The return of This Is Us last week proved to be a bold one, as NBC’s hit family drama focused much of its season 4 premiere on a context-free cavalcade of new characters. Toward the end of the episode, the newbies’ connections to the Pearsons were made evident, and now This Is Us executive producer Isaac Aptaker is here to make something else clear: Tuesday’s episode, titled “The Pool: Part Two,” is not only a sequel to a season 1 episode, it’s the This Is Us that you remember.
“I would say this is a return to classic This is Us for us,” he tells EW. “We knew we wanted to take a really big swing with our season premiere and introduce all of these new characters — and in a way, do something reminiscent of the pilot where there was a big twist at the end as to how everything connects. But we also know how much people love the Pearsons and the Big Three in our regular cast. So it was always probably the plan to have the next episode be a real return to form for us. And we’re doing that in a very big way.”
On the final day of summer before the Big Three start 7th grade, Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) and Rebecca (Mandy Moore) take their children back to the Greenview Pool, where complex issues of race, weight, and identity were explored in season 1. “It’s about how our Big Three has grown and changed and matured over the past three seasons,” says Aptaker. “We’re seeing how they’re at these sophisticated new places in their lives.”
Kevin (Parker Bates) — known irritant when it comes to Randall (Lonnie Chavis) — will once again go after his favorite target via Randall’s friends, bringing up familiar thorny issues for his adopted sibling. “We have probably the most complicated story we’ve told between our two 12-year-old kids, where Kevin has an interaction with some of Randall’s friends that really throws his brother for a loop and makes Randall question his own racial identity,” says Aptaker. “It’s told pretty much just with the kids without much from our parents. That’s really exciting for us because it shows how at this age you begin to have this private social and internal life that your parents aren’t privy to. And it’s especially heartbreaking when it’s put up against the younger versions of the kids and we see how grown they are now.”
Kate (Mackenzie Hancsicsak) is no stranger to heartbreak and pain at the pool, when other girls from her school mocked her, and the question is raised whether history will repeat itself. “Kate does not always have the best experiences at the pool,” says Aptaker, “and she’s yet again in for another tricky one with her peer group.”
In the present day, Kate (Chrissy Metz) and Toby (Chris Sullivan) welcome a blind specialist into their new home to help prepare the environs for baby Jack, but there’s a lot of more stuff percolating underneath the surface for the couple. “We kind of dropped a bomb on our audience at the end of [the season premiere] when we revealed that baby Jack has in fact lost most of his vision,” says Aptaker. “We’re going to pick up where we left off there and show how Kate and Toby are grappling with this news and trying to find the silver lining and the hope in this diagnosis.”
Kevin (Justin Hartley) is finishing a big movie — celebrity director cameo alert! — but has a lot on his mind as he figures out how to take care of his newly sober self. “Kevin is in a what’s-next place,” says Aptaker. And Randall (Sterling K. Brown) is in place of transition, too, with the family moving to Philadelphia. In this episode, he tries to capture one last family moment with Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) and the girls before summer expires. And he seems especially overprotective of Deja (Lyric Ross). “He’s not in his fancy pants suburban New Jersey anymore,” says Aptaker. “He’s living in the heart of Philadelphia with his kids. And that’s bringing all kinds of challenges and questions about how long of a leash do you extend as a parent, and what is safe for his daughters to do in this new big city.”
Asked to sum up this episode in an adjective, Aptaker offers: “It’s old-school in the best way. Old-school This Is Us.”
The pool opens Tuesday at 9 p.m., but you can take a peek at the action in the exclusive clip above. To read what This Is Us creator Dan Fogelman revealed about last week’s season premiere, all of the new characters, and that final twist, swim over here.