By Dan Snierson
January 28, 2020 at 10:01 PM EST
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Randall was riddled with anxiety in last week’s episode of This Is Us, and on Tuesday night’s installment — a.k.a. part 2 of the new Big 3 trilogy — it was Kevin’s turn to enter the emotional wringer. While Randall (Sterling K. Brown) was busy fending off a home invader, his movie-star-bathed-in-privilege brother, Kevin (Justin Hartley), received a S.O.S. call from ex-wife/love-of-his-life Sophie (Alexandra Breckenridge), who was reeling from the death of her mother, Claire (guest star Jennifer Westfeldt). As you learned, Kevin always felt a connection to Claire, who’d invested more in his acting dreams than Rebecca (Mandy Moore), who was busy picking up the shattered pieces of her family after the death of Jack (Milo Ventimiglia).

Of course, Kevin felt an even deeper bond with her daughter — his high school sweetheart — and it was in full Technicolor display through the episode, through various eras of Kevin. He flew to Pittsburgh to support her at the funeral (as she once did for him, minus the flight), and after the funeral, in a moment of impulse, she asked him to take her away from the reception. They shared intimacy — certainly healing, definitely dangerous — and together they finally watched the end of Good Will Hunting, coming juuuuust short of a kiss. She then asked to be returned to her regularly scheduled programming, which included her fiancé, Grant, who didn’t know Claire like Kevin, which bothered Sophie. After lamenting at Claire’s grave that Sophie was the one that got away (again), Kevin flew home and ran into freshly dumped Madison (Cailtlin Thompson) at Kate’s (Chrissy Metz) house. A cup of tea and a lovely pep talk later, he wound up… in bed with her, thereby answering one question in WTF fashion: Kate’s best friend was indeed the back-turned-to-us blond-haired woman who was teased at the end of last week’s episode. After the Big 3 commiserated about their lives in a three-way call — in which Kate shared that her marriage was about to implode — the trio realized that the best thing to do was to meet up at the family’s cabin, where intense emotions and even mushroom smoothies are known to happen.

What awaits the Sad 3? How serious are two of the three Kate’s problems? Will Kevin have to see about a girl soon — and which one? Let’s like them apples, wipe off that powdered doughnut, raise our glass for a Fresca toast, and welcome This is Us executive producers Elizabeth Berger and Isaac Aptaker, who are here to offer insight into the key events of “A Hell of a Week: Part Two.”

Ron Batzdorff/NBC

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Kevin’s trip home to Pittsburgh to help Sophie was therapeutic, painful, healing, and confusing. As he tells Sophie, “This place still makes me sad, but I’m not afraid of it anymore.” We know he is desperately set on evolution and still realizing his great love story, and signs still point to Sophie. Is Kevin better off before or after the events of this week? Is he of clearer mind in some ways and of more confused mind in others?
ELIZABETH BERGER: It’s really complicated, the takeaway from this trip. In some ways, it was absolutely the most beautiful detour that life could have thrown at him. And he got to have this beautiful healing experience with her and help her through this very difficult time and repay her in a sense for the way she once helped him through his father’s death. But at the same time, it is a glaring reminder of the life that he didn’t choose and the one that he walked away from. Now he’s finally at a place where maybe he could be ready for that life. So I think it’s safe to say he’s feeling all of the feelings after this.

At Claire’s grave, he tells Claire that he’s finally ready, steady, and sober. “I wish I had another crack at it, but it’s too late,” he says. Does he feel he deserves a happy ending? Or is he just going to have to be okay just not knowing his movie ends for now?
ISAAC APTAKER: He definitely at this point in his life is really craving that happy ending, and as we saw earlier in the season, he’s really trying to force himself to find the one. He’s bringing out John Legend on the first date, which is kind of a crazy move. But Kevin’s just going to have to let life take him where it takes him as he figures out what romantic future looks like.

Kevin and Sophie share some intense scenes in the episode, including an almost kiss. After he leaves, we see her staring at her mother’s emerald ring, comparing it with hers. It’s a loaded moment — and we can sense that his visit has deeply impacted her. Did Kevin tell Sophie about any of his conversation with her mother after she declined to give it to him? We don’t know what exactly she knows about that ring, but what we do know is that their story, in whatever form it takes, does not seem like it has been told in full.
BERGER: Interesting. That’s not something that I think we nailed down for sure.
APTAKER: I don’t think they did talk about it.
BERGER: My interpretation was always that they’re so on the same page that she knew he was asking for that ring. So I would guess that obviously she knew he didn’t receive it. Whether or not she knows the exact details of the conversation or not is open for interpretation. But she definitely associates that ring with Kevin and never received it. But I guess it’s open for interpretation.
APTAKER: I agree that she knew that. It seems like Kevin had his own private relationship with Claire, which is part of what’s so special about when you grow up in a relationship with someone, their family becomes almost your family. And I don’t think he necessarily shared every detail in every moment with Sophie that he had.

That moment with Sophie lingering on the rings might indicate that she’s doing a lot of hard thinking. What can you say about what’s going on in her head?
APTAKER: It’s really complicated. When you’ve had someone in your life that you do love and have this connection to — on one hand he’s amazing and he’s so supportive and he gets her through this day and he’s associated with so many wonderful memories, especially in the [preteen] time. And then on the other hand, they got divorced, they got back together, he sort of left her yet again in a really terrible way. He’s the source of a lot of pain. So it’s a lot of really complicated pros and cons, all wrapped up in one very handsome package.

