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[This story contains spoilers from Tuesday’s This Is Us.]
If the season three premiere of This Is Us expanded on the brief flash-forwards from the season two finale, then Tuesday’s second episode actually introduced some of the themes that the third season of the NBC drama will cover.
For Kate (Chrissy Metz), it’s trying to conceive a child via IVF (and Toby’s gradual descent into depression after secretly going off his antidepressants). For Randall (Sterling K. Brown), it’s trying to live up to the legacies of both of his dead fathers. For Kevin (Justin Hartley), it’s putting the pieces of his life together after rehab and entering a new stage of his career. And for Rebecca (Mandy Moore), it’s learning more about her life both before and after Jack (Milo Ventimiglia), who wasn’t in the episode.
Co-showrunner Elizabeth Berger tells The Hollywood Reporter that while the third episode will focus on Rebecca’s pre-Jack days (and the mysterious man on her doorstep from the premiere), the second episode revisited the period immediately after Jack’s death when Rebecca struggled with both her own grief and the grief of her children.
“Last season we saw her swear to her kids that everything was going to be OK and that she’s going to take care of everything, but the reality of losing your soulmate and the love of your life obviously is different than what you think that you can promise,” co-showrunner Berger says. “We’re really feeling her losing her partner and what that’s like and how shocking and devastating it is every moment of the day.”
The trauma of that time directly relates to the present-day story with Kate, and the reaction Rebecca had when she found out that Kate would have to undergo a potentially dangerous surgery.
Says Berger, “On one hand, you want your child to have everything they dream of and on the other hand, you also don’t want anything bad to happen to them. [Rebecca] is stuck in that place of, ‘Oh my God, how do I support this thing that could ultimately be so dangerous for her?’ And ultimately she decides, ‘I’ve expressed my opinion and now I have to get behind her even if it terrifies me.'”
It’s especially important for Rebecca to support Kate after they finally got to a good place in their relationship after the wedding — and that’s part of the reason why Kate was hesitant to tell her mother about her decision.
“Kate knows that her mom’s going to sort of mom out over this and worry about all the worst-case scenarios and she doesn’t want to upset this very good thing they have going,” says co-showrunner Isaac Aptaker. “And then of course Rebecca does find out and Kate’s worst fear is what happens and they get in that big fight, but I think it then does get to a really beautiful place where Rebecca ultimately decides she’s going to support Kate even though she might not necessarily agree with this choice or might have some serious reservations about it.”
Toby’s (Chris Sullivan) reaction to Rebecca’s concern, on the other hand, was not nearly as understanding. While the audience knows it’s a result of him going off his meds, Kate can sense that something might be wrong.
“I think she’s definitely starting to pick up on it,” says Aptaker. “I don’t think she’s going to the place of, ‘Oh, you flushed your antidepressants down the toilet,’ because that’s a big leap, but I think in small ways she’s starting to notice that he’s a little off.”
In the coming episodes, Toby’s behavior will continue to change — giving Sullivan plenty of material to work with.
“We’re getting to see Sully as an actor do things that we haven’t gotten to see him do and he’s so incredible and he rises to the occasion so brilliantly that we were all in the edit bay going, ‘Ooh, we’ve never seen that color on him,'” says Berger. “That’s really fun.”
The end of the episode saw the Pearson clan settle in the theater at the premiere of Kevin’s new prestige movie, and next week the series will pick up after the screening. Kevin’s storyline going forward will focus on his new relationship with Beth’s cousin Zoe (Melanie Liburd) — whom Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) described as a man-eater when confronting Kevin about their relationship.
“That’s the bigger-picture story for the season, what was Beth referring to? We will answer all those questions,” says Aptaker. “I’ll remind people that we learned last year at Kate’s wedding that Zoe was taken in by Beth’s family because for whatever reason her biological parents weren’t able to raise her after a certain point. So I think that that hints at some type of darkness or something that we will be exploring throughout the year.”
Adds Berger, “and as to how they end up in Vietnam together, obviously Kevin is in a war movie that is about to premiere and I think playing a soldier and thinking about his dad’s past is going to all be stirring inside of him and may have an impact in terms of what he’s thinking about and what direction his story goes in.”
And Randall’s path will have a direct relation to the dilemma he articulated toward the end of the episode — he’s the living legacy of not one but two dead fathers, both men with reputations he’s trying to live up to. The rundown community center near William’s apartment building that Randall wants to improve is a key to that. “Randall is not someone who can leave things alone once he realizes that things aren’t running the way he thinks that they should be, and I don’t think he’s going to rest until at the very least that rec center is taken care of,” Berger says. And there’s potential for more community leadership (or perhaps even a career shift to politics?) in the future. “It’s safe to say that he obviously has his eye on this community and he wants to make sure that these people are being taken care of.”
Additionally, the offhand comment that Kevin told Randall that Kate made — that she was the only Pearson who would pass on a piece of their father — clearly affected Randall in a way that he’ll address going forward.
“The very notion that he wouldn’t pass on a piece of Jack hurts his feelings in a way that he wouldn’t have even necessarily thought it would hurt his feelings, but once he hears it out loud, it just really doesn’t sit right with him,” says Berger. “So knowing Randall, he will have something to say about it.”
This Is Us airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on NBC.
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