SPOILER ALERT: This article contains details about tonight’s season finale of This Is Us.
During PaleyFest in March, This Is Us creator Dan Fogelman promised the season finale would answer a lot of questions — and it did. But it also introduced some new ones. It’s all part of the team at This Is Us and Fogelman’s master plan to have us invest in the Pearsons and be moved by the twists and turns of their lives that reflect people in the real world.
In the season finale titled “Her,” we travel to the past, present and future as we see the Pearsons navigate their lives and how it all connects. Randall (Sterling K. Brown) and Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) are still at odds, but this time it’s what’s not being said that is causing the most tension. Kate (Chrissy Metz) and Toby (Chris Sullivan) are learning to care for Jack while Rebecca (Mandy Moore) hovers like every mother. Finally, Kevin (Justin Hartley) attempts to accept the fact that Zoe (Melanie Liburd) doesn’t want to have kids. So much happens within the 43 minutes of this episode that it is mind-blowing and, of course, emotional or, how Fogelman likes to put it, moving.
At the beginning of the episode, we are in the future and Beth is getting ready to join the rest of the Pearsons to visit Rebecca but all of the circumstances seem vague. At the same, time the family gathering doesn’t seem as celebratory. We are then brought to the past where Rebecca is driving happily listening to The Cure’s “Friday I’m In Love.” All is well until she is distracted and then gets into a car accident and is hospitalized. Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) and the kids try to cope with her accident. This leads to the Big 3’s aforementioned storylines in the present. Throughout the episode, we see Chrissy on the verge of insanity as Rebecca is “overly cautious” about how she is caring for baby Jack but also how she plans to move to California to be closer. Eventually, Kate realizes that her mom is being exactly that: a good mom.
Meanwhile, Kevin is over here acting like he is totally fine with not having kids with Zoe. When they are asked to look after Tess (Eris Baker) and Annie (Faithe Herman), Kevin really wants kids despite what he tells himself and Zoe is more than aware of this. As a result, they break up and Kevin moves back to California.
But the biggest story in this episode is the fate of Randall and Beth’s marriage. It seems that their foundation is crumbling and they’re headed for a split. As the audience braces themselves to see one of TV’s best couples fall apart, the show demands us not to give up on them. After a heartfelt speech that will leave a lump in your throat from Deja (Lyric Ross) to Randall, things start to look up. He has the idea of resigning from his city council post in an effort to save his marriage while Beth secretly heads to Philadelphia to see her options as a saving grace.
The two finally meet to hash things out. Randall tells Beth he’s going to resign and she says he isn’t. She wants to move the family to Philadelphia — not only because that’s where his new job is, but because she wants to open her own studio. Randall voices concerns about the risks, moving, money, the kids and her ambitions, but Beth simply says, “We bet on us.” And that ladies and gentlemen is how you handle a relationship.
In the final moments of the episode, we are back in the future as the Pearsons gather at Kevin’s house. This is intercut with a montage of the present featuring Randall and Beth packing to move out of their house; Kate and Toby coming home with baby Jack and Zoe moving out of Kevin’s apartment and Kevin moving back to California.
Back at future Kevin’s house, Toby shows up separately from Kate and baby Jack. Randall says, “I’m glad you decided to come.” This suggests that maybe Kate and Toby might have split (oh no!). We also find out that Kevin has a child — and there is no hint as to who the mother is.
But in the last two minutes, Randall says, “I’m going to go say hi” and starts walking to Rebecca’s room. This is intercut with young Randall in the past walking to visit Rebecca in the hospital after her car accident. Past and future Randall say hi to mom simultaneously, but the focus is placed on the future where we see Rebecca who is sick and can’t seem to place Randall’s face. And as an added twist, guess who is in the room with them? Jack’s brother Nick (Griffin Dunne)!
That is quite a lot to process. That is why we talked with This Is Us creator and writer Dan Fogelman to give us meaning behind all that happened within the last few minutes of the episode and how that plays into season 4.
DEADLINE: Let’s talk about that ending because there is a lot to unpack in the last few minutes of the finale. How does it tease what’s to come for the Pearsons?
DAN FOGELMAN: I think teases everything. It obviously gives a lot of answers and things we have focused on this season whether it be [Rebecca] or Kevin and Zoe or Randall and Beth. There are also some things looming that propulsively drive us forward.
Like I have always said about this show — if you were to pop in during a moment of time with your family — 15 to 20 years in the past or 15 to 20 years in the future — you would be surprised who enter and leave the picture and where life takes you. You’re flying through time in that way and that’s what we have in the last couple minutes in the finale. You’re surprised at the things you’re discovering in the “family photo”.
DEADLINE: Why did you decide this season seemed to have a heavy focus on Randall and Beth?
