Warning: This story contains plot details from This Is Us season 4, episode 5, “Storybook Love.”
Last week’s episode of This Is Us left you at the altar — or right after Kevin and Sophie left it — wondering exactly how late-’90s Rebecca will handle the news that Kevin had impulsively wedded high school sweetheart Sophie. Oh, and that he was getting closer to booking a Sunny D commercial. And also that he needed some money. This week’s installment of the time-hopping family drama brought the newlyweds home for a family gathering at Rebecca’s new house.
And so we found the Big Three, sitting next to their significant others, at a meal that was burnt, raw, and, well, awkward. There was Kevin (Logan Shroyer) with new bride and eventual ex-wife Sophie, Randall (Niles Fitch) with new girlfriend and eventual wife Beth (Rachel Hilson), and Kate (Hannah Zeile) with new record-store boyfriend and eventual question mark Marc (Austin Abrams). Miguel (Jon Huertas) also was at the house for support, lifting her spirits (with a there-will-be-better-years-to-come pep talk that involved special Italian grapes) and giving her some spirits (in the form of wine). The meal went sideways, but all ended well when Rebecca (Mandy Moore) embraced the disaster of it all, much like she and Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) did in the late ’70s when a bird flew into their home on their first night in their new home and upended a scorched lasagna.
In the present day, Kevin (Justin Hartley) continued to insert himself into the lives of two troubled vets, Nicky (Griffin Dunne) and Cassidy (Jennifer Morrison), while Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) used a bubbly story from William (Ron Cephas Jones) to help settle the anxiety that Tess (Eris Baker) was feeling, but also-anxious Randall (Sterling K. Brown) was less receptive to his wife’s further concern. And speaking of concern, viewers were left with a heaping of worry after Kate (Chrissy Metz) discovered some old Polaroids in the family’s old piano that she had just received as a baby gift. She showed them to Rebecca, and they gravitated toward one of Kate with Marc that was taken the night of that family dinner. “I was trying so hard to hold it together that year after your father died,” Rebecca told her daughter in the final moments of the episode. “And I wanted to believe so badly that you kids were happy, I didn’t see what was happening.”
Responded Kate: “I didn’t see it either.”
Let’s cut ourselves a big piece of ice cream, top it off with hot sauce, pull ourselves together, get our whiny little asses in our seats, and enjoy this damn interview with This Is Us exec producers Elizabeth Berger and Isaac Aptaker, who tackle a bunch of questions that probably only can be answered by wine.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: The episode ends with a bit of unsettling mystery, on a exchange between Rebecca and Kate that radiates with question marks. How concerned should fans be that something ominous happened in that era with Marc?
ISAAC APTAKER: Fans should have a healthy amount of concern. I mean, there’s something ominous looming there, the way that Rebecca and Kate are speaking about that relationship in present day. And although he seems like a sweet guy now, it certainly seems like that did not end well for Kate.
How important is the fact that he was older than her? Were Kevin’s instincts right?
APTAKER: He is older than her, but it’s not like there’s a crazy age gap there. It’s a few years. I think Kate’s at a incredibly sensitive, potentially vulnerable time in her life, a little bit aimless, searching for meaning and searching for our plan in the wake of her father’s death. And she meets this guy at a time when she’s incredibly impressionable, and we’ll just have to see what happens there.
Mark just showed up at the house without being invited. How telling will that prove to be?
ELIZABETH BERGER: That will definitely prove to be symbolic of Marc’s larger personality. He’s obviously somebody that goes for what he wants and feels entitled to show up to a place even when he’s not invited. And we do feel like that is a little bit of a tell for where we’re going and what this guy is all about.
APTAKER: And I think we’ll say Austin Abrams — who we were all huge fans of from Euphoria, which remains our writers’ room obsession — just gives the character such layers. There is a little bit of a darkness and a creepiness to this character, even though he hasn’t actually done anything. But there’s also this this sweetness and this charm, so you totally understand why Kate is enamored with this guy. And I think he’s just threading that needle so, so well.
There are three Big Three couples at the dinner table. We know Randall and Beth make it, and that Kevin and Sophie have a great, on-and-off romance, but it doesn’t last. How formative of a relationship does this wind up being for Kate?
BERGER: Obviously it’s very different than the others, but I think those first teenage loves tend to make very lasting impressions. And it’s that age where you’re 18 and these relationships make a big imprint, and they do set the stage for romances going forward. So it’s safe to say that it was a very formative relationship.
