The fourth episode of the fourth season of This Is Us brought Kevin Pearson (back) to many crossroads in his life. The searching actor was supposed to be focusing on himself, his career, and this second shot at sobriety, but instead he flew to Pennsylvania to help struggling Uncle Nicky (Griffin Dunne) focus on his sobriety and general unwellness in the rotting wake of the horrors he experienced in Vietnam. Along this journey, Kevin ran into a military intelligence officer, Cassidy (Jennifer Morrison), who was working on her sobriety but also hoping to repair her marriage, and Kevin decided to help her with that mission in between taking selfies with fans.
Eight years in the past, viewers caught up with Kevin as an aspiring actor who just got his big break — granted, it was “Untitled Hot Babysitter Project” — but now he wasn’t sure this was a career he even wanted. And a dozen years prior to that, he dropped the biggest bomb on his mother, Rebecca (Mandy Moore), who was just starting to turn the page after the tragedy of Jack’s death and begin a new chapter with daughter/new record store employee Kate (Hannah Zeile) after being inspired by the journey of Carol (Phylicia Rashad). Young Kevin (Logan Shroyer, unseen here) called from New York and left his mom a message on her answering machine an audition Sunny D commercial and, oh, by the way, had married Sophie. Send money?
Elsewhere in “Flip a Coin,” Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) opened her dance studio after some stinky drama. Husband Randall (Sterling K. Brown) finally stood up to Mama C — not so respectfully at first, then more respectfully with an apology — and was thrown for a loop when Malik (Asante Blackk), who’s courting Deja (Lyric Ross), informed him that he had an infant daughter. Meanwhile, Toby (Chris Sullivan) and Kate (Chrissy Metz) brought their blind baby to a disorienting music class and then to the beach. Let’s try to get rid of that dead possum smell, count our Hollywood douchebag money, buy some new CDs, and ask executive producers Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger to reveal the other side of the “Coin.”
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You finally give Rebecca a moment of healing and bonding after the tragedy of Jack’s death, and then you drop this on her? Can’t you just give her a moment?
ISAAC APTAKER: She got to dance to an entire Carole King song! It was a solid four minutes of happiness!
We knew that Kevin was married earlier to Sophie, but not this early. He’s someone prone to impulsive behavior, but what intrigued you about having him make such a rash romantic decision at a such a young age?
APTAKER: We’ve known in our plan, ever since we brought Alex Breckenridge way back in season 1, that this was the age that Kevin got married — really, really young. So we’ve been so excited just waiting for the point when the show finally caught up to what we have in store so we could drop this bomb on the family. They all experienced this tragic, devastating loss of their father in their home, and it’s sent everybody spinning in different directions, and it looks very different on each of our Big Three. For Kevin, I think he had to just grab onto some type of stability, and for him that was Sophie. So it’s something that we’re actually going to be digging into a lot more in our very next episode, which picks up directly off of Rebecca and Kate getting that news.
Rebecca looked shocked and maybe not too pleased. What can you hint about what this does to their relationship — and his relationship with Kate?
ELIZABETH BERGER: Yes, I think she definitely was shocked, and it’s something that we are going to be exploring next week, and we’re very excited about it. Everyone’s going to come together and everyone is going to have a chance to really let out their feelings about this event.
Are you teeing up the opportunity for us to see Sophie in the present day again?
APTAKER: We love Alex. She’s very busy, though.
This is a big episode for Kevin [Justin Hartley]. We see how a random event like the baby who finally stopped crying changed his life. When Kate gives him the flip-a-coin choice about the pilot, he says he doesn’t want to do this and explains that acting was just something he turned to when Jack died. Was this the scene you’ve been waiting to give us to help explain why Kevin is not at peace with his Hollywood-douchebag success over the years, and why he’s conflicted and even resentful of his success?
BERGER: For sure. Like Isaac was saying with [Kevin’s] decision to marry Sophie, there were so many decisions in this short amount of time that were somewhat borne out of tragedy and grief and needing to find a place to put that grief, and going into acting was one of those things. It happened very quickly and it happened at a time when he was in pain, and it kind of snowballed into him getting this part, which changed his life. So this was a moment where he’s looking back and he’s realizing it was a fork in the road and what if it hadn’t happened and what if he was supposed to have this whole other life? We just thought that was such a fascinating thing to go back and explore and see the moment where his life forever changed.
If the Manny pilot doesn’t go, does alternate-universe Kevin really go to a simpler small town and raise a family?
APTAKER: I don’t think so. I think he winds up doing catalog modeling or something. [Laughs]
When Kevin turned down the Spike Jonze movie and showed up at Nicky’s doorstep, it felt like he was doing something admirable but reckless. Now he’s moved in next to Nicky, and he’s helping Cassidy try to save her marriage. He’s focusing on other people instead of himself. But he’s helping all three of them stay sober by figuring out a way to occupy themselves before the next meeting. Based on his reaction to Nicky’s “I just knew” story about Sally — and his response to the flip-a-coin moment — are we at an evolution in his thinking that he needs to change up his life? What exactly is roiling inside of him?
