"It's Randall racing towards this big, beautiful future that all of his parents have said that he was going to have," says This Is Us executive producer Kay Oyegun, who wrote "Every Version of You."
Courtesy NBC.
This Is Us - Season 3

The final installment of the Big Three trilogy spotlighted an impressive, conflicted little boy who wanted to make his parents proud, a good son whose exceptional maturity was partly forged through tragedy, a perfectionist patriarch who has been known to hold on too tightly, and a man who is pathologically driven to help those around him — and beyond. "Every Version of You" certainly affirmed that Randall Pearson (Sterling K. Brown) has always been on the path to greatness. Where exactly in Washington, D.C., will that take him? Welcome to the final eight episodes of This Is Us.

Tuesday's installment of the decade-jumping family drama (which was directed by Justin Hartley, a.k.a. Kevin) offered viewers a new angle on the extraordinary ripple effect of Rebecca's (Mandy Moore) impassioned plea/edict to her children to take big risks and not make their lives "smaller" as her Alzheimer's progresses. That powerhouse speech would prove to be inspirational to all three kids, as evidenced by the final moments of the first two trilogy episodes (Kevin starts a non-profit company! Kate tries for a big job at her school!). But in Randall's case, a personalized, follow-up heart-to-heart was needed, given their special bond — as well as Rebecca's surprising decision to name Kate (Chrissy Metz) as her back-up health care proxy instead of him.

As This Is Us has shown, you put Randall in a car with a parent on a road trip, tears will flow, advice will be heeded, and the Things That Hold Us Back will be tossed out the window. In this case, after Randall discovered that daughter Deja (Lyric Ross) had slipped out of the family cabin and headed to Boston to see (ex-?)boyfriend Malik (Asante Blackk) after their break-up — you know, the break-up that Randall secretly suggested to Malik — Randall hopped in the car to retrieve her. Rebecca jumped in, too, and soon the highway lanes turned into memory lanes. Serving as his metaphorical GPS on the way to New England, Rebecca counseled him on how to handle Deja. And sitting by a motel pool, she explained that she chose Kate over him because she didn't want him to stop his life for her anymore, and that he needed to be freed up to accomplish all that he could on this planet. He already had the confidence in reserve — see: his speech to the cop as a teenager; his "If I run, I'll win, and if I win, I can't even imagine where this thing will end" speech today — but her words unlocked something inside the Philadelphia councilman so that he would agree to that meeting with the retiring U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania about his soon-to-be vacant seat.

Let's talk our way out of these illegal trespassing and underage drinking charges, fancy a Chianti Classico with old Mom, check the right pocket of our backpack, and AirDrop some questions to executive producer Kay Oyegun, who wrote "Every Version of You."

this is us
Randall (Sterling K. Brown) and Rebecca (Mandy Moore), on a road trip.
| Credit: Ron Batzdorff/NBC

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: When you were building Randall's trilogy episode across these time periods, what were you most excited to bring to light?

KAY OYEGUN: It's so weird, but it's been such a joy to watch Randall explore himself as a son, a father, a husband, a brother. This episode puts him in both a son and father role. And playing around with what that meant for him as a young man — being a brother to his siblings and a son to his mother and his father. Each of the three Randall stories puts weight on that responsibility and on that title. It's something that he carries with a lot of pride. He takes each of those roles very seriously. And in breaking and writing this episode, it was digging deep into each of those roles for him, because he's really front and center as a son, as a father, and as a sibling in this episode in a very real way in all three of these arcs.

Kate was inspired by Rebecca to make a big call at the end of last week's episode for a new job. Randall did the same, though his call could have greater implications for the entire country. How instrumental was Rebecca's poolside speech in freeing this superhero-in-training from what was weighing him down? And did you view this as the completion of his self-actualization journey that began with William telling his son on his death bed, "You deserve everything"?

