SPOILER ALERT: This story contains key plot points from Tuesday’s episode of This Is Us.
Rebecca, we’d like to introduce you to Randall’s biological father—
What’s that? You’ve already met? Well, in that case, we’ll just close this door and let you two catch up on old times…
The third installment of This Is Us may not have packed an end-of-episode whopper, but it did feature a powerful emotional confrontation earlier in the hour — two, in fact. In the awkward confines of a bedroom at Randall’s house, we learned that Rebecca (Mandy Moore) not only knew the identity of Randall’s (Sterling K. Brown) biological father, William (Ron Cephas Jones), she even had a secret arrangement with him — one that would not allow him to be part of Randall’s life.
Back in 1979, after spotting someone outside the hospital as she was being wheeled out with her two biological children and adopted son, Rebecca went looking for the person referred to as “Shakespeare,” and discovered why William had left the baby at a fire station: He and his drug-addicted girlfriend were not in shape to care for their child. She confided in him that she was having difficulty bonding with her adopted son, and she did not feel comfortable with William’s request to check in on the child from time to time. However, she did change the name of the baby to Randall, after the poet Dudley Randall — she and Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) first tried Kyle, another K name to honor Dr. K (Gerald McRaney)— taking William’s advice to let Randall be his own person. (Creator Dan Fogelman explains the implications of the secret history between Rebecca and William here.)
And let us take a moment to reflect on that powerful beginning to the episode: Through a wordless montage of a half-dozen moments on a Pittsburgh bus, we were introduced to a young William, a bright poet who was inspired to capture life in his journal. Then he met a woman on the bus who grabbed his attention, fell victim to drug addiction with her — his penmanship growing shakier and shakier, until his written words were illegible scribbles — and wound up a tattered soul, alone with a baby in a blanket in his lap and a fire station in his view.
So now you know a little more about how Randall came to be in Rebecca and Jack’s life and out of William’s. But you don’t know what Moore and her castmates thought of the show’s latest emotional piledriver. Let’s solve that right now.
On that heart-rending opening sequence:
STERLING K. BROWN: Anytime you can create a story without words, it’s magical. It’s like that two-minute section of Up. I thought that the story was just so beautifully told— to see the evolution of William that he was an artist and he had this spark, and then he allowed that spark to be taken away from him through substance abuse. But that he had met this woman and that they were beautiful and just thriving. And then, the two of them descend and then he’s by himself again. I think I started crying just reading off the page, like, “Oh, my God.”
On the revelation that Rebecca and William have known each other:
BROWN: To know that Rebecca knew about him is sort of mind-blowing. But what I also loved about it is that I understood why she made the choice that she made. If you were going to be the parent, then you can’t — for her in this time, she needed him gone. “This is my child now. I appreciate the feedback, I appreciate that you were able to bring him into this world safe and sound, but now he’s mine, and I need you to go away.” I get that.
MILO VENTIMIGLIA: I thought it was a great device. I thought it was something that was smart. I thought it’s inclusive of the history of William to know that he gave this baby up, but yet he still has a heart and he has a human being and that’s his child. I think he’s got to feel something — if not the largest of emotions — in a situation like that having to let a child go. I just think it was a great, great thing that the producers gave to Ron. That does pop up and is part of his story and ultimately Randall’s story — and Rebecca’s story.
On the reasons that Rebecca told William that he couldn’t have contact with Randall:
MANDY MOORE: I understood Rebecca’s plight. Here’s this mother who just suffered this terrible loss and collectively with her husband has decided to foster and then adopt this baby — who knows what would have happened to him in the system? — and the fact that she’s not bonding with him. She notices this man and puts two and two together, and realizes what his relationship is to Randall and decides that there is no alternative: “If I’m going to be this child’s mother and he is going to be a part of our family forever, moving forward, he has to know us as his parents. I’m having a hard enough time right now struggling with being a new mother, having lost the baby, and trying to bond with this child who isn’t mine who I didn’t carry for nine months in my stomach, I need to know that you’re not going to come back and you’re not going to try and influence his life or the choices that we’re making with him.” I really felt her plight.
I don’t know what I would have done in that situation, and I feel like she was making the decision that she thought was best at the time for her family and for her child. I don’t think she was trying to ignore his needs as a father. But also in a way, she’s like, “You abandoned this child. You gave him up,’ and then I think in her mind, at that point you lose all parental rights. “You left him on the front step of a fire station; you shouldn’t be allowed to be in his life, and I just emotionally don’t know if I could handle having you be in his life, either.” So it’s a tough stance to take, but I relate to it, and I can understand a way into it, and I have empathy and I have sympathy for her, and I think that’s how I tried to approach it, with a fierceness of: There is no other way to do this but my way. If I’m going to hold this secret in, and I’m not going to tell my husband, and obviously I’m not going to tell my children, it’s really deep and it’s really powerful and that’s why that scene was so difficult with Ron. It’s like, “F—, my life has just been thrown through a loop,” because Randall is the child that she’s closest with, which will be interesting because I don’t even have all the answers from [creator Dan Fogelman] yet as to what happened with Kevin (Justin Hartley) and Kate (Chrissy Metz)? I know Randall is the one that has a family, and they’re the ones that live closest to us, but what happened with the other two that our adopted child is the one that is the child I have the closest bond with?
