At the start of This Is Us's two-hour season premiere, a pregnant-with-twins Madison says to Kevin that it “feels like this is all happening as the world is falling apart.” Truer words have never been spoken—and with that we kicked off a powerful episode that brilliantly wove in the upheaval of 2020 with the comfort of the Pearson family we know and love.
The episode begins in March: Because of COVID-19, Rebecca's Alzheimer's clinical trial in St. Louis is postponed, so and Miguel decide to ride things out at the Pearson family cabin, unaware this will be their home for at least the next six months. Back in Los Angeles, Kevin tells Kate and Toby that Madison is pregnant with twins, while Beth breaks the news to Randall. The brothers exchange cordial, but formal, texts.
Fast-forward to late May and the news of George Floyd's death: Beth, Randall, and the girls try to cope with their anger and sadness. Later, Randall Zooms with his therapist (Pamela Adlon's Dr. Lee) and talks about food banks being stretched to the limit, furloughs at work, and Beth's dance studio hemorrhaging cash. It's a heavy reminder of the panic and anxiety we all felt earlier in the pandemic—and many still feel to this day.
Meanwhile, Kate and Toby send Randall photos of toddler Jack at a protest they attend in L.A., and Kate asks her brother what charity she should donate to next. The moment foreshadows a compelling scene between the siblings, but more on that in a bit.
First, it's the Big Three's 40th birthday, but Randall wonders if it's even his actual birthday. Was he really born, left at the fire station, and “rescued” by Jack and Rebecca the same day Kate and Kevin were born? It kicks off a story arc in which we see flashbacks of Randall's mother, Laurel, and father, William, as they learn they're expecting a baby, and then the moment Laurel apparently dies after childbirth.
Over at the Pearson family cabin in present day, Rebecca and Miguel are tending to their new garden—small but important detail: Rebecca has poison ivy—but Rebecca is sad Randall won't be celebrating his 40th with them. Kate, Toby, and Jack have flown in (they quarantined first), along with Kevin and Madison. Rebecca is on medication that seems to be working, or at least stalling the advancement of her Alzheimer's for now, but the entire family knows she's on borrowed time.
But after Madison trips over a suitcase, she fears for the health of her babies. Kevin rushes her to a clinic, where the doctor scares everyone by saying she's getting only one heartbeat. In the 20 minutes or so until we find out everything is okay, Kevin proposes. On the way home, Madison says that now that they know both babies are fine, he can take back his marriage proposal. But Kevin's like, “Nope, I meant it and I stick by it.”
Meanwhile, we flash back to the scenes from last year's Thanksgiving episode in which Rebecca has a lapse in memory and gets lost. Given that these scenes are supposed to be in present day, it's weird not to see masks and social distancing (which they would have shown had they filmed the scenes over again). But that would require too much time/money to reshoot those moments, so we'll leave it to the imagination.
Back to 1980, Laurel tells William to give baby Randall a family if she can’t take care of him. He thinks of her words when he later decides to go to the hospital to make sure someone at the fire department took the baby to get care. Once there, Jack—waiting for Rebecca to go into labor—passes William in a chance encounter.
At the start of the second episode, Kate's dumbfounded as to why Kevin would tell the cops that his fiancée has morning sickness. (Remember when we thought his fiancée was someone other than Madison? Turns out it's not. Morning sickness was an easier way of explaining why Madison wasn't feeling well instead of going into what really happened earlier in the day.) But mainly, Kate just can't believe Kevin and Madison are engaged.
Doesn't matter, because Randall has shown up at the cabin to check in on Rebecca. Kevin's afraid Randall is going to blame him for Rebecca's incident, but Randall says it wasn't Kevin's fault. What actually happened was that the medication Rebecca was taking for her poison ivy interfered with her Alzheimer's drugs and caused her to have an episode. Still, it's heartbreaking when Rebecca asks Randall about Beth and the girls' visit (he says they're at home) and then re-asks the question five minutes later. It's the small moments like these that hit so hard for those who have loved ones suffering from a form of dementia.
Meanwhile, Kate tells Kevin the world is on fire and he needs to fix things with Randall. At the same time, Toby and Miguel have a heart-to-heart about taking things one day at a time—both literally and the TV show (Miguel is a fan).
Flash back to 1980: William is crying in the chapel and says he can't take care of his new baby by himself. Just as he leaves, Jack walks in. The two never appear to exchange words, but it's another eerie moment when the men cross paths. Once alone, Jack pleads with God not to take Rebecca or his children from him. Moments later, he calls his own father and wants to know what he used to pray for when he took him and Nicky to church. Jack's dad says he prayed his kids would turn out better than he did, and Jack says he's trying. Then Jack's dad wishes his son a happy birthday. Seconds later, Dr. K comes out to tell Jack only two of the babies survived.
Back in present day, Randall prepares to head back home, but not before Kate can have a chat with him. What happens next is the most powerful scene in the two-hour premiere. Kate says while she wishes he and Kevin talked more during his visit, she's disappointed she hasn't heard much from Randall lately either. She says she's sorry for all he's going through—referring to the racial upheaval taking over the country—to which Randall asks, “Sorry about what? [George Floyd] is not the first Black person to be killed on camera.” Kate says this feels different, but Randall says it never has been different for him. This kind of trauma has been happening for years and they haven't talked about it once. Kate says she's scared of saying the wrong thing, and Randall explains that he purposely never said a lot growing up because he didn't want his family to worry about saying the wrong thing. Randall says he hates seeing Kate upset and wishes he could hug her and make her feel comfortable, but, “Where does that leave me?” Sterling K. Brown and Chrissy Metz perfectly deliver the moment, along with terrific writing by Dan Fogelman, Kay Oyegun and Jake Schnesel. When Randall leaves, Kate is visibly shaken.
Moments later, Kevin runs after Randall and has a very different conversation. Kevin starts by thanking Randall for his help with Rebecca and reveals Madison is expecting a boy and a girl. He says he'll be fine raising a boy, but wants advice from #girldad Randall. (He says, “As a dad, you'll let her get away with everything, but Mom will be better at everything and fix your mistakes.”) Kevin says in the strangest of ways he found someone (Madison) who is really special. The two exchange birthday wishes, and Randall drives home.
On the way back to Philly, Randall calls Dr. Lee and says he realizes he needs a therapist who is Black. He specifically went with a white woman when he was first looking for a therapist, but he realizes there are things he never quite felt comfortable telