'There are five big mysteries at the end,' says Dan Fogelman
“Whose dog is that?” is another mystery. Last season, we learned that Jack wanted a fourth kid, or a dog, but Rebecca said no…
There are five big mysteries, as I see it, at the end. Clearly, the house is a big mystery. Was he in the house? Was he out of the house? What exactly transpired on that night? They’re staying at Miguel’s. That’s interesting. He’s distraught. You’ve got Kate holding a little dog that we’ve never seen before. What is that dog? Where did that come from? You’ve got Randall seemingly being comforted in profile by a red-headed girl we’ve never seen. Who is that person? What is going on? And then you’ve got…
Kevin’s cast. And you’ve got Kate, who clearly in the episode, Kevin says to Toby, “She was the one who told me my father died.” And then in that flashback, she said, “We have to find Kevin. He has to hear it from me.” And you see Kevin in a cast, making out with Sophie., and you’re saying, “What’s with the broken leg?” So there’s a lot to unpack.
Like what’s in Rebecca’s back seat. The watch. The keys. The notebook. It didn’t look burned.
It didn’t look burned.
I can’t give away a lot… but what can I say is: What you’re watching is something that happened on that night. So every single thing you’re seeing — when we eventually get to that night, and it will be somewhere in this season — will be from what you saw the last minute and a half of the show.
Any red herrings in this sequence?
No. There’s no fake-outs here. And there’s no fake-outs in last season. Kate said she feels responsible for her father’s death. That’s a big thing that people have latched onto. We’ve not done anything by accident. This has always been the plan, so everything we’ve constructed has been for this.
How long will people have to wait for the next clue? And will it be a series of clues presented over this season?
I think that it’s fair to say you’re not going to learn everything about Jack’s death next week, but you’re not going to wait until the season finale, either. It’ll be somewhere in between.
Peeling an onion is the best way to describe it. It was clear from go to me, as an audience member, not a writer, that Jack didn’t die peacefully in his bed at 90 years old. Something happened to this man and this family that broke them for a little while, and we’ve shown a big piece of that tonight. In order to fully understand that year of their life, you don’t just do it one episode. You have to understand where they’re all at that time period, what had happened in the marriage, what was happening with those kids, what was happening with those kids vis a vis their father, before they lost him, that frames these 37-year-old people we’re seeing. Once we’ve done that, then we’ll see everything we need to know about Jack. And it will be this season.
With the temporary split in the season 1 finale, the new question became, as you mentioned: What is the state of their marriage when he dies? We already saw the beginnings of a reconciliation of sorts in this episode. Should we not assume that it necessarily is going to stick — that it will be a process for them?
We have a journey to go on and it’s a big journey. If you’re a fan of the show, I think your inner radar says Jack’s not going to die with him and Rebecca hating each other. As a fan of the show, intrinsically you know that. But we could be misleading people.
You have said that you’re always approaching this show and this couple through an optimistic lens. Rebecca’s move to repair the relationship happened faster than we might have thought it was going to happen. I’m sure you talked about having it happen a couple episodes later. Why here? And might you be setting up a twist and sending them down a harder road than it might appear to be?
There’s going to be a journey. I will tell you, there’s going to be surprising things that happen this year. Whether it’s Jack or Rebecca or it’s other characters, the stories you think you’re watching after the first episode are not going to be the stories you’re watching by the end of the season. But, I have said pretty openly, Beth and Randall will go through trials and tribulations, but they’re always going to be together. Rebecca and Jack have a marriage that’s fraught with more stuff. But to me, the moment that I found least viable, even though it was the intended moment, was Rebecca letting Jack leave the home. It was always my intention that that couldn’t last for too long, because these two people don’t [work] that way. But when you bring somebody home in that state and their marriage has not been repaired yet, that’s not going to be an easy fix. You’re not going to snap your fingers next week and they’re going to be back to, like, mustache Jack and bob-haircut Rebecca at the happiest times of their lives in this period and everything is forgiven. They’ve got some stuff to do.
The theme of this show with marriage is Rebecca showing up — you can’t encapsulate it any clearer. In the same episode, we have Sterling making this beautiful speech to Susan [Kelechi Watson], saying, “This is not what we do. We make our decisions together.” And you’ve got Rebecca saying, “You are my husband, I’m your wife, and if you have a problem, we’ll fix it together.” And that is the mantra by which the show operates. It’s a little old school, and it may even be a little outdated, but it’s how we operate — that these people are going to try to fix something, that may be unfixable.
We know that Kate (Chrissy Metz) feels guilty and responsible for Jack’s death, but we still don’t know why. Did you plant any clues in that scene?
No. That’s not something we’re abandoning, and it’s a big part of all of it. I don’t think tonight necessarily addressed that.
Rebecca says “Get in the car, Jack,” which is the new take-charge catchphrase for this show. Is she going to have more agency in the relationship and take the reins more moving forward? Jack is so desperately in need of help right now.
I think so. Rebecca’s character has an internal sadness at times that’s not as likable as Jack’s gung-ho, I’m-going-to-fix-everything alpha male superhero. I find Rebecca’s character, long before tonight, intrinsically heroic and beautiful. She’s not always the hero of the story but she’s doing the dirty work of keeping this family together, and I think that’s all from the mother’s role. This episode gave her a showcase to step forward and be the active hero, that she’s the superhero in this moment. But that’s not to say that patterns don’t get reestablished as well. She shows a lot this year. As an actress, Mandy has a lot to do this year. I’d be hard-pressed to think of a character that goes through more than Rebecca goes through this season. Because you’re exploring her both as an older woman, particularly involving some mother-daughter relationship things that we really focus on in ensuing episodes, as well as [through] loss and marriage.
NEXT PAGE: Fogelman on Jack’s alcoholism — and the twist in Randall’s adoption story