This Is Us creator answers burning questions about those finale flash-forward surprises
Season 3 of This Is Us is now history for the Big Three, and each member exited the finale in dramatically different fashion than they entered it.
(Not to mention those turns of events in the flash-forward. A lot more on that in a minute.)
The third season of NBC’s feel-all-the-feels family drama saw America’s Top Couple, Randall (Sterling K. Brown) and Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson), experience disconnection and discontent as Randall not only declined Beth’s request to drop out of the race for city council but also asked her to shelve her dancing ambitions for now. He left their house in a semi-huff and slept at his office in Philadelphia after their latest spat, but the finale returned him home, where after some more soul-searching — and a sharp remember-how-lucky-you-are speech from Deja (Lyric Ross) — he and Beth worked toward resolution without the other’s knowledge. He inquired about resigning from the city council, while she met with a real estate agent in Philadelphia, where she found a new commute-reducing home for the family — as well as a space to open the dance studio that was teased in a midseason flash-forward scene. Beth saved the day as she tends to do, and R&B found their rhythm once again.
Meanwhile, Kate (Chrissy Metz) and Toby (Chris Sullivan) could breathe a sigh of relief when their baby did just that. The couple had been camped out at the hospital for two incredibly stressful weeks while their premature son, Jack — born 12 weeks early — hung on for dear life. But as Jack’s condition improved, the doctor took him off the respirator. After some touch-and-go moments — and some tension between Kate and an ultra-involved Rebecca (Mandy Moore) — Jack was able to breathe on his own, enabling Kate and Toby to finally able to bring their son home, where he was greeted by Rebecca and Miguel (Jon Huertas), who plotted their move to Los Angeles.
Kevin (Justin Hartley) concluded a season of soul-searching and uncle-searching, a struggle with relapse, and a redefining of his budding relationship with Zoe (Melanie Liburd). Although he had assured her that he was totally fine with her not wanting to have children, his paternal urge kicked in as he watched Zoe babysitting his nieces. When she realized that he couldn’t shake his dreams of a family, she initiated the Talk. Cue a break-up and a move-out, and soon after… an oh-damn!
The final minutes of the episode returned to the mysterious, ominous flash-forward that has been teased intermittently since last season. The family gathering at Kevin’s house began with a bit of encouraging news, as Randall kissed and embraced Beth, extinguishing worries that they had split in the future. But the reason for the reunion soon became more clear and less reassuring. Viewers recently had learned that Rebecca was the “her” in the “Who is ‘her’?” mystery, and now they were given their first look at the grand matriarch. There she was, lying in bed, with her brother-in-law, Nicky (Griffin Dunne), sitting by her side (!). When Randall reminded her twice of his name, she stared at him in a sort of a catatonic state. What had happened to her? Where was Miguel (Jon Huertas)? Was Toby — who showed up to the house with a certain hesitation — no longer with Kate? And, er, Kevin has a son?
Let’s ditch this fake debate tournament, take a big sip out of our My Dad Is Rad mug, mind our A’s and B’s, and open the door to receive insight and maybe a few answers from the man in charge of it all, This Is Us creator Dan Fogelman.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: The biggest question coming into the finale was the status of Randall and Beth’s marriage. We left the episode feeling doubly reassured in both present and future. In your mind, was the question this season less about, “Will they or won’t they get a divorce?” and more like, “What does it look like to split open a marriage between two loving people and see what’s inside — the good and the ugly?”
DAN FOGELMAN: That was exactly it. [Laughs] It wasn’t unexpected to see how people would worry or wonder about the status of Beth and Randall. I was proud of our two actors and our writers, because it meant they did their jobs really well. But the intent here was: This is a really good marriage, but even good and great marriages are imperfect; it’s something they talked about in season 1 of the show, how they’re perfectly imperfect. You can’t just, for multiple seasons, show positive after positive after positive without showing a moment or two, or three, or six where a couple really goes through something. Like a broken bone, a healthy relationship could be made stronger after it breaks a little bit.
And that’s what we’re going to see here, moving forward. I think — and hope — people will enjoy watching Randall and Beth get back on track, because it’s not just a kind of goal-type marriage or relationship now. There’s a part of it that was very much our own flawed marriages, too. To root for a couple or to love a couple or admire a couple when they’re only in a good place is easy. To really identify what them after you’ve seen them at their worst is, to me, really exciting.
The solution that Beth has figured out does come with a new set of complications. If these two are worried about stability for Deja, doesn’t moving pose some new problems? And Tess and Annie looked a little rattled by the move.
