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This Is Us producer breaks down Jack and Rebecca's fight, tension with Ben

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Ron Batzdorff/NBC

There was cause for concern nearly everywhere on Tuesday’s installment of NBC’s This Is Us. Beth’s mother broke her hip. William’s health was breaking down. Randall himself seemed headed for a breakdown. Kevin was stressed that he would tank on the opening night of his play. Jack and Rebecca’s relationship took a turn — a hard one — for the worse. (And what about Toby and Kate? Don’t get us started, because, well…  there wasn’t much to get started on. They actually became a force of calm and reason — that is, once Kate was kicked out of her weight-loss immersion camp.)

“Jack Pearson’s Son” opened with things seeming stable between Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) and Rebecca (Mandy Moore), especially after that uncomfortable ending to last week’s episode, in which Rebecca told Jack during their sweet romantic reconnection at their old apartment that she wanted to go on tour with Ben’s band. But as Jack attended a Valentine’s Day gig for the band with Miguel (Jon Huertas), he saw the way they connected onstage, and, in his mind, it validated his jealousy when Ben (Sam Trammell) let it slip after the show that he and Rebecca used to date. That led to the cancellation of the traditional bacon cheeseburger date, a confrontation that included Jack accusing Rebecca of lying and Rebecca explaining that he would have “spun out” and blurting out that she “needed to have something for myself without you getting in the way,” (that’s going to leave an emotional mark), and ultimately Jack retreating to the restaurant to not just consume the cheeseburger but also some forbidden drinks.

In Pearson present day, the responsibilities and pressures and anxieties (including a terminally ill biological father that just fired his nurse!) were piling up on Randall (Sterling K. Brown), causing the perfection-seeking family man and corporate star to be reduced to a man unable to function, frozen in tears. Collapsed on the floor of his office, he would be comforted by the sibling who teased and ignored him in his youth: Kevin (Justin Hartley). Seconds from going on stage — and emboldened by advice from, of all people, stepdad Miguel (Jon Huertas) — the former star of The Manny bolted from the theater (if you thought Sloane was pissed before, imagine her now) and finally showed up for his brother, another step in repairing a historically fraught relationship.

And given that we’re talking relationships, albeit a different kind, Kate (Chrissy Metz) and Toby (Chris Sullivan) took theirs in a strange, new direction: normalcy. Toby cautioned that after all of the collapsing and surgeries and surgeries that were postponed and breakups and makeups and expulsions from weight-loss immersion camps, perhaps it was time to pump the brakes and try to get to know each other better — and for her to be able to talk about Jack’s death — before they got married, possibly (but probably not) in a water park.

Let’s dive back into the action with a man who has never played tennis with Salmon Rushdie, Ken Olin, the This Is Us executive producer who directed “Jack Pearson’s Son.”

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY:  If we were a little worried after Rebecca told Jack that she wanted to go on tour,  now it seems we have true cause for concern. Sacrifices made for love are now being thrown back in each other’s face. How much of a wedge will the tour with Ben drive between Jack and Rebecca in these last few episodes? And how ominous is that final moment with Jack downing a drink, a problem that he told Rebecca he would fix — and did?
I think that the question is not necessarily how much of a wedge her going on tour will drive between the two of them, as much as the issues that are presented in episode 15 — his jealousy and his difficulty with her leaving, her need for independence and her need to be able to get back to her creative self. Those are the issues that drive a wedge that never really were resolved. She put some of that behind her. She was willing to make that sacrifice, but I think for a lot of women who are really creative, when they make those sacrifices for their marriages and children, it doesn’t mean that those desires go away. And the thing that’s probably the most ominous is when she says to him, “I thought that I could have this without you getting in the way.” And what she means by that is, “I thought that I could have this for myself without the issues that you have and your dependency on me and your fears about losing me getting in the way.” So, it’s certainly something that will have to be dealt with in the final episodes of the season, because before we even deal with her being away for that amount of time, she will have to deal with how much that threatens him — and how much she resents some of the sacrifices that she’s made.

[As for] the drinking, that’s another thing that will be dealt with by the end of the season — whether or not the drinking is in fact a symptom of a disease, that we’re dealing with real alcoholism. Or we are dealing with some fundamental weakness on Jack’s part, meaning some of the fears or insecurities that he has, that he uses alcohol to self-medicate? But it certainly is a significant issue. This is a person that hasn’t been drinking for six, seven years, and he clearly makes a choice because of the things that are happening with Rebecca that he needs to have a drink in order to soothe his anxiety.

We saw another side of Jack in the second episode, when he was drinking too much. In this episode, an unpleasant jealous, insecure side reared its ugly head. Are we going to start to see more flaws in the Super Dad/Super Jack portrait moving forward?
We’re going to see some things coming up. In the character that Milo created, the thing that we really tried to depict is that flawlessness, that Super Dad, is also in some ways a veneer that covers a person who has some real insecurities, some real damage. We’ve seen that as a child he was the son of an alcoholic, and we’ve seen that every once in a while, we’d get glimpses of his anger. And then Rebecca represents, in his mind, a kind of salvation for him. He is deeply in love with her, and she makes him reach for his best self. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that all those issues and all those demons don’t exist anymore. To the world, many people think, “Oh, this is a perfect Dad. It’s a superhero.” One of the things that we’re going to see is it’s not the same thing as being married to him and being really intimate with him, which Rebecca is. And there’s certain limitations he has that run directly contrary to some of the things that she needs in life, and that once she begins to express those things — and once she begins to demand some of those things for herself — he’s not as capable of keeping those demons at bay.

Let’s talk about the conversation Ben and Jack had at the bar. Was his mentioning to Jack that he used to date Rebecca designed on any level to get under Jack’s skin, or was it just an awkward stumble into a minefield?
I think it’s a little early to tell. We’re going to find out a little more about the way Ben operates in the last three episodes of the season. I don’t think he’s a bad guy at all, but I don’t know that he’s a particularly good guy or a responsible guy. He’s a very interesting character because at the end of the season people are going to have to draw their own conclusions about what motivates him, and what motivates him in terms of his relationship with Rebecca.

They are duetting on that Etta James song with lyrics like “If you ever change your mind about leavin’/leavin’ me behind/Oh, oh, bring it to me Bring your sweet lovin’.” When Jack notices their intense eye contact, Miguel assures him that they’re just playing it up for the crowd.
Mm-hmm. (Chuckles.)

Is it more than that? Even if Ben isn’t nefariously plotting something, it just seems that there’s more than a musical connection there.
You’ll just have to wait and see. I mean, the only thing I can tell you is that as it plays out — and as it will play out over the final episode of the season — there will be enough information for people to draw their own conclusions about that. But it’s like anything in terms of relationships; part of it has to do with who’s perceiving it and why are they perceiving it a certain way. And we’re going to get enough information by the end of the season that people will have to draw their own conclusions about whatever their chemistry is. What is Ben thinking? What is Rebecca thinking? Where is this a product of Jack’s insecurities and where is he really perceiving something accurately?

NEXT PAGE: Toby and Kate’s decision to slow things down will ‘take us in a whole different direction’