By Brian Lowry CNN
(CNN) — The following contains spoilers about the “This Is Us” Season 2 finale.
There was no sophomore jinx for “This Is Us,” which capped a second season punctuated by its post-Super Bowl episode with a strong, emotional finale that simultaneously managed to look back while cleverly planting the seeds for what lies ahead.
Series creator Dan Fogelman has played with time on the show from the get-go, but the foreshadowing regarding the future has almost felt like a “Lost”-like wrinkle, bringing additional dimension to the characters and what’s happening in the present.
Admittedly, the show’s reputation for tugging at the heartstrings is well earned, and there was more than a little manipulation in juxtaposing preparation for the wedding of Kate (Chrissy Metz) and Toby (Chris Sullivan) with gauzy images of what might have been had Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) lived. He was shown older and gray, celebrating his 40th anniversary with Rebecca (Mandy Moore).
The “what if?” aspect, however, was driven home by the understated flashbacks, as Kate reflected on quiet moments with her father, who spoke about her eventual marriage and being there to walk her down the aisle.
At the same time, the episode leapt beyond the day’s moments of happiness — and its comedic flourishes, an underrated aspect of the show — to scenes that deftly laid the groundwork for a third season and beyond. Those included a new relationship for Kevin (Justin Hartley) and another glimpse farther down the road of Randall (Sterling K. Brown) once his children have grown up.
The series has also taken what easily could have been a tired subplot, involving Randall’s foster child Deja (Lyric Ross), and in the last few episodes broadened that into something more resonant than clichéd, while presenting Randall with a parenting challenge that, as is so often true on the show, ties into his past while simultaneously hinting at his future.
Perhaps foremost, the season finale reinforced that the series is ready to move on, having spent enough time building up toward — and eventually revealing — the mystery surrounding Jack’s death. While that was the signature event in these characters’ lives, Tuesday’s episode served notice that life goes on.
Like any soap with this many moving parts, “This Is Us” is engaged in a delicate balancing act, one where each moment of triumph or happiness by necessity brings with it, or is quickly followed by, a new setback or hurdle.
Nevertheless, the writing team has seldom hit a false note in layering on new facets of these characters as their lives progress — no small feat, especially with the added scrutiny and expectations that come from being a hit series. (Not surprisingly, NBC used the finale as a springboard to launch a new drama, “Rise,” which would clearly like to appeal to the same audience.)
As Toby, Sullivan tends to get a lot of the best lines, and he delivered a doozy in the finale, as Kate apologized about her more eccentric plans for the wedding. “If my boo comes with baggage, I’m paying the handling fee,” he said.
“This Is Us” loaded on several new pieces of baggage Tuesday. And if they’re anything like what’s preceded them thus far, the fee — in the form of continued investment in the show — is going to be well worth it.
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