Is he the guy who changed things for her in certain ways?
APTAKER: I think in some ways he really changed the course of her life.
BERGER: Yes and no. I would say because also her father’s death changed everything for her. I think it’s a piece of a very complicated puzzle. But yes, I do think that first boyfriends and first loves make a lasting impression, and it’s not always the best impression. And in this case, it certainly had a lifelong impact.
Kate has had issues with food and weight. When we’re talking about this time period for her — and that conversation with her mother — does this also tie into what happened with Marc?
APTAKER: Yeah. It’s like Elizabeth said, this is a time of her life where she’s just in such flux and spiraling, and there are so many factors contributing to what ultimately is it pretty substantial weight gain that we know comes from her.
This family is still recovering from Jack’s death. Are all three of them trying to some extent to put a Band-Aid on a gaping wound from the tragedy of Jack’s death in these relationships at this stage of their life?
APTAKER: Yeah, I think so. Even though it’s been nine months, their heads are still spinning with how to deal with this. And one of the little moments and story lines I love so much in this episode is we see that young Beth, who had a similar tragic loss at a similar time, is in a very, very different place. And she’s able to speak about her father and memories of him and things that he loved in this really honest, candid, open and healthy way. And we see that she’s come to terms with her loss in a way that the Pearsons in many ways haven’t yet. But that really lands on Rebecca and makes an impression on her. It’s just a really lovely moment that looks at the different ways people grieve and remember lost relatives.
BERGER: I think it’s safe to say that had Jack not died, Kevin and Sophie probably wouldn’t have just gotten married so quickly. It feels like to us a very reactionary move of someone who is desperate to move past this tremendous grief and move forward.
There’s an intriguing, perhaps even romantically tense moment between Rebecca and Miguel after he makes that lovely grapes speech about how there will be better years. We know she’s focused on starting a new chapter. Was this maybe the beginning of a spark between them, whether they even subconsciously realize it or not?
APTAKER: Subconscious is a good word.
BERGER: Yeah. I don’t know if it was the beginning of a spark, but I would say that it’s definitely Rebecca seeing Miguel in a new light, and sort of appreciating a depth to him that I don’t know she’d noticed before. It’s really interesting we’re seeing Miguel speak in a way in this episode that we’ve never really seen him speak to Jack because that’s just not the way these two men communicated with each other. So I think we’re getting to see a different side of him as she’s getting to see a different side of him, and he’s just coming into focus perhaps as a fuller human being outside of being Jack’s best friend.
APTAKER: In a season-long way. We’ve now seen how he met Jack and that he really stepped up in this small but impactful way by loaning him that sport coat early on in the season. Then he had that great hero moment where he saved Jack from getting fired. We’re really showcasing all of the little ways that he’s had this tremendously positive impact on this family over many decades — and will continue to do that this year.
What do you call it in the writers’ room: Operation Miguel Image Rehab?
APTAKER: We’ve hired the Olivia Pope character from Scandal to come do a total image makeover on him. It’s a real long con. [Laughs]
Kate is annoyed that Miguel is at the house all the time. Will you show more how she feels that he’s inserting himself into the family and trying to replace Jack in a way that maybe crosses the line for her?
APTAKER: Yeah. The kids are all going to have varying degrees of “Enough, already!” reactions to how much Miguel is there helping Rebecca. Except probably Randall — who sees her as someone who needs as many resources as she can get — is a little bit more grateful and has a bit of a less antagonistic reaction to Miguel. But Kate and Kevin certainly have their hackles up.
Is it possible that the friendship between Rebecca and Miguel starts to turn romantic sooner than later, which maybe feels premature and leads to a period of estrangement? How far are we from getting those answers and the cause of their disconnection?
BERGER: It’s possible. As we know, they don’t get together officially for many years. And obviously this is a very sensitive time for everyone in the family and as you just discussed, the kids are having strong reactions, so we’ll be playing some of that out over the rest of the season.
Beth makes a wonderful speech about the carbonated bubbles to Tess and Randall about managing anxiety. He’s very receptive to it, vis a vis his daughter, but when Beth tallies up the warning signs for Randall with his own anxiety — the increasingly long runs, the long hours worked, the nervous knee — he shuts her down. Will Beth be needing to take stronger methods of intervention sooner than later? Are we moving dangerously close to another crisis for Randall?
