7:00pm PT by Jean Bentley
'This Is Us' Bosses Go Inside the Big Three's Latest Twists and Turns
[This story contains spoilers from the Oct. 9 episode of NBC's This Is Us.]
NBC's This Is Us continued its exploration of Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) and Rebecca's (Mandy Moore) courtship during Tuesday's third episode of season three, "Katie Girls," and brought together four actors who have never all shared a scene together — the three versions of Kate (Chrissy Metz, Hannah Zeile, Mackenzie Hancsicsak), and their onscreen dad Jack. The episode also touched on Kevin's (Justin Hartley) increasing desire to learn more about his father's past and time in Vietnam, Randall's (Sterling K. Brown) new career prospects and more.
Co-showrunners Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about the developments in each character's life this week. The series will detour to tell Jack's Vietnam story on Oct. 16, but the fifth episode will return to the present-day storylines on Oct. 23.
According to Berger, the idea for the scene with the three Kates came about because the writers are always looking for ways to see different combinations of characters interact with one another.
"Obviously that's one where there's almost no opportunity to do it, so a dream seems like the perfect way to get into her head, especially when she's at this crossroads and she doesn't know what her future holds," she said. "It's the sort of thing where you look back on your life and you think about how you got to this moment so it felt like a really nice, organic way to sort of bring them all together. Then once we realized we could also throw Jack in there, we got extremely excited."
When the show returns to the present-day, the success or failure of Kate's egg-retrieval operation will be revealed.
"We're following a real timeline on what this would be like," Aptaker said. "You get the results pretty soon. We're taking a break from the present day next week to do this very special Jack episode, but then we're going to pick right back up with their IVF journey the week after."
Added Berger, "We saw in this one that the extraction was successful and that they got eight eggs, but IVF has so many steps that you're always waiting to clear the next hurdle and see what the next part of the process is going to bring."
The episode picked up in the moments following Kevin's movie premiere screening, with the entire Pearson family in tears. No, that was not a meta comment on what This Is Us does to audiences each week. But it was a good sign as to the future of Kevin's acting career. A promo tour for the film took him (and girlfriend Zoe) to Philadelphia for an interview with Fresh Air host Terry Gross — and took the production to Philly to film the public radio icon's guest spot.
Said Aptaker, "We are so excited that she had heard of the show, seen the show, and was eager to do it. I got to talk on the phone with her a bunch, which felt like I was on her show. I pretended I was a guest on Fresh Air, and it was the highlight of my career."
The interview also proved to be the catalyst in Kevin's interest in Vietnam. Explained Aptaker, "Terry is making Kevin realize how when he was growing up, he never really asked the questions. Part of that was because his dad died when they were so young, but also it's just the nature of Jack and the nature of Kevin, and so even though Jack is no longer alive, Kevin's wondering is there another way to get some answers about this man?"
Said Berger, "In the immediate future, obviously the wheels are really turning in terms of getting to the bottom of this Vietnam mystery and learning more about his father, but the nice thing is that now it seems that because the movie is a success, doors will be opening. That's going to be something that he's going to have to balance as he goes down this Vietnam road."
Never shy about a grand gesture, Randall flew to Los Angeles to be with his sister during her big surgery. This allowed him to bond in the waiting room with his new brother-in-law, Toby (Chris Sullivan) — another man fond of a big gesture — about their mental illnesses.
Said Berger, "I think we've come such a long way as a culture in terms of talking about mental illness, but I do think there is still sometimes a stigma there and especially between men. It's not necessarily the kind of conversation that you see that often or that you think is happening that often. So something about these two big, strong guys baring their souls to each other was really compelling to us."
Normally, Randall's wife, Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson), is the bedrock of his support system, but the tables might be turning in their relationship now that she was let go from her job of 12 years. His passions are all-consuming, but he'll have to figure out how to balance his desire for a new path running for office and being there for his wife.
"We've definitely seen Beth be Randall's rock over and over again and we also know that Randall, when he's passionate about something, it can kind of take over his life, so watching him find that balance between pursuing his own dreams but also being there for Beth is something that we're particularly focused on this season," said Berger.
Added Aptaker, "We're so excited for everyone to get to see Susan play this very different color. Randall's used to having this kickass wife who has it so together that he doesn't need to provide all that much in the way of support for her, and she's going to be going through a very different phase of her life now. ... I think in the ideal relationship there's ebbs and flows of who's the one providing the support at any given moment and certainly, I think, we've seen it be a bit of a one-way street with Beth and Randall for the most part where she's there for him and now it's going to be interesting to see if he can step up to the plate."
Hunter Parrish returned as Alan, Rebecca's high school sweetheart who surprised her on her doorstep just as Jack went to return her jacket the day after their date. Catching up with him reminded her about what kind of relationship she could have with him.
Said Aptaker, "I think Alan represents a really, really solid guy and I think he would share a life with Rebecca where she wouldn't just be making dinner and [doing chores, like her mother did]. He wants her to have a career and he wants her to have a life. But at the same time, Rebecca has felt this connection with someone who is much less of a sure thing. He is a wild card. She feels like she needs to follow her heart and try to check both boxes — find a guy who is going to let her have a career and have this big life but who she also feels this incredible connection and chemistry and attraction to. She's taking a huge gamble because she's walking away from what she knows would be a very good, safe choice and hoping that Jack will be even more fulfilling."
Part of that decision was made after consulting Alan's mom, played by Jane Kaczmarek, with whom she was clearly close. Aptaker and Berger said they cast the actress after several of their writers saw her in productions of Our Town and Long Day's Journey into Night.
"We got on the phone with her and talked to her about the part. She hadn't seen the show yet so we sent her over the complete This Is Us first two seasons box set, which she was kind enough to watch immediately, and she liked the show," Aptaker said. "She was incredible and she delivered."
As for Rebecca's future with Jack, expect to see the duo head to Los Angeles this season after they discussed it at the end of the episode.
"This is a story that we're going to keep on telling, the Jack and Rebecca courtship. How they get from here to being the couple that we know who gets married and has the big three," Aptaker said. "That's going to be something over the course of the series that we're going to continue to track."
This Is Us airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on NBC.