"When he finally wraps his brain around the fact that it's actually okay to be alone, that opens him up to be available to other people," says the actor.

Kevin Pearson (Justin Hartley) is a man who desperately wants to follow in the footsteps of his late father, but often stumbles along that journey. And the self-examining-yet-self-sabotaging actor and new father of twins now finds himself at another life crossroads in season 6 of This Is Us, having being left at the altar by his fiancée, Madison (Kaitlin Thompson), at the end of last season.

"He's bound and determined to be this wonderful, great father to these twins," Hartley tells EW. "It hasn't gone the way that he wanted it to go. He's single parenting in a way, co-parenting in other ways, spending half the time with his kids — not all the time with his kids. It becomes his new reality. It's not something that he would've written and wanted to go that way. It's not a storybook or a fairy tale, but it's his reality. And he's dealing with it. He looks at things and he goes, 'This is the way it is. I'm not going to sit around and bitch about it. I'm going to actually figure it out.'"

To that end, season 6 dangles professional possibilities and requires tough decisions. "He's got these career opportunities, but does he take them?" hints Hartley. "That will take him away from his kids. Or does he sacrifice that? What's more important? Where does he want to be? He's got to jump into a lane. Right now he's kind of straddling."

He and the rest of the Pearsons step back into action in a season premiere that's set on the Big Three's 41st birthday. "There's a lot of drama," he says. "A lot of things happened at the end of last season, so we see them dealing with all that and what that means and where all these relationships are. Where you saw these characters going and their relationships going — it is unbelievable how quickly things change. You go, 'Gosh, It's hard to remember when those two didn't get along.'"

This Is Us
Justin Hartley on 'This Is Us'
| Credit: Ron Batzdorff/NBC

The final season of the NBC decade-hopping family drama also will follow Rebecca (Mandy Moore) as she struggles with early onset dementia, and it's "even more intense," he reports. "Mom's sick. It's heartbreaking to see stuff like that. It's like, beloved character, America's mom, adios! It's a tough one."

Planning care for an Alzheimer's patient is often overwhelming for a family. (See: Kevin and Randall at the end of season 4.) How will the Big Three respond as her condition worsens? "They're all willing and wanting to help out," he says. "Last season, they had their own ideas about who was going do what, and Kevin and Randall battled. They're at a place now where they understand it. It's better to tackle it as a group."

Speaking of being better together than apart, Kevin is single again. As the show heads toward its conclusion, fans are wondering with whom he might end up — and certainly sharing their opinions on that matter with him. "A lot of people wanted the Madison thing, and when that didn't work out, they were heartbroken," he says. "And then a lot of people were like, 'Well, that means he's going to go back with Sophie [Alexandra Breckenridge].' And then there were people that probably just want him to be the Manny."

But what does he want? Is Kevin determined to find the one, much like Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) did? Or will he find a path less traveled to happiness on different terms? "When he finally wraps his brain around the fact that it's actually okay to be alone, that opens him up to be available to other people, instead of the square peg/round hole thing that he constantly tries to do," says Hartley. "He's okay being alone. He's not lonely; he's alone. That's totally different. And I think that opens him to love."

And as he starts to open up, what new sides of Kevin will viewers see? "Maybe how romantic he is," teases Hartley. But hasn't he already shown he can be pretty romantic, whether by arranging a John Legend concert for two or a long-overdue Good Will Hunting screening? Says Hartley: "New level."

Welcome to the final level of This Is Us, which begins Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET/PT.

For a preview of the upcoming This Is Us action, see what hints that Chrissy Metz dropped. Creator Dan Fogelman outlined the season here. Oh, and read what Mandy Moore and Jon Huertas had to say. Plus, check out what Sterling K. Brown and Susan Kelechi Watson revealed. There's also intel from newcomer Chris Geere, a.k.a. Phillip.

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Episode Recaps

This Is Us - Season 3
This Is Us

NBC’s beloved era-hopping drama tells the story of the Pearson family through the years.

  • TV Show
  • 5
  • Tuesdays at 09:00 PM
  • Dan Fogelman
  • NBC
stream service