A new year brings a new chapter in the Pearson family saga, but perhaps it’s best to keep a finger in the old chapter. The season 3 fall finale of This Is Us, titled “The Beginning is the End is the Beginning,” crammed plenty of developments into the final few minutes, and ended the hour with a flurry of questions. Not only did Tess (Eris Baker) sweetly come out to her parents — and Kate (Chrissy Metz) and Toby (Chris Sullivan) learn that they were having a boy — Randall (Sterling K. Brown) informed Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) that he was going to remain in the race for City Council, even though his struggling, laid-off wife asked him to drop out of this seemingly un-winnable election. (And upon hearing this, Beth informed him that the couch would be his new bed). In the distant future, viewers saw Beth running a ballet studio and preparing to head over alone to the mysterious family event. Are we missing anything? Hmmmm.. oh, right, Jack’s brother, Nicky is the opposite of dead! Before the second half of season 3 begins, let’s check in with Watson about Beth’s second act as the queen of dance, her seemingly shaky future with Randall, and what the heck a family reunion with Nicky might even look like.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What was your first reaction when you were pitched the flash-forward scene at the dance studio?
SUSAN KELECHI WATSON: Well, fierce and fabulous! One of our inspirations for Beth — and even her dress and the way she looked — was Judith Jamison. Judith Jamison is, like, supreme. But it was just this little glimpse. I didn’t realize that it was going to be on such a large scale, but it really looks some grand ballet studio. It was amazing because first of all, Beth made it into the future, which was a concern for many people.
Your mom must have been so happy. She was going to boycott the show if Beth died, right?
[Laughs] She was! My mom said, “Yes! She lived!” I get to see myself 20 years from now, which was very cool… And also the fact that Beth is now fully immersed back into her ballet and dance culture, which is where she belongs.
So, the upcoming episode that focuses on Beth’s backstory also will explain how she gets there?
Yes. Absolutely. A lot of people are like, “Well, wait? Is she Debbie Allen in the future?
There was that vibe.
There was that, too, and I’ll take it. The fabulous Debbie Allen. And how funny that Phylicia [Rashad, who is Allen’s sister] is now her mom on the show…. Now people will know why, and it won’t feel like something so far removed from what she was doing when we learned it. That’s what she always wanted to do.
And how would you tease that showcase episode?
We’re going to get the full story, and it’s about where she goes from here. Now that we know what’s been bothering her, what’s been in on her mind, and where she finally wants to go, now what is she going to do?
When you found out that Beth was running a ballet studio, did you say, “Yeah, that actually makes a lot of sense to me”?
It does. And I feel like whatever Beth decides to do, she would try to do it at the highest level. So it made sense to me that she was running the dance studio.
Fans are trying to figure out whether or not Randall and Beth are still together in the distant future, as they were not seen in the same room, Randall asked Tess if she had called Beth instead of calling himself, and there was an ominous air to the whole thing. Dan [Fogelman, the show’s creator] has said that this is a couple with a rock-solid foundation that should stay together and he recognizes that the fans would revolt if they don’t. Are you getting tons of questions about this?
Yes, it’s the main question that people ask. All I can say is marriage is hard. [Laughs] I think Dan has said, “It can be really rocky and turbulent at times,” and that is the space that they’re in right now.
It’s rocky, at best. Will we soon find out more about whether they’re still together?
Yes. We’ll find out more. I can speak to this moment that they’re in, and there’s no easy resolution.
You’re talking about the present-day situation, too?
What are fans saying to you? Threatening things like, “They better not break up!!!”?
Yes! I saw a GIF where the writers get dragged. [Laughs] People don’t want to see a beautiful, loving black couple — an example like that — break up. They don’t like that I put him on the couch. Some people think he deserved to be on the couch. You get both sides of the story. People are like, “You can’t possibly bring us this far to break them up.” I didn’t realize how much their bond really means to people, in terms of seeing them together and keeping that intact, but people have very much expressed that they would not be happy.
Did Randall deserve to be on the couch, in your opinion?
I think so.
It feels like he earned a time-out.
Yeah, I think so. They’ve been through a lot. I think in a perspective of three seasons; I don’t think about, “Oh, the past three episodes, does he need to be on the couch?” I just think that there’s a full body of life that has happened and maybe it was a bit of a breaking point for them.
How would you describe the resolution to whether or not they’re together in the future, though? Emotional?
I would describe it as emotional. If I can describe it.
Everyone is somber in these flash-forwards. And then Beth was asked to bring the game of Pin the Tail on the Donkey — a Pearson family staple — which, as Dan notes, feels at odds with everything else. Rebecca seems to be alive for now, so that’s a big revelation….
Right. Even before that, the fact that Beth was the person who revealed that — for me, as the actor, it was like, “Oh! Oh!” You’re seeing all the pieces at play, and then it’s going to all culminate and come together in that moment, and it’s just speaking to how Dan has crafted this thing from beginning to end that it has like an end already. It’s us dropping all the nuggets of all the pieces and then they come together and we’ll understand the mystery.
What can you hint about the reason for the coming-together moment? Chrissy said it’s “not good.”
Where we’re headed towards? Oh, man!… I would describe it as a completion in a way. For fans definitely. That comes to my mind. But also for us as individual characters, I think there’s going to be something very complete that happens in that moment.
And then there’s Nicky…
We find out that Nicky’s alive and people were like, “What???” And then some people were like, “I knew it!” [laughs] And then Tess has this beautiful moment. So there was dealing with that and her expressing her thoughts right now, where she’s at. And just even sharing that with her family I thought was such a huge moment. That was really beautiful. And then, of course, finding about “her.” Kate and Toby [finding out that] it’s a boy. There were just so many. So there’s all these things but it didn’t feel forced. It just felt like all these storylines just happened to sort of explode in this. And it’s such a great title: “The Beginning is the End is the Beginning.” I told Shukree Tilghman [the TIU writer-producer who penned the episode] when I read that thing, I said, “This is so beautiful. This is such a beautiful script.”
How awkward would a reunion — or a “union” — with Nicky be? How charged?
I think that would be very charged. Because you wonder why Jack kept him from the family. You wonder what about the dynamic was so bad because Jack had this alcoholic father, and he didn’t talk to his dad, either; you find out that Jack stopped speaking to his dad, so you really want to know. So what is it going to be? What would it be like? And does Nicky know about Jack’s family? So all these pieces are just in the air.
And how much did Jack know about his now-alive brother?
How much did Jack know????
Beth’s reaction to the family meeting with Nicky would be something pretty amazing.
I’m sure she’d have to say something about it — probably something along the lines of, “Are we going to take him in, too???”
This Is Us returns Jan. 15.