Was your head spinning at the end of tonight’s This Is Us episode, too? There were so many flashbacks to unpack, including new scenes of Kevin and Kate on the night Jack died and the days (or was it months?) leading up to his passing. And in the process, new clues were dropped throughout the episode; not only did we find out how that scrappy dog became part of the Pearson family, but we might have uncovered a side of Kevin that was never even on our radar.
The good news is that the writers of tonight’s episode—executive producers and co-showrunners Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger—understand your confusion. They may not be able to answer everything we’re dying to know, but they were happy to clarify the episode’s biggest moments and what to look out for as the season unfolds. But be warned: If you haven’t seen tonight’s episode, then proceed with caution.
When Kevin and Stallone are in the middle of filming their movie, Ron Howard says to Kevin, “Remember, [Stallone] is like a father to you and he’s going to die on your watch if you don’t save him.” Was that meant to indicate Kevin feels like he wasn’t able to save Jack?
Elizabeth Berger: I definitely think it’s triggering feelings of Jack; Stallone is an actor Jack loved, so having to do a scene where he’s saving him from death is a big mixture of complicated emotion. It’s not necessarily touching on the specifics of his death, but touching on having lost the father he loved so much.
Later on in the episode, Kevin tells Kate, “I don’t need to walk around and be sad and damaged just like you are.” That was such a powerful line that called back to last week’s exchange of words between Kate and Rebecca. Was there something more to his comments we don’t know about yet?
Isaac Aptaker: That’s one of my favorite lines from the episode. What that line speaks to is last season we saw Kate start to do a lot of work when she went to the weight loss camp and it sort of broke her open and moved her closer to being able to talk about what happened to her dad and the tragedy of her family. Kevin hasn’t done any of that, and that’s kind of him putting on his defense mechanism because he’s scared his sister is making this progress and he’s unable to. He lashes out in the moment, but what’s really going on there for Kevin is he’s a little bit almost jealous of his sister that she’s been able to move on with her life and deal with her feelings.
The last five minutes of tonight’s episode were loaded with flashbacks and clues, starting with the moment we see teenage Kate approach Kevin and Sophie asleep in a car to tell them about Jack’s death. Then we see another flashback of Kevin being in the hospital with a cast on his leg, and Jack puts a necklace around his son’s neck. What was the significance of that necklace?
Isaac: It’s a necklace that we will reveal the significance of later in the season, but that’s the necklace that Kevin as an adult wears around his neck every day.
Elizabeth: It’s one that we’ve seen Jack wearing throughout the series.
Later in present time, Kevin calls Kate to apologize for his words and says, “Kate, it’s really hard for me with Dad.” This, of course, is the first time we see him verbally acknowledging the pain from Jack’s death. Justin Hartley’s performance was absolutely beautiful, so please tell me we’ll see more to this side of Kevin.
Elizabeth: Justin was absolutely amazing. Kevin has a lot bottled up and moves through life being charming and friendly, but as we saw last season in terms of how much he was there for his siblings, there’s so much more to him than meets the eye. There’s a lot churning beneath the surface. Part of his journey, even within the season, is going to be bringing some of that up and being able to verbalize his feelings on Jack’s death.
When Kate and Kevin get off the phone, Kate looks longingly at Jack’s urn and says, “He’s just like you.” At that moment we see Kevin pulling out some prescription drugs because obviously he’s in pain from his knee injury on the film set. Were you alluding to an addiction problem there? He hesitated at first when taking the pill, which one doesn’t normally do. What should the audience be thinking in that last minute of the episode?
Elizabeth: They should be thinking, I wonder what’s going to happen! [Laughs] There’s a more sort of obvious interpretation in terms of…it’s an episode where Jack has been struggling to verbalize his feelings and speak out loud about everything he’s been going through. And yes, perhaps Kevin might be like him in other ways that we explore.
Last season when Randall’s hands started shaking, my first thought was, “I hope he doesn’t have Parkinson’s or a neurological disorder.” Surprisingly—and refreshingly—it wasn’t that at all. That’s why I ask, am I reading too much into this? Or could Kevin really have a problem with addiction?
Elizabeth: We are glad you are wondering because, yeah, you’re gonna have to stay tuned.
Isaac: It’s open to interpretation. With Jack and Kevin last season, in the episode “Jack Pearson’s Son,” where Kevin [comes to Randall’s aid], it shows all the positive ways Kevin is like his father, and how he is there for his brother and a support system for Kate. Then this year, in this episode, we’re looking at the less than exemplary ways that Kevin is like Jack with the withholding of feelings. So yeah, whether or not that also encompasses addiction is something that we’ll have to wait and see.
Let’s move on to Jack and Rebecca. He tells her he feels like he’s holding on by a thread. Obviously he’s referring to his alcoholism, but was that statement made to foreshadow his death?
Elizabeth: That line in the moment speaks truly more to his emotional state. I don’t think there’s anything too hidden in that.
Meanwhile, it was interesting to see Rebecca and Miguel’s ex-wife, Shelly, together since it adds a whole other layer to how Rebecca and Miguel became a couple. Have we established whether Shelly is alive in the present day?
Isaac: We have not. We’ve said nothing about Shelly’s whereabouts in the present day.
Is that a story we are going to see explored this season? The fact that Rebecca is talking about her sex life with Jack to Shelly would make me think things are going to get awfully complicated down the line with Miguel. What can you speak to about that?
Isaac: There’s definitely something that will come up at some point. We’ve told the audience and shown that Rebecca and Shelly were best friends for a big part of their adult lives, so certainly once Rebecca does get with Miguel, whenever that is, the Shelly side of the equation is something that will need to be dealt with.
Elizabeth: We are going to delve a little bit more into Miguel and Rebecca’s relationship this season because there’s a lot to be explored there. We will get a better sense of what happened there.
It was so sweet to see Jack with this stray dog at the end, but obviously heartbreaking because we know Kate was holding this same dog closely on the night Jack died. What can you tease coming up?
Elizabeth: I don’t know how much we can tease, but we definitely are going to give some really big answers this season, as [creator] Dan Fogelman has promised. We hope that people consistently feel like they are receiving satisfying information.
Isaac: It’s the question on everyone’s mind, and we’re going to tell the story exactly as we’ve always intended to, which we think will play out in a very satisfying way.
Just tell me we will get a lot of future scenes with Milo and this stray dog.
Elizabeth: There will be definitely some of that. [Laughs]
Isaac: I feel like that should be a calendar. We should sell that at the NBC store: Milo and this dog. Or maybe there’s a spin-off we should create. There’s no dialogue, just Milo playing with a dog for a half hour.