NBC’s family drama This Is Us closed out its breakout freshman season tonight with a finale that answered one of the show’s lingering questions: how Jack and Rebecca met. The episode was all about Jack and Rebecca, switching back and forth between the days leading to their first chance encounter and the night of Rebecca’s first tour gig. After Kate nudged him at the end of the previous episode, Jack drove two hours to attend Rebecca’s performance chugging beer cans on the way. He got there just as Rebecca’s ex Ben had made a move on her, which she rebuffed. Jealous and very drunk, Jack punched Ben, Rebecca abruptly left the tour to drive Jack home, telling Ben it was “over.” After a big fight, Rebecca asked Jack in the morning to leave so they get some time apart.
Meanwhile, in the other storyline, young Jack, home after a tour in Vietnam, was looking for a break to leave his parents’ house and open a car shop. An ill-advised plan to win money in an underground poker game run by thugs backfired. An even more dangerous scheme attempted by Jack, to rob a bar, was thwarted when he saw Rebecca behind the mic. The Big Three make current-day cameo appearances at the end of the episode with Randall deciding to adopt a baby, Kate to pursue a music career, and Kevin to chase a movie break.
In an interview with Deadline, This Is Us creator/executive producer Dan Fogelman explains why he opted to end the season this way and addresses whether we have witnessed the end of Rebecca and Jack’s epic love story — and possibly the end of Jack — as well as whether we will find out how Jack died, or how Rebecca and Miguel and Randall and Beth got together, in Season 2. (This Is Us has been renewed for Season 2 and Season 3.) He also sheds light on Randall’s next career move, William’s Season 2 presence, and that theater critic who snubbed Kevin’s play (re-) opening.
DEADLINE: After so many big episodes, why did you decide to end the season with a smaller, personal one focused on Jack and Rebecca’s relationship and set almost exclusively in the past?
DAN FOGELMAN: it was a decision we made at inception. From the first pitch to NBC, I always planned that the last three episodes of the season would be 1) the road trip with Randall and William, 2) the aftermath of that episode, and then 3) this finale focusing on Jack and Rebecca.
DEADLINE: Did you intentionally fram the season with three of the biggest events in Jack and Rebecca’s relationship: the birth of their children (pilot) and how they met and their marriage’s biggest challenge (finale)?
FOGELMAN: I don’t know that I thought about it that much, theoretically — I just always knew that Jack and Rebecca’s love story would be a core thing people cared about in this show. I wanted to show a marriage in full in the first season — all the ups and downs. We definitely end the season with their relationship in its most challenged place.
DEADLINE: Is this the end of Rebecca and Jack?
FOGELMAN: That’s the big question — and in some ways bigger than the question of “how and when did Jack die?” I think by now, audiences have come to terms with the fact that Jack isn’t alive in the present day (even if they don’t like it). But perhaps the bigger question now is: What was the state of Jack and Rebecca’s marriage when he passed away? I can’t reveal where it’s all going, but I can say this: Jack and Rebecca have — their words — a love story for the ages. That does not end with one fight. Now I’m not saying they make it all the way back, but I think it’s safe to say that there is a journey ahead for them in the season to come.
DEADLINE: So does that mean this was not the last time Rebecca saw Jack? Because at Jack’s funeral, Kate was around the age in the Season 1 finale, Rebecca and Jack had the fight because Kate urged him to go see her sing, which would explain Kate’s confession that he’d died because of her. And Jack’s monologue at the door sure sounded like a goodbye speech.
FOGELMAN: Unfortunately you’ll have to wait for next season to find out. But if there’s a journey ahead for Jack and Rebecca, it’s safe to say this isn’t the last time they see one another.
DEADLINE: What did Rebecca mean when she said it was over as she left the tour. Is her singing career over?
FOGELMAN: I think she means that this dream of hers… it all just feels “over” — just like that — when she sees her husband drunk, jealous, and punching a guy who — she’s just learned — he had a right to be jealous. It’s all just feels… over. At least to her.
DEADLINE: Can we decipher another line, Jack’s, where he called Rebecca his break. Did he refer to the fact that seeing her prevented him from becoming a criminal, that with her he found personal happiness, or meeting her would help him get the career break he had been looking for?
FOGELMAN: Yeah, Jack is saying that Rebecca saved his life… not just because she saved him from making a bad decision, but because he’d lived a life where he hadn’t caught a lot of breaks, and — when he met her — finally the good guy finished first.
DEADLINE: Will Jack’s tour in Vietnam be explored in the future? Did that experience inform the kind of husband he has been on the show?
FOGELMAN: I think a person is informed by all the things they’ve experienced. Certainly Vietnam would be a formative experience for Jack. But as interesting as it may be to explore that, it’s equally important (and interesting to us) to keep delving into his upbringing and his relationship with his parents, both before and after the war.
DEADLINE: Any hints about what is in store for The Big Three in light of the decisions they made in the final minutes of the finale — Kate to follow in her mom’s footsteps and pursue singing professionally, Randall to adopt a baby, and Kevin to go for a movie career that would take him away from Sophie?
FOGELMAN: All three Big Three stories end on cliffhangers — I think it’s fair to say that they will all be followed through on next season.
DEADLINE: What will Randall do after quitting his Wall Street job?
FOGELMAN: I don’t know that Randall is racing back into the workforce anytime soon. He’s determined to honor the legacy of his father(s), and I think his focus will be on adoption as we head into next season.
DEADLINE: Do the plans for Season 2 include revelations of how Jack died or how Rebecca and Miguel and Randall and Beth got together?
FOGELMAN: You will likely learn a lot (if not all) about two of those those things.
DEADLINE: How much can we expect to see of William next season and in what ways?
FOGELMAN: In very much the same way we see Jack, even though Jack too is gone in present day. A core tenet of the show is that just because a person dies, it doesn’t mean they don’t remain in the fabric of the lives of their families. I plan on William and Ron [actor Ron Cephas Jones] being a big part of the series next year.
DEADLINE: Will that pesky critic finally go see Kevin’s play?
FOGELMAN: Never. That guy’s a dick.