This Is Us producer breaks down the season 2 finale — and those flash-forward cliffhangers
We now pronounce this season of This Is Us officially over. Let the honeymoon of speculation and questions begin.
The uplifting wedding of Kate (Chrissy Metz) and Toby (Chris Sullivan) closed out a dark, intense season of This Is Us that centered on the death of Jack Pearson (Milo Ventimiglia). It wasn’t an easy path to the altar for Kate and Toby, who broke up at one point, weathered a serious health scare, and suffered a miscarriage. Not to mention, Kate battled a few jitters on the wedding day itself, clearly haunted by the idea that Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) wouldn’t be there to walk her down the aisle — and obsessed with somehow representing him physically at the ceremony. (One of Jack’s screwdrivers dutifully would have to fill in for that left-at-home spring break T-shirt.) Meanwhile, Toby’s parents tried to persuade him to rethink his nuptials to a woman they were now considering unstable.
Ultimately, Toby issued an ultimatum to his parents: join Team KaToby or don’t let the door hit you on the way out. (They chose the former, and were happy about it when it was time to hit the dance floor.) And Kate had a heart-to-heart with Jack’s urn at a meaningful tree stump, in which she finally made peace with his place in her life, which is to say: she needed him to occupy less space in her heart so she could make room for Toby, who, as Rebecca (Mandy Moore) helped her accidentally realize, was not present in her dreams. What dreams? Oh, nothing major. Just dreams of Jack TOTALLY ALIVE AND CELEBRATING HIS 40TH ANNIVERSARY WITH REBECCA. (Feel free to send a fruit basket or five to the This Is Us writers’ room.)
Kate and Toby’s wedding ultimately came gift-wrapped with as much love and joy as the dreamy 40th, and then the episode closed out with a little time tinkering. After Kevin’s breathe-out-the-pain toast and during Randall’s choosing-our-loved-ones-is-the-closest-we-come-to-choosing-our-destiny speech, time skipped one year to the future, when Kevin (Justin Hartley) was jetting off to Vietnam with Beth’s cousin and his new girlfriend (!) Zoe, whom he met at the wedding. In the same period, Toby was languishing in bed, appearing to be suffering deeply once again from depression. And we jumped ahead two decades, seemingly to the time when we recently met adult Tess. But this time, the situation wasn’t as cheerful, as we saw Randall (Sterling K. Brown) tell his daughter Tess, “It’s time to go see her,” to which Tess said, “I’m not ready.” Randall’s response: “I’m not either.”
Chances are that the tears on your face are surpassed only by the question marks above your head. Let’s ring up This Is Us executive producer Elizabeth Berger, who co-wrote this fine season 2 closer, to break down all things related to “The Wedding.”
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How much of the tone and story direction of the finale was influenced by the brutal one-two punch of Jack’s death and the funeral just a couple episodes ago? This show always strives to balance darkness with light. Was there a very conscious effort to do something lighter?
ELIZABETH BERGER: Yes, we knew that we wanted the end of the season to be a little lighter and to end with that breath for the family. One of the first things that we talked about at the beginning of season 2 is that this season would end with the wedding and it would end with the whole family doing their exhale. That was a very conscious decision. Everyone has been through enough — our viewers, our characters — and it was time to let everyone have a bit of a catharsis.
It’s certainly been a long journey for Kate to forgive herself for Jack’s death. Does her telling Jack when she’s on the stump that she has to make room for Toby effectively put that chapter of her life to rest?
I think so. I mean, she is always going to feel so linked to her father and she is always going to miss him. But I think this is a new stage for her, of a healthier sort of grief, as opposed to being lost in it and consumed by it.
Her relationship with Rebecca has been two steps forward, one steps back. It feels like this was yet another critical step for her with her parents — both in spirit and in physical person.
Absolutely. I think they’ll always be a mother and daughter, and it will always be a loaded dynamic, but they’ve been through so much together this season, and I think Rebecca and Kate can feel each other’s love for each other in a way that they haven’t in many, many years. And I think they’re moving into season 3 in a really beautiful, healthy place.
Kate’s line, “You’re not in my way, you’re my way” — that gets the tears moving a little bit.
It got all of our tears moving when we viewed it as a group. They just played it so beautifully, and I think it is very moving to just feel how much they’ve grown over the course of the season.
