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November 27, 2018 at 11:31 PM EST

The season 3 fall finale of This Is Us dropped a generous amount of jaws when viewers discovered in the final seconds of the episode that Jack’s deceased brother, Nicky, was… not so deceased after all. But that was hardly the only notable moment in the hit family drama’s last episode of 2018. (We mean, besides the revelation that Kate and Toby are having a boy. And that Deja is intent on having a relationship with her mother. And that Tess semi-coming out to Randall and Beth. And that Randall was preparing to enter a possible long-term relationship with the couch after he told his wife he would not honor her wishes and drop out of that seemingly unwinnable election.)

Ron Batzdorff/NBC

Yes, a critical clue in the Who is “Her”? flash-forward mystery was revealed — specifically, the identity of “her.” First introduced in the season 2 finale, this puzzle revolves around a seemingly ominous event in the 2030s that saw old Randall (Sterling K. Brown) tell adult Tess (Iantha Richardson), “It’s time to go see her,” and his daughter responding, “I’m not ready.” Returned Randall: “I’m not either.” A season 3 episode further revealed that Toby (Chris Sullivan) was battling depression in the future, and given that he wasn’t wearing his wedding ring, that he may no longer be married to Kate (Chrissy Metz).

Here, in the final minutes of “The Beginning Is the End Is the Beginning,” we returned to that important day. Old Randall glumly said to Tess, “Let your mom know we’re on the way,” and she responded that she would call her from the car. And at a dance studio run by Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson), an employee informed Beth that her family was on the way. “We’re all going to see Randall’s mother,” Beth explained, adding, “Oh, did you bring the Pin the Tail on the Donkey from the office? I promised I bring it.”

So… it appears that Rebecca (Mandy Moore) is still alive, Randall and Beth’s relationship seems to be fraught in both the present day and the future, and Beth is a ballet boss. What to make of this latest clue in this season’s grand mystery? Let’s open a bottle of wine that we weren’t planning on drinking tonight and turn to series creator Dan Fogelman.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: As it turns out, the “her” is none other than Rebecca, who seems to be living deep into her 80s. That’s big news, right?
DAN FOGELMAN:
That would seem to be big news. The only thing that is made clear at the end of this episode is that they’re going to see her. We certainly answered the question about who everyone was going to see, who everyone’s been talking about. Exactly what that looks like and what that is — it takes a lot more present-day story to fill in the gaps to understand the future.

Why are people dreading this family gathering? Is it because certain people don’t want to see certain other people, or is it about something ominous about Rebecca specifically? Or both?
Yeah, those are all good things to wonder about. The only way I can explain it is the way I always describe the series: Cut 20 years into the future of your life, and you’re cutting around your entire extended family getting ready for a family event, and you’re only staying with them for a couple of minutes at each pop. The situations are different, relationships are different, people are in, out of the picture in different ways. There would be almost a sense of foreboding, getting a glimpse of your own life in that way, and I think that’s a little of what you feel when you catch glimpses of them. It’s like, “Oooh, I hope everyone’s together. I hope everyone’s happy. I hope everyone’s alive. I hope that the dynamic of this family that I’m used to is still exactly as it was 15 years ago.” I think that’s part of the foreboding feeling you have with all of it all the time. Not to mention the fact that everyone, especially Randall’s family, does seem a little bit apprehensive about what they’re about to walk into.

One wonders about the idea of a terminally ill Rebecca bringing this fractured family together as one last act on their birthday. This Pin the Tail on the Donkey game was a staple of the Big Three’s early birthday parties and always seemed to bring them together…
A really interesting and odd part of this is adult Tess has said, “I’m not ready,” and everybody seems a little apprehensive. But then at the same time… “Ooh, did you bring the Pin the Tail on the Donkey?” It’s a little incongruous. All of that is not going to come to light for quite some time, but there is  — and has been for some time —  a very long game here that’s been planned for a long time.

The way the current day and flash-forward scenes were presented, it’s possible that Randall and Beth are not together. They are experiencing some hard times in the present day, but you’ve always said that this would remain a rock-solid marriage at its core. Is that now trult in jeopardy? And given Toby’s wedding-ringless finger, is it fair to say that at least one couple on the show is not together in the distant future?
About Randall and Beth: Along with many of the relationships, their marriage is something we, as writers and producers, and also just our audience, has really taken to. There’s no marriage that is without spells, and in the back half of this season, Sterling and Susan are getting a showcase to really dive deep into a relationship and a marriage that I’m very excited about. In many ways, that will be a prime focus of the back half of the season that people will really be paying attention to. Coming off the end of this episode, the audience, if nothing else, is being braced for rocky times ahead — as always, filled with a lot of love and laughter — but a tricky period. Whether they come out on the other side, it would ruin the fun to spoil it one way or the other. But I would never put money against Randall and Beth, as a betting man. In terms of whether either of those two couples doesn’t make it in the future, I think certainly, umm… I don’t want to answer.

Will we meet Tess’ wife on this day in the deep future?
Who’s to say if she’s even married or not? But it’s possible.

We see Beth running a dance studio in the flash-forward. Susan has mentioned that Beth has a background in dance. Is that something that we will explore in an upcoming episode that focuses on her story?
It is. We’re actually in the process of making it right now. It’s going to be a very special Beth episode, and the dance will start making a whole lot more sense.

This has always been a two-part mystery: Who is “her” and what exactly happened to/with her. When can we expect resolution on this mystery? Sometime later this season?
We’ve answered who they’re all going to see. There’s no mystery about it being somebody in ill shape too soon. We’ve eliminated that Beth is not dead, so I think everybody can kind of sit on that for a moment. The answers will come, and it becomes a very big part of the show. But we are doing a multiple-season television show, so it will take a minute to see the rest of that puzzle take shape.

What hint can you drop about this mystery in the second half of the season?
Now, it’s time — for a little while, and we will catch little glimpses — to focus on the present-day storylines that help you get there. There are many questions. Where are Kate and Toby in that period? Where is their relationship? Do they have children? Has Kevin figured out his love life? If so, with whom? Have Randall and Beth made it through as we hope Randall and Beth make it through? What has come of their respective careers? And what kind of shape or state is Rebecca in when we’re meeting her and they’re all going to visit her? In order to get to the future and to get more answers there, you need a little bit more present story in the back half of the season. So, I would say that should be the focus right now.

Surely you’ve mapped out the future beyond the family dynamics. Any technological advances you can hint at in the 2030s? Or which celebrity is president?
We are just all trying to design something right now that will not be one of those traffic apps that makes you make a left turn on an impossible street. If we can figure that out for 2030, I’ll feel we have done our job.

To see what This Is Us creator Dan Fogelman had to say about that revelation that Jack’s brother Nicky is alive , click here.

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09/20/16
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