BERGER: That’s really interesting. Obviously Kevin is desperate to find purpose and to find meaning. We’re really watching this season someone in the throes of an existential crisis, and there’s something comforting about being able to put that energy into Nicky and into Cassidy. But like you said, at the end of the day he’s still going to be Kevin and he’s going to still have to look into the mirror and figure out who he is and what he ultimately wants. I think it’s all of it. It’s channeling himself into helping these people while also continuing to struggle to find his larger place in the world.
Nicky tells Kevin the story of his girlfriend Sally and how he lost touch with her, drove to her house in a romantic moment, but when she wasn’t home, he realized that just wasn’t meant to be. Is every part of Nikki’s life tragic?
APTAKER: [Laughs] I think he had some happier times in the pre-Vietnam section of his life. We actually have a story coming up down the line that I don’t want to say too much about, but it shows one of the best days in Nicky’s life. So he’s not all doom and gloom.
BERGER: And hopefully we’ve entered a non-tragic phase of his life. Still to be determined. But that’s the hope with this chapter that we’re telling now.
And certainly in that peek into the deep future at the end of last season, he appears to be doing pretty well.
Given that Kevin embarked on this journey to solve the mystery of Nicky, and he’s helping Cassidy reconnect with her husband, we’re totally going to wind up meeting Sally, aren’t we?
APTAKER: It has been discussed. It has been bandied about it. Nothing’s off the table.
If Nicky was with Sally before he was drafted, Jack have have known her…
APTAKER: I don’t want to promise anything there.
There’s a chemistry building between Kevin and Cassidy, including an unlikely friendship. What is next to explore with these two?
BERGER: We think their chemistry is unbelievable. We just love watching them on screen together. We really can’t get enough. We think it’s such an interesting relationship. It’s these two people that you would never imagine would end up in the same room together that have so little in common it’s crazy, but obviously [they] take a fair amount of solace in each other after a while, which they both find equally stunning. You’ll have to wait and see. But we love the way the relationship progresses and what effect these two have on each other’s lives moving forward.
Randall struggled with approval from Carol, and now Malik finds himself in the similar boat. Actually, neither Randall nor Beth are excited about this very impressive, honest young man. How difficult will Malik’s journey be to win them over? And how much of a right do Randall and Beth have to be concerned?
APTAKER: Oh, I think they totally have a right to be concerned. That scene with [Randall and Malik] where he finds out, “I’m sorry, what do you mean by the word daughter?” It’s such a funny, interesting dynamic — the energy between those two guys — and I love what it does to Randall. It really just throws him off-kilter. I think that they absolutely have a right to be worried. As we saw in our season premiere this year, Malik is a really, really standup guy, and he’s amazing in a lot of ways. But Randall and Beth certainly have a long way to go before they are necessarily going to realize that. Or not.
Carol’s resistance to young Randall helps to push Beth into his arms. Might we see parallels here with Deja and her reaction to all this?
BERGER: It’s definitely a very universal teen reaction that when your parents say, “No way,” you say, “Yes, definitely!”
APTAKER: You want it even more. [Laughs]
BERGER: So we will maybe playing some of that.
How might Malik’s parents receive Deja?
APTAKER: That’s going to be really interesting, because we’ve only met them briefly in the context of Malik and their family, and certainly the way that Randall and Beth conduct their lives feels like it’s very different. So it seems like there’s an interesting collision course there that perhaps we have in store.
Everyone grieves differently and each way is valid — unless you’re Carol, of course, and this is the way to do it. Carol and Rebecca share a coffee, and Carol walks away from the meeting with a little bit of judgment on how Randall and Rebecca are handing their grief, while Rebecca takes away something valuable in terms of starting a new chapter. Will these two continue to build a relationship?
BERGER: We would love them to. We don’t have immediate plans, but we thought they were so lovely and so interesting together, and obviously they have this terrible thing in common in that they’ve both lost their husbands. So it’s definitely a relationship that we talk about going back to exploring more.
APTAKER: We were so excited at the notion of doing a scene with Phylicia and Mandy together. When we told that Beth backstory last year, you realize that her and Randall in this cosmic way were on these very, very similar paths with this tragic losses of their fathers at such a young age. But similarly, their mothers both lost their husbands in this very, very shocking way. So the idea of letting them connect over that and realizing that these two very, very different families and very, very different women share this commonality of experience felt really powerful to us.
What can you tease about next week’s episode, which Milo Ventimiglia directed? You hinted earlier that we’re going to be deal with the fallout of Kevin’s surprise wedding…
APTAKER: Milo crushed it for us. He did such a great job his first time stepping into the director’s chair. We’re jumping back into late-’90s time period and direct picking up with the news that Kevin and Sophie have gotten married at the tender age of 18 and seeing how Rebecca responds to that.
To read what Jennifer Morrison had to reveal about Cassidy and what to expect in season 4, head over here.
- This Is Us creator Dan Fogelman breaks down season 4 premiere, new characters, and that final twist
- This Is Us creator hints at ‘restarts’ and ‘a very scary period’ in season 4
- This Is Us: See first-look photos from season 4
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