Fans of This is Us may have suffered a break from the show’s usual programming due to the State of the Union Address—as creator Dan Fogelman put it, “Trump screwed us up”—there’s some solace to be found in intriguing teasers from Fogelman and showrunner Isaac Aptaker.
Speaking to Deadline during a set visit at Paramount Studios on Thursday, not only were there hints at what’s to come the rest of this season and the next, but also on what we might expect for the very, very end of the show. From Kevin’s relapse, to Rebecca’s bittersweet connection with Jack’s long-lost brother, the rocky road ahead for Beth and Randall, and some playing fast and loose with the show’s signature use of timelines—This is Us shows no sign of slowing down.
So now we’re in the back half of Season 3, what is its overarching theme, and what might that lead to in Season 4? “We’ve got multiple seasons mapped out,” Fogelman said. “I think this season has been a lot about redemption, but also a lot of rebirth. Next season is a season of new beginnings and restarts.”
The show that always keeps viewers on their toes is also going to mix up its use of interweaving timelines more than ever in the rest of this season. Aptaker (who shares showrunning duties with Fogelman and Elizabeth Berger) said, “In our writers’ room the walls are just so crowded with index cards, with dates and Post-Its, it’s like A Beautiful Mind, or like someone’s head just exploded in there.”
Now we can expect a theatrical-style real-time episode, and an episode dedicated to Beth and Randall’s relationship as a whole. “We’re doing an episode that’s almost in real-time that was written by one of our writers who’s a famous playwright, Bekah Brunstetter, and that’s essentially watching people sitting in a room for 45 minutes,” Aptaker said. “That’s episode 15. Then we have an episode that’s jumping through different phases of Beth and Randall’s relationship over the years. So we’re going to see their first date, we’re going to see some other major milestones. That’s Episode 17.”
Aptaker also revealed that everyone on the show knows where the whole story ends up. “From day one, Dan came in with his master plan for the big picture stuff of the show and said, ‘I think this is where we end up. I think this is what I know. Let’s figure out the rest together.’ So all of the writers and the actors really know everything. We’re all pretty good at keeping secrets by now, it’s been three years, but it’s a total open book for everyone who works on the show, so there are no secrets from each other.”
He also has hopes for how we’ll perceive the final ending of the show as a whole. “I would hope that it’s elegant,” he said. “That’s what we’re going for. I would hope that when we reach our ending, people think it’s a really satisfying end place, that makes sense, and it feels like they’ve watched something that is a complete piece of work because that’s really how we’re trying to plan it. Almost like you would a book, or a super-long movie. We’ve had this end in mind for a long time, so we’re able to plan for it, and try to make it feel like it’s a whole, as opposed to a series that’s going to go endlessly.”
Aptaker added that the team are currently planning roughly “about three seasons in the future” for the grand finale.
The next episode “Songbird Road: Part Two” will air on February 12th and will dig deeper into the dynamics between the newly-discovered Uncle Nicky and the rest of the family. But as Aptaker said, “He’s told them, ‘This is all I can give you in order to maintain my own health, I need to close this door.’ It’s about how do they deal with that as a family, especially Kevin and Rebecca, who were so in it together.”
But Fogelman assured us Nicky will definitely be back. “It’s fair to say that we love the character,” he said, “and I don’t think we’ve seen the last of him, how and when that is maybe a season down the road or it may be next week.”
While Kevin and Zoe are facing some difficulties due to Kevin’s stress over Uncle Nicky, another couple under the microscope in this second half of Season 3 will be Beth and Randall. “Over the next batch of episodes, we’ll see that Beth and Randall are at this really, really critical place in their relationship, where he’s about to embark on a new job,” Aptaker said. “She’s having this crisis about, ‘What do I want to do with myself now that I had the rug ripped out from under me and I’ve been laid off from this career?’ They’re also dealing with these kids who are all in really complicated places. You know, Deja is just starting to fit in with the family, Tess has just come out, and there’s so much on their plates, and it’s about as a couple, can they survive that? Can they find a way to remember to put their marriage first?”
A previous flash forward caused speculation as to whether Beth and Randall’s relationship was going to go the distance, so does this mean they’re headed for divorce? “I’m not going to confirm or deny,” Aptaker said, “but they are very, very loving couple. They have such a history together.”
The February 19th episode “Our Little Island Girl” centers on Beth’s backstory and will reveal her contentious relationship with her mother, played by Phylicia Rashad. Susan Kelechi Watson, who plays Beth, also has a personal connection with Rashad, Fogelman explained. “She has a tremendous backstory with Susan, where Susan was part of a scholarship at Howard University that Phylicia was a part of creating, so she’s had deep meaning in Susan’s life personally and professionally.”
In “Our Little Island Girl”, Beth and her cousin Zoe visit Washington D.C. and we flashback to some sadness and disappointment in Beth’s early life, which both connects to her present day career conundrum, and leads to a heart-to-heart with her mother.
“She crushes in this episode,” Fogelman said of Rashad’s guest appearance. “It’s tour de force stuff from Phylicia. It’s a real high-end theater performance that she gives in an hour-long family drama that I’m very excited about.”
Finally, of course, there’s still the ‘Her’ drama, which was partly resolved a few episodes back when Mandy Moore as Rebecca, was revealed to be the person at the center of a mysterious flash forward. But even Moore herself wasn’t giving away any more secrets on that front for now.
“We all know at this point that the mystery of ‘Her’ has been solved and it is Rebecca” she said, “but it’s just about how that manifests itself.” Will Rebecca fall foul of some terrible illness, like dementia, where she is perpetually confused by all her own timelines? “Oh I hope not,” Moore said. “Let’s not go there. I mean, it’s true-to-life, sure. But I think that they’re true-to-form with the show. This poor woman has led quite a life, you know?”