This week’s This Is Us brought a full-on Pearson family reunion, though it was far less celebratory than some of their previous gatherings. The uniquely formatted episode placed the Pearsons in one room for the majority of the hour and felt more like a play (fitting, given that it was penned by playwright Bekah Brunstetter). Tempers flared as everyone sat for 26-plus hours in a hospital waiting room, nervously awaiting an update on Kate’s (Chrissy Metz) health after her water broke and she was placed under observation.
Her premature labor dominated the proceedings as Kevin (Justin Hartley) attempted to throw his celebrity weight around and Randall (Sterling K. Brown) returned to his calm and collected M.O., seeking to win over the doctors and nurses with his charm. Tension mounted as the hours ticked by. Kevin tried to downplay his relapse, promising Zoe (Melanie Liburd) that he was already past it. She, of course, found out otherwise when she took a sip from his water bottle, which was actually filled with vodka. Randall tried to force Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) to work through their issues after he suggested she “put a pin” in teaching dance classes, and he kept pushing despite her insistence that they deal with it at home. Ultimately, they reached a truce and promised to find a way to make their schedules work. Meanwhile, Rebecca (Mandy Moore) dropped the bomb that she and Miguel (Jon Huertas) are planning to move to California to be closer to Kate, Toby (Chris Sullivan), and their new grandchild. Miguel tried to keep the peace, but eventually Rebecca shamed the entire clan into setting aside their squabbling and focusing on the problem at hand with a moving monologue about the memories of the hospital waiting room the night Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) died.
By the hour’s end, Kate was forced to have an emergency C-section, and her 28-week old baby was delivered, placed in an incubator, and put on a breathing machine in the NICU. Kate named the baby Jack (what else?) and alongside Toby made a plea to her father’s spirit to protect their newborn. So let’s stop trying to figure out what food could not be improved by the addition of chocolate or ranch, set aside that bag of Rold Gold pretzels, and hear what TIU executive producer Isaac Aptaker had to say about the state of the various Pearson family troubles.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Who should we be most worried about right now? Kate’s baby? Randall and Beth? Or Zoey and Kevin?
ISAAC APTAKER: Oh, man. Everyone has to rank it for themselves, depending on which story line you’re most invested in. I think I’m the most worried right now about, I would say, Randall and Beth. Because it’s been simmering all season, and it finally goes into a head. But I think there’s gooing to be a lot of people who would vote baby, and a lot who would vote Kevin, too.
Rold Gold pretzels. Are they just a writers’ room fave, or was that integrated advertising?
[Laughs] Bekah Brunstetter, who wrote the episode, is a playwright. And we kind of turned this one over to her and let her do her thing. She actually went to a real maternity ward waiting room, here in L.A., and just observed with her laptop and actually wrote the episode in the waiting room. So I think the pretzels and the vending machine and the loud, crinkly bag were all based on those days that she spent in a real-life hospital.
Zoe is steeped in trust issues, and Kevin knows that’s a trigger for her. He knows this is so important to her but he still lied to her, which is the issue here, not the relapse itself. So what’s her next move? Are they doomed? Was that hug her way of saying goodbye?
I don’t think people should read into it that they’re totally doomed. Like you said, Zoe is someone with major trust issues, and now Kevin has not only fallen off the wagon, but pretty immediately lied to her about it. And so, they have some serious work to do. You know, on one hand, she could just decide it’s not worth it and take off, but also we’ve seen all season that she’s really invested in Kevin, and fallen pretty deeply in love with him. So on the other hand, they could try to work through this and regain that trust. But it’s definitely a rocky road ahead for them.
When will she call him out on the vodka-filled water bottle?
The water bottle will be dealt with immediately in our next episode. You can’t let something like that simmer.
How worried she would be about Kate’s baby? How much time will we spend in the hospital the rest of the season?
As we try to do with all of our medical stories, and all of our more delicate, sensitive storylines, we were trying to be really accurate here. We will be spending a good portion of the rest of our season dealing with these story lines for Kate and Toby. Just like in real life, if this happened it would be all-consuming, so it is the same way for our characters on the show.
The baby’s name is Jack. We all guessed that could be the only choice, in spite of what Kate said about waiting. It was the only choice, right?