Yet there’s some darkness juxtaposed in the lightness of this episode. Zoe’s speech to Deja seemed to resonate, but it ultimately didn’t have the desired effect, as Randall’s windshield can attest to, when she takes Jack’s baseball bat to it after Toby’s mom told her that she looked just like her father. Is that sense of abandonment — and emotional damage — that Deja feels since her mother relinquished parental rights much greater than Randall and Beth realize? And how much is it tied to things about her birth father that will be revealed next season?
I think Deja’s going through something really complex, where she’s generally filled with anger right now and not exactly sure where to direct it. I mean, she’s angry and betrayed by her mom, she feels angry and betrayed by Randall and Beth just for being involved in the whole situation. And yeah, there’s still a lot that we don’t know about her, and one of the things that we may come to know more about next season is Deja’s father, because we haven’t yet talked about it at all. Obviously, Deja has had almost no relationship with him, but she may know more about him than we previously let on. So, we’ll get to know a little bit more about what that relationship is moving forward.
Toby tells his parents “If anything, I’m the unstable one,” when they’re worried about Kate being stable. And then we see him a year later, seemingly wallowing in bed in a deep depression, which he’s been in before he met Kate. What can you say about the depth and cause of his depression? We know he tends to feel things at least nine times stronger than the average human.
Right. Depression is something that Toby struggled with before, and it’s something that he’s gotten a hold of. But I think as many people can attest to, the path of dealing with depression isn’t always a straight line, and sometimes you get off-course. And especially when there are stressful situations going on, things can sort of come to a head. And Kate and Toby will be thrust into some stressful situations as we move forward, and that will definitely have an impact on Toby’s state of mind.
Is there anything you can hint about the trigger for this one?
Obviously with the miscarriage, it was steps backward for Toby and Kate in terms of expanding their family, and I think that the desire to expand their family isn’t going to go away. So that, along with other stresses that come with the first year of marriage will definitely be at play as we move forward.
Now, we met Toby’s parents – great casting with Dan Lauria and Wendy Malick, by the way –
Yeah, we were so happy with them. We love them!
Why didn’t Toby’s brother show up for the wedding? The bachelor party is one thing to miss, but this is obviously a bigger deal. Is that something we’ll be exploring, too? Toby obviously has some issues with their estrangement.
Yes. Obviously it’s such an estranged relationship that he didn’t even bother to come to Toby’s wedding. And moving forward as we get to know Toby better in season 3, we’re definitely going to be exploring his family and his relationships in a deeper way.
It’s the ultimate wish fan fulfillment to see Rebecca and Jack together in the present, in Kate’s dream. Was that a bit of a thank-you to the fans, as in “Thanks for hanging in there in a very dark year in which we showed you Jack’s death. Now, here’s what you always wanted!”?
It’s probably the No. 1 thing that fans would put on their wish list.
To be totally honest, we did not even realize how wish fulfillment-y it was until we saw it with our own eyes — and realized that it was what we had always been craving to see. It really came out of: How can we include Jack in this day without him actually being here? And it just felt like Kate would be thinking about him so much, and it felt very organic to us that she’d be dreaming about him. And we did definitely love the idea of getting to see him with his adult children, and getting to see him with Rebecca at this age. But we did not anticipate how moving it would be until we physically saw it with our eyes, and it took our breath away, to be honest.
What was that first reaction when you guys saw Milo in the old Jack makeup, and what sticks out to you about shooting that scene?
Obviously seeing him was so startling because we’ve never seen him that way. Also, his makeup looks so fantastic that you really did feel like you were standing with 70-year-old Jack. I think what sticks out to me was how older Rebecca changed in his presence. She seemed like a totally different woman. That was so stunning, and such a tribute to Mandy’s brilliant performance, but her whole body moved differently, her whole face moved differently, and you really got a sense of who this woman would have been if she had never lost her soulmate. I think that was really startlingly moving to us.
Absolutely. Was that something you guys were going to keep a secret, by the way? Photos of that scene had been leaked by paparazzi. It really would have been the ultimate surprise not to know that was coming. Is that why you ultimately decided to tease it in the promo last week?