FOGELMAN: Especially the back half of the season — we always thought about this show split into two seasons where the first half had a really heavy focus on Jack and Rebecca’s origin story and his Vietnam story and then the back half of the season would have a very heavy focus on the marriage of Beth and Randall. We always kind of insinuated that there are certain marriages that just don’t break but might go through periods where they bend very heavily. In the middle of our series, we witnessed what arguably — or inarguably be — one of the toughest moments of Randall and Beth’s marriage and what it looks like on the other side of that. I think there could be a little relief from the audience that they come out on the other side.
DEADLINE: Based on events from the last couple of episodes, a lot of people out there were bracing themselves for a divorce or separation between Randall and Beth. So I think the audience will be happy with how their relationship turned out.
FOGELMAN: One of things about the show is that we always try to explore what happens to people in the real world. A lot of people make it and a lot of people don’t and I think that was the intention — not just to misdirect the audience but that this was a marriage in crisis and at a crossroads and to watch how [Randall and Beth] makes it through that.
DEADLINE: For Randall, Kate, and Kevin it seems the loose ends are tied up for them — which is good, but they all seem to share this common bond of not feeling that they deserve what they get. Why is that?
FOGELMAN: I think that that internally, they are all very flawed people in their own ways to varying degrees. I also think they are inherently good people. Their parents raised three decent kids even if they mess up all the time. I think they are fundamentally good as are all the characters on the show — and good people tend to question themselves than they do others. They are hard on themselves than others. They grew up in a house that is marked with an adolescent teenage tragedy. They grew up with a model of a loving parental relationship that wasn’t always perfect. They grew up with great expectations to be good people and because they lost their father and have a serious force of nature in their mother to look up to, they are constantly worrying that they may not be able to stand on their own two feet enough. Randall explores that with giant dreams and flights of fancy that kind of crash with anxiety attacks. Kevin obviously has moments of greatness that fluctuates with moments of relapse but also taking a step backward in character growth and Kate’s arc is really up and down. If you look at the big picture of their arcs in the series, they have a constant upward trajectory, but there’s a lot of squiggles in their graphs — there’s a lot of down-cycling even though it’s always moving upward.
DEADLINE: When writing, how do you not paint yourself into a corner when it comes to character arcs?
FOGELMAN: I’m not really. We have this thing pretty mapped out by this point — and we kind of had it since the beginning. I knew when the fire was going to happen and when Jack was going to die. I knew what this season finale was going to be and where season 4 and 5 are going to live in terms of time period and the amount of story we’re going to cover. I’m not really worried because we have done the work as writers, producers and directors. We have a big plan that we are going to execute and it’s not going to leave us asking, “Oh shit! What are we going to do now?!”
DEADLINE: Sterling K. Brown jokingly mentioned before that you like surprising or “messing” with the cast when it comes to the twists and turns of their characters. It spills over into the audience because TV and film manipulate our emotions — in good ways, of course. What kind of joy do you get sharing this very emotional stories?
FOGELMAN: I think Sterling meant that I love telling the cast what’s coming for their characters and watching their faces and getting excited about it. I’ve been more excited about each progressive season of the show than the last. I love the show and I love the job and the little boy in me comes out when I know we’re going to do something that affects people. That’s why I got into this. The TV shows and movies of my life that really had an effect on me are the ones that move me. I like to use the term “moves me” than “makes me cry” because “moving” can be when you feel a great deal of tension like when you do in the fight between Randall and Beth or hearing the audience laughter at PaleyFest during the first four acts of the episode featuring Randall and Beth — that’s a form of moving the audience.
I remember going to the opening weekend of Apatow’s Knocked Up and the audience was rolling with that movie in a way I had not heard 300 people in unison move with a comedy in a really long time in a theater. That’s a massively important form of moving people. I think that because people happen to be crying during our show sometimes, it’s kind of changed the narrative a little bit in terms that we’re doing something overtly sad and overtly emotional — which it obviously is. For whatever reason these actors and material seems to draw out feelings in people — but that’s why I got into doing this. Otherwise, there are much better jobs with better hours. Getting the opportunity to make people feel something — that’s part of the gig. I get a certain amount of glee in all parts of it.
DEADLINE: For the fourth season you said at PaleyFest that it is going to be very ambitious. What kind of themes can we expect to be explored?
FOGELMAN: The fourth season is a lot about the restarts that happen after a crisis. I’ve already written the premiere of next season. It’s ambitious enough that we’re actually in the process so many months ahead starting to plan for it. In its own way, it’s a little bit of a restart. For a series that has done a lot and covered a lot of territory in the first three seasons, it’s fair to say that we are coming out in the middle of our series at the beginning of the fourth season and kind of challenging and throwing down the gauntlet at ourselves a little bit.