This Is Us creator on Randall's health, Kate's temptation, Rebecca's 'critical' decision
[Spoiler alert: This story contains plot details from Tuesday’s episode of This Is Us, titled “I Call Marriage.”]
The last episode of This Is Us ended with Jack and Rebecca at a somber Pearson ceremony: A funeral. (Rebecca was merely attending, of course, while Jack was the one eternal-resting in an urn.) This week’s episode began with another pivotal Pearson ceremony, albeit one that was much more upbeat: Jack and Rebecca’s wedding. They celebrated their nuptials with a kiss on the courthouse steps and then listened to a lovely speech by everyone’s (some people’s? anyone’s?) favorite spouse of Rebecca, Miguel (Jon Huertas).
Soon after, we saw the Pearsons transition from reckless bathroom sex (R.I.P., soap dish) to feckless teeth brushing (R.I.P., passion), their marriage washed out by years of, well, marriage and kids and responsibilities and the etceteras of life. And then came a bomb: Miguel and Shelly (Wynn Everett) announced they were getting divorced. Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) wondered: Were he and Rebecca (Mandy Moore) next? He was swamped at work and she was busy trying to recapture musical glory (with old bandmate, Ben, who clearly is a big Rebecca fan). But Rebecca reassured Jack that they were not Miguel and Shelly, and Jack sparked with an idea to turn up their pilot light by renting out their first apartment, string up some lights, and re-read their vows. (Sorry, husbands of the world, this dude’s really making you step up your game.) And then came another bomb, albeit one that was much more delicate: In his arms, basking in the afterglow of bathroom sex, Rebecca told Jack she wanted to head out with Ben on a five-state tour with the band.
Before we talk tours, we’ll also really need to check up on Randall (Sterling K. Brown), as things literally turned shaky with him at the end of the episode. He’s been felled before by his drive for perfection, as his wife, Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) told William earlier this season. Here, overwhelmed with responsibilities to his memory box-making wife and chess whiz daughter and terminally ill father (who will require palliative care now that he’s cut the chemo), not to mention that work competition he was losing to Sanjay (Hari Dhillon), Randall reached for the water glass by his bedside table at the end of the night and his hand trembled. Cause for concern, at the very least. Meanwhile, Kate (Chrissy Metz) is juggling a lot too, including two overbearing guys: Toby (Chris Sullivan) said, “No, thanks” to boundaries and inserted himself into her weight-loss immersion camp, especially after his parking lot run-in with Duke (Adam Bartley). And our blunt horse stable employee sought to appeal to Kate’s less aspirational side by telling her to embrace herself for who she really was and drop by his cabin, an invitation she was pondering when the episode ended. And then we’ve got Kevin (Justin Hartley) and Sophie (Alexandra Breckenridge), who, after one dinner chat that segued into some subway silence, appeared to begin the process of working through a dozen years of lost baggage, and Kevin’s past infidelity.
Let’s check that whiteboard, grab our Punky Brewster backpack, cook up some lava fries, break up with that nice x-ray technician, pour five ounces of white wine, pray that this chess tournament ends soon, pick up the phone and speak with the man responsible for all of these sticky, tricky situations: This Is Us creator Dan Fogelman.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: We could start with Jack and Rebecca — or Kate and Toby and Duke — or Kevin and Sophie — but it feels like maybe we should deal with a pressing health issue. It doesn’t involve William, but rather Randall and his shaking hand. He told William he could handle the pressures of taking care of him in his final stages of life, but what is going on here? Is the anxiety of dealing with his dying father and trying to be a good dad and husband while remaining top dog at work taking its toll?
DAN FOGELMAN: I think so. In our second episode of the show, it was one of the things I liked best early on that we locked into — Beth telling the story of Randall’s breakdown and how his vice is his goodness and his desire to be perfect. Suddenly this man is beset on all sides by various stresses, at his work and especially at his home. And this is the episode we start seeing the effect of it, and as we head into next week and the future weeks, we start seeing it in full.
What kind of role, if any, does Jack’s death play into this situation?