It’s a big season next year. I was a kid who’d moved four times before fifth grade, so moving to a new area, especially when you’re in that stage of adolescence, that 9-to-14-type range, is really exciting, but it can also be a really traumatizing type of thing. I think we know that Beth and Randall are the type of parents who will be on top of it in all the best ways. But that nuclear family has a journey ahead of them, literally and figuratively.
Let’s flip to the end, because that last scene with Rebecca spurs a lot of questions. Randall reminds Rebecca of his name twice when he enters the room. She seems obviously frail and out of it, like she possibly has dementia or Alzheimer’s. Is that an accurate assessment?
All I can say about Rebecca’s status is, I don’t think that your read is a read that would be unexpected based off the limited amount of material we’ve seen. But there are other things that could be going on there as well. You wouldn’t be able to know it just from that. There could be many suspicions as to what is ailing Rebecca, including just aging and being in that place of life. The read of it being Alzheimer’s and dementia is not unexpected; it doesn’t mean it’s necessarily right.
How dire is her situation? How close is she to being on her deathbed?
I can’t really say.
Several decades ago, there was concern that Rebecca had brain cancer, and she had a scan that turned out to be a false alarm. Any connection to be drawn there?
I can’t say.
In the flashback, Young Randall [Lonnie Chavis] is worried that Rebecca suffered brain damage from the car accident. People might wonder if that’s something worth thinking about too.
No, I think that one is more of a thematic resonance that something has befallen her in the past and something has befallen her in the future. I don’t think we’re meant to read that that kind of car accident was a causal effect of the final thing. I understand that theory, but I think I can debunk that one.
Speaking of that flashback theme, the loss of Jack was truly monumental. But was one of the points of that flashback scene also to show again that maybe the Pearson whom the family truly couldn’t live without was not Jack, but Rebecca? In just one night without Rebecca, the family seemed to fall apart. There’s sort of a nice reversal there in terms of the way we’ve been interacting with the show.
It’s something we’ve always felt, and we’ve hit it a couple of times. It’s very easy, just in every way Milo represents this kind of sainted father, who was this wonderful father and husband and man. But in the background throughout this all, and the only character who’s playing in every time period, has been this kind of steadfast mother figure. Who, while not as kind of glamorous in terms of her role in the family, has been there through thick and thin, and for everybody. And that’s always been the area I’ve loved for that character, whether it be just after Jack’s funeral when she’s driving them across the bridge and is going to be be there to kind of take care of her family, all the way through a past story where she’s not home for one night and you see how difficult it is for the family to operate without her. I think that’s a really good observation.
Miguel has just entered the Mystery Zone. He’s not in the room by Rebecca’s side. Hasn’t Miguel been through enough, Dan? Now you have to kill him?
I can’t talk about Miguel. [Laughs] We have exciting stuff coming for Jon Huertas. I think he had a really great season, and it’s just going to build and build and build. As I hoped and kind of predicted, you’ve seen so many people start rooting for him and getting angry at other characters when they’re mean to Miguel, which has always been a little bit of the goal. Everybody can become the hero at the different chapter of a story, and I think Miguel has a road in front of him that’s going to be very exciting and rewarding.
How big will that question be — whether he is still alive, whether he’s in Rebecca’s life — as we move into season 4?
The entire arc of this family is going to be told by the time we’re done with it, so obviously that’s going to be a huge part of it. In terms of season 4, getting not heavily into that future story line just now, I don’t think that’s where we’re going to be headed in season 4. We have a lot more story to tell at first, Rebecca and Miguel coming together, as well as how Miguel played a role in Jack’s origin story, around the time of meeting Rebecca post-Vietnam. So there’s a lot we’re doing still there before we get to the Miguel mystery, as you called it.
And the reason that he becomes disconnected from Rebecca for years, which is intriguing.
We’ve actually shot part of it already, though it’s not going to be airing necessarily right away or anytime soon. [It] is just banked away now.
There is no Miguel. However, there is: Nicky. No one seems particularly shocked that he’s there. Is this a recent reunion, or did he reintegrate into the fold years before this?
That’s for our next few seasons to tell. But the read is right — nobody’s shocked that he’s in there. Obviously, we left him in his trailer telling the family to go away. That’s a far cry from him comfortably sitting at the matriarch’s bedside. So there’s a big middle to fill in there. That’s going to be a big part of where we’re going next.
And he looks surprisingly good. Can you confirm that he has gotten his life together, because that seems to be the implication?
