This Is Us producers on what's ailing Rebecca — and that fight with Randall
Warning: This story contains spoilers about Tuesday’s episode of This Is Us, titled “Sorry.”
If you were expecting This Is Us to start winding down gently, peacefully, and charitably into the Thanksgiving holiday, well… sorry.
Tuesday’s episode of NBC’s era-jumping family drama put assorted Pearsons in peril. Most notably, Rebecca (Mandy Moore) — who was previously established to be seriously ailing in the distant future — began to show signs of mental distress, misplacing her cell phone, becoming panicked when she couldn’t find it, and turning combative with Randall when he urged her to seek medical help.
Meanwhile, the saga of Cassidy (Jennifer Morrison) and Kevin (Justin Hartley) took another turn — this one toward resolution — as both expressed remorse for their ill-advised trailer tryst, with her reassuring him that he wasn’t the reason her marriage went AWOL, and his encouraging her to give it one last shot with her husband. Before he got to a healthier place, though, he wallowed in self-disgust, provoking a bar fight to feel as bruised out on the outside as he does on the inside. And the third of the Three Amigos, Uncle Nicky (Griffin Dunne), received some encouraging news in court, in the form of a pretrial diversion, and this fellow troubled self-sabotager finally spoke optimistically of the future and appeared to be headed in the right direction.
Also setting the tone for tension to come: Marc (Austin Abrams) got incrementally creepier with new girlfriend/teenage Kate (Hannah Zeile); Deja (Lyric Ross) had trouble telling her adopted mother, Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson), that she wanted to see her biological mother, Shaunna (Joy Brunson), and then introduced a surprise Thanksgiving invite into the equation; and adult Kate (Chrissy Metz) pretended to witness a milestone moment for baby Jack with overscheduled Toby (Chris Sullivan). Let’s mash up some avocado, go see Practical Magic, make a terrible $10 bar bet, and try not to be the sorriest dude in the history of sorry dudes as we ask This Is Us executive producers Elizabeth Berger and Isaac Aptaker all about “Sorry.”
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: We’re starting to see that something is off with Rebecca: She’s losing her phone, panicking when she can’t find it, and is ultra-defensive when Randall asks her to seek help. There are memory issues — perhaps related to dementia or Alzheimer’s — but another symptom can be personality shifts, which she seems to be having. Are there even more symptoms that Rebecca is experiencing that we haven’t discovered yet in the present day?
ISAAC APTAKER: I don’t want to speak too much to that because I want our audience to go on this journey with Randall and Rebecca, but he hasn’t seen his mom in a bit of time. She’s home for the holidays and it’s that question when you see an older relative, like, “Is this just normal, getting-older ‘senior moment,’ or is this a sign of a bigger illness, a bigger deterioration?” And Randall is thinking, “She seems a bit more off than just chalk it up to old age, ‘Oh, where’s my keys?’” And Rebecca gets very, very defensive. When I watch that scene at the end of the episode, almost more alarming than anything else that’s happened in the episode is how zero to 60 she goes in defending herself. So, yeah, I think people are going to have to wait and see here.
ELIZABETH BERGER: Randall knows Rebecca better than anyone on this planet, and the fact that he can tell something’s brewing within her is a pretty good indication that that is indeed what’s happening.
We already know that we should be worried about her down the road. How alarmed should we be in present day?
APTAKER: I mean, I think about it as alarmed as Randall is, which is fairly concerned. [Laughs] That’s something that is going to be a a big part our season and our storytelling going forward.
And whatever is ailing her, can you say whether this will be a slow progression?
APTAKER: Not without ruining stuff.
Randall angered Rebecca when he said, “For you to say that you’re the mother, and I’m the son after 20 years of —.“ Given that he had indeed played the role of de facto parent after Jack died, should she take him more seriously than she might other people, even if it was poorly expressed on his part? And/or was bringing that sentiment into the equation a mistake — and even, as she says, “cruel and beneath him”?
