This Is Us producers break down those Nicky flash-forward revelations and Deja's decision
Ahhh, new young love. And old love. And/or a young love from so long ago, it's old. The second episode of the final season of This Is Us whisked viewers away on two different road trips, under two different circumstances, to two different results, but both in the name of romance.
Prodded by a day-seizing Rebecca (Mandy Moore) and always-along-for-the-ride Miguel (Jon Huertas), Uncle Nicky (Griffin Dunne) ventured out to the home of one Sally Brooks, whom he believed to be the almost-girlfriend that he had way back in the summer of '69 and then stood up for a Woodstock road trip date. Did it turn out to be the right Sally? It did. Did she remember him? She did not, at first. Well, was she single? Nope, Sally(Dey Young) was married, though not happily, to a man named Eric (Jeffrey Nordling). One strange and tense meal later, Sally and Rebecca experienced awakenings while Nicky walked out of Sally's house with a tiny victory, knowing that he had made an impression. Actually, he'd make another one on his flight back East, when he matched wits with a flight attendant named Edie (Vanessa Bell Calloway).
Meanwhile, Deja (Lyric Ross) lied to her parents so she could secretly hop a bus to Boston to visit her boyfriend, Malik (Asante Blackk), at Harvard, where she found him overwhelmed and dealing with Jennifer (Zuri Starks), the mother of his baby. First Deja helped to reduce his stress, then she came into her own in a red dress, and then… their relationship leveled up for love.
In the deep future at Kevin's house, as Randall (Sterling K. Brown) greeted Deja at the door, a few things came into focus. Turns out Nicky found new love not with Sally but with Edie, who arrived in that mysterious white car that viewers had been wondering about. Two more mysteries down, a few more to go before The End. (Kate, where are you?)
Let's brew a cup of dark roast, grab a sheet cake from Costco, snake someone's widow, regret buying a satellite dish, and try not to have the most awkward
meal interview of all time with This Is Us executive producer Kay Oyegun, who directed "One Giant Leap," and co-executive producer Kevin Falls, who wrote the episode. Start reading — it will go by faster than you think.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: One of the joys of this episode is watching this idea play out that someone can be built up as such a myth in your head and be a huge character in your life story, yet you are a mere blip to them. It's almost devastating to see Sally greet Nicky at the door with a blank look and he's like, "No, we shared this incredible formative thing." But when he discovers that old photo that she took of him on her wall, it's enough. What drew you to this small victory, which would be validating and affirming for him?
KEVIN FALLS: I know Dan [Fogelman, series creator] saw that picture as being really important, that he made some impression on her life and lived somewhere in her existence. I do like the idea of the whole blip thing — everything you talked about is exactly what we wanted to do — but I have to give credit to Dan for that moment.
KAY OYEGUN: I would classify Nicky as a guy whose life is based on small victories. If he had a memoir, that would be the name of it, because he's been through so much, and those little glimpses of hope really do keep him going. The moment I actually got choked up — when he looked at the picture the first time, I forgot to say, "Cut!" because I was just getting so emotional to his reaction to seeing that picture; he looks back and he sort of chuckles, but also gets a little teary in that moment — it just, it knocked me out. I was like, "Oh, God, this man is like a little boy!" He's a young man who fell in love with Sally, and this moment is all he needs. This will give him another 50 years. Small victories are definitely Nicky Pearson's bag.
What were the different options you considered for Sally's circumstances, and how did you decide on this one?
FALLS: I was of the mindset that this just doesn't feel like it would've had an ending where she would've overdosed at Woodstock. But I was glad that [we decided that] Sally is not the person that Nicky first met. In fact, that spirit has pretty much been repressed. But because of Nicky's arrival, he blows on that ember and she starts to find her old self. The memories come back slowly.
I did feel that it should be realistic about where it ends up. A girl in my life I met many years ago and took home for a dinner to meet my family, years later I checked back with her and she barely remembered me. She was preserved in amber. She had an outsized impact on my life. I put her name in scripts. I carried not a torch, but I always wondered what happened to her. She didn't remember me. Only thing she could remember was that my mom, who was Italian, made a great spaghetti sauce… Nicky barely registered in her life, but the more she thought about him and realized what impact she had on his life, it made her feel good about her life, and then re-examine her marriage. Nicky going to find Sally actually impacted Rebecca and how she's aging. It was a molotov cocktail. These people didn't know this guy existed, and he just ends up at dinner one night and pretty much blows up their marriage and then says, "See you later," hits the road, and they go back to L.A. I was always laugh at that.
OYEGUN: There are so many story lines that are very personal to different writers. This is one where it was a Kevin shebang all the way. I never thought that it would make sense for 50 years later the woman to just be available and expectant, but I didn't have as much of a dog in the fight as other people would've. So I liked watching Kevin and Dan go back and forth at it — and also K.J. [Steinberg, executive producer]. I was like, "Yeah, fight! Do the thing where we talk it out and we decide!" It's always fun.