It's a combination of all of those things. For Randall, being present for the family that he loves — both his biological family, his adopted family, his created family — that's something that's so pivotal to him. He's a guy who purposefully put weights on his ankles because he knows that if he took them off, he may very well touch the sun. And so Rebecca frees him of that — takes those weights off and lets him go.

It's a funny thing because she gives the speech to him twice. [Laughs] The first one was for all her children. And now this one [is] targeted to the special bond she's had with Randall all these years, it's a different version because she knew that she wasn't necessarily talking to him the first time. She knows that there's a part of him that, unlike the others, has been holding himself back — and [it's] not circumstances or how he sees himself, it's always felt externally held back.

Randall's phone call fills in some details of the wedding flash-forward with the Rising Star article about Randall in The New Yorker. How much of his story in the rest of the season will be spent chronicling his rise? And how would you characterize his efforts to obtain that goal?

We are comfortably not a political show, very much so. [Laughs] Anything that we do in the political space and exploring Randall's career will always be in reflection to what's going on at home and what's going on personally. And I think that's always been our sweet spot. So when he ran the first time, it was because of William, and then his run affected his marriage. How do his political aspirations now affect what we are stepping into, which is the twilight years, of sorts, of Rebecca? That's where we're going to explore Randall's continued rise — how it has an effect on these last couple years of Rebecca's life.

Please tell us that we'll get to see Beth's (Susan Kelechi Watson's) reaction to Randall's decision. Spare no detail in describing that look.

Beth is also crushing it. Let's also be very clear that our good sis Beth is killing it as the Debbie Allen of our world. She's in a different emotional and career space than she was the first time he ran. So her reaction is going to be much different. [Laughs]

Fair. For moments such as Rebecca's heartfelt conversation with Randall at the pool, do you write in the script: "A single tear rolls down Randall's face?," and Sterling just knocks that out?

He just knows the right time to deploy the single tear. And it is like a deployment. But he's so present in the moment, he just knows what to do. There's no part of him that's false. I'm always so stunned. You're literally writing an episode about a guy who's awesome — and who knows he's awesome. So you have to find a way to always make it feel relatable and aspirational as opposed to obnoxious. [Laughs] So as I'm typing, "Hey guy, I'm going to be president one day," I'm like, "Oh gosh, I hope the audience is not rolling their eyes!" [Laughs] But I feel like he's earned it.

I was going to ask you what the biggest challenge was in writing this episode, but maybe it was that.

I think that was it — finding that balance between confidence and whatever else might make confidence feel icky. But he's always great. He's always in that sweet spot.

His line — "If I run, I will win, and if I win, I can't even imagine where this thing will end" — is rather badass. He's been on a mission to discover his identity over the years and he's had some watershed moments. What was the biggest turning point in his confidence?

The beautiful thing about Randall, especially this season where we're stepping into it, his identity as an adopted baby, growing up in this family, it's one that has formed him in a very real way. It has been the puzzle pieces that he's trying to put together. Now that he has a complete picture up his entire personhood, there is no lingering past questions. I think this particular season, it's a combination of that. It's Randall racing towards this big, beautiful future that all of his parents have said that he was going to have. And now he's ready, finally, to feel like he is in the right place — mentally, emotionally — to attain it.

Randall did not appear to have a Secret Service detail in the future flash-forward to Rebecca's deathbed. Will there possibly be even more of a political ascent after Rebecca passes? Just how presidential is Randall feeling to you down the road?

I'll say this: We have had every version of every conversation in the writers' room. And the best version of it is going to be on screen.

While we see Randall realizing his power in this episode, he wasn't sounding particularly presidential when Deja called him out for telling Malik to break up with her. He just said: "Well, I didn't think he would listen." Beth warned him that he was overstepping, but do you think he feels any guilt or responsibility for the demise of her first great love, even if Malik said that he didn't do it for that reason?

