This Is Us producer explains 'the bomb Randall has dropped on his marriage'
Tuesday’s episode of This Is Us catapulted Kate Pearson into crisis, as her water broke only 28 weeks into her pregnancy. The final minutes of the episode, however, also put something else in jeopardy (once again): the marriage of Randall and Beth. Mere mention of the couple has usually been followed by a hashtag and the word “goals,” but the only goal of this season has seemingly been to instill worry in viewers about R&B’s future, literally and figuratively. Earlier this season, Randall (Sterling K. Brown) declined to drop out of a seemingly unwinnable City Council election, even after a struggling and recently fired Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) asked him to. And a key scene in this episode made viewers shake their collective fist at Randall, who put his foot — hell, both feet — in his mouth during a heart-to-heart with Beth. As you know, the recently fired urban planner had just rediscovered her love of dance and was excitedly embarking on a teaching career, and, to quote the late William (Ron Cephas Jones), her moment to play the trumpet instead of the bass had finally arrived….
Until it didn’t. Randall explained to her that adopted daughter Deja (Lyric Ross) needed some stability at home, and he reasoned that one of them would need to be more present to provide the family foundation. Given that the newly-elected City Councilman had responsibilities to his constituents in another state, and that Beth was teaching several nights a week, it would make sense for her to shelve her dancing shoes for now. Before Beth’s fallen face could turn angry, Randall received news of Kate’s calamity, and headed to the hospital to support his sister. Saved by an emergency. For now.
Here, This Is Us executive producer Isaac Aptaker — who has already answered our pressing questions about Kate’s pregnancy crisis — breaks down Randall’s misfire and the state of his marriage, while also offering insight on the grief inside Rebecca (Mandy Moore) circa 1998, if Single Dad in the electronics store might resurface, and the life expectancy of the show.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Randall and Beth were coming out of the woods after hitting this really rocky path, but now a new — but familiar — boulder just rolled in front of them. Randall is effectively taking away her new beginning, which feels especially tone-deaf after what she’s shared with him. Shouldn’t he have capitulated and rejiggered his schedule, or asked her to adjust a night of her schedule, or just have hired that professional help? Bad move by Randall.
ISAAC APTAKER: Very frustrating move by Randall. I think a lot of husbands are going to be watching that scene and going, “Dude, what are you doing?” But I think it’s inherently Randall. He sees what Deja is going through, and that speech of hers really connects with him, and he realizes that there is not a lot of stability in the home right now for the girls, given that both Randall and Beth are pursuing these new, all-consuming careers. He makes this ask of his wife, and you rewatch the scene and you understand why he’s doing it, but you’re also going like, “Don’t do that — she just had such an amazing first day. She finally found her thing. You have to leave some room for her passions, too.” So, we will absolutely be dealing with the fallout of that misstep of his immediately in our next episode.
If he ended up on the couch after the last fight, is he even sleeping under the same roof with her next week?
Well, I don’t want to call it lucky because it’s such a terrible situation, but the fact that Kate’s water broke, that a little bit trumps the Randall and Beth for a minute. So he gets to put a slight pause on the bomb he has dropped on his marriage because of the stakes of the Kate situation.
Is the status of their marriage clearer by the end of the season? Are you spreading out this story over the final four episodes?
Over the next few episodes we’ll see this fight and their marriage come to a real head, and then they’ll either find their way back to each other or they won’t. But yes, all things Beth and Randall will be answered, over the next run of episodes.
Sorry, I couldn’t quite hear you. Did you say that either they’ll find their way back to each other or… the show will be boycotted?
[Laughs.] Yeah, or Twitter will explode and stop watching.
On the flip side, Randall handled Deja’s situation with the utmost of care. And he handled it pretty well when she dismissed his achievements as a “story” and implied that he had thrived because of his “left at a fire station” origin story. That was a little harsh.
It’s such an interesting scene. Where I think she’s a young, adolescent girl who sees things one way, and hasn’t had a ton of world experience and I don’t think necessarily realized how harsh that could come across. But there really is such a unique way of Deja looking at the world and not [being] able to see that maybe she is this truly excellent student and intellectual young woman, but that she’s just being treated a certain way because of her story.
Graduation was the first big milestone for the family after Jack’s death. At Miguel’s urging, Rebecca finally agrees to seek help with the grief counselor. What can you hint about her journey in this time period moving forward?
The grief counseling is really important for Rebecca, and this is going to be the next chapter of her grief. Where probably graduation is four or five months after the house fire and his death, that felt to us like that was the most intense, all-consuming period of grief, and now as the Big 3 are moving into the next chapter of their lives, Rebecca is going to have to do the same thing, and answer some big questions. A not very old, pretty young woman with a lot of life left who’s had this tragedy and lost her partner, she’s looking at what’s next and will obviously continue to grieve Jack — she always will — but in a much less all-consuming way. She now has to figure out: what is she going to do with the rest of her life?
We see Miguel once again stepping up here in the wake of Jack’s death, leading her to grief counseling. Yet you can’t help but think about this falling out between them that is to come. How close are we to seeing that event?
We’re still a ways out from that. This is still the period of time where he’s really this amazing support system for her and the kids. But yeah, we do know that something transpires where he sort of retreats from the family for quite some time, and then they reconnect in, I believe 2008. We’re still in the period of time where he’s really this amazing figure for them as they grieve Jack.
Does the single dad (played by Matt Corboy) who asked her out in the department store possibly come back into the picture?
Possibly. We love that guy! That was a tough part to play. You come in and you find out you’re reading for the first guy to ask out grieving Rebecca, it’s like, “Oh man, do I want that on my reel?” [Laughs] I thought he did actually such a good job — you don’t hate that guy! He’s a guy who’s lonely and wants to, very respectfully I think, ask if Rebecca is ready and she’s not. But I thought he did such a great job finding that balance.
You were recently quoted as saying that the producers are planning for the show to run for about six seasons. And Dan [Fogelman, the show’s creator] has said in the past that he has a plan and that he doesn’t want the show to run indefinitely. What should fans be bracing for, in terms of the lifespan of the show?
I believe I said, “Six seasons, give or take” and then everyone ran with that. But yes, we have an endgame in mind. In terms of when exactly we get there depends on a ton of factors — business decisions, creative decisions. But we do know where we’re going. Fans should know that. We aren’t just throwing things on TV to throw them on TV. Whenever we make a decision, we know we have a plan in place, and there is an endgame. In terms of exactly how many episodes it will take to reach that endgame is a bit of a question mark. It’s not a definitive three years and out. But we have a plan here, like a complicated, long novel. We know where it’s headed, and we hope to be doing it as long as people want us to do it.
And not only are you planning for it, you’ve already shot some footage for it.
Here and there, every now and then, because our kids are growing like crazy. So when we know we need stuff of them at a certain age, we grab it, and have it in our pocket. What’s so special about the show is, we’re always expanding to new characters and deciding to devote episodes to different backstories, so we can keep this plan intact and stretch and collapse as needed, because we have such a deep bench of actors and characters.
Read more from Aptaker on Kate’s pregnancy crisis and what happens next here.
This Is Us
NBC’s beloved era-hopping drama tells the story of the Pearson family through the years.