Yeah, in the writers’ room, we were like, “Oh, people are going to see this coming, everyone expects it.” But then we were like, “But at the same time, what else is this woman going to name her son? Of course she’s going to name him Jack.” We even entertained Jackson and Jake and kind of similar, derivative names. And it came down to, just, nope — Kate would name her baby Jack. There’s no way around it.
Kevin and Randall clearly have so many deep issues and resentments. Rebecca told them to knock it off, but how soon might we see those come to a head again?
There’s some more urgent issues right now that Randall has to deal with. Namely, his relationship with Beth. I have a brother, so many of our writers have brothers. And it feels like those brother issues, that sort of core dynamic there, never really goes away. So while Kevin and Randall are in so much of a better place than they were in season 1, when they really were not even a part of each other’s adult lives in a big way, that core tension that they have, in stressful times, is always going to rear its head. That’s the fundamental dynamic between Kevin and Randall. Even though they’re in a really good place, it’s still there.
Rebecca’s memories of her final trip to the hospital with Jack are seared on her brain. Has she ever told anyone this before? Did she ever intend to, or did it just come out in the moment?
I think it just came out. That’s a chapter of their lives that’s so hard to talk about. As we’ve seen over the past three years. Whenever one of our family members really addresses that day and that tragedy head on, it’s an incredibly difficult experience. Especially for Rebecca, who so much of her method of surviving and moving forward is about bottling things up and not really accessing those memories and those emotions too much. So I think it was a really unexpected moment for her that just kind of came to the surface during this extremely tense day.
Are Miguel and Rebecca definitely going to move? What does that look like from here?
Yeah, we’re excited about it. They’re planning on it! Rebecca was so there for Randall during the early days of his family and raising his daughters when they were super-young. And it feels like they’re at an age when it might be nicer to be on a warmer coast, not to deal with those brutal East Coast winters. So we’re really excited about telling a fun new chapter for them. And also, I think it speaks to how far Rebecca and Kate have come in their relationship. That this would be something that’s even on the table for them. Based on where they were, even just a year ago as a mother and daughter, I don’t think it’s something that Rebecca would have even considered.
I assume that that will stir up a lot for her, since that will really be leaving the place where she still had a connection to Jack.
Definitely. Not only that, [she] and Randall have this very, very deep connection. So what that means for him, as it really sets in, that reality of it, not having his mom right there, is a pretty big deal.
Toby’s joke to Miguel felt a little cruel, and Beth also shut him down. Miguel took it in stride for now, but how will he exact his revenge for this betrayal? The Other Big 3 gotta stick together.
[Laughs] Yeah, Miguel is a bit of a punching bag for the family. But I think the fact that you even asked that question shows that people’s feelings about Miguel are really starting to turn around. Jon Huertas’ innate charms are just unavoidable at a certain point. We really found that people are starting to root for Miguel. Seeing that, oh, he has these really sweet grandparent moments with the girls. I think showing his relationship with his own family on Thanksgiving really helped. And I think that there’s been a big shift in terms of the tides turning for that character.
Miguel is a calming presence, from reassuring Madison [Caitlin Thompson] to having Toby’s parents’ numbers. And he really barely bristles at the kids’ rudeness to him. Will Miguel ever just lose it? Will he seem him finally have a come-to-Jesus moment with the Pearsons the way he did with his own kids?
Yeah, I think it’s totally possible. We’re planning on doing a lot more Miguel next year. Exploring more of that period of right after Jack’s death and his relationship with the family. It’s certainly possible that he reaches a breaking point one day and says, “I’ve been so good to you guys! Why is everyone dumping on me all the time?”
Beth and Randall arrived at a détente, but will we see this fragile peace crumble as early as next week?
Yeah. I’m not going to say whether it will crumble or repair, because I don’t want to give anything away. But the rest of the season is very much, for Beth and Randall, dedicated to this story line, and how their marriage will hopefully be able to survive these two new careers, and these two people who are very determined not to give up what they’ve begun for themselves.
Also, what options do they have for child care now that their one option — Rebecca and Miguel — seems to be gone?
Well, they’re going to try. These are two people who are both very, very passionate about what they’re doing in their careers and don’t want to give it up. At the same time, as the reality has sort of set in on Randall, they have these three very demanding girls. So it feels like something’s got to give. And the question is: Who is going to be the one who’s willing to bend in this relationship?