Yes, we had not been planning on releasing anything about it, and then once it was out we felt like, “Okay, the cat’s out of the bag.” Dan [Fogelman, the show’s creator] showed Isaac [Aptaker, co-showrunner with Fogelman and Berger] and I the promo and he was like, “Are you guys okay with this, or should we keep it a secret?” And at that point we were like, “Well, it’s not a secret, so we might as well go with it and lean into it.” And I think in the end, it left everyone something fun to look forward to, so we’re fine with it.
The show has given us Randall’s mushroom smoothie hallucination of Jack, and Jack in the wings when Kevin is high and giving his speech at his old high school. Now we have this. If you don’t necessarily revisit this form of Jack, will you find new ways of incorporating him in our present-day story in season 3?
Exactly. Whenever we’ve done it, we’ve had to talk about it a lot, because we really don’t want to do it the wrong way. And we’ve tried things in terms of siblings imagining him that just have not worked and have not felt like our show. So whenever we think of something that does feel like it works organically, we get very excited, and we hope we’ll stumble into one or two of those again. But this one really felt to us like Kate would be dreaming about him, and it was a natural way to incorporate him. So we got really lucky.
Let’s move on to the deep-future scene. When Randall tells Tess, “It’s time to go see her,” and she says “I’m not ready,” your thoughts go to Beth. Or Deja.
I cannot answer that, but I will say that we’ll definitely be revisiting that time period throughout our next season, and it will be revealed in season 3.
How significant and damaging was whatever fight or alienation happened? It’s possible that Beth could have passed away….?
I cannot even reveal if it was a fight they were speaking about. I don’t want to say anything about it, because I think we’re going to a really interesting and surprising place… Anything is possible.
If it’s an estrangement from Beth, Randall says, “I’m not ready either,” which means he hasn’t seen her. Dan has said that he sees Randall and Beth as always being together. The fans will revolt if they were split apart — you know that, right?
[Laughs] I think that the fans definitely would revolt. Even we revolt amongst our writer selves whenever we talk about them even having a fight. We always have different degrees of what we can handle internally. So I think everyone loves to just see them thriving and functioning.
We’ve now gone twice into the distant future, both into that Tess story line. Is that the main deep-into-the-future story you’ll be telling in season 3, or will we start seeing how other characters are faring in that time period pretty quickly?
We’re definitely going to continue to track Tess and Randall and what’s going on with them, but we do hope to eventually open up the world a bit, and you may see hints of what’s going on with other people too.
And then we see Kevin headed to Vietnam with his new girlfriend Zoe, which was another twist. We know we’re going to explore Jack in Vietnam with his brother — that’s something that you all have talked about. What motivates Kevin to go on this mission? Even though he talked about finally releasing that breath, is he still working on crossing off that last name on his list in a way?
In a way, definitely. Obviously Kevin still feels like there’s a lot about his dad that he didn’t get to know, and there was a lot that was left unsaid between the two of them, and there’s definitely a curiosity that’s still burning within him. He also has his movie coming out when we come up in season 3, which is a war movie, so he’s going to be living in a world where people are asking him about what it was like to play a soldier. So I think the combination of all these things percolating is going to lead him towards this journey of discovering a bit more about his father.
How did you decide to end the season on Zoe (Melanie Liburd) saying “I’m a sucker for a good toast”?
I don’t know about the exact line, but we did want to end on sort of a romantic note. Like you said, there’s been so much heaviness this season, and we wanted to end with a wink and a nod towards a fun, romantic future. And we just wanted to give them a meet-cute that felt satisfying, and where you felt like you were about to embark on something new and fresh and exciting. They played it perfectly, and they made us swoon in the writers’ room, so we’re hoping people like them together.
We know that we’ll be exploring Vietnam. What questions should This Is Us fans be asking themselves over the summer as they wonder where the story is headed in season 3?
I really want our fans to relax over the summer. They’ve been through a lot. [Laughs] But yeah, we have this looming future question, “What is Randall talking about? What’s going on in the future? Who is “she”? And I hope people will be excited to see chapters of Jack’s life explored that we have not yet seen. There’s still so much about him that we don’t know — that his kids don’t know, that his wife doesn’t know — that I think it’s going to be really exciting to see him in completely new situations.
To read Milo Ventimiglia’s thoughts on playing old Jack at his 40th wedding anniversary, click here.
This Is Us
NBC’s beloved era-hopping drama tells the story of the Pearson family through the years.