This Is Us producers break down Randall's 'breaking point,' Kevin's cliffhanger
Executive producers Elizabeth Berger and Isaac Aptaker delve into Randall's anxiety — and that new wrinkle in Kevin's life.
You want quick cliffhanger resolution? You got it! (Plus another cliffhanger, but we’ll get to that in a minute.) Tuesday’s episode of This Is Us picked up right where the action — or is that… suspense? — left off last Tuesday, with an exhausted, overwhelmed, jetlagged Randall (Sterling K. Brown) walking into his kitchen, only to discover an intruder menacingly standing there in the dark. Turns out, this home invader — “Christian Slater’s creepy doppelgänger” is how Randall described him — wanted money not violence, and Randall expertly and efficiently de-escalated the situation, tossing some cash his way, prompting the criminal to take the money and run.
But what you also received in “One Hell of a Week: Part One” was one heckuva aftermath, not to mention, another engaging exploration of the perfectionism-seeking family man, the good son who has battled anxiety his entire life. The first of another Big Three trilogy, this episode revisited Randall from various angles and ages, from the tyke who was scared of monsters, to the nightmare-haunted college kid who was understandably scarred by his dad’s death, to the nightmare-plagued grown man who had too much trauma on his plate but was sublimating fears and anxieties that were pushing up hard against his walls in unexpected ways. (Just ask that other criminal in this episode who wound up with an orbital fracture.)
While Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) and Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) had done what they could to help, Randall was still battling his demons, and he ended up at the end of “One Hell of a Week” in a familiar place; collapsing in tears and turning to his brother Kevin (Justin Hartley). Kevin was happy to be a shoulder for him to cry on, though this time it was a figurative one: Kevin had flown to Pittsburgh on a whim for the funeral for Sophie’s mom, and as he explained in the final seconds of the episode as he looked over at the mystery woman in bed next to him, “I’m kind of the middle of a whole thing. It’s been a helluva week.”
How will Randall manage this impending implosion? What’s at stake for the councilman? And who is this unfamiliar (or familiar) female next to Kevin? Let’s clear the room of monsters, put on the Waiting to Exhale soundtrack, and just breathe as we toss the conversational football with This Is Us executive producers Elizabeth Berger and Isaac Aptaker and promise not to use the words “undies” or “redrum.”
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: We’ve visited the story of Randall’s anxiety over the years. There’s never been a true solution; it’s about symptom management not addressing the roots of the issue. What appealed to you about bringing him to a boiling point now, with so much going on, from councilman responsibilities to Rebecca’s ailment to a home invasion?
ISAAC APTAKER: This is something that was hot on all of our minds, because over the past year, a couple of the writers in our room had had people break into their homes when they were home. People would come in and we would see the impact that it has on you when someone invades your space like that — the aftermath and the fallout. So, as we were looking at what Randall’s season would look like, and what would be potentially the breaking point for him with all that’s been brewing this year, it was at the front of all of our minds at how upsetting something like that can be.
ELIZABETH BERGER: We’ve seen that Randall is someone that is so in touch with his feelings emotionally, and he is so willing to talk about everything, but there does seem to be this block with him when it comes to therapy, where he just does not want to engage. That really fascinated all of us and got us thinking, “What’s that about? And how do we get him to a point where he has his back against the wall and has to move past coping mechanisms and keeping things just below the surface and finally deal with them?” And this felt like a really compelling way to go about that.
Randall walks out of the room, locks himself in the bathroom, loses it, and calls Kevin. He’s self-aware enough to know that he’s not well — how much of a wake-up call will this episode’s chain of events be? Will it spur him to realize he can’t do it on his own, and that he needs the professional help that Beth suggested to him earlier this season?
BERGER: I don’t think he’s quite there yet, but he’s definitely at a point where he’s ready to reconnect with his siblings, and he’s definitely ready to find comfort there. And whether or not he’s ready to walk into a therapist’s office, he’s very intelligent, and it’s definitely becoming clear to him that he cannot go on the way things are.
Like teenage Randall (Niles Fitch), teenage Beth (Rachel Hilson) was haunted by her dad’s death, but she explained that she learned to talk to someone and slay her demons. Randall never did. Per her suggestion, he did agree to go to a grief group, but he skipped that meeting when his family needed him — and the implication was that he never went back. How critical was that missed opportunity?
APTAKER: I think it was pretty critical. We’re telling these two parallel stories with him and Beth that speak to each other so nicely wherein both timelines she’s extending this olive branch. She’s trying to help him get the type of professional help that he really needs. And life gets in the way in both instances. He’s pulled away by his family in the past [story], and this mugging happens in the present and they never get to have that talk. They never got to go to that grief group. So Randall continues on in this sort of white-knuckling, leaning-on-his-brother, leaning-on-his-wife private way he has of dealing with his issues, but never seeking the professional help that he really needs.
For a guy battling anxiety, he puts himself at risk all the time in his pursuit of being the perfect father, husband, and councilman by always extending himself to the max. We talk about Kevin not putting the work in on himself and focusing on others as a distraction from his own issues. Should we be having that same conversation about Randall?
BERGER: We’ve had such interesting talks in our writers’ room about therapy and the people that are in it and aren’t, and you have the people that have been doing it for a long time — and then you have the people in our room that will openly say, “I don’t need to go and pay for somebody to tell me what’s already wrong with me.” And for someone as intelligent as Randall and as in touch in some ways with his emotions and his own backstory and everything he’d been through, there is a part of him that thinks, “Nobody knows Randall Pearson better than he knows himself.” So we’re watching him slowly get over that hubris and realize maybe that might be true, but it doesn’t mean, “I also don’t need help here.”