BERGER: I don’t know that we find it cruel, but obviously he knows that he is hitting on something that is very sensitive for his mother. We saw in that time period that as she kept saying, “You shouldn’t have to worry about me. I’m the mother here. I just want you to come for laundry and to visit,” she cannot resist leaning on him. That’s something that she feels guilty about, the way that relationship progressed throughout the years. That being said, ordinarily Rebecca would know that no matter how it’s being expressed, it’s only because her son has her very best interests at heart, and obviously we’re seeing a kind of overreaction that is related to what’s going on with her both emotionally and physically.
Is there irony in Randall expressing concern for the mental well-being of a family member, only to be rebuffed, like, say, when he rebuffed Beth a few episodes ago after she expressed concern about his well-being?
APTAKER: Yes, absolutely. There’s such a theme this season about what we’re able to perceive in terms of the well-being and mental health of the people we love versus ourselves. And Randall is so attuned to the people around him and what they’re going through, but he has this giant blind spot for his own mental well-being and just can’t really hear it, but he can dish it out.
We saw Nicky have another breakthrough moment this week in his speech to the judge: He was pushing people away because he thought he would hurt them, he wasn’t broken but he was sick, and he had to let the people who care about him help. If we flip ahead to that flashforward and see him seemingly put together, can it be said that it all started to turn around for him here? Or should viewers not get ahead of themselves?
APTAKER: Nothing is a total linear journey, especially when you’re battling demons and alcoholism in the way that Nicky is. But I think that this is certainly the beginning of a new chapter for him. If you think about how much of a better place he’s in compared to last season — when Kevin first arrived at that trailer and he had a gun on the table — he’s really progressed so, so much. And this time that he’s spent in this odd trio with Kevin and Cassidy has been so good for him, so he certainly seems like he’s on a path toward becoming the man that we see in the deep future by Rebecca’s bedside.
Was his speech to the judge also some subtle messaging to Kevin in his own journey?
BERGER: Definitely. I don’t know if that was something that he was consciously thinking, but interestingly enough, that speech ended up being exactly what Kevin and also Cassidy needed to hear in order to put her pride aside, put whatever sadness she was feeling aside and get herself to that diner at the end of the day and try to make it work with her family.
Much of the season for Kevin has been about ignoring the work that he was supposed to put in on himself, yet he was distracted with his savior complex and helping others. We saw him in the bar bottom out, not by drinking, but by getting in that fight, feeling like he ruined Cassidy’s marriage. It’s been a lot of two steps forward, two steps back with him. Considering what happened with Nicky and how he was able to help his uncle in such a meaningful way, will that be the catalyst in his taking care of himself? If not, what will it take to put in for him to put in that hard work on himself?
BERGER: This was a very healing chapter for him and this experience did, at least in a small way, speak to that existential crisis he’s been having that really boiled down to, “Am I good?” — dating all the way back to [the second episode of this season] where he asks his father, “Am I a good person?” At the end of this, at the very least he feels like he’s at least a little bit good — and that’s not nothing. That being said, it tends to be in life and especially for our Pearsons [laughs], sometimes you take a few steps forward and then you take a few steps back. So it will definitely be a journey. But I think this really was a successful journey in bettering oneself and feeling like he came out more sure of himself than when he started off and when he first arrived in Bradford.
Kevin still seems to be searching — for the approval of a father who’s no longer around. How harmful is it for him to project Jack onto Nicky to process grief that he still has that is still not resolved?
BERGER: You’re absolutely right that he is still searching and it’s going to be interesting to see how he fills that void now that the journey with Nicky has come to a sort of ending. He’s going to need to find a new sense of purpose still. It was just hard to be around his uncle and not see his father in him and hard to be around somebody that is the age of a father figure and not feel that presence. But I don’t know that he’s going to go forward and continue to do that with Nicky. I really do think that we are at the end of that chapter and now it’s going to be a question, which you have correctly identified of: What is next for this guy that’s constantly searching for purpose and meaning in his life?
