Ron Batzdorff/NBC
Dan Snierson
January 08, 2018 AT 02:35 PM EST

Brace yourselves for a family reunion that’s not going to be all smiles and hugs.

This Is Us returns to NBC on Jan. 9 at 9 p.m. ET/PT with its winter premiere, titled “The Fifth Wheel,” and the Pearsons will deal with the fallout of Kevin’s addiction and gather in the same room to be there for Kevin (Justin Hartley), who bottomed out in the fall finale with his DUI arrest, complete with little Tess (Eris Baker) in the backseat. But that meeting between Kevin, Rebecca (Mandy Moore), Randall (Sterling K. Brown), and Kate (Chrissy Metz) will lead to considerable friction while mining plenty of Pearson pain. “It’s one of our most ambitious in terms of there’s a full act that plays out almost like a one-act play,” This Is Us executive producer Issac Aptaker tells EW. “[We are] not using some of our fancier types of flashing around and montage and beautiful photography but really just letting [the characters] act and hash out what’s happened over these last few episodes.” The scene will show various family members trying to “sort out how to best be there for their brother and son,” Aptaker continues, “and in a really, really explosive and ambitious way, playing out a lot of their family drama in this 11-page, nonstop, tour de force scene.” (Or, as Brown warns, “we come back shooting hot, hot fire.” But not, you know, that fire.)

The episode also will feature a pairing of three characters that have not had a story together, and they are tied to Pearsons by romance: Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson), Miguel (Jon Huertas), and Toby (Chris Sullivan). Meanwhile, the past story will warp you back to a “more fun time,” that being when the Big Three were 10 years old: Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) takes the family on a surprise vacation to a cabin in the woods. “That is going to be a slight break from the angst and drama that we’ve been getting into with our teens,” says Aptaker, “and back to lighter days for our Pearsons.”

That might be nice, as dark days are certainly ahead, given the looming death of Jack. The final moment of the fall finale saw the Pearsons convening in the living room — Jack, Rebecca (Mandy Moore), Randall, Kate, Kevin (wearing the leg cast), and the dog — before the Pac-Man game flashed “Game Over.” Aptaker confirms that this scene is meant to read as “ominous,” noting that the only missing puzzle piece from the flashforward moment of Jack’s death in the season 2 premiere is Randall’s red-headed girlfriend. “Once we meet her, everything that we’ve seen is now in place,” he says. “It’s safe to say that the time is closing in. For sure.”

To read what else Brown had to say about the winter premiere, click here. For more hints from Aptaker, head over here.

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