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This Is Us has always played with time, flashing back to characters’ pasts to show how childhood experiences have shaped their adult lives, and flashing forward to show how present-day events will affect their futures. As the NBC series has gone on, those timelines have become even more layered with important characters and events. It’s flashed back to patriarch Jack Pearson’s (Milo Ventimiglia) childhood and his young adulthood in Vietnam, matriarch Rebecca’s (Mandy Moore) younger years and her experiences meeting her husband, the early years of their marriage, the birth of their kids Kevin (Justin Hartley), Kate (Chrissy Metz) and Randall (Sterling K. Brown), and the Big Three’s elementary, high school and young adult years. It’s flashed forward a few months to the trio’s 40th birthday, about a decade or so to Rebecca’s deathbed and even further to the birth of Kate’s first grandchild.
The drama has been renewed for two more seasons, which creator Dan Fogelman has said should conclude the Pearson family’s story. And since the series is in now in its back half, it makes sense that the story is more forward-looking than it was at the beginning.
Each of the flash-forward scenes has introduced new information while strategically leaving certain vital facts out — meaning there are plenty of questions for This Is Us to answer as the story heads toward its conclusion. Below are six of the most important questions that the upcoming fifth season needs to address.
1. How long will Kevin and Randall’s rift last?
Thanks to a flash-forward in the season four midseason finale, viewers knew heading into the finale that Kevin and Randall weren’t speaking to each other at the time of their 40th birthday. But it wasn’t until the season ender that they discovered how and why that rift came to be — they disagreed about whether their mother should participate in an eight-month-long Alzheimer’s research program in St. Louis, and had a brutal fight where each said incredibly hurtful things about the other (Randall, that Jack was disappointed in Kevin when he died, and Kevin, that he wishes the family had never adopted Randall). Each season traditionally begins in relatively real time with the Big Three’s fall birthday, and in 2020 they’re celebrating the big 4-0. The brothers will still be feuding then, but the flash-forward in the finale indicated that it’s not permanent. Still, the things they said to each other were more than harsh, so it’s clearly a wound for both that will take a lot of time to heal. Hopefully, the fifth season will see the brothers move toward forgiveness.
2. Are Kate and Toby (Chris Sullivan) married in the future?
The fourth season featured the married couple dealing with the biggest challenges of their short marriage: Not only was the impact having a newborn with a special needs diagnosis — baby Jack is blind — much more difficult than they expected, they also coped in different ways (namely, Toby got super into Crossfit as he processed what that actually meant for Jack’s future). It put immense strain on their marriage, but by the end of the season they’d decided to adopt another child — who was introduced in a flash-forward as Hailey (Adelaide Kane), who rushed to the bedside of her brother Jack’s (Blake Stadnik) wife for the birth of their first child. Still, Toby is not wearing his wedding ring in the future and Kate is nowhere to be seen (yet). While they could have patched up their relationship for the time being, there is no guarantee that will stick. Either way, the fifth season should see the couple getting involved in the adoption process.
3. Who is Kevin’s pregnant fiancee? And is she the same person he’s married to in the future?
The first question will be answered early in the fourth season, since the expectant mom in question is present with Kevin, Kate and Rebecca at the cabin for their birthday celebration. An extremely likely candidate is Madison (Caitlin Thompson), who discovered that she’s pregnant with twins after her one-night stand with Kevin. But Fogelman promised “many more chapters in Kevin’s romantic story,” which means whatever Kevin’s romantic situation is on his 40th will not necessarily be the same in the future, when his twins would be about 10 or so. “Kevin has a journey ahead of him,” Fogelman teased, adding that he’s already broken the story for the first five episodes of the fifth season, along with the big picture plan for seasons five and six, which is when the series is currently set to end. Another note: Jennifer Morrison signed on as a series regular before the fourth season began, so her character, Cassidy, could potentially not be done yet. And Kevin’s ex-wife/first love Sophie (Alexandra Breckenridge) seems to never fully be out of the picture, so they shouldn’t be counted out quite yet.
4. Who’s Nicky’s spouse?
The season four finale showed Nicky (Griffin Dunne) with a shiny wedding ring, but so far there have been no romantic storylines for the character. He already has chemistry with Cassidy, so that’s certainly an option (and the series hasn’t really tackled a May-December relationship yet). Another theory is that he’s married to Rebecca, which would require Rebecca and Miguel (Jon Huertas) to split and Rebecca to marry her late husband’s estranged younger brother — while in the throes of a disease that severely affects her memory. There are also two whole seasons left for Nicky to meet someone new.
5. What will the timeline look like in the final two seasons?
While the series has always played with time, flashing back to various points in the Big Three’s childhood and as early as Jack and Rebecca’s childhoods, plus forward to Rebecca’s deathbed, the story seems to be taking a more forward-looking tack as it heads toward its conclusion. There will always be flashbacks ingrained in the DNA of the series, Fogelman said: “We’ve parsed out the shape enough that we will never run out of the past flashbacks that inform the present. Milo will always be in the show, Young Rebecca and younger versions of the kids will always be in the — but as it heads toward the story’s conclusion, the plan is to kind of tilt into different timelines that go past our present day a little bit more as we move forward.”
So while there will likely be more far-future storylines with the grown-up version of Jack (plus Hailey and potential glimpses at what Randall and Beth’s kids are up to), there will also be more quick skips to the near future, like the midseason glimpse at the trio’s 40th birthday. “More of that is coming, and not just in that deep, deep future where Jack Jr. lives,” Fogelman promised.
6. Is This Is Us really going to end after season six?
Fogelman and NBC have been careful not to announce the series’ official ending, just that season six is “when the Pearson story will basically come to a close,” per the creator. And since everything about this show is deliberately plotted, that cautious wording seems telling that there could be more to another family’s story — like in a spinoff. With the world of This Is Us expanding every week, there’s no shortage of characters Fogelman and the writers could choose from for a new multi-generational family drama.
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