There’s a big moment in the past where Jack tells scared little Randall (Ca’ron Jaden Coleman) that he needs to be strong to look out for Kate and Kevin. Did you view that as one of the contributing factors to Randall’s reluctance to seek help? That he always felt that his dad needed him to be the strong one, and that would need to be his role in life?
APTAKER: Yeah, definitely. I think that’s not maybe Jack’s proudest parenting moment with his pre-school son [laughs], but it’s the truth. The kids are all high maintenance, and Randall’s always been the one who’s good in school, eager to please, has this really special relationship with his parents. He’s the good son in a lot of ways. So having that role in the family puts a lot of pressure on Randall, without Jack and Rebecca even necessarily realizing it, to deal with his own problems and not take up too much air.
Darnell (Omar Epps) reveals another interesting layer, and in explaining to Randall how therapy helped him work through some issues, he says, “Men of a certain shade, we’re not used to talking.” Randall ultimately brushes it off and talks about running being his therapy. Randall’s a man of contradiction — he’s in touch with his feelings, but he’s not necessarily ready to open himself up to being vulnerable in therapy. How did that scene come about and how important was that line?
APTAKER: It was very important. As all of our stories do, this came out of lots of discussions in the writers’ room. We’re a pretty diverse group and there’s all kinds of ranges of people who are in therapy every week, who would never dream of going to therapy, who tried it and it wasn’t for them. There’s still to this day such a stigma about going to professional treatment for mental health — and the writer of the episode, who is a black man, felt that it was very authentic that it’s very rare to see a conversation like this on TV between two men of color, and there is a big stigma about going to therapy, particularly for black men. So he felt that was very important to include in the episode and spoke to a real truth amongst that community.
When Randall walks back into the office after what happened with the mugger, he is hailed as a hero. Will Randall be considered that by everyone and we move on, or is it a bit more complicated than that as there is someone out there with an orbital fracture? Obviously he got a little carried away in the moment and used a lot of force. Is that something we’ll be exploring?
BERGER: We can’t say whether or not that will exactly come back, but we are definitely going to be examining Randall’s own reaction to this behavior, and what exactly happened in those split seconds where he reacted and he sort of let himself go. Does he feel like he did the right thing or did he feel like he overdid it because of other things happening internally? We’re definitely going to be exploring his reaction to the events — and we’ll have to wait and see if they have larger ramifications down the road.
Kevin is the person in the family that Randall battled the most and has the most baggage with. We’ve seen Kevin — especially young Kevin — drop his combative razzing act with Randall to help his brother when the chips are down, but what is that connection that Randall feels with him that makes him the go-to person to show his vulnerability to? It’s interesting that the person with whom he has the most tension and the most friction is the one he turns to in crisis.
APTAKER: Actually, that’s something that we’re going to be exploring in an upcoming episode — how they have this incredibly tense, fraught dynamic, but also this incredible connection where Kevin is able to calm Randall down and get him in a clear headspace unlike anyone else. I mean, going all the way back to season 1 where Kevin realizes Randall is having that very intense panic attack when he’s about to go on stage and rushes to his brother’s aid. We’ve seen that despite how at times rocky their relationship is. There really is this connection there and this way that Kevin has with Randall.
Young Kate’s boyfriend, Marc (Austin Abrams), now casts a dark possessive cloud over Kate (Hannah Zeile) offscreen, too. The family gets an emergency call and everyone sets off running to the rescue, for some kind of intervention. How many alarms is this fire, which is probably a bad metaphor for the Pearsons?
BERGER: I think we’ve now seen enough to know that Marc is not a great boyfriend and probably not who Kate should be with. Obviously all of the Pearsons have so much going on in this time period that it probably hasn’t been at the forefront of their minds: Should Kate be dating Marc? Other than the occasional snippy comment about him. But we will see it reach a breaking point where it is time for family to get involved and say, “Enough is enough here.”
Kevin mentions he’s back in Pittsburgh for Sophie’s (Alexandra Breckenridge) mother’s funeral, and he mentions that something is happening that is “totally stupid or maybe it’s so crazy that it’s sane.” We see him in bed with a mystery woman. It would almost be too easy if that was indeed Sophie in the bed. And as we’ve talked about, her hair color matches well with Kevin’s future son — as does Madison’s (Caitlin Thompson) and other people. Any cryptic hints that we should study from that tiny clue of that head turned the other way?
APTAKER: Yeah, we kind of lucked out as storytellers that most of the women Kevin’s been involved with or women on our show in general happened to have a similar kind of dirty blonde hair. [Laughs] So that really leaves the door open to a lot of possibilities. Next week is Kevin’s episode, and we’re going to dive into this very same week in time from Kevin’s point of view and see what he’s been up to. So, answers on who that woman in that bed is are coming very quickly… [Also] we’ll get some insight into Sophie’s family and her relationship with her mother.
Is it fair to speculate that this is the moment of conception which led to his having a pregnant fiancée in that 40th birthday flash forward?
APTAKER: I mean, it could be, but Kevin’s not exactly a prude. There’s certainly the possibility that there’s another woman down the line, too.
So the reveal in that episode may or may not have implications down the line?
APTAKER: Until we say, “Oh, there’s a pregnant lady who’s saying, ‘Kevin, this is your baby,” I think everything’s up for grabs.
BERGER: And even then, who knows? [Laughter]
This Is Us
NBC’s beloved era-hopping drama tells the story of the Pearson family through the years.