The big thing from a directing standpoint that I loved about what Kevin did was, I did not want Sally to be the older version of the Sally we met. I have a genuine aversion to whimsical older women who have sort of a fairy-like existence, who are such free-spirited people that they've become a stereotype of their own joy. So I was like, "Anything but that." So the fact that she was a person, grounded, with thoughts and opinions and a life that felt true and real and accessible, I was like, "Yes! Let's do that."
This episode explores young love and old love. Young love is formative and limitless and unpredictable, which makes it seem larger than life and overwhelming. Old love can be deeper, more practical, tinged with loss, and informed by experience and perspective. What was interesting about those discussions in the writers' room?
FALLS: I feel like young love still burns. I was comparing it to a pilot light when people are older. So you can be deep into your middle age or even older than that and still wonder about that one person in your past. You can rediscover when you meet somebody new that comes along and you're unencumbered, and you strike up a romance late in life, that makes you feel literally young again. That is not something that's foreign to people who get older. The idea is young love lives in both of them is the best way I could put it, even though everything that you all said is true.
The old woman on the bus tells Deja, "Young love changes you." How did it — or the lack of it — impact Nicky? You see him come alive again when pursuing Sally, and one can't help but wonder how different his life might have been if he'd taken a chance and gone with her to Woodstock?
FALLS: I feel like if he would've gone to Woodstock, the relationship would've just died out, like so many when you're 18, 19 years old. Very rarely — and it does happen, my sister's one of those people that married their high school sweetheart — but most of the time it doesn't work out that way. And I have a feeling where Sally was in her life, he wasn't going to be the only guy that she was going to burn through. I feel like she was more of a free spirit than he was. What do you think, Kay?
OYEGUN: Absolutely! It's literally day 2 of Woodstock, he'd be like, "Where's Sally?" It's like, poor Nicky, now he's got to find his way back home.
When Nicky flies back to Pennsylvania to help with the construction of the new cabin, he jokes around with Edie, the flight attendant. At the end of last season we learned that Nicky is married a few years from now, and here we see him kissing Edie in the flash-forward, indicating that he did find the one. How significant of a player will Edie become in the final season?
OYEGUN: She folds in really well. Every time you see Nicky, you'll see Edie. That's literally what we told her. We're like, "You're now his wife. So whenever he's around, you're around." She's a part of the Pearson family now. What we love so much is the perspectives of these people who marry into the Pearsons — the Beth [Susan Kelechi Watson] perspective, the Miguel perspective, the Toby [Chris Sullivan] perspective, and now the Edie perspective — because they're all such different people and they're observing this very unique Pearson brood, with fun observations. Her banter with Griffin is just fun, fun, fun. Oh, I can't wait for people to see episode 5!
She certainly seems like someone who can hold her own, especially when armed with duct tape. What else can viewers expect from her?
OYEGUN: She's funny. And she gives as good as she gets. She matches wits with Nicky, and she holds nothing back. People sometimes can be delicate around Nicky, but she's all about it. One of the lines that we cut because of time is when she's walking, before the kiss at the end, she says, "How are you doing, you old toad?" That's her jam. She's a flight attendant, so she's used to dealing with very interesting people, so Nicky is nothing.
Miguel tells Rebecca: "We have a journey ahead of us, but I am going to be up to the task. And I'm going to be amazing for you, every step of the way, I promise, we can do this together." It's a sweet moment — and on brand for the rock that is Miguel — but after all Jack's promises that the fire prevented him from fulfilling, is there an ever-so-slight ominous or poignant ring to this? And is any of that rattling around Rebecca's brain?
FALLS: In Rebecca's mind right now, she knows the things that she's going to be cognizant of, those moments are dwindling. I don't know if she's thinking necessarily, "You're not going to be able to fulfill this promise because anything can happen." You're right, you can walk in, go to bed one night, and you didn't turn off the crockpot and the house burns down. So there's unforeseen circumstances, yes. I think it's fair to say that we can make those promises and say we're going to do things, but we don't know what life has in store for us. So I'd have to say that's open to interpretation, but I think it's a perceptive note on your part.
In this episode, Rebecca and Sally take back their power. It's heartening to see Rebecca seize the day by returning to salsa dancing, but it's heartbreaking to see her tell Miguel, "You did not get the best version of me, you got such an ordeal ahead of you, Miguel," or even say to Sally, "My first husband got the showroom model of me, Miguel got the used classic with a ton of miles." How challenging has it been to find the right balance in Rebecca's story where you want to reflect how this disease ravages this mind and impacts the family, but also show a woman who's making the most of her limited time with a life-affirming final arc?
OYEGUN: One of the horrible things about this disease is that every single person's experience with it is different. One of the things that Rebecca actually speaks to in an upcoming episode is the fact that being aware of this disease and that it's going to be the end of her, she actually has time in a weird way to make a lot of different kind of decisions. To seize the day, to lament, to mourn, to be nostalgic, to be proactive.
