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[This story contains major spoilers from the season five finale of NBC’s This Is Us, “The Adirondacks.”]
This Is Us creator Dan Fogelman has long known how the Pearson family’s story will end. And, in wrapping season five (which is the penultimate season for the top-rated NBC drama), Fogelman and his creative team revealed a new timeline for the show to explore when it returns for its final run.
The final scene of Tuesday’s season finale jumped four years ahead to show Kate (Chrissy Metz) — gasp! — on her second wedding day. Ever since the shocking time-jump finale of season three, a seed had been planted that Kate and Toby (Chris Sullivan) might split up in the future. That sad outcome for one of the couples at the heart of the show was confirmed in the final, time-jumping scene, as Kate is shown readying to marry a man that viewers barely know, her new boss Phillip (Chris Geere).
But not only is Kate glowing while stepping out in her wedding dress — “This is the last time I’m doing this,” she confidently says — her family members who appear in the flash-forward are excited about the union. And that includes Kevin, who looks genuinely happy and flirty with Madison (Caitlin Thompson) — even though she called off their wedding in the show’s current timeline earlier in the finale episode (more on that below).
“Despite two reveals of marriages not quite working out, when you cut to that period in the future, everyone feels good,” Fogelman told The Hollywood Reporter during a call with reporters about the season-ender on Tuesday. “On first viewing, you are registering the twist and the shock of what you’re seeing. But on second viewing, you can see the feeling and the smiles that exist in that moment.”
After all, Rebecca’s (Mandy Moore) final words of the season to her children were, “Everything’s going to be all right.” And that sentiment, Fogelman said, is something the This Is Us team was hoping to capture. “Marriages don’t always survive. People don’t live forever,” the creator and co-showrunner added to THR. “The balancing act of our show has always been in mixing the tragedies and the heartbreak of life with the joy and the beauty. They have to be able to coexist.”
He continued, “I was speaking recently about some of the losses and heartbreak I’ve experienced in my own life and how, at that moment, I would have been hard-pressed to imagine any future joy or optimism. But there you are, five or 10 years later, and life is in a different place. This show has always been about taking snapshots of a family’s existence at one period of time and then looking backward or looking forward and seeing how you get from point A to point B, or sometimes point B to point C, or sometimes point C to point B. But, ultimately, it’s an optimistic show.”
After building to a season finale centered around Kevin’s wedding to Madison, the current timeline ends with Madison calling off the wedding after forcing Kevin to confront the fact that he is in love with the family they’ve created, but not with her. In the previous episode, Kevin overcame his doubts about Madison by heeding stepfather Miguel’s (Jon Huertas) advice that not every love story is an epic Hollywood tale. “Some love stories are written in the stars and other love stories are written together,” he told the groom-to-be, comparing his marriage to Rebecca after the death of Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) to Kevin and Madison being brought together by her unexpected pregnancy. But Madison tells Kevin that she deserves to be marrying a man who is in love with her, and not just as the mother to his children.
When Rebecca, Kate and Randall (Sterling K. Brown) console a jilted Kevin and wonder what Jack would do in the current situation, Rebecca tasks Kevin with building her the house Jack always wanted to give her, in a bid to keep her sober son busy and distracted. That ask brings the show full circle to the luxury cabin seen in the season three finale, when the Pearson clan was shown years in the future at a somber gathering at the bedside of an elderly and bedridden Rebecca.
“The show has always been challenging with the place and time and we always knew that season six would be ambitious in terms of the way it jumps time, and even more ambitious than other seasons,” said Fogelman, who wrote “Adirondacks,” of all the timeline threads This Is Us will be tying up in its final run. Primarily, he said the final season will “live heavily” in the time period of Kate’s second wedding, when the Big Three are 45, and in the period 10 to 15 years down the line, when the family has gathered by Rebecca’s bedside.
On the call with reporters, Fogelman confirmed that Greere has been promoted to series regular for season six, as his character’s marriage to Kate will pick up where the finale left off. “With Kevin and recently Kate’s relationship, the show has tried to put forward some really successful marriages. But the honest truth is that really loving and great marriages don’t always survive and marriage is not for everybody,” he explained of the decision. “With both Kevin and with the second marriage of Kate, we have some new territory to explore.”
The reveal of Kate’s second wedding has been “a plot point we’ve known was coming for quite some time,” he noted, and a storyline they planned for the end of season five. “We’ve hinted many times in the deeper future that something was amiss between [Kate] and [Toby]; it’s been part of our plan all along,” he said. The actors who play the pair have also been in the loop and will be tasked with navigating the split. “[That journey] is something we haven’t really done on this show yet and these two actors are going to have some really meaty stuff to dig into next year,” he noted of Metz and Sullivan. “Like everything on this show, I think we’re going to be able to find something difficult and find something beautiful inside.”