I think [there is] a lot of that in there, and we’ll dive into that a little bit in the subsequent episode. But when you look at Randall, he is a guy who is driven to be perfect. And when you’re looking at somebody’s fears or anxieties or stressors, you have to look at the whole person, and he’s a guy who has handled the narrative of his life with aplomb, as you can see, but also has channeled a lot of stuff, a lot of angst about his adopted father. He’s clearly lost his adopted father, who was his father-father. He’s clearly been haunted by the backdrop of his abandonment and now he has reconnected with a man whom he’s on the cusp of losing — losing a father for the second time. Finding a father who’s ill would be stressful for anyone, but particularly it’s a stress for Randall.
How serious is this situation? People might freak out a little bit when they see his trembling hand.
Yeah, I think people are going to freak out a little bit, and then people are going to learn a little bit more in the subsequent episode and episodes. Anxieties manifest themselves in many different ways for different people. For anybody who’s ever had even the simplest of panic attacks — which are never really simple — it can be a really devastating thing. You can feel and experience physiological symptoms that are so real that they show themselves with tics. And it’s a very serious thing. People build their lives based on avoiding them or dealing with them, and he’s had some form of a breakdown in the past, which we’ll explore a little further. And if it’s rearing its head, it can be a very dangerous thing.
NEXT: Fogelman on the last scene of the episode: “The final moment is critical for where we’re going”
The story focusing on Jack and Rebecca was both reassuring and unsettling. The juxtaposition of them reciting their vows at the wedding and re-reading the vows with that accumulated time, wisdom and wear in the old apartment bathroom felt reaffirming. But to end with Rebecca telling Jack that she wants to go on tour was a bit of a stomach-dropping, uh-oh moment. Is this a critical juncture that will set them down a path of potential drama and heartbreak?
The final moment is critical for where we’re going. It’s been a line of dialogue that I planned on hitting around this time of the season, even as we were planning out this season initially. This episode is so important. If this season is a door, that moment at the end of this episode is the hinge. On the Jack and Rebecca side of things, we’re going to stay very much in this story line for them, for multiple episodes now as we head toward completion of our season, and it’s going to be exactly what you described — it’s a confusing experience to be with this couple who so many are attaching to both individually and as a couple primarily, and watch them really go through a difficult thing. Whenever we’ve been in this time period in the past, there’s been hints even from this start of the episode that this is the part where their marriage is most tested. And I think this is the moment that leads to it really starting to get tested in the rest of this season.
We saw Ben (Sam Trammell) question Jack’s commitment to Rebecca when it comes to her musical career, a notion that she defended him against. How much of an obstacle will he be for this marriage?
We all know Jack and Rebecca well enough now hopefully to know that the obstacle isn’t the person, the obstacle is the idea. The obstacle is life and our greatest weaknesses and greatest flaws. It’s what they might bring up in somebody else, a lack of awareness, jealousy, anger, other vices that we keep at bay. Yes, Ben is a big part of the obstacles here, as is the band, but Ben is the representation for Rebecca of a life not lived, a life she gave up, and willingly gave up to take care of her family. So that’s where we live more. It’s the core human stuff, the sacrifices that people make in marriage and life and raising a family; what they sometimes feel is a lack of appreciation for such sacrifice, on both sides. Even though at times Rebecca behaves worse and you side with Jack, and at times coming up Jack will behave worse and you’ll side with Rebecca, there’s not a real right or a wrong when it comes to marital discord. Both sides have points, and both sides have things that they’re right about and both sides behave badly in moments of tension, so I think we’re going to see a lot of that in the weeks to come.
We saw Miguel and Shelly break the news that they were getting divorced, something that Jack had a lot harder time accepting than Rebecca. The way that Miguel looks at her during the vows makes one wonder if he has those feelings as far back as then. Does he have those feelings?
You’re so hard on Miguel. Do you think Miguel’s making eyes at Rebecca even during [the vows]?
I’m just asking! Does he have feelings that he doesn’t even realize. I’m not saying they’re predatory.
