This Is Us writers break down double best-man drama — and that triple 'ex' ending
Staff writer Danielle Bauman and co-executive producer K.J. Steinberg offer insights into the big moves of "Both Things Can Be True."
Tuesday's episode of This Is Us featured three kinds of wedding-prep drama, some job stress, some jobless stress, mother-daughter mending, mother-daughter fraying, and [checks notes twice] butter, dental floss, My Fair Lady, and a lot of US Weeklys.
The past story of "Both Things Can Be True" saw Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) rehearse his first-date-wink of a proposal to Rebecca (Mandy Moore) with his best friend, Miguel (Jon Huertas), and seek sign-off from Rebecca's thus-far-disapproving dad, Dave (Tim Matheson). When Dave dropped by to tell Jack that he would — wait for it — "tolerate" the marriage, Miguel started his best-man duties early, defiantly dressing down Dave for not being appreciative that SuperJack was entering his life. Was Dave moved? Well, moved enough to help the pair figure out a way to remove Rebecca's ring from Miguel's pinky finger after a rehearsal moment gone adorably wrong.
Present-day Miguel also pushed through some pain, this time with another Pearson who had issues with him marrying Rebecca, even long after Jack died. Paired with Nicky (Griffin Dunne) to cohost the rehearsal dinner for Kevin (Justin Hartley) and Madison (Caitlin Thompson), he fended off several cheap shots from Jack's brother, who implied that he "swooped" in and married the widowed Rebecca. In truth, Nicky was actually envious of Miguel's brotherly role in Jack's life — a place his biological brother wished that he could have occupied.
Meanwhile, Kevin needed to (best-)man up and finally gathered the courage to ask that of his brother, Randall (Sterling K. Brown), who was fresh off of his first transracial adoptee support group meeting. First, though, Kevin scheduled that important conversation they'd been needing to have since, well, forever, so there wouldn't be awkwardness between them at the altar.
Speaking of the altar, Madison opened up about her past and told Kevin that she'd love to change their wedding venue to a garden setting that reminded her of better times with her rather absent father. And switching to fathers who were suddenly very present: While Kate (Chrissy Metz) faced challenges from a snobby instructor (You're the Worst's Chris Geere) on her first day of music teaching, Toby (Chris Sullivan) wasn't feeling the rhythm of playing stay-at-home dad.
Across the country, Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) was wildly out of sync with Tess (Eris Baker), effectively spoiling her daughter's study date with her non-binary significant other, Alex (Presley Alexander). On the plus side, Beth received a significant sign of support from her own mother, Carol (Phylicia Rashad).
The episode ended with a notable montage — not of wedding preparations proceeding harmoniously, but of Kevin's former love interests — Zoe (Melanie Liburd), Cassidy (Jennifer Morrison), and, yes, Sophie (Alexandra Breckenridge) — picking up a copy of US Weekly with news of Kevin's upcoming nuptials. They smiled. They shook their head. They processed. At least one of them seemed to wonder… what if?
Let's crack our huge knuckles, lock and load some jalapeño poppers, start an indoor-carnival side hustle, and stand under an umbrella with This Is Us staff writer Danielle Bauman (who penned the episode) and co-executive producer KJ Steinberg as we pop some big questions.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: This episode peels back layers on several non-main characters, including Miguel, Madison, Nicky, Tess, and Mama C. Plotting out the episode, which was the one that most intrigued you?
DANIELLE BAUMAN: I've been dying to know more about Madison. She started off as this character who was funny and quirky, and we knew surface-level stuff, and now of course she's become a part of the family. I was the most intrigued about what was going on behind all of her jokes and her humor. We know she's had an eating disorder, but we didn't know really anything about her family.
K.J. STEINBERG: I concur. And I also feel like a dynamic that was so exciting to watch was Miguel and Nicky, basically the two brothers to Jack, who were brothers to Jack at different eras of Jack's life. Seeing them on screen together for the first time — the complexity of their relationship with Jack being played out, postmortem, was really interesting to me.
The speech of the night came not from Jack but rather Miguel, as he defended Jack's honor. It seemed to at least somewhat resonate with Dave, who offered a dental floss solution. That said, Rebecca's parents are not at Jack and Rebecca's City Hall wedding. Was this just a brief ceasefire moment in Dave's war against Jack, or did Miguel's words penetrate that cold, hard surface?
STEINBERG: I think it was a breakthrough moment. I think it was meaningful. And I think any fan of the show knows never to assume that what you've seen is the only option to what actually happened.
How close are viewers to getting to see the actual indoor-carnival proposal?
BAUMAN: Well, if we told you that, what would be the fun in it? [Laughs]
This Is Us has depicted over the years how Pearsons were forever changed or haunted by Jack's death, but this episode showed the impact on Miguel, too, as he admitted to Nicky that he wrestles with how Jack would feel about their marriage. We've seen various Pearsons have a fantasy moment with Jack. Doesn't Miguel deserve that? Might we ever see a scene in which Miguel tries to have that awkward and fascinating conversation?
BAUMAN: Oh yeah — it could be! That might be something to look for in season 6. I think he's had that conversation in his head a whole bunch of times. But I'd love to see more Miguel. I'm with you there.
We know that Miguel married Rebecca 13 years after he died. Previously, we learned that there was a period of estrangement before they reconnected on Facebook. Might the guilt and weirdness that Miguel feels might factor into that estrangement, in terms of his developing feelings for Rebecca?
STEINBERG: We're going to really explore the depth of that conflict in season 6.
How much of Nicky's relationship with the Pearsons is rooted in his trying to make up for having let Jack down?