At Kate’s wedding, let us not forget that when Kevin was told that Madison was crazy, he said, “Yeah, don’t let me sleep with her.” Also, let us not forget this 2018 tweet from Caitlin’s husband, This Is Us creator Dan Fogelman: “Madison is my wife in real life. If you thought I was letting her sleep with Justin Hartley on national television, you’re nuts.” What gives?
BERGER: That was a lot of episodes ago, that tweet! [Laughs]
APTAKER: We’ve just been slowly wearing Dan down since he tweeted that! [Laughs] It took, what, two and a half years, and we did it. It’s something we’ve talked about and had in our heads from early on. There is a different component to Dan that I can’t speak to of what it’s like to put your wife in that situation. But actually, my favorite part of the episode is when Jack is giving that speech to young, young Kevin [Kaz Womack] about sometimes you have to pivot, regarding the stuffed animal and the mobile. And then all of a sudden, his week takes this really, really sharp turn. And he has a scene with Madison that is really lovely, where they’re connecting over tea and they’re talking about relationships, and he bolsters her, and then somehow that leads to them winding up in bed together. Which may be a great decision; it may be a terrible decision. I’ll leave that up to our audience to decide.

It’s interesting that you say that. He consoles Kate by saying, “I’m so sorry,” but he’s looking at Madison in the bed. We know he wants to get out of town, so is he in instant-regret mode, but is also thinking about apologizing to Madison and to Kate for sleeping with her best friend? How is he feeling about what just happened? Because he looks like a man with some regret.
BERGER: I think it’s fair to say that he is in regret mode. He was reeling from being thrown into this incredibly emotional, intense period of time with Sophie. And then it came to an end and he happened to walk into a house where somebody feeling equally vulnerable was waiting for him, and this happened. I don’t think it was in his plans. And there is this very complicated component that she is very close friends with his sister that he’s now going to have to deal with.
APTAKER: In that moment, I absolutely think he’s like, “Oh, I’m talking to my sister and finding out she’s at a low point — and now I’m going to have to drop this in her lap too? This is not good.” [Laughs]

Madison is technically in play now, but the way Sophie looked at the rings, there’s unfinished business. And then, of course, there’s something unknown behind door 3. How much closer are we to finding out who Kevin’s mystery fiancé is in the flash-forward?
APTAKER: I would say we’re one episode closer to finding out than we were last week.

This episode deepened the Kevin-Sophie connection in a meaningful way. Iiiiiiif you were to go the Madison route, would you agree that you just made it even harder for the audience to root for that?
BERGER: Look, we made people like Miguel, we can do anything! [Laughs] Obviously the love story between Kevin and Sophie is so expansive and so deep and spans all these decades that were the mother to be anybody else but Sophie, people will have strong feelings about it. But we’re just going to have to see where this one unfolds.
APTAKER: What’s so great about Kevin’s story is we have Randall and Beth [Susan Kelechi Watson], and Kate and Toby [Chris Sullivan] — they have their ups and downs, but from our pilot, there’ve been these two relationships and we love telling those stories. But for a lot of people, that’s not what their love lives look like. There’s ups, there’s downs, there’s different people, and I think it’s important to us to reflect all of that. So Kevin is the character where we’re telling a much longer, more complicated journey.

This episode showed Kevin wrestling with his great love story. Last season, his No. 2 love story was Zoe (Melanie Liburd). Will you tell more with her, as you’ve said that Melanie would come back?
APTAKER: We love Mel. And what we love about the Zoe’s story is that she connects to her world on these two points. She’s not just Kevin ex, but probably, more importantly, she’s one of Beth’s closest family members and there’s a foundational relationship there. And we’re always open for stories that can bring her back. There wasn’t one this year, but that’s not to say there won’t be.

Toddler Kate (Isabella Rose Landau) tells Jack she has a problem. As does teen Kate (Hannah Zeile), with the family running to rescue her from Marc (Austin Abrams) at the cabin. As does adult Kate, who’s in marital distress. Assuming the youngest has the smallest problem of the bunch, who’s in the most trouble?
APTAKER: I think it’s safe to say that little Kate, who just can’t get to sleep for the first night in her big girl bed? Not that high stakes. [Laughs] I mean, both of the other Kates, they’re pretty neck and neck. It’s a really, really major episode for Chrissy and Hannah embodying this character.

Will we learn more in the next episode on how Kate’s struggle with Marc may impact her thoughts on how she’ll handle her precarious marriage now? Are those stories in parallel?
BERGER: They are definitely two important relationships that have greatly informed this woman and her life. And I think all of those intense teenage relationships tend to stick with us and cause patterns to form and leave these impressions that never really go away. So, we will be seeing how some of Kate was formed through this relationship with Marc — and how that may impact her current relationship.

Kate, Toby, and Randall are headed to the cabin, they’re all in a “life sucks” place. What can viewers expect when the Sad 3 get together?
BERGER: They all have a lot going on right now and we always love when we can bring this trio together. And they’re going to be together in a cabin, away from service —
APTAKER: — in the snow.
BERGER: So we can expect that feelings may boil over under these circumstances. Isaac and I got to write this one, and we can’t wait for everyone to see it.

What’s one final tease for the final episode of the trilogy?
APTAKER: Mandy and Chrissy have a scene together where they do something that we’ve maybe been asked about more than anything if we’re ever going to have on the show.

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