[This story contains spoilers from Tuesday’s season two finale of NBC’s This Is Us.]
This Is Us wrapped its second season with a celebratory finale Tuesday.
After much of the sophomore run focused on the mystery surrounding the death of Pearson patriarch Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) and its lasting effects on the family, the final hour saw the Pearsons gather for a happier occasion: Kate’s (Chrissy Metz) wedding to Toby (Chris Sullivan) at the family cabin.
The couple did, indeed, tie the knot — and the Pearsons all seemed to finally move on from Jack’s death (which, by the way, happened two decades prior). In fact, in his wedding speech, Kevin (Justin Hartley) encouraged everyone to exhale and release the breath they’d collectively been holding since the house fire claimed the life of their beloved father. (It was a scene intended as much for the Pearsons as it was for viewers.) Kate had a healing moment of her own in the woods that where she spent time with her dad. The episode illustrated the Pearsons (finally) beginning to focus on other aspects of Kate’s life.
That new direction should come in handy for Kate as a short flash-forward toward the end of the hour found the character caring for a bed-bound Toby who had fallen into a deep depression. Kevin was seen cuddling with his new love, Beth’s (Susan Kelechi Watson) cousin Zoe (Dark Matter star Melanie Liburd) — on a plane bound for Vietnam while gazing at a photo of his father in Vietnam during the war.
Randall’s (Sterling K. Brown) flash-forward took the third Pearson sibling further into the future, back to the time period with his grown daughter. “It’s time to go see her, Tess,” the gray-haired Randall told his eldest. “I’m not ready,” she responded. “Me neither,” he told her.
Who is “her”? What do all the flash-forwards mean for the previously announced third season? This Is Us co-showrunner Elizabeth Berger — who co-wrote Tuesday’s finale, spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about those events and more. Below, she responds to the episode’s key moments — including Toby’s parents (played by Wendie Malick and Dan Lauria), Deja’s (Lyric Ross) struggle to assimilate into Randall and Beth’s household, and what the flash-forwards mean for the series.
Kate and Toby Say “I Do”
While Berger and co-writer and co-showrunner Isaac Aptaker had spoken cryptically of the wedding — as if there was a possibility it might not happen — Berger says there was never any doubt the couple would tie the knot. “Over the course of the last two seasons we’ve seen Kate and Toby go through so much that we really felt like, at least this chapter, these two deserved a happy ending. They’ve really gone through hell together and back, so we wanted to give them this beautiful day.”
And that happily ever after came despite the intervention of Toby’s parents, who worried Kate needed too much from him as they warned the couple not to go through with the wedding. “Obviously they’re very protective of their son and they’ve seen him go through romantic heartaches, first in his first relationship, and then with Kate. We were thinking that if you were watching his relationship from afar, it might raise some flags. We see them as totally great, concerned parents who just don’t know the inner workings of his relationship, and then butted in when it wasn’t really necessary,” she says.
Plus, they might not know much about the intricacies of Toby’s depression, either, she notes. “I think they’re just overprotective, loving parents, but they don’t necessarily have their pulse on exactly how Toby’s mental health actually works.”
Speaking of Toby’s parents, Malick and Lauria had both worked with showrunner and creator Dan Fogelman before (on Fox’s one-season baseball drama Pitch), so their casting came together easily, Berger says, and they could definitely be back in the future. “Whenever the next natural time is for them to be involved in a story, we’d love to utilize them.”
What’s With Old Jack?
While Ventimiglia’s Jack was at Kate’s wedding in spirit, the writers made sure he was physically there, too. An older version of Jack appeared in Kate’s pre-wedding dream, which saw her parents renewing their vows to honor their 40th anniversary. It was the first time Ventimiglia worked with TV daughter Chrissy Metz, and was a way to include the key castmember in the celebration as well.
“We wanted to include Jack on this very special day in whatever way we could, in whatever way felt organic, and it did feel to us like Kate would be thinking about her father nonstop just because they had such an incredible bond and because weddings tend to bring all this emotional stuff to the surface,” Berger says. “Once we came up with the idea of her having these dreams about him, it just all fell into place after that, when we had the idea about the vow renewal service. That felt like such a cool way to see Jack with everyone, because we never get to see him with the adult kids and we never get to see him with older Rebecca. It felt to us like a really beautiful and organic way to include him in a day that he couldn’t actually be a part of.”