There's really a sense of agency that not a lot of people get the opportunity to experience. She doesn't know how much time she has, but she knows that there is a semblance of it. And there's a part of me that sees a gift in that, and knowing that as painful as it is for the family, if someone told you, "Hey, this is coming," gosh, you find a way to love them harder. You find a way to be there for them, knowing that it's not going be easy every day, it's going to get more debilitating. But there's hope in that, in the sense that you get to tell them everything you need to tell them, so by the time they go, there's nothing left unsaid. I know that everyone's point of view on something like a long-term illness differs, but that's always been my point of view. So whenever I pitch towards it, that's always where I come from.
Deja takes a big step with Malik in their relationship. What felt right about telling this story now, aside from the fact that this is the final season?
OYEGUN: I'll say this: I've always had such big affection for Deja. When we first met her, she was this 12-year-old girl who had lived such a difficult life and had been traumatized by the world and traumatized by people that she trusted. She was really scared and broken. And we are one of the few shows that has actually been able to give a little Black girl a center stage to experience a full range of humanity. So while we've watched her wait in prison for her mother, we've watched her be heartbroken, we also get the opportunity and the privilege to watch her fall in love, watch her make choices, watch her feel beautiful, and watch her feel wanted. We see all these shows where you've got the hot girl walking down the stairs in the red dress from She's All That. We get to see this, but in a character that we probably don't always see it on. So that's been the joy of watching Deja really blossom.
The third episode that we saw her, she chopped her hair off with scissors. That is a dangerous thing to do. Now we get to see a young girl turn into a young woman and make a decision for love. It's just been such a joy to watch Lyric Ross play Deja and give her this grit and this gravitas and this sense of humanity that anyone who's watching gets to put their first love on a person that may not look like them. So yeah, getting a chance to see Deja really come full circle was something that we always love doing.
How, if it at all, was her decision impacted by her interaction with Jennifer? She's intimidated by her and curious about her. And she's not treated well by her.
OYEGUN: She's never met Jennifer before. Even though she's had all these experiences, she's still sheltered in a lot of ways. What we love so much is finding those parallels between what Rebecca and Sally were talking about and what Deja was experiencing internally. Here is this sort of mythical creature who was with the love of your life and had a child with him, so you know they were intimate with one another, and she's older than you, and she's beautiful and glamorous in a way that Deja is not quite glamorous. She's carrying herself in a way that Deja doesn't carry herself. Here's Deja in a jean jacket and Chucks, and Jennifer has boots and a leather coat. There's just these comparisons that Deja is making in her head where she's like, "Oh my gosh, do I measure up?" And her desire to have this butterfly transformation with this red dress and make a decision to say, "You know what? I am ready," I don't know if it's propelled by Jennifer, but I think it's a very natural teenage-girl-sizing-yourself-up reality, frankly. So there's a lot of that going on in Deja. But she made a choice to go see him, wondering if she was ready. And by the time she says that she is, she has made all of those calculations and she's ready.
They're doing their best to weather a long-distance relationship, complicated by the fact that Malik is trying to survive freshman year at Harvard and juggle parenting duties. Deja is there to help him find the time for his Russian lit paper, but most of the time she won't be there. Young love can be tricky with no obstacles, so how bumpy is this ride going to be?
OYEGUN: Very. I was rewatching the first episode yesterday, and we see Randall's story kicking off with trying to help because he's feeling so helpless. And one of the surprising things that this season does is the help that he needs to give is very much at home. Deja's decision with Malik is sort of a repeat of her previous decision with Malik. This girl does not learn her lessons, and [it's] going to have a very, very, big reaction from her family. So it's not going to be an easy ride.
FALLS: She's fiercely independent, too. She's been on her own for a while, she's not used to having people tell her what to do. She's a strong woman and seen a lot in life. So she's a hard person to tell what to do, that's for sure.
The flash-forward resolved two big mysteries: Who is Nicky's wife, and who's in the white car. What was your favorite fan theory about who was in the car?
OYEGUN: Someone said, "Kate with one leg." I was like, "But why?" [Laughs] It was just varying versions of Kate and who Kate would be with, and the most shocking ones were, like, what body parts she wouldn't have. Those made me laugh. I usually tend to screenshot them and email them to the [writers'] room whenever I find ones that are just dark or funny.
How many more surprise visitors are coming to the future house? We do still need a Kate sighting.
OYEGUN: Quite a few, actually. It's a full house.
Any hints about Deja's husband, whether it's Malik or someone else?
OYEGUN: It's a full house.
FALLS: Everything's on the table.
How long will viewers have to wait for the next visit to the future house?
OYEGUN: We go back to the future house. Off of Nicky's declaration, we're going to start seeing that house come together. While all of the pieces for that future house are still coming, we're going to start living in that world. We're beginning the march to the end, basically, so viewers are going to get that final house in varying versions.
FALLS: You're going to see the future house at its studs and that foundation poured. We're going to build the last of the show along with the house.
Finally, what's your one-sentence tease for next week's episode?
FALLS: Buckle up — because it's almost literal.
NBC’s beloved era-hopping drama tells the story of the Pearson family through the years.