This episode filled in a big blank about what happened when Rebecca came to William’s apartment when Randall was nine. Can you walk us through the process of deciding how far William would get in his mission to meet Randall after Rebecca fled the apartment? There’s something noble in William’s decision to stay away, but also incredibly heartbreaking and frustrating in the idea that he could have made contact but actively chose not to. As he said, he had that realization when he saw the bikes and realized that a whole childhood had been lived, and who was he to insert himself into the situation against Rebecca’s wishes? Would that have been easier for Randall to swallow if William simply ran out of taxi money and never was able to track him down?
It was always important to us that it was William’s choice — that it wasn’t a circumstance, he didn’t lose Rebecca, he didn’t run out of money, he got there and he actively could have gone up to that door and could have forced his way into Randall’s life and made a choice not to. And, you’re right, it’s super frustrating. We have the added frustration of knowing that William grew up to be this beautiful man who had a wonderful impact on Randall in an incredibly short amount of time. We have that perspective looking back on it. For William, there was no way of knowing that. All he saw was that this boy who he had never met aside from that one day as a newborn, who has this full life with siblings and bicycles and a beautiful home, and he has been told by the woman raising him that she doesn’t want him to be a part of that. So for him to follow her to her home, and to really walk up to the door and insert himself into this child’s life, did not feel like his place.
On to Kevin. Okay, now has Kevin bottomed out? Will he come to terms with what he needs to?
Yes. [Laughs.] We’re not going to come back [in January] and have Kevin in prison smuggling things to get painkillers. That’s not where our show is going. It’s safe to say that him driving under the influence with the niece who he adores unknowingly in the car, and then getting arrested is pretty much his wake-up call, and the people in his life are going to be very aware that he has a problem and needs help.
Randall and Kevin have been through some serious ups and downs over the years. They had a breakthrough in “Jack Pearson’s Son,” when Kevin rushed to his aid, but this throws a wrench in everything. Of course, once Randall gets past his anger, he’ll realize that his brother is sick and needs help, yes?
They’ve had such great repair last year and over the first part of this year, and now Kevin has been arrested with Randall’s daughter in the car. It’s not exactly the perfect way to continue a happy brother relationship. But addiction is an illness, and Kevin has really been suffering. And then there’s also the saving grace that Kevin did not know Tess was in that car. She was running away from home, crouched down in the back seat. It doesn’t excuse what he did, but he at least has that small leg to stand on of not knowing.
Everyone is distracted with their own lives, but shouldn’t this family have been paying more attention to signs of addiction, given everything they’ve been through with Jack?
We had that exact thought while we were writing it. So we were really careful that any time Kevin interacts with a sibling — and there are very few — he sees Kate, and he’s a little bit off, but he has the excuse of he’s rushing out to see Sophie and [Kate’s] about to tell him that she’s pregnant. She’s wrapped in her own thing. And then when he shows up at Randall’s door, he has the excuse that he has just driven all night from Pittsburgh and is exhausted and found out about Kate. Meanwhile, Randall has not only just found out about Kate but had Deja taken from him. So there’s always so much going on that people are missing the ball.
Let’s talk about that final moment with the Pearsons. Everyone’s gathered in the living room— Kevin in the cast, Kate, the dog, Jack giving that sweet smile to Rebecca. But Randall’s game of Pac-Man ends when the ghosts get him, and the screen reads “Game Over.” It’s a lovely family moment, but it’s also ominous — it feels like the end is nigh for Jack. How should we read that ending?
It’s definitely ominous. What’s more telling is that we’ve set up in our first episode this season these three boxes that we needed to check for everything to fall into place before we could be at the time of Jack’s death. And early in the season, we met our dog Louie, and now over the course of this day, Kevin has broken his leg and he’s now in the cast. So we’re really down to that one piece, which is Randall and his red-haired high school girlfriend. And once we meet her, everything that we’ve seen is now in place. It’s safe to say that the time is closing in. For sure.
And how close are we to meeting the redhead girlfriend?
That would take all the fun out of watching the show if I told you that!
Looking back at the first part of season 2, what worked better than you thought it would, and what didn’t work as well as you thought?
Deja exceeded all of our expectations. We were concerned with the amount of real estate we had with her. She was only in four or five episodes of this season, and we were like, “Is that enough time to fall in love with this girl? And will we care when she’s taken away?” I hope people agree — I certainly do — when you see this episode and she is taken away, that’s the scene when we screened it for people where their heart just breaks. That so has to do with Lyric, who is such a new actor that we found from Chicago, and she just brought this girl to life, and in those scenes with Sterling and Susan, you just fall in love with this girl, and this girl is a part of a family. That exceeded our wildest expectations. In terms of the other question… that is trickier.
Maybe you were frustrated that there was a story line that was underdeveloped because other stories ate up too much time?
Something that we’re going to do — and we keep on trying to do and then we have to pull back on, just because these episodes are short — is really exploring Toby and Beth’s world outside of our Pearson siblings. They’re two of our favorite actors and we always have great ideas for them, [but] we have to keep the plot moving forward [so] we put a pin in them. It’s something that’s been a goal of ours this entire year and because we had so much plot — a lot happened in the first half of the year — that we haven’t been able to tell those stories in the way that we hoped. But that’s something we’re determined in the back half of the season get into a bit more — where they come from, and what their lives outside of being significant others are.
What is your one-sentence tease for the return episode on Jan. 2?
When we come back in the new year, our family will be dealing with the fallout of Kevin’s addiction and arrest — and will all be gathering to sort out how to best be there for their brother and son, 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.
To read what Sterling K. Brown had to say about the fall finale, click here.