One of the things that was so fun about ... starting this arc so early on in episode 2, everything that can be said was said, as far as their breakup [and] reconciliation. I think that Randall feels contrition about his overstepping; that's the parents' dance, right? He is not all of a sudden going to change his position on what he feels is best for his daughter. And while he's heartbroken by what happened, what I love so much about him is that he, no matter what, is always going to be there for her. That's something that she both realizes and acknowledges by the end of it. So, yeah, his relationship with Malik was certainly left open-ended. His relationship with Deja is going to continue to heal, but I think the major rift sort of found its healing point.

Randall, who is such a great speechifier, didn't say anything to Deja after she gave him her thoughtful, contrite "You are my dad" speech. Did you decide that a look from him was more powerful — and that it would echo Rebecca's advice to take a step back and give Deja space? Or were there a few takes where he said something to her?

It's so much about what Rebecca's saying to him in this episode about taking a step back. It's really taking a step back in so many different ways, when it comes to how he feels about her care and when it comes to allowing Deja to make these mature decisions in a way. I loved so much that she took back something that is so incredibly hurtful. Any version of a response back would've undercut at the moment. Gosh, you know, we love writing a good speech, but that kind of lived on its own. It was such a heartbreaking thing to say to begin with, and then allowing her the opportunity to take it back, anything other than silence would've been a little overwritten. You know how to overwrite? We do. We love it! [Laughs]

Randall comforted Malik by telling him that sometimes the door reopens. Deja said, "Maybe in the future, not now." Viewers saw her with a baby in the flash-forward. How much hope should viewers hold out for Deja and Malik in the future?

I think that someone fathered Deja's baby — and I can't wait for everyone to find out who it is. [Laughs]

Rebecca helped each of her children by urging them to live life in all of its messy glory. There was a sense of completion after this trilogy, like, "I've done my work here with my kids; I've told them what I need to tell them while I still can." What lies ahead for her in the second half of the season?

Laura Kenar wrote it beautifully [in this season's Thanksgiving episode]: Rebecca so kindly and lovingly gave her children everything that she was, everything that she is. And in that speech, in a lot of ways, put it all on the table. And the reason is because it's about to get worse for her. So her ability to do that kind of thing is going to be compromised, in a real way.

When she's sitting with Randall at the pool, there is a bittersweet, ominous tinge because you know what's to come.

Exactly. And she does, too. We wanted to pepper the entire season with this foreboding knowing. But the big question that Dan [Fogelman, the show's creator] always asks: It's that notion of like, "What do you do when you know?" And we want to make sure that this was a woman who is aware of what's coming and [is] as prepared as humanly possible. And so even her decision to go with Randall on this trip, knowing that her choice of Kate may have had an effect on him, this is a mother's love on display, hardcore. Everything that she's got while she's still got it, she's going to give to her kids. And part of the reason why this episode is a pivot point is because it's not long coming.

The episode also ends on an ominous note for Kate and Toby, when Kate tells him she's not going to move to San Francisco. What can you tease about the next two episodes, which Chrissy hinted are the ones where it all falls apart?

I mean, my gosh, what is there to say? Look, I'm like the audience in this situation. I am deeply saddened by what's happening. I'm also horrified by how realistic it's being played out. Episode 11, K.J. Steinberg [who wrote it] and Chris Koch [who directed it] and freaking Jonathan Kincaid [who plays Jack Jr.] put their foot in that episode, and I'm just like, "Look, audiences, prepare your butts." It's a lot. I'm just like, "Kate! Toby! I'm praying for y'all!" It's a lot.

The next episode takes place at Miguel [Jon Huertas] and Rebecca's anniversary party. Viewers have been promised the story after those years of estrangement about how they reconnected. This seems a logical place to tell that the story...

Look, when you have a This Is Us episode, when you think we're going to zig, we zag. I know 100 percent we are going to see the breadth of their courtship. And it is an element of the next episode, but something else subsumes it!

This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

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This Is Us - Season 3
This Is Us

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

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