It is safe to say that the season 4 finale of This Is Us did not leave viewers basking in the spirit of brotherly love. It is even safer to say that things got so heated, they trended toward scorched earth.
Randall (Sterling K. Brown) and Kevin (Justin Hartley) took their sibling rivalry to new heights/lows in the last episode of last season, venting decades of pent-up frustrations during a fight about the care for their ailing mother, Rebecca (Mandy Moore). Randall told Kevin that their father, Jack (Milo Ventimiglia), died ashamed of him, while Kevin told his sibling that the worst day of his life was the day that Randall was adopted. Not great, guys! These relationship will not be righted for some time: a previous flash-forward revealed that the brothers celebrated their 40th birthday separately, with sister Kate (Chrissy Metz) joining Kevin at the cabin, where Rebecca was returned home by police escort. So how tense are things in the Pearson household(s) when the Big Three turn 40 in the season 5 premiere?
“Yeah, it's going to be tough,” Brown tells EW. “Things are still not quite settled between these brothers and our poor sister, who tries to be as Switzerland as possible, is just trying to navigate the waters of complication between her two bros. There is a plan, and I don't want to say too much about it in terms of how these brothers reconcile. However long it goes, I don't want to tell the fans. Rest assured, they will find their way back. Just be patient.”
Speaking of patients, what revelations await Randall as/if he continues on a much-needed journey of therapy? “The revelation is being able to share something with an objective eye [that] will give you insight that you would not have had otherwise,” he says. “It's great that you have a relationship with your wife, and you guys can share things with one another. And from time to time, you can talk to your brother, your sister. But sometimes someone from the outside can see things in a way that people who are harder to be objective can't perceive. The idea that he had issues with his mother in terms of what happened with William in the past was something that he couldn't even see. He was just so busy trying to take care of her and protect her what not that he moved past the hurt so that he could just take care of the current responsibility. So you can't really just pass something over without truly dealing with it. There is a healing that has to take place so that the moving forward is truly authentic and not something that is rushed through.”
Randall is always moving forward — like a shark, he just stays in motion — and this season he'll hit the road for a special episode as part of a key season 5 story for him. "So far on this show, which doesn't happen on network [TV] that often, we've gone to Vietnam, we've gone to Philadelphia, we've gone to Memphis, we've gone to Las Vegas, we've gone to Washington, D.C.," he says. "So we'll be adding another city to our repertoire. We will be going somewhere else that will have something to do with Randall's past and him finding healing.”
The entire planet has changed dramatically since the season 4 finale was filmed, and creator Dan Fogelman has revealed that the show will address the pandemic and Black Lives Matter in season 5. Randall — who has been struggling with anxiety — will be coping with both issues; in a trailer for season 5, he is seen with his family watching BLM protests on TV and telling his wife, Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson), "What we're dealing with as a people is just so tragic." “[The writers] are really trying to figure out how to responsibly reflect what's going on in the world and the world of the Pearsons," says Brown, who spoke to EW as part of a 92nd Street Y virtual conversation this summer. "The quarantine and the effect that it has had on the populace at large, and specifically on folks dealing with mental health issues, it's a high anxiety time, right? There's so much uncertainty going on in the world that I think it would be something very interesting for a character like Randall to explore and for other people dealing with mental health issues to experience with him.”
And given that the show has been stories of race, adoption, and interracial adoption over the years, our current national reckoning about race seems logical, rich and even necessary territory to explore. "There are obvious conversations — you'd have to dig your head into the sand like an ostrich if you weren't paying attention," he says. "How interesting and fertile soil it could be to see Randall talking to his brothers and sisters about how life is like for him, vis-a-vis how it is for them. And then finding some sort of common ground. We had a group Zoom, and both Sue and I were commenting on how many white folks reached out to us and were like, “What can we do? How can we help? How can we be of service?' And all the well-meaning is so incredibly received and you also feel overwhelmed at the same time, you’re like, 'Can you just do something? It doesn't necessarily have to be on me to instruct you how to move forward through this particular time?' Racism is a problem for everybody, not just for black folks. So I think that those conversations will inevitably find their way into the show in some shape, form or fashion.”
After a delay of two months and implementation of intense safety protocols, This Is Us finally found way its back in production. (Just over a week ago, the show finished filming the two-hour season 5 premiere.) In case you were wondering, Brown notes that well before production began, there were "interesting conversations" about the use of mannequins in romantic scenes, but no one was "truly excited" about that option, and the show's producers currently have no plans for such measures. "We'll take care of ourselves as best as possible," Brown adds.
Also on the minds of viewers is the future of the show. Not in terms of how long it will run — Fogelman has indicated a six-season plan — but those deep-future flash-forwards at Kevin's house, where the family is gathering under sad circumstances, with Rebecca seemingly on her deathbed. There are more revelations and feelings to come, and "they "run the spectrum of emotions," says Brown. "Folks are coming together and time has passed for a mini-reunion of sorts. It's under not the most comfortable of circumstances. We can see that Rebecca’s health is not the best. But you see that Kevin has his kids, and that's cool. We know that Beth and Randall are together, so that's cool. We have other people who are yet to join us that we shall see in the future. All the things that happen when family gets together, there's some joy, there's some sadness. But there's always just the pleasure of being in the company of people."
So, is it surprising who winds up joining the group — and or who doesn't? “I'll see people have their conjectures about who they think is showing up, who they think is not showing up, what may have happened to people, et cetera, et cetera,” Brown says carefully. “Some people are very much on point. And some people are very much off the mark. That's all I can really say.”
The two-hour season premiere airs Tuesday at 9 p.m. on NBC. Looking for more season 5 intel? This Is Us creator Dan Fogelman dropped all sorts of hints. Chrissy Metz did the same, as did Chris Sullivan. And you might want to hear what Milo Ventimiglia had to say. Susan Kelechi Watson, too. Oh, and Justin Hartley. And don't forget Mandy Moore.