Viewers were focused on the distant future for the Season 3 premiere of This Is Us Tuesday night, as we finally got another clue as to who the much-older-future Randall (Sterling K. Brown) and his daughter were ominously visiting in the hospital in the Season 2 finale. Referred to only as ‘her’, this person was widely rumored to be Randall’s wife Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) who had presumably met with some terrible fate.
However, in this Season 3 premiere episode we saw a much older, morose-looking Toby (Chris Sullivan) in bed without wife Kate (Chrissy Metz). Could Kate, not Beth, be the fabled ‘her’?
Asked about the mysterious ‘her’ during a post-screening panel discussion at Paramount Theatre in Los Angeles, creator Dan Fogelman said, “I think we can guess really. The plan is in the course of the season you will get a lot of answers.”
So unlike the mystery of Jack’s death that dominated both Seasons 1 and 2, it seems the ‘her’ answer will come in a single season. “You’re going to get it in little doses and you’re going to get your answers,” Fogelman said. “We’re not going to string it out over seven seasons. People will get their answer.”
Later on, Fogelman teased a little more. Asked about the success formula of the show, he said, “The playing in time really helps…it can feel really crazy to see Sully (Chris Sullivan as Toby) sitting in a bed by himself without Kate, so you wonder what happened. Have they broken up? Has something befallen her? But that’s just life, that’s what it does…who’s disappearing, who’s not with who?”
Following the panel, Sullivan told Deadline on the red carpet that Kate missing from Toby’s bed is certainly significant in that premiere episode scene. “I don’t even know where Kate is in that moment,” he teased.
Showrunners Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger reassured us answers were imminent, telling Deadline, “It’s this very tricky balancing act between frustrating people and keeping them excited,” Aptaker said. “This one felt to us – it was instinctive – that it was a year-long mystery.”
The panelists also had fun playing a game called ‘swear on Oprah’ based on a scene in the premiere episode where Randall makes Beth “swear on Oprah” that she won’t interfere in the burgeoning relationship between Kevin (Justin Hartley) and Zoe (Melanie Liburd) (spoiler alert: she interferes, but not in the way you’d expect).
“I swear on Oprah I do know who ‘her’ is,” Fogelman laughed. “I’d better!”
The Season 3 premiere kicked off with a deep dive into the past in classic This is Us style. References to the historic Steelers Immaculate Reception win on December 23rd, 1972, gave us the exact date Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) and Rebecca (Mandy Moore) first met in a bar. We saw their first date full of awkward sweetness as he blew through the paltry “nine bucks” he had to spend on her, hence the episode title. But there was also the shock appearance of new cast member Hunter Parrish, playing a suitor who shows up on Rebecca’s doorstep to kiss her, just as Jack arrives to whisk her away on a second date.
“I think Rebecca’s surprised to see him,” Moore told Deadline, “so that’s like a hint of, this maybe isn’t a current beau of hers, because I don’t think she would have gone on a date with somebody else if she was currently attached and she wasn’t expecting him. It will be resolved in the next couple episodes.” But as we know, since we’ve seen the future, all turns out well – at least at first – for the young lovers. And there will be plenty more scenes from the early days of their relationship in this new season.
“In the third episode of the season, we go back to this timeline,” Fogelman said, “and there’s a scene in it I love so much. I find it so wildly romantic. For me, it’s like Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze doing pottery in Ghost, but everyone has clothes on.”
The Randall and Beth plot line will be big too, and will go in a “surprising direction,” Fogelman said. “Clearly this is an unbelievable marriage, and they have a great thing and it jumps off the screen.” In the premiere episode, we also saw their foster daughter Deja (Lyric Ross) agree to have them adopt her, following Randall’s impassioned persuasive speech. Ross has been confirmed as a series regular.
This season will also see Kevin and Zoe heading to Vietnam to explore Jack’s roots and the mystery surrounding his brother’s death.
“We’ll live in the past quite a bit,” Fogelman said. “Milo and Justin and Melanie are heading to Vietnam in short order to shoot.”
Kevin’s mission in retracing his father’s steps in the war is part detective work, part emotional journey, Berger explained.
“It really does come from this very human place of a son realizing that he’s a grown man who doesn’t know a lot about this father figure whom he loved so much,” she said. “It’ll be Nancy Drew with real pathos.”
There will be more switching back and forth between timelines than ever this season, and the next episode will take us back to a more familiar past we saw in last season – the period immediately after Jack’s death. “We’re with the teenagers,” Fogelman said. “It’s about how does this family pick themselves up?”
Other things to look forward to are three episodes focused on the significant other characters, including Toby, who we’ll see go on a depressive downward spiral as he and Kate struggle to conceive. In the premiere episode we saw him unwisely flush his anti-depressant medication after the doctor told him it was affecting his sperm count. Tough times ahead for him.
There will also be an episode for the much-maligned Miguel (Jon Huertas). “If you don’t like Miguel after this season, you’re heartless,” Fogelman joked.
Plus, Emmy winner Ron Cephas Jones will be back as Randall’s biological father William, and will have a significant arc with an as-yet-unnamed guest star.
“We have a lot of big stuff coming,” Fogelman promised. “We’re six episodes in editing, and 11 episodes in script, and I feel very strongly that this season is as strong as we’ve ever been. I feel very confident.”
This is Us airs Tuesdays on NBC at 9pm.