Moving on From Jack’s Death
Kate went on a last-minute wedding-day adventure trying to figure out how to honor her father with her “something borrowed.” That culminated with her seemingly finally moving on from his death in a quiet moment in the woods near the cabin where the family used to vacation. Later in the episode, Kevin implored his family to finally let go of the pent-up emotion surrounding the death as well. Berger confirmed that those moments do serve as the beginning of a new focus for Kate and her brothers.
“Kate has gone through a real grieving process over these last two seasons. This season culminated with a real letting go and not that she’ll forget about him and that he won’t always be with her; but there’s been a certain amount of guilt within her for moving toward happiness because it feels like letting go of him,” she says. “At the end of the season, she was finally able to accept that there’s nothing her dad would want more for her than for her to be happy and for her to move on, and to have a beautiful life with Toby. We’re going to see a much healthier, happier Kate moving on into season three.”
As for Kevin’s emotional speech, Berger says the writers always knew that season two would end with that “exhale.” “We knew that this was going to be an extremely emotional and sad season at times, as we’d be covering the actual death. We knew that for this family that we love so much we wanted there to be some relief at the end of it. Kevin’s toast is actually one of the very first things we talked about on day one of season two, and it was really lovely to finally get there and feel like, ‘Oh, we actually earned this ending that we discussed all those months ago.’ It just felt really right that we end that chapter and move into a new one.”
Back to the Future
Aptaker previously told THR that season three will see the present-day storyline jump forward just a few months, to the Big Three around the time of their 38th birthday. (Season one began with their 36th and season two with their 37th.) But audiences don’t have to wait until the fall to see what the siblings will be up to. A brief fast-forward in Tuesday’s finale revealed Kate attending to her new husband, who has fallen into a deep depression, and Kevin flying to Vietnam with his new girlfriend Zoe.
“I think we’ve seen Kate and Toby weather a lot. Toby has often had to be the strong and supportive one. This is a situation where Kate may have to take the lead on that front,” Berger says. “I think she is now really emotionally prepared to be that person for him. We’ll see some of that moving forward.”
As for Kevin and his new girlfriend, she’ll be sticking around for a while. “Beth and Kevin have this fun dynamic between each other, and we just felt like Kevin dating Beth’s cousin would bring up so much more fun stuff for everyone to play,” Berger says. And their visit to Vietnam will bring up a new part of Jack’s past, too. “So much of season two was about Jack’s death and the details of how he died and what happened, so we’re excited to now be able to delve into chapters of his life that we haven’t yet explored, and just get to know the man better and get to know things about him that even his kids don’t know yet, and possibly even his wife doesn’t know yet.”
Beth and Randall, meanwhile, will continue to deal with their foster daughter Deja’s continued adjustment to their household — and even Deja’s attack on Randall’s Mercedes with a baseball bat won’t deter them from making their home as welcoming as possible for the girl.
“They always knew going into the foster parent experience that it would not necessarily be the easiest road, and it would be a road that had good times and had bad times. So it will definitely be a challenge, but they are prepared to deal with whatever Deja throws at them,” Berger says.
The New Girl
As for Zoe, the character will be sticking around for season three, which will also introduce more of Beth’s large family (she grew up with her sisters and many other relatives). “We’re looking forward to including Beth and Zoe’s extended family, and throwing them into scenes with Kevin and Randall. It just felt like the possibilities there were really fun and endless,” Berger says.
As for Zoe, played by British actress Melanie Liburd (Syfy’s Dark Matter), she’ll be back on a regular basis in the fall. “When we come back, we’re going to be embarking on a new chapter with them sort of discovering their romance, and their relationship, and figuring out what they are. We can expect to see her for a while,” Berger says. “We were looking for someone that could hold her own with Justin comedically and dramatically. We did chemistry reads and she was so fantastic that we saw the two of them together and we were like, ‘That’s it, that’s Zoe.’ It was just a lot of fun. We didn’t want to let her get out of the room because we just felt like we found our girl, so it was really exciting.”
What About Old Randall?
The episode ended with a flash-forward back to Old Randall (well, 10- or 15-years-older Randall) and adult Tess on their way to lunch and visiting someone neither of them were ready to see. Is that person dead or alive? Is the “her” Beth (in her grave, like some fans fear)? Is it Deja?
“I can’t tell you who the ‘her’ is, but we’ll be definitely following up on it in season three,” Berger teases.
While she won’t confirm the appearance of any other characters in the flash-forwards, she does say the time period will continue to be explored.
“We will be visiting it definitely semi-regularly throughout the season, so [other characters] may appear. It’s all open right now, so you might as well take a few months off not to worry and save your worry for season three.”
What did you think of the season two finale? Sound off in the comments section below.