Most importantly, Fogelman said all of the lingering and burning questions that have been set up by these visits to future timelines (which includes traveling the furthest ahead to catch up with Kate and Toby’s grown son, Jack), will be answered by the end of the series: “All of those timelines are going to be brought to completion and explained. There will be no looming questions when we get though the end of next season. Everything will be resolved.”
He was then careful to add, “You can’t always claim that 100 percent of your audience is going to like every single decision you make for the characters, but I don’t think anything will be left on the table.”
One of the open-ended threads that will drive the final season will continue to be Kevin’s love life — and whether marriage is even in his cards. “Who will Kevin wind up with? Will he wind up with anybody we know? Does he wind up with anybody at all? One way or another, that question will be answered,” Fogelman said. “You’re hoping he finds his romantic center and whether that’s in a marriage, a relationship or whether that’s in him finding his center internally and being single, that’s one of the looming questions on the show: Will Kevin find that happy ending, in whatever form it takes? As a person who writes him, I’m rooting for that.”
There were hints in the two-minute flash-forward that Kevin and Madison could be writing their love story together. In the episodes leading up to the finale, Kevin came to the realization that he changes aspects about himself in order to please the woman he is dating. That continues to be true at his wedding, when the actor runs himself ragged trying to give Madison the perfect day and edits movie references out of his vows, per her request.
But in the flash-forward, he is shown practicing a wedding toast — while reading off a notepad with the construction company logo “Big Three Homes” — that he is sure will please the crowd, thanks to an impression borrowed from The Princess Bride. In the scene, Kevin appears the happiest viewers have seen him in a long time. Shortly after, Madison greets him in a very familiar way, suggesting they, too, are on good terms (and perhaps together?).
“Despite the heartbreak of that beautiful scene and the unusual breakup between them, clearly something is very right with [Kevin and Madison] in that future timeline,” Fogelman teased. “To go beyond that, I can’t say. We have our plan and we’ve had it for quite some time. There’s genuine affection, or maybe something more there, but outside of that is for next season to reveal.”
Elsewhere in the current timeline, Rebecca and Randall have a breakthrough moment when she apologizes to her son for never fully explaining why she kept the details about his biological parents a secret for most of his life, and she asks him to share with her what it was like for him to find out about his birth mother during his transformative trip to New Orleans. He does so with tears in his eyes and forgiveness in his heart.
In the time jump, Randall is shown being profiled by a magazine as a “Rising Star,” uncle Nicky (Griffin Dunne) references a “wife” and Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) is a bridesmaid for Kate, along with Madison. When speaking about the new seeds that have been planted heading into the final season — which will capture the 41st year of life for the Big Three — Fogelman called out Brown and Moore in particular as other big storylines ahead.
“Mandy is going to have a tremendously ambitious season next year as an actress. As we’re traversing these timelines into the future and have a character battling Alzheimer’s, it’s going to be quite a showcase for [Moore], who I think is doing something extraordinary on television,” he said, adding that the details of Rebecca and Miguel’s courtship will also be further explored in flashback.
As for Randall, Fogelman says to expect a “very centered” and “balanced” version of the family man who will indeed be on the rise in his career: “He has had such a big character arc these past five seasons — battling so much stuff regarding race growing up with a white family in Pittsburgh, involving his marriage and his career, his hopes and his dreams — and I think this will be an opportunity to see this superhero character come full circle.”
The emotional ending to the 2020-21 pandemic-impacted season came shortly after it was officially confirmed that the sixth season would indeed be the final run for This Is Us. Fogelman, who serves as showrunner alongside Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger, has been adamant about the show’s endgame, saying at the end of season three that they were at the midpoint and, in March of 2020, noting that the sixth season would bring the Pearson story to a close. “We never set out to make a television series that was going to last 18 seasons, so we have a very direct plan. I have script pages I have written and I’m writing that really are deep, deep, deep into the future. We have a plan for what we’re going to do, and I know what the plan is,” he told THR in 2019.
When reacting to the official news being out, Fogelman made a promise that “we’ll work hard to stick the landing.” On Tuesday, the creator expanded on that vow, saying he has images of scenes and lines of dialogue in his head that he has been waiting to bring to life. And, some of that endgame has already been filmed.
“Our cast knows many of them, and some of them have been shot,” he said of the final scenes. “We’re excited to be able to end it the way we’ve talked about ending it since the first season of the show.”
He continued, “Since the very beginning I’ve had a strong feeling about where I want this to end. And it won’t just involve the series finale, it involves the final season; its moments, its images, its ideas. I have the list of them that I’ve wanted to tell, in a pretty specific order, and I’m grateful to be able to end it that way. It’s a real gift to have been thinking about those images, those scenes, those literal lines of dialogue and be able to execute them the way you want to. You can’t really ask for anything more in the modern state of television.”
The sixth and final season of This Is Us, which has yet to reveal an episode count, will premiere in 2022.
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