STEINBERG: Having let Jack down has been something that has plagued Nicky since the '70s. And his reintroduction and his embracing by the Pearson family has done a lot to free him from a lot of that torment. Not that that shame and that guilt and that loss of Jack won't always be running through his veins, but at this point, he's filling his heart up for himself. And we'd like to think that the character has come to a place through the love and the connection with our living Pearson family that he's feeling like he finally deserves a family and he deserves the love that they're giving. And that it's as much for himself in his current relationships as it is for his dead brother.
Nicky is harsh with Miguel when they are planning the rehearsal dinner, making side comments about how he swooped in on his dead friend's wife. Later in the episode, we find out why. How did you go about planning this meeting in the writers' room and determining their energy and chemistry? What were the different ideas tossed around?
BAUMAN: I mean, who doesn't love a couple of grumpy older men? I certainly found them lovable. So there was the idea of, "God, it would just be so fun to see them together." And then, of course, the reality of the fact that there's got to be a natural jealousy. And Miguel is always the person who has to explain himself. So we found it kind of exciting, like, "Well, how does he respond when Uncle Nicky is coming in and forcing him to do it? Is he going to cow to him, or is he going to stand up for himself?" And we all were really excited to see Miguel stand up for himself and also shed a little more light on the truth of his relationship with Rebecca.
Please tell us you have a deleted scene of Nicky crashing the mac-and-cheese wedding.
BAUMAN: I would definitely film that as a little NBC web series — Nicky crashing weddings and funerals and bar mitzvahs. That's a web series. But then he goes to a bris and it's gone too far!
The transracial adoption support group meeting voiced some of the thoughts in Randall's head over the years, and it was intriguing to watch him listen to these stories, instead of leading with his I-was-left-at-the-fire-station story. How might his complicated thoughts on adoption evolve as a result of his interactions with this group?
STEINBERG: I think this group brought him comfort, but it also brought him some new ideas that were really hard to wrestle with. Like any support group, it doesn't always bring comfort; it brings challenging ideas from people who are further down the road than he is on healing the wounds or understanding how knotted up he's been inside and understanding what it might take to untie those knots. There's nobody better than Sterling to play those levels of conflict.
One of the best moments of season 5 is the scene between Randall and Kate at the cabin where they fumble through that awkward-but-honest race conversation. We've been waiting for Randall to have a similar heart-to-heart with Kevin. Kevin now wants Randall to be his best man, but first wants to get past their conflict. Randall has hinted that Kevin may not be ready for it: "If you really want to have that conversation, then I cannot wait to have it." Kevin has matured a lot, but does he really know what he's walking into with this conversation?
STEINBERG: I have two words for you: "Stay tuned."
We saw one mother-daughter relationship experience some repair, while another fractured a bit. When Beth assured Tess that they were close and would always be close, Tess' "Okay, Mom" response was hardly convincing. Will Mama C. prove to be the bridge to help reconnect Tess and Beth?
BAUMAN: In this episode, Beth is learning a lot from Carol, and I think she's going to take those words to heart. Having Carol say, "Here I am trying to make up for lost time," that really strikes Beth. And that alone is something that I hope — and you'll have to watch and see whether or not that will push Beth to really work on her challenges with Tess.
STEINBERG: As a mother of two, I can say with confidence that my children teach me much more about parenting than I ever thought they would. Than my parents. I think that Tess is teaching Beth right now, and Beth's love for Tess is so strong that she's open to those lessons.
Madison was able to voice her concerns to Kevin about the wedding venue, while Toby didn't voice his sadness at being at home with the kids instead of working. Madison was rewarded for being honest, so… how significant will the consequences be for Toby keeping his feelings bottled up? Are we possibly headed toward the fracture that seemingly has been hinted at?
STEINBERG: It remains to be seen. I think it was meant to be exactly how you took it, which is he was talking about historically the trouble that arises in his marriage when he's not honest. And he chooses in that moment to bottle stuff up. That's going to have a ripple effect… I'm not saying it's irrevocable, but certainly consequential.
BAUMAN: It's a tough pattern we can all relate to, once you've gotten into the groove of "I'm going to hold this in." And it's something he's still working on.
The end of the episode saw two of Kevin's exes — and one friend/one-night-stand — reading about his upcoming wedding in US Weekly. Before the obvious question, let us ask: Where were Olivia and Sloan? Or have they just not stumbled across an issue of US Weekly yet?
BAUMAN: Well, Sloan is a cabin somewhere writing her epic "I dated the Manny for a couple of months" [laughter] and Olivia is too busy getting her hair done again in some weird off-putting style. I don't know where they are.
That could be a simple callback and catch-up, but we're betting it's more Chekhovian: You can't introduce all these women at the end of this episode and not use them again soon. Could they complicate things for Kevin? After Sophie laughed, that last look on her face was a bit contemplative. There was something what-iffy about that moment…
STEINBERG: "Buckle your seatbelts," is all I'm going to say.
BAUMAN: Yeah, hold on. Deep breaths. Everything's going to be okay. But also, we've had a plan for Kevin for a long, long time. So you'll just have to watch.
STEINBERG: Let's see how that plan plays out.
Is it fair to us to wonder if one or more will be back this season?
STEINBERG: Oh, it's definitely fair to wonder.
BAUMAN: You're free to wonder as much as you want.
You really made an effort to not show their ring fingers when they were holding the magazine, didn't you? Was that intentional?
STEINBERG: I would say it was quite intentional.
Looking ahead to next week's episode, what is one cryptic hint that each of you can drop?
BAUMAN: "Hello, neighbor."
STEINBERG: "Not how I thought this night would go."
This Is Us
NBC’s beloved era-hopping drama tells the story of the Pearson family through the years.