All spring and summer long, viewers of This Is Us were left to wonder, “Who is ‘her?'” (“Her” being the mystery woman that Old Randall and Adult Tess referred to in that foreboding season 2 flash-forward scene.) After the season 3 premiere on Tuesday night, fans didn’t quite get that answer, but they did leave the episode with a shiny, new question mark rotating over their heads: Who is he?
The episode unspooled the first date between Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) and Rebecca (Mandy Moore) in 1972. While the couple could co-author a great love story, their first chapter did not read so well (long, rainy story short, Jack did not have enough money to buy Rebecca an umbrella, grew uncomfortable talking about his time in Vietnam, and seemed more of a pepperoni-and-dogs, not mushroom-and-cats kind of guy). Jack appeared to rescue the momentum at the end by opening up and apologizing, telling her, “You make me feel like I’m home. I never really felt like that before,” and she even leaned over for a kiss before exiting his car. But the next day, when he bought some flowers and went to return the jacket that she left in his car (apparently on purpose, following her friend’s advice), he received quite a surprise. Rebecca answered the door cheerily, and then seemed startled to find a different man — mustachioed, no less — bearing flowers. When he kissed her, though, she kissed him back, leaving Jack to witness his newfound romantic connection fall apart.
What was Moore’s initial reaction when she learned of the heartbreak fake-out? “I was excited about it,” she tells EW. “I was like ‘Okay, I didn’t see that coming.’ But Dan [Fogelman, the show’s creator] is the master of that. But it’s also true to life. We all have baggage, we all lead somewhat messy romantic lives and [have] entanglements. That could plausibly happen. Sure, why not?”
Moore isn’t saying too much about the mystery man (played by Hunter Parrish), who seems to be some sort of ex-boyfriend, but their brief exchange certainly indicates some romantic history. ” I don’t think she was expecting him, but he brought flowers, and he felt comfortable enough to step in for a kiss,” she says. “She didn’t back away from the kiss, so they know each other.” How much of an obstacle will this guy pose? “Well, we obviously know where things end up so he can’t be that big of an obstacle, can he?” she quips. “There will be a resolution to who he is and his dip into Jack and Rebecca’s romantic life. I think it will resolve itself in due time.”
The next episode will take us to a different time period, but the third episode of the season will deposit us back in this era and provide more intel on this man. “It’s really like ‘To be continued,'” executive producer Isaac Aptaker tells EW. “We’re going to pick up right back with her on the doorstep with Hunter and the flowers and Jack in the car, and see what the hell that was about. It’s obviously somebody that she knows and we’ll learn more about how exactly she knows him and what their history is together.”
At a Q&A following the This Is Us season 3 premiere screening, Ventimiglia approved of the decision to upend expectations for the emerging couple. “You know Jack and Rebecca, you’re rooting for Jack and Rebecca, but it took them a while to get there,” he said. “They were very different people in their younger years than they were as we’ve known them as a unit, as husband and wife, parents of the Big Three. It’s fun to see it wasn’t easy. It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows.”
But creator Dan Fogelman did shine a colorful light on a special moment between Jack and Rebecca that awaits in the third episode, which may indicate that the situation could resolve sooner than later. “There’s a scene in it that I love so much,” he told the audience. “I find it so wildly romantic. For me, it’s like Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze doing pottery in Ghost, but everyone has clothes on and it’s the opposite of Ghost.”
While Moore raised her eyebrows at Fogelman’s Ghost comparisons, she later summed up the scene to EW in an equally promising manner. “I think that’s a moment in the life of Jack and Rebecca that really defines their relationship,” she says. “It crystallizes who they are and the possibility of what they can be.”