Poor Miguel. (Laughs.) No, I think it’s fair. Whenever he comments on Jack and Rebecca’s relationship, he views them through the same rose-colored glasses that we all view them as a television audience watching this show. If anything, if I were getting inside Miguel’s head, I think he admires Jack and Rebecca together as much as he admires Rebecca alone. I think the best of Miguel, and I like to believe that Miguel’s infatuation on a different level with Rebecca began long after Jack was no longer in the picture. That’s what I like to believe.
And what you believe is very important to fans. Kevin is working overtime to get Sophie back, and like he had hoped, she showed up at the diner the next morning. Picking up where you left off 12 years ago sounds more romantically charmed than it is, especially with their history. What are the challenges that lie ahead for them?
I think they’ve got a lot of challenges, and there are long-term challenges, too, because trust has been broken, there’s history, and with broken history comes with a lot of baggage. Anybody who’s ever been in a relationship where a break has happened for any reason, the issues tend not to go away when you get back together six months later. So there’s inherent challenges in that for both of them. It’s all part of Kevin’s big picture journey in this first season. He’s making this very public attempt to be the best version of himself and [in] all manners of his life, whether be it with his career in acting, or his relationship with his brother, or his romantic life. He’s so well-intentioned and so bad at it sometimes that hopefully you’re rooting for him, but you also have a little bit of a pit in your stomach because you just know that he tends to not do as well when he’s trying to do the right thing.
NEXT PAGE: Fogelman on Kate’s choice outside cabin 13: “There are two versions of what happens next.”
We learned Kevin cheated. Are there things she did that also led to their downfall which you can hint at?
Yeah. The cheating is talked about briefly, and there’s a bit more that I didn’t cut into the episode where they talk a little bit more in detail about what happened, and when I was watching it in execution, it’s really interesting stuff that felt a little shortchanged by just passing over it in the conversation, so it’s something I decided to save for… not just later because hopefully we get into exploring their relationship deeper. I think any relationship where stuff happens, multiple people are at fault. When you’re talking about cheating in this particular situation, I think it comes from lots of things, distance. There’s a story on both sides that will slowly reveal itself.
We had yet another Toby crashing a Kate event. Does this man have boundaries? Where does his love end and his neediness begin? And is that a threat to their relationship?
This time, he showed up as a nice little surprise and the moment he saw a hesitancy from Kate, he was out, and very vocally said, “No, no, no, I’ve done it before and I’m not going to do it again.” But it’s that Duke, man. That moment in the parking lot draws him back into behaving like a version of himself he wouldn’t want to be. The show is always about taking good people and laying out the carrots in front of them that bait them into their weaknesses. And I think that laid Toby bare right there, and he acts in a way that he probably — when you go to sleep at night thinking about how you want to behave, that probably wasn’t the moment, but he couldn’t resist.
I don’t think he grasps that this is something she needs to do by herself and that sometimes it doesn’t require a grand gesture and sometimes, Toby, it’s just not about you.
I think so. But you also got to look at it from Toby’s perspective, as you do in all marriages and all relationships. He just had a heart attack, they just got engaged, and he immediately supported her and said, “Go off to camp for a month,” while I’m staying inside the city. He has proven himself to be Kate’s greatest advocate and supporter, it so happens that their relationship, as we’ve talked about in the past, has been built on so many ups and downs in its first year, whether it be drastic scenes about weight and breakups and reveals and a heart attack and gastric bypass and all of these things that they haven’t found their normal yet. And if they‘re going to have a chance, hopefully that’s what they’ll start attacking in future episodes if they make it.
Right now, as I ask you this question, Kate is still standing outside cabin 13. How much of this is curiosity and how much of it is self-destructiveness?
You will find out in the first scene of Kate’s story in the next episode. There are two versions of what happens next. One of them a lot of audience members really will like, and one of them, a lot of audience members will hate. And it’s definitely going one of those two ways.
Just promise us that she doesn’t propose to Duke with Toby’s grandmother’s ring.
(Laughs.) I promise you that. She opens the door and Toby’s crashing yet again.
To read more from Fogelman — including how the show will lay cracks in Jack and Rebecca’s marriage that will “scare people” — click here.
This Is Us
NBC’s beloved era-hopping drama tells the story of the Pearson family through the years.