APTAKER: It shines such an interesting light on a part of Randall’s character, because he is someone who is so in touch with his feelings and so aware of what’s going on with everyone around him and attuned to them. But at the same time, he has this big blind spot for himself. He’s self-medicated, self-regulated, self-soothed in this very particular way for quite a long time. And for the most part it’s worked — [barring] these extreme instances of complete collapse and needing to be hospitalized. And I think Beth is shining a light on, “Hey, it is 2019. We have resources. We have awareness about anxiety disorders, about mental health issues, and ways to treat them professionally. Perhaps that’s a path you should consider for yourself.” And Randall is just not willing to hear it. He has such a blind spot when it comes to his own mental well-being — even when he’s the first to say, “I think we should put our daughter in therapy for incredibly similar issues.”
Kevin continues to try to solve significant issues in the lives of Nicky and Cassidy. After Kevin confronts Ryan [Nick Wechsler], Ryan tells him to stay the hell away from his wife, and in one of the episode’s best moments, Kevin simply smiles and then tells Cassidy, “He still likes you.” Both parties seems to wish they could fix what is broken in their relationship, but feel it is unfixable, much like Rebecca wonders about how the family could ever repair itself after losing Jack. How do Cassidy and Ryan repair something so broken — and is Kevin an asset and liability in that journey?
BERGER: He is definitely an unusual wingman for a woman trying to reunite with her husband. [Laughs] I don’t think most husbands are hoping that their wives will find their way back to them with the help of a famous handsome movie star. But yeah, it’s one of those cases where you can see that both Ryan and Cassidy love each other tremendously, but there’s been a terribly sad breakdown of communication and an ability to meet each other in the middle. So we’re just going to be playing out whether or not it’s possible for these two to find their way back to each other or whether or not they’re simply too broken at least as a romantic relationship.
Kevin made a major breakthrough with Nicky, getting him to open up about his childhood and talk about sliced ice cream. This was also Nicky at his most likable. You recently hinted that we’ll see one of the best days of his life soon. Will we see start to see more of that side of older Nicky — the part of him that’s not broken?
APTAKER: Yes. We’re seeing it’s a slow process. It’s inches, not feet or miles, but we are slowly softening him up and he’s warming up to Kevin. It’s funny, because Griffin is the most charming, debonair man about town, and he could not be more different from this very gruff, woodsy, reserved, reclusive guy. So whenever we can show those cracks and let Griffins true colors out, it’s just really appealing.
The big question coming into this episode was seeing the ramifications of Kevin revealing that he married Sophie. Rebecca was none too pleased and was upset that she only had a few pictures from their wedding. By at the end of the episode, she was more in a place of it-is-what-it-is acceptance. That said, are we about to deal with more aftershocks of this impulsive decision for them getting married?
APTAKER: Not in the immediate coming episodes, because we’re moving away from this timeline for a bit that we’ve been in now for back-to-back weeks. We have so many different decades of this show that we have to service and give attention to. But yes, deeper in the season, we will certainly be getting back to what it looks like to be 18 and unemployed and married in New York.
Any hints about his Sunny D commercial audition? Is that gonna pan out?
APTAKER: I don’t think those residuals on the Sunny D commercial are enough to pay for a Manhattan apartment, even in ‘98.
This was Milo’s first time directing an episode. How did he do with managing that bird? Because that seems like a high-wire act for a first-time director.
APTAKER: I know! I was like, “Milo, how are you going to direct the scenes that you’re in, because I don’t even understand how that works!” He was so, so prepared. He storyboarded out that whole sequence with the bird. It was mostly a real bird — a couple of visual effects. He met with the bird people, planned out every shot, figured out how he was going to do it in a way that didn’t freak out the bird. I mean, he was like wildly, wildly thorough. You’d have no idea that it was first time doing it. He designed the logo for that Bradford hockey team by hand. He was a real Renaissance man when it came to directing this thing.
BERGER: It was one of the easiest jobs we’ve ever had once we got to the edit bay, because he had thought it out so carefully — and he knows the show just inside and out as well as anyone in the world.
What happens next week when we return to the country club and go golfing?
BERGER: Ooh, it’s a really exciting one. Jack and Rebecca’s father have not gotten off on the best foot, and this is a chance for Jack to try and turn it around. But obviously he could not be more of a fish out of water in Dave Malone’s world, amongst his country club friends. So things take a very interesting turn on the golf course.