RON CEPHAS JONES: I thought it was perfect, because once you’ve adopted a child, the biological parents weren’t supposed to by law contact the adopted parents or the child because of the safety of the child and also not to confuse the child. So I think that the pact that William made with Rebecca, he honored it because he believed that — and I also believe that he felt he would be better off without me. I think that some time went by, maybe after he got clean and after his life got better that he might have wanted to get in touch with him, but he more than anything else wanted to keep his promise.
NEXT: “If it’s not going to heal and reveal something, then don’t reveal the secret.”[pagebreak]
On the inevitability of Randall finding out what has been hidden from him all these years
MOORE: At some point, there’s no way [he won’t]. He is going to find out, especially [given] that this person — his estranged, biological father — is now going to be a part of his life. He found him, and it’s horrible news obviously, but he maybe is not going to be around for very long. But he is going to be in his life for as long as he is around, so it’s hard to think that somehow in some way that information won’t find its way to Randall’s ears.
JONES: I think it’s a matter of whether he’s going to understand [his mother’s and William’s motivations if and when he’s told], and some people might and some people might not. I think initially maybe not, but the argument makes sense that they should keep their pact and he shouldn’t know. But then the other side of the argument is, yeah, but then it becomes a lie, and it becomes a secret, and in family, you’re as sick as your secrets. So that’s the overriding word here is secret, and how a secret can damage relationships and family, and you have a different opinion about that secret — whether you should reveal it or whether you should keep it. Is a secret a secret if it’s going to really hurt somebody? Then it should remain a secret. Or is it going to reveal something that’s going to heal? If it’s not going to heal and reveal something, then don’t reveal the secret, so it depends on your philosophy about secrets, you know what I mean. I feel like that’s probably how William felt; it’s been a secret despite my desire to want to let him know. We made a pact. We made a promise that this would be best for him.
BROWN: I’m thinking about my mom and the mother hen that she is. Now, will Randall feel that if Randall finds out? He’ll probably have a very different feeling. Because Randall for his whole life has been looking to connect with people. He’s seen men come in and out of his life, possibly at the swimming pool, at school, anytime he sees a black man he wonders, “Could that person have been my father?” And the fact that she knew and didn’t share that information — that’s going to be tough.
On her steely determination to protect the secret, as evidence by her conversation with William
MOORE: He can’t [find out]. Not after this long. I had to imagine growing up all the time, there had to have been a couple of years when he got old enough, it was like, “So where did I come from?” and nobody ever knew who this man was. There’s no way to track him down, there’s no birth certificate. I had to imagine that this was a conversation that we had multiple times over the years. When he was younger, and then when he became a teenager, I saw that it was part of his identity that he struggled with. And to still withhold that information and withhold it from Jack, and to be the only one until this man blows my mind and is sitting in my granddaughter’s bedroom — I don’t think it’s anything that she reconciled she’d ever have to deal with again. I think she thought she’d be buried with this secret, and he would be none the wiser. So that’s why there’s so much at stake. The idea that anything could interrupt that relationship and damage that relationship, it means the world to her. I think she’s really fearful that here’s this person that’s come back into his life, and he clearly wants something because he’s there, and I know my son. My son is going to do everything with every fiber of his being to try to fix him and fix the relationship, and there’s a lot of fear there that the secret will be revealed.
On the idea that William did the right thing as well, if he was incapable of providing a good home for Randall:
JONES: Those are the exact questions that are about to be answered as the episodes unfold. It’s that layer that starts to peel away. Personally yes, what drove me with the character was that I thought this was the best thing for Randall, and it turns out that it is, all depending on how you look at it after you watch all the episodes. I think that was William’s thinking, that it was an overwhelming point where he was young, and it just overwhelmed him. So he felt it was the best thing for the safety of the baby. And then we can flash forward, and you’ll get an idea over the next several episodes, because that issue is brought up in a big way.
On the difficulty of shooting the Rebecca-William scene in present day:
MOORE: It was tough, just because of the prosthetic [to age Rebecca]. It was the first thing that we shot with the prosthetic, and I was beyond thrilled to finally have the opportunity to work with Sterling and with Ron. I just felt so lucky just to work with them, and they’re both such phenomenal actors and are both so grounded, I felt like we found our rhythm right away. We were just on the same page. We had very distinct point of views of where we were coming at for the scene, and we just did what we had to do and it felt really good.
MOORE: I think she was scared of letting anybody else in on the secret for fear of him feeling differently than her: “You know what? No, babe. Maybe he should have a relationship with Randall.” I think she just really was like, “Nope, I’m going to handle my s—.” She found out where he lived, and she was going to get his story and get as much information as she needed to hear about him, and she needed to know where he came from. But everything after that point was going to live and die in that apartment.
VENTIMIGLIA: Jack doesn’t know, so I’m going to take the fifth and say I have no idea. I really think that there are so many moments and there will be so many moments within the relationship of Jack and Rebecca where Rebecca is the one leading the way and she’s the one that is making a decision on both their behalf. But out of the protection of her husband, because she knows how big of a heart he has and how much he does love, but also in order for a family to move forward, she had to make the decision to say, “You’re not in any shape to be involved in this baby’s life nor ours, so I need you to stay away.” I feel like there are moments and there will be moments where support is needed and support is given. This is just one of those moments that I think had Jack known about it, it might be a different outcome. It might be a surprise outcome. It might be the simplest of things of, “You’re right. We need to move on with our lives.”
To read what creator Dan Fogelman had to say about episode 3, click here.