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The final stretch of the second season of This Is Us may have put Jack’s death mystery in the rearview mirror, but the feel-good wedding finale’s trio of flash-forwards —two near-future, one distant — slapped some new question marks across the windshield before driving off: What events spiraled Toby back into depression? What will Kevin and his girlfriend(!) discover about Jack on their trip to Vietnam? Who is “her” — and why are Old Randall and Adult Tess so reluctant to visit her?
Season 3 entails a “journey to fill in the pieces of the puzzle,” creator Dan Fogelman tells EW. “I would be so bold as to say the flash-forward puzzle pieces will fall into place by the halfway mark.” Along the way, NBC’s time-tripping family drama will assemble what Fogelman calls a “fuller” picture of house-fire hero/SuperDad Jack Pearson. The season premiere (airing Sept. 25 at 9 p.m. ET/PT) brings you on the first date of America’s Couple, a.k.a. Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) and Rebecca (Mandy Moore), which takes place at a carnival and takes you on a surprising ride. “People expect it to be a straight line to finding one another and living happily ever after,” teases Moore, “and that may not be the case.” A theme of the season? “Discovery of the past,” says Ventimiglia.
Digging deep may cut deep. Besides delving into Jack’s bruised upbringing with his alcoholic father (Peter Oronati), TIU enters the Vietnam War zone, where Jack served with Nicky (Michael Angarano), his little-discussed little brother who died… well, you’ll find out how. Ventimiglia uttered multiple “Holy s—!”s when Fogelman shared the brothers’ story with him. “That first time we see Nicky is going to paint a pretty clear picture of what his demons are — and what his struggles in life are,” says Ventimiglia. “But just like classic This Is Us, we’re going to bounce around in time and see a greater look at this new Pearson.”
Looking at other Pearsons, you’ll see newlyweds Kate (Chrissy Metz) and Toby (Chris Sullivan) weather further procreation woes, and longtime spouses/America’s Couple 2 — Randall (Sterling K. Brown) and Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) juggle the renovation of his birth father’s building, Mercedes-mangling foster child Deja (Lyric Ross), and marital strain. “They hit a snag where they want different things out of life,” says Brown. “You gotta work that s— out, so you see Beth and Randall working that s— out.” Beth has to work out feelings when she detects romance between her cousin Zoe (Melanie Liburd) and brother-in-law Kevin (Justin Hartley), who’s poised for heartbreak or a big break with his war movie.
Nineties-era Rebecca, meanwhile, will nurse heartache alongside the Big Three after losing Jack. “It’s tempers and bad behavior from the kids, and disconnection,” says Moore. “Rebecca is trying her level best to push forward and pick up the pieces of their shattered life.” And as mentioned above, the show also pushes forward into the 2030s, and not just for the sake of cracking the “her” code. (“It is someone that we have met over the first two seasons,” says Brown, “so it won’t come out of nowhere.”) Fogelman says that this flash-forward introduces the show’s “ending” era. “What really appealed to me about going into the future was that this is a show about two things — this is a show about family and it’s a show about time,” he notes. “What’s really interesting about the life cycle of a family is that at a certain point the children become the parents, and the present becomes the past. Not just having three siblings looking back at their upbringing and seeing how it informed their present, but also thinking of their lives in the present as the potential past or a future where their children are looking back on them as the parents.” Another reason This Is Us could be a family story for the ages, in more ways than one.