Tuesday’s episode of This Is Us will hit the road as Randall and William head to the latter’s hometown of Memphis. Perhaps it would fitting to employ an automobile analogy for this standalone installment of the NBC dramedy. “I’ve been telling people to buckle up for the last four episodes,” cautions creator Dan Fogelman, “and I would say for this episode: Make sure your airbag is working, too.”
The episode picks up approximately a week after Randall’s breakdown, and the husband/father of two (played by Sterling K. Brown) has decided to embark on a road trip with his terminally ill biological father (Ron Cephas Jones) to learn more about where he came from and meet some of his relatives. “It’s one of those special hours of television, which is a little road trip movie between these two characters as their relationship grows,” Fogelman tells EW. “It’s a real going-home story. It feels like a real love letter to Memphis and a real love letter to William and his story.”
That letter was written right in Memphis, as a portion of the episode was shot in the mecca of music and BBQ. “It’s not just Randall and William walking around a back lot at Paramount talking about being in Memphis,” says Fogelman. “They’re actually in Memphis and eating Memphis barbecue and going to Memphis clubs and hotels. It’s got a real authentic vibe to it.”
The flashbacks, meanwhile, will whisk you back to the ’70s and introduce you to William’s family, including his cousin Ricky (Bryan Tyree Henry) and his mother (Amanda Warren). “The big question that we’ll explore is: How did this elegant wonderful man fall? When did that happen? Why? How?” says Fogelman. “We don’t know his whole story, and I think this episode gives you the full shape, in broad strokes, of William’s life — what took him away, where he got lost, where he rediscovered himself.”
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The present-day adventure arrives at a time when William’s health is declining — he has stopped the chemo treatment — and his days are numbered. “The episode has a tremendous amount of weight,” says Fogelman. “It’s about a man — toward the end of his life as doctors have laid it out for him — contemplating his mortality, so there’s a real heavy, dramatic anchor around the episode in general. Time, as we say at the end of the last episode, is running out for William. Randall is at a crossroads in own life, so there’s a sense that these two men need to come to something and come to something quickly in this episode.”
And if functional airbags are required, you also want to carry an extra box or two of Kleenex when you tune in at 9 p.m. ET/PT. “It’s a weeper. And it’s not just a weeper in the way the audience might be trying to predict what’s going to happen; they weep for other reasons,” he says. “It is a really beautiful hour of television. The actors and the directors [This Is Us executive producers John Requa and Glenn Ficarra] just crushed it. I’m as proud of it as I’ve ever been of anything I’ve ever worked on.”
To read what This Is Us director Ken Olin had to say about last week’s episode — and that jealousy-fueled fight between Jack and Rebecca — click here.
This Is Us airs Tuesdays on NBC.