APTAKER: He doesn’t have a history of doing great with idle hands. So maybe you can be a little worried about him. [Laughs]
When telling Kevin’s story this season, how much did you worry about taking viewers back down the handsome-rich-actor-is-self-loathing-and-spiraling well?
APTAKER: Not to pat ourselves on the back, but we’ve done a pretty good job of finding new, exciting ways for Kevin to be self-destructive, whether it’s drinking or sex or now provoking a bar fight that’s totally new territory for us. [Laughs] I think so much credit goes to Justin for taking what could be a little bit of a, “Ugh, who cares? Rich people problems!” character and giving it such depth and gravitas. I’m always compelled by Justin’s take on Kevin and what he’s going through. And now that he has had this win and closed this chapter, he is at a crossroads of: What’s next, and is he going to look inwards and or is he going to just find the next broken bird to fix?
Cassidy seemed to take a very positive step toward figuring out her family situation when she was invited to sit down in the diner by her husband. How complete should viewers consider her story? Will they see Cassidy later this season?
BERGER: We definitely wanted to leave it open-ended so that you can interpret it a matter of different ways. There’s a version where she and her husband now go off and live happily ever after. There’s a version where they just learn to co-parent together and maybe she finds her way back into our story. I think that is definitely open for interpretation and we want people to wait and see.
Beth was a deer in the headlights when Deja asked if her mom could come to Thanksgiving. Even though it can be overwhelming to add Shaunna into the mix on a big holiday with all the family there, did Beth have any choice but to say yes, especially given her probably justified guilt in backburnering Deja’s desire to see her mother in recent months?
APTAKER: I don’t think so. I think Beth did the exact right thing there. Even though it might not be the ideal way to reintroduce Shaunna into the family, Randall and Beth had sort of unknowingly but actively put it off for such a long time, and it was so hard for Deja to admit that this is something that she wants and craves that Beth had to say yes. And that was the right parenting move.
We briefly see teen Kate’s boyfriend Marc again. He makes that disparaging comment to her, “We’re not 12-year-old girls, right?” while he’s stroking her in almost a controlling way. He assumes familiarity with Randall, who clearly does not like him. You’ve previously told us there’s a reason to be concerned about this guy. How quickly do things devolve from here?
APTAKER: It’s a bit of a slower burn for this. It’s more of a season-long story for teen Kate. But we’re a little bit ahead of of the story of where they are in the ’90s because we’ve seen that that moment with the photo, but uccchhhhh, Marc! We should do a long scene with Miguel and Marc because anyone who’s on the fence about Miguel will just be head over heels. [Laughs]
We know that Rebecca feels guilt about not seeing this coming, whatever it is. How much responsibility, if any, does Rebecca have for whatever unfolds with Marc?
APTAKER: A lot of Rebecca and Kate’s relationship is colored by Rebecca wondering, “Did I intervene enough? Should I have stepped in sooner? Should I have said more?” And yeah, this is definitely another example of that, of her just always wondering, “Should I have said something sooner?”
BERGER: And obviously it’s a relationship that was forged while Rebecca was in the throes of grief still. So she definitely has those regrets of, “Oh, if only I had been in a head space where I could have better tracked what was happening then so much of this could have been avoided.” But that’s just the nature of life that sometimes you’re split and you miss what’s going on right beneath your nose.
What can you tease about the big Thanksgiving episode next week, when everyone — including Nicky and Shaunna — converges at Randall and Beth’s place?
APTAKER: Randall’s favorite holiday has a lot of complications and does not go at all as planned.
BERGER: I feel like Randall might want to choose a new favorite holiday because he has not had a relaxing Thanksgiving in quite a few years. And it’s not going to get any calmer this year.
This Is Us
NBC’s beloved era-hopping drama tells the story of the Pearson family through the years.