'This Is Us' Bosses on Intense Therapy Scene, Super Bowl Episode

Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger discuss the tense family therapy scene and expectations for the Super Bowl episode.
Courtesy of NBC

[This story contains spoilers from This Is Us' Jan. 9 episode, "The Fifth Wheel."]

The first half of This Is Us' second season separated the Pearson family for a spell, causing the siblings to miss major developments in each other's lives. But Tuesday's midseason return, "The Fifth Wheel," brought the family back together in a tense therapy session at Kevin's (Justin Hartley) rehab, where he's been ensconced following his DUI arrest — with Randall's (recent Golden Globe winner Sterling K. Brown) daughter in the back seat.

Co-showrunner Isaac Aptaker told The Hollywood Reporter that the second half of the season, as in "The Fifth Wheel," brings the family back together in a big way.

"We have all of our characters on the same coast for a while and spending time together, and we get to more of these big family scenes that are such a part of our show and so much fun to make," he said.

The aforementioned therapy scene is a prime example of the Pearsons' newfound family togetherness, and Aptaker said the cast was thrilled with their challenge.

"The cast loves stuff like this so much. They get so excited," he said. "They're all on these text chains with each other, and they get into a real frenzy, like, 'Did you see it's 11 pages. It's the whole act. It's nonstop.' We actually shot that big therapy scene with three cameras so they could just run straight through it and get as much coverage as possible, and really do it almost like a play, where you don't have to interrupt to move lights and reset and stuff, but you can just give them the scene and let them roll with it."

Elizabeth Berger, co-showrunner with Aptaker and creator Dan Fogelman, praised leading lady Mandy Moore's performance in particular as a mother reckoning with the fact that maybe she didn't treat her children as equally as she thought she did.

"I think Mandy played it so brilliantly, you really feel like she's sort of been pushed to the brink by Kevin," Berger told THR. "What she says spills out of her, and she even surprises herself, which I think sometimes happens in life when you're pushed and pushed and pushed, and suddenly you unexpectedly blurt out the truth that you didn't even know was the truth. She just played that in a way that I've never really seen before on television, and we were all blown away."

Added Aptaker, "I think so much of our show is about what it means to be a human and what it means to be trying your best, but imperfect, and our parents are people, too. And so, when you're pushed to the brink like that, of course the go-to answer is, 'I love all my children equally,' but she blurts out, 'Randall was easier.' Kevin was a difficult child, a difficult teenager. And Rebecca's a person, too. Sometimes it's nicer to spend time with the kid who is easier to be around, but to admit that is very shocking. You don't see it very much from a mother."

Going forward, the immediacy of Kevin's addiction has been addressed so episodes will focus on repairing all of the relationships in his life and confronting his remaining demons head-on.

"What's fun about where Kevin is now is he's still on the East Coast, and so are Rebecca and Randall," Berger said. "I think it's going to be a continuing journey of repair over the next few episodes, especially with Rebecca, Miguel and Kevin, we have some fun stuff of them continuing to bond and get closer."

As for Kate (Chrissy Metz), she's committed to her self improvement and she and fiance Toby (Chris Sullivan) are on track to get married. "I think that they're in a really positive place. You know, they dealt with a very intense tragedy at the end of our fall season, and they're coming through it," Aptaker said. "I think their relationship is as strong as ever."

Randall's journey will take him on an exploration of his birth father's past, which means the return of Ron Cephas Jones as the deceased William.

"We love Ron so much, and whenever we can find, organically, to incorporate him into the show and tell more William stories and learn more about that brief but very impactful period of time he spent with Randall and his family, we love to do it. So, we came up with an idea and we're very excited for people to see it," Aptaker said.

Added Berger, "We really missed his presence week to week because he brings such a warmth to the show, so whenever anyone has an idea for him, we're sort of like, 'Yes. Let's do that.'"

The series will also continue to address the deification of Milo Ventimiglia's Jack, the discussion of which began in the therapy session.

"I think what's interesting is we hear so much and we see so much of Jack's addiction when we do past stories, and yet we've never really seen our adult Big Three talk about Jack as an addict, which shows how deeply they want to avoid the topic because they loved him so much and they revere him so much," Berger said. "It is really shocking when you finally hear them talk about it out loud. I think what we feel and what they discover is that that does not take away from their love, and it doesn't take away from Jack's greatness. So, I think it's, in a strange way, even a deepening of their relationship with their father, even though he's already gone."

Though the show's big post-Super Bowl is quickly approaching, Aptaker and Berger were tight-lipped about what to expect.

"We won't be doing a clip show that night," Berger teased. Added Aptaker, "I don't want to talk too much about what's gonna happen that night, because it's a really special and really surprising episode. We're all feeling the pressure over here, and are really excited to hopefully deliver in a way that we think is going to be really, really satisfying and one of our most special episodes to date."

While all signs point to the episode revealing exactly how Jack dies, the pair are pros by now at skirting that question.

"That's like 80 percent of the job," Aptaker joked. "Twenty percent is writing the show, 80 percent is figuring out how to say nothing while talking about it."

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