of The Challenger explosion. Flashbacks help show just how much change the Pearson siblings and their mother Rebecca (Mandy Moore) have gone through since the show debuted.

Below, we’re breaking down all of the revelations and developments being made in the premiere but beware of major spoilers.

Past Traumas for the Big 3

This Is Us Season 6 Mandy Moore Milo Ventimiglia

(Credit: Ron Batzdorff/NBC)

The series opens up in the past with the young Big 3 — played by Isabella Rose Landau (Kate), Kaz Womack (Kevin), and Ca’Ron Jaden Coleman (Randall) — gearing up for a big day at school as Rebecca and Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) prepare their lunches in the kitchen to the tune of REO Speedwagon’s “Can’t Fight This Feeling.”

It’s the morning of The Challenger launch and Bec treats the kids with some Tang before heading off to school where they watch the impending tragedy unfold as the space shuttle explodes midair. Understandably, everyone is shaken up from witnessing the explosion, and Jack arrives home to meet Rebecca who fills him in on the kids who haven’t spoken a word since being picked up at school.

Together, they sit with the kids around the table and ask how they’re feeling, admitting that they’re sad about the situation. Kate says it was a good thing the shuttle was high up because it meant they were closer to heaven, meanwhile, Randall acknowledges that he’s sad but doesn’t elaborate. Kevin ignores the heaviness of the conversation and just asks for more mac and cheese.

When Rebecca catches up with Randall later in the episode, she asks if he wants to share how he’s feeling, and he brings up that the teacher in the shuttle — Christa McAuliffe — has kids and wonders if they have anyone to make them dinner. Rebecca reassures him that their dad is probably cooking for them, but Randall wants to send some food to them to make sure.

As for Kevin, Jack tries to get his son to open up, but the boy claims that the event was just a story on TV and that the explosion wasn’t real. Later that night, Rebecca worries that this event will impact their kids in a negative way, but Jack tries to comfort her, unaware of just how deeply Kevin is affected. The past storyline concludes with little Kevin hopping into Kate’s bed and stating the realization he’s been holding inside him all day, and that’s the fact that their mother and father are going to die one day.

Kevin’s New Life

This Is Us Season 6 Justin Hartley

(Credit: Ron Batzdorff/NBC)

Following his almost wedding to Madison (Caitlin Thompson), Kevin has chosen to live in the garage of her home so he can be close to twins Franny and Nick. As he passes the twins off to their mother, he mentions having to go to a meeting that we later discover is with his old boss Casey (Andrew Santino), and in a full-circle moment, he’s invited to participate in a reboot of his old show The Manny.

Needless to say, Kevin’s not entirely on board with returning, but Casey makes some good points about having a stable schedule for his new kids. When he returns to Madison’s to pick up the kids for a birthday party at Rebecca and Miguel’s (Jon Huertas), he walks in on the tail end of her book club as a straggler named Eli flirts with her. Weirded out by the situation, Kevin takes the kids and leaves.

At the party, he and the rest of the family notice something is off about Rebecca and she reveals that a recent scan showed plaques growing on her brain. This means her memory will continue to get worse as Alzheimer’s progresses. It’s a tough pill to swallow, especially for Kevin who returns to Madison’s to find that she and Eli are still hanging out hours later.

When they’re finally alone, he admits that he’s having a bad day and that adding Eli into the mix has made him come to the realization that he may be better off living in a different space than Madison. He opts to shack up at Kate’s house in the meantime and reveals to his sister that he’s probably going to take The Manny gig for his kids.

Kate’s Solo Life

This Is Us Season 6 Chris Geere and Chrissy Metz

(Credit: Ron Batzdorff/NBC)

Kate juggles the challenges of being a single parent most days of the week as Toby (Chris Sullivan) works a job in San Francisco. While it isn’t the same as an in-person celebration, Toby wishes his wife a happy birthday via Facetime from his office and informs her that he has planned her whole day as Rebecca and Miguel take Jack and Hailey for the day.

First up on Toby’s surprises is a masseuse who surprises Kate at home, and although she’s appreciative, Kate tells the woman that it isn’t usually Toby’s style to outsource gifts as he’s typically an in-person grand gesture type of guy. After seemingly de-stressing though, Kate receives a text from Phillip (Chris Geere) who says there’s an emergency at work.

Arriving soon after, Kate overhears a fight between Phillip and his girlfriend who he appears to break up with. Brushing off the awkwardness of the situation, Phillip leads Kate to some students who are not in distress but instead serenade her with a birthday performance of Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time.”

After attending the family party and returning home, she gives Kevin a pep talk about reflecting on how far they’ve come in five years and how they can always find the light in the darkest of situations, even when it comes to Rebecca’s prognosis. As Kate gets ready for bed, Toby texts her about her birthday, before surprising her in their bedroom where they share a sweet hug. The moment is tinged with a bittersweet tone as viewers know the relationship is going to fall apart soon.

Randall’s Quest for Kindness

This Is Us Season 6 Susan Kelechi Watson and Sterling K Brown

(Credit: Ron Batzdorff/NBC)

Back on the East Coast, Randall is preoccupied with the news that his home intruder is being arraigned and he plans to attend the court proceedings to find some closure. Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) advises against this and suggests that Randall spend his birthday with the family before they join the rest of the Pearsons virtually for a party.

But Randall’s mind is made up and so he goes to court to speak with the man who broke into his home a year ago, and he discovers that the man has no memory of the crime. It’s clear he’s an addict, and Randall feels for him as the man asks about his dog. Feeling sorry for him, Randall decides to bail the man out of jail and asks him to meet at the nearby shelter where Randall plans to set the man up for a better path.

Beth can’t believe the story herself, but isn’t altogether surprised by her husband’s actions and just hopes that Randall doesn’t end up disappointed. Randall explains that he sees his family in this man, and only wishes he could do better for the people of Philadelphia. In the end, the man doesn’t show up, but Randall doesn’t give up hope for the future, and Beth continues to stand by his side in his quest.

Rebecca, Miguel, and Their Third Wheel Uncle Nicky

Uncle Nicky (Griffin Dunne) tags along with Rebecca and Miguel as they take young Jack and Hailey on a little train ride. During the excursion, Uncle Nicky talks about Facebook stalking his former flame, and Rebecca remembers train rides with her father as a kid. This topic sparks a long fog for Rebecca as she can’t seem to find the word “caboose” in her brain. Falling into a flurry of memories, she tries to remember the word and goes the whole day fixating on it.

That frustration allows her no extra patience for Nicky who later that night complains that he’s going to keep Facebook stalking Sally, and Rebecca finally explodes. She tells Nicky that he can’t sit around and wait for something to happen as she just had to share devastating news with her kids. This argument leads her to suggest that they take a trip to visit Sally in person.

Before the episode concludes, Rebecca finds “caboose” in her vocabulary, suggesting that there’s still hope for the Pearson family matriarch. Stay tuned to see how these plots unfold as the final season of This Is Us continues on NBC.

This Is Us, Season 6, Tuesdays, 9/8c, NBC