I think you should never judge a book by its cover. But yeah, old Nicky looks good, so that would be the hope is that there’s a journey of rediscovery. As always, we have some stuff that’s scary and some stuff that might make you sad, but hopefully we also can buttress that with stuff that has positivity and warmth and journeys that have an upward swell. So, it remains to be seen if Nicky’s is one of them. But I’m rooting for him.
We have Toby coming separately from Kate, and he’s not wearing his wedding ring, and Randall seems a little surprised that he showed up. And of course, he says he talked to his son, Jack, and “they’re” on their way. How worried should fans be that Kate and Toby are not together, because it feels like it should be “very”? And should fans even be wondering: Is Kate alive?
There’s a lot of questions there, in terms of Toby and Kate and what the hell is going on. The big positive is that the reference of “Jack is on his way” should be a huge sigh of relief to everybody who worried about the vitality and survival of baby Jack. The Jack he is referring to is that baby; it’s not a different Jack or some other thing like that. So everybody can breathe a sigh of relief that the baby’s okay. [Laughs]
And what about whether he’s with Kate?
We have left Toby and Kate in as good a place as they’ve ever been, coming home to their new nursery with their new baby who’s made it out of a precarious situation. And when we go to the future, Kate’s not there, Toby seems out of place at this family reunion, clearly a bit estranged in some way, and we don’t know why. So yeah, I would say on multiple fronts there’s reason for concern. There’s certainly a tremendous amount of the middle for us to now fill in, in the next season or two.
Kevin has a little son running around the house. Have we just launched, “Who is ‘her’?” 2.0? And have we met the mother yet?
I can’t say if we’ve met the mother yet. It was very important to us and our writing staff to tell a story of a young polished woman who is someone who just doesn’t want to have kids and expresses it and does not bend on that when Kevin asks. Where that goes and if there’s a future for Zoe in this story — if there’s a future — there’s a lot of people who are rooting for Zoe, there’s a lot of people who root for Sophie. Is there another woman, or two, or 18, out there, knowing Kevin? That’s a big part of our story to fill in as well.
The kid has blond hair, which could match nicely with a Sophie [Alexandra Breckenridge] theory. Is his story with Sophie over?
If we learned anything in this show, it’s that nothing is really ever over. [Laughs] Because you’re going backwards and forward. Kevin’s love story has been a big part of his story line, because he’s our single character and he’s never been able to quite figure it all out thus far in the series. He also has giant stories about hopes and dreams and being the man his father wanted him to be, and his career, and his addiction. But his love story is something that’s going to continue to play out. My hope is that this guy will figure it all out at the end and wind up in a healthy place. But as to when and how and with whom, I can’t say right yet. But we do have a plan.
What kind of a role will Zoe have on the show next season? Will we be delving more into the story of abuse that she suffered as a child?
Clearly this has been a hard break for her and Kevin, but as we’ve seen with Kevin, hard breaks often have ways of coming back around. She has two points of entry into the story, because both as Kevin’s girlfriend but also as a family member for [Randall and Beth]. And we’re just in love with the actress.… But it remains to be seen as things keep moving forward.
Also missing from the flash forward are Deja and Annie [Faithe Herman]. How significant is that?
It’s not. People are arriving to somewhere that we don’t know what it is at different times. And who knows where everybody lives by that point? I wouldn’t read that as too significant just yet.
Would you say that we’re about at the midpoint in the life of the series?
In speaking purely about the characters’ stories, I think we’re in the middle of their stories. If you were in a movie theater, you’d be at the one-hour mark.
Will some of the show’s final scenes take place at the house? And do you now feel like you see the entire field, and that it’s about working toward that endgame?
I think it would be almost impossible to guess what we’re going to do for the endgame. I think people would be off if they’re trying to get ahead of it. Not because they’re getting it wrong, just because it would be nearly impossible. We’re coming back for season 4 next season, and I’ve already written the the season premiere, and we’ve already started intensively the planning for it, because it’s so complicated. I don’t think the audience would have the ability to really guess where it’s going, because there would just be no way, and that’s how I feel about our endgame. So no, my writers and producers see the whole field because we’ve been mapping it out for a very long time, long before this aired. The people in the room know where it’s going.
To read what Sterling K. Brown revealed about those finale flash-forward mysteries, click here.
To see why Mandy Moore called Rebecca’s future fate ‘heartbreaking,’ head over here.
NBC’s beloved era-hopping drama tells the story of the Pearson family through the years.