If you leapt off your seat in the final moments of This is Us tonight, you’re not the only one. The series’ fall finale was like one big holiday giveaway full of fabulous gifts. Not only were we at last given the identity of the mystery ‘Her’, but we also got a huge plot twist for the Pearson family: Nicky is not actually dead. And maybe Randall and Beth end up divorced in the future. Also, Kate and Toby are having a baby boy (and Kate’s going back to school).
The episode kicked off back in Vietnam — a locale that bookended tonight’s action. First, we see Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) fretting over his brother Nicky (Michael Angarano)’s mental health. Then, at episode’s end, there’s Jack again, this time running towards the sound of an explosion, while searching for an ominously missing Nicky. But in a one-two punch, we’re also in modern-day Vietnam with Kevin (Justin Hartley), learning there’s no official record of Nicky’s death. And then! The biggest, unexpected plot twist of the season: we see a shambling, older Nicky (played by Griffin Dunne), living in a trailer, picking up his mail, which is clearly marked with a modern barcode. He’s alive and well in the present day. And thus, a plethora of potential mystery unfurls in classic This Is Us fashion.
That last few minutes packs in way more too, as we finally get another major flash-forward. There’s older future-Randall (Sterling K. Brown) in the car with grown-up Tess (Iantha Richardson) on their way to see ‘Her’. Randall telephones Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson), who actually names ‘Her’ as Rebecca, but also doesn’t look thrilled to hear from Randall. Given their present-day fight over his refusal to cede the election and support his family (including a newly come-out Tess), are the series’ most beloved couple headed for a split? Have Toby (Chris Sullivan) and Kate (Chrissy Metz) jinxed themselves by delightedly celebrating the gender reveal of their baby-to-be? And what is actually wrong with future-Rebecca (Mandy Moore)?
Creator Dan Fogelman was on hand to answer some of these questions. While taking care not to spoil the remaining story, he told Deadline how long we’ll have to wait for more from Nicky, whether he’ll be a part of the present-day storyline, when the Rebecca situation might be resolved, and how excited he was for viewers to see this episode.
DEADLINE: Nicky being alive is a seriously shocking twist.
FOGELMAN: Yeah. The last 10 minutes of it, when we saw it come together for the first time in the edit bay, we all just went, “Whoa! That’s really big!”
DEADLINE: Did Jack know Nicky wasn’t dead? Was he hiding him the whole time?
FOGELMAN: What I can say is that there’s a complicated story that’s going to be told very quickly when we come back on the air, and it’s a story about what happened between Nicky and Jack. It’s very complicated. There’s a lot more to be told and it’s coming very soon.
DEADLINE: Will we learn more in the first episode in January?
FOGELMAN: No. But within the first couple, Nicky’s story will have been completely told.
DEADLINE: That’s fast. I hoped Kevin would track Nicky down, and Zoe would make an amazing documentary about it.
FOGELMAN: I’m not saying the whole story is told start-to-finish, I’m just saying the big mystery questions are answered pretty quickly.
DEADLINE: I get the sense though that Nicky will become a feature in the present-day story?
FOGELMAN: I think that sounds like the right sense.
DEADLINE: What role did the woman with the necklace play in what went down with Nicky?
FOGELMAN: It’s interesting. We’ve had a very specific story we wanted to tell of Jack and Nicky from the very beginning, and it’s almost so specific that it’s hard to talk about it at all and have it make any sense. It’s part of the story we’ve fleshed out with Tim O’Brien since the beginning, and it’s been part of our overall arc of the series since the very, very beginning. So I’m not even withholding, it’s a very complicated and detailed story, that I don’t know how to talk about without saying the whole thing.
DEADLINE: Nicky clearly had mental health issues, will there be more on that subject?
FOGELMAN: Yes. We have a big story coming that relates not just to Jack and Nicky, but also to Jack’s grown children. Kevin’s journey of discovery continues when we come back and starts folding into the rest of the family. I think to talk about it too much is to spoil the fun of it.
DEADLINE: So ‘Her’ is definitely Rebecca?
FOGELMAN: Yes. I think what we’re pretty clearly saying is that the person they’re all going to see is Rebecca. So in terms of that question that everybody’s been bandying about, yes, that’s what we’re saying. What that all entails will continue to be seen. I think a lot of people were suspecting and worrying that it might be Beth. It’s not Beth that everybody’s going to see, it’s Rebecca.
DEADLINE: When Tess is hiding that she might be gay, was Rebecca’s warning about carrying secrets and having aches and pains a foreshadowing of a terrible illness?
FOGELMAN: I don’t think we were thinking of it in that way. I think the most important connection in this particular episode is the deep conversation and connection that Tess as a growing young woman starts developing with her grandmother. That scene was more specifically speaking to Tess’ story in the episode.
DEADLINE: How long will it be before we find out more about Rebecca’s future situation?
FOGELMAN: In terms of where they’re going [to see her, in the future], and what’s going on there, I think other stories move forward and center, and some of those answers will spread out towards the end of this season and into the next ones. This is all part of very long, complex, complicated plan that we’ve really had since go. It’s one of those situations where it’s not just been cooked up overnight; it’s part of the premise of this entire thing, so sometimes things get teased [in the future], but there are other answers being given in the present day that inform those things when you get to them. So a certain amount of things need to happen before you get there, to fully understand it.
DEADLINE: It looks like Randall and Beth might be estranged in the future, and we see them having a tough time in the present day with him sleeping on the couch.
FOGELMAN: Obviously the timing of them having as heavy a moment as these two characters have had on screen in their marriage, butted up up against that, when they’re not in the same place, leaves you with some new questions. I will say that Randall and Beth, and Sterling and Susan, have some heavy-duty stuff coming up in the back half of this season, which I’ve already read, written and seen. It’s real tour de force stuff for the both of them, both as a couple and as individuals. We’re going on a break right now for a couple of months, and there are so many things I’m excited to get back to. I just can’t wait for people to see these two go forward and backward in the back half of the season. It’s very special. The couple has been incredible throughout the series, and they’re a couple that people have really taken to. The back half of the season is a real showcase for them.
DEADLINE: Toby and Kate are having a boy. Is all going to go well there? Because we already know Toby gets depressed again in the future.
FOGELMAN: I think life is full of a lot of different colors, and many of them are incredibly joyous and happy, and a lot of them are really sad and upsetting. So I think everything about this pregnancy has been difficult, and I think it’s always uncomfortable to allow yourself to relax too much as an audience member. Just like it is for Toby and Kate. Anybody who’s experienced a tumultuous pregnancy knows that feeling of trying to let yourself commit to it when you’ve had problems and miscarriages. That’s something that we’ve tried to treat carefully. So I don’t think you can quite relax with a pregnancy as complicated as theirs. At the same time, I would try and assure people that we’re not masochists, and just leave it at that.
DEADLINE: Are there going to be more big twists and turns when the show comes back?
FOGELMAN: There are. By the time we come back we’ll have been gone for a couple of months in time. The show’s off the air for a while, and the characters have progressed a couple of months. So we’re going to be much deeper along into the pregnancy; we’re going to be really much deeper along towards Randall’s campaign and learning what’s going to happen there. It’s a big second half of the season. There are a couple of things coming that I’m incredibly excited about — scripts that are playing in structure and time. And we have a completely Beth-centric episode coming in the back half of the season, which I’m very excited about. And we have one episode that basically plays like a God of Carnage stage play with the entire family in one place.
This is Us returns to NBC on January 15 at 9 PM.