1:46pm PT by Jean Bentley
'This Is Us': Where Things Left Off and What to Expect in Season 5
When This Is Us first showed flash-forward scenes from the Pearson siblings' 40th birthday celebration in the fourth season, Covid-19 wasn't actually a thing. But now that it's become a global pandemic that continues to ravage the world, it's very much a theme that the topical series will touch upon throughout its upcoming fifth season, which premieres with a super-sized two-hour episode on Tuesday, Oct. 27 at 9 p.m. on NBC.
The series typically opens in real time, with Kevin (Justin Hartley), Kate (Chrissy Metz) and Randall (Sterling K. Brown) celebrating another birthday. Those season four scenes revealed that the Big Three won't necessarily be all together for their milestone 40th, and they also provided a minor challenge for the writers — how did this family get together amid a pandemic that made traveling safely and intimate family gatherings an extremely difficult prospect?
Below, read on for a refresher about what happened at the end of season 4, plus creator Dan Fogelman and his stars reveal some of what to expect from season 5.
Season 4's Ending
The key points to remember heading into the fifth season: Madison (Caitlin Thompson) is pregnant with twins from her one-night stand with Kevin. Kate and Toby (Chris Sullivan) have decided to adopt another baby, which a far-future flash-forward reveals will be a girl named Hailey. Randall and Kevin had an Earth-shattering fight which leads to a major rift — and they're still not speaking on their 40th birthday. Speaking of the birthday, Rebecca, Kevin's pregnant fiancee (whose identity is technically still a mystery, but come on...it's Madison), and Kate are all spending it together at the family's cabin.
Season 5's Biggest Challenge: Covid
The two-hour season premiere will show exactly how the Pearson family responsibly came together on the East Coast for their 40th birthday celebration. Fogelman told The Hollywood Reporter's Lesley Goldberg and Dan Fienberg on their TV's Top 5 podcast that it was important to mention the strict Covid protocols the family would follow in order to get together in order to be a model of responsible behavior on screen.
"We needed to get the bulk of our West Coast people to the East Coast," Fogelman said. So while it's not going to be a major storyline in the premiere, it' is a major plot point: "They quarantined extensively for weeks, got tested and then drove cross country in shifts in an RV and that was the way we dealt with it to get them there."
None of the Pearsons will get Covid, but it will have a major impact on their lives — as it has on everyone's lives in 2020.
"Even if we're not showing it on the show because none of our characters are getting Covid or dying of Covid, it's certainly something we're just not treating glibly or lightly. You're seeing real effect — and that's in the course of the season — on livelihoods, on lives, on medical treatments, and on relationships without necessarily doing something where one of them is getting it, essentially."
But outside of the first episode where the family members needed to get together — "we go to great lengths to explain the bubbles, the testing and the quarantine periods that have allowed people to be comfortable with one another in their immediate family," said Fogelman — it won't be the biggest focus throughout the rest of the season. People will still wear masks whenever they would in real life, however: "We're not going to have pregnant people in a doctor's office not wearing a mask."
Black Lives Matter
Another major event that will not be glossed over are the Black Lives Matter protests that made headlines in June and for months after. That's something that will be tackled head-on, and it's part of the two-hour premiere that Fogelman and co-writer Kay Oyegun have been working on since February.
As Fogelman told THR, "We dig into the hard stuff, as we always do — it's a very challenging season premiere of the show, it's possibly the proudest I've ever been of the show. I've never worked so hard on anything in my life. I've been working on this since February, along with my writing staff and particularly with one of my co-writers here, Kay, and we've been really going at it and really working hard and really hoping to get this on the Tuesday before the election as opposed to when it was supposed to be, which is after."
Specifically, said star Susan Kelechi Watson (Beth Pearson), the episode will show how Beth and Randall talk to their daughters about the protests and how it affects their lives.
"As Black as Randall and Beth are, they're not experts on how to metabolize all that," Kelechi Watson told reporters. "I think if we do anything right, which I think we get pretty right on the show, is to be honest about it — to have an honest conversation about it. And they're the type of parents who I think invite their kids into that. It's not something that they would necessarily shield them from, but try to guide them through. So I think that's the way that we approach it."
Randall's perspective as someone raised in a white family is a particularly unique perspective, especially for someone who has always interrogated his own identity.
Said Brown, "The way in which he was raised and the conversations that happened in his house are not necessarily representative of the conversations that he wants to have with his children, by virtue of what didn't happen. And not that they were bad parents. He loves his parents very much; they gave him everything that they knew how to, there's certain things that just were difficult. In general, conversations regarding race in households happen much more frequently in households of people of color than they do in mainstream white families, right? Because it's just not something that's necessarily in the forefront of the consciousness. Randall has a really interesting sort of come to Jesus moment through these first two episodes that we'll see on Tuesday that I think is fascinating."
This Is Us has largely been an apolitical series, but the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movements in 2020 quickly became hot button political issues. But that's why Fogelman worked so long on the two-hour premiere — "we were making the decision to have Covid as well as Black Lives Matter woven into the show," he told reporters.
"Our choice has been to be apolitical. We don't speak of Democrat or Republican or you know who on the show; it's more about just American life. And when I was sitting down in and weighing the decision of what we were going to do, just considering where our show lives with this American family that has a lot of different pockets and spans time, it felt almost irresponsible not to take on the moment. I think you'll find when you see the episodes of the show that it very much lives in that same space of the show, where you're talking about the human experience and not the political experience of anything. It's really what these characters, if they're real human beings, would be dealing with in the world right now and we have not been afraid to touch on things like addiction or body image or race or Alzheimer's or any of the myriad of things we've taken on. So, I think we've attacked it in hopefully an elegant way that is very much of our show, but it really speaks to what our show tries to do and tries to be. But it was not a decision made lightly."
Kevin and Randall's Fight
The brothers have never had the smoothest relationship, but their season 4 finale fight was the rawest they've ever been with each other and both of them said some incredibly hurtful things. According to Fogelman, this is not something that will be quickly resolved as the new season begins.
"When we took the fight to that place, it was never intended to be they make up the next week or the next the next episode," Fogelman told reporters in a Zoom press conference ahead of the premiere. "That's a fight that's been building for 40 years between these two boys and now men who grew up in the same house. It's in the front and center of our premiere, and it will be in the front and center of our show for quite a bit. It's not one where you had a fight over who is carving the turkey on Thanksgiving and you make up the next day. I think that one's going to take a little bit of rebuilding, if if in fact they can get there."
And as Hartley pointed out, "it was a calculated statement that Randall made to Kevin and then Kevin made to Randall. They were talking to each other and saying things [in a way] that is so hurtful. And the way that they're said is just like, 'This is coming out of my mouth and I intend for this to hurt you and I need to say this.' I think sometimes when you have fights like that, sometimes it takes like an event even to bring people back together because I don't know how motivated — and then we'll find out throughout the season — but I don't know how motivated both men are to reconcile so quickly."
This Is Us airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on NBC.