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[This story contains spoilers from the season three premiere of NBC’s This Is Us.]
The premiere of This Is Us‘ third season raised many of the same questions the show’s second season finale did: namely, what’s happening in the newly revealed far-future timeline, and how do the Pearson siblings’ lives eventually merge with the near-future scenes at the end of the finale?
Tuesday’s premiere served to refresh viewers’ memories about those scenes and provide a bit more context to what the series will explore in season three. For patriarch Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) and matriarch Rebecca (Mandy Moore), it’s the early days of their courtship in the 1970s and Jack’s time in Vietnam before that (plus the traumatic death of his brother in the war). For Randall (Sterling K. Brown), it’s his and Beth’s (Susan Kelechi Watson) decision to adopt their foster daughter, Deja (new series regular Lyric Ross). For Kevin, it’s his new relationship with Beth’s cousin Zoe (Melanie Liburd, now a series regular as well). For Kate (Chrissy Metz), it’s her relationship ups and downs with new husband Toby (Chris Sullivan), who decides to take himself off his antidepressants.
The episode did introduce one new element to the season’s big mystery: the “her” future Randall mentioned to his now-adult daughter Tess in the finale flash-forward. The premiere added more to that scene: a phone call between Randall and Toby, who is not with Kate. While viewers spent the summer speculating that “her” could be referring to Beth, the new revelation will certainly serve to shift suspicion to Kate instead. Creator Dan Fogelman and his stars revealed a bit more information about what to expect from the season during a panel following a screening of the episode in Hollywood, and the actors and co-showrunners Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger spoke with The Hollywood Reporter after the Q&A to shed more light on what’s to come.
1. The “Her” Mystery
While the first and second seasons built up to Jack’s death, the third will definitely hint toward what’s happening in the flash-forward scenes. “In the course of the season you’ll get a lot of answers,” Fogelman told the crowd, like, “How did we get from the past to the present and how do we get from the present to the future? … We’re not going to string it out over seven seasons or anything like that.”
Berger told THR that the plan for the premiere was to show the audience immediately that the mystery about the identity of “her” will be central to the season. “Our plan this season really is to reveal a bunch of the missing information about the ‘her’ mystery that is circling.”
2. More Future Action
While the Randall-Tess scene will be at the center of most of the flash-forwards, there will be more storylines set in the future in later episodes (or seasons). “We’ll be primarily revisiting that Randall-Tess journey because we’re going to start small and then get bigger with the future,” Aptaker told THR, “but as we go on in the show, all bets are off in terms of how much we live there — and how much our actors are willing to put up with prosthetics, I guess. Sterling hates his because Sterling maintains that Randall would be in much better shape when he’s that age. He’s correct. Randall’s a pretty big health nut, so he doesn’t believe he’d be that jowly.”
3. More Big Reveals
The NBC series will certainly build toward a surprising reveal in the future, but the present-day and past storylines will comprise a large part of the season.
“We have our looming future line, obviously, and we want to parse out answers as we go, but we’re really excited and confident about our present-day storylines and we think they’re compelling enough,” Berger told THR. “Then, of course, we’re going back in time to Vietnam, and we’re gonna be spending more time in the ’70s, so we’re also gonna be parsing out information in these new past timelines.”
Added Aptaker: “This season is so much about Jack’s origin story and how he became this father and husband that we all fell in love with, so there’s a really big mystery to what created this man that we’re going to be exploring.”
4. Structural Experimentation
Berger and Aptaker have both pointed to season two’s three-part story (which followed the same day for each of the Big Three) as a way they successfully experimented with the format of the show, and they told THR that the way the audience responded so positively made them realize they can take more risks.
“This year all bets are off when it comes to format. You know, a typical episode of the show is like, three adult stories and one past story, but we’ve kind of thrown that all out the window once we realized people are on this journey with us,” Aptaker said. “Now, the crazier the better. Whenever our writers are coming in we’re like, ‘Guys, just pitch us the weirdest thing you’ve ever heard.’ We have a dream sequence coming up that’s pretty trippy that I can’t say anything about, but it’s really cool. You’ll know it’s a dream, but it’s very cool.”
As far as what’s coming up, episode two will revisit the era immediately following Jack’s death and a new era in William’s life (marking the return of Emmy winner Ron Cephas Jones and, Berger and Aptaker teased, a brand new guest star). Episode three will revisit the beginning of Jack and Rebecca’s relationship. The fourth episode visits more timelines in any single hour than the show has ever done before, Berger and Aptaker told THR, and the fifth episode will expand Toby’s world.
This Is Us films primarily in Los Angeles, but has filmed scenes in other U.S. cities before — notably the “Memphis” episode, which Brown and Cephas Jones filmed on location in Tennessee. This year, the production is headed to Vietnam to shoot scenes involving Kevin’s present-day visit and Ventimiglia’s time there during the war. Fogelman said on the panel that Ventimiglia, Hartley and Liburd are going to the country.
“We’re filming three or so episodes,” Aptaker told THR. “We’re going to Ho Chi Minh City for a week in October, and then a couple hours outside the city.”
6. Hunter Parrish, Homewrecker
The past storyline in the premiere focused on Jack and Rebecca’s first date — which started off with sparks flying, but fizzled as the date went on. Still, Rebecca couldn’t deny the chemistry with Jack and left her jacket in the car for him to return the next day. But when she answered the door expecting to see her handsome new suitor, an entirely different mustachioed person with a giant bouquet of flowers was there waiting instead, giving her a big kiss just as Jack drove up.
That mystery suitor, played by Hunter Parrish (who notably also shook up another network hit when his character shot and killed Will Gardner on The Good Wife, paving the way for star Josh Charles’ exit), will play a major role in the third episode of the season, which picks up in the same timeline.
“We’ll pick up right where this one left off and learn: Who was Hunter Parrish? What was that about? I think Hunter was cool and agreed to hold his name from the opening credits because we didn’t want to spoil that it was going to be him,” said Aptaker.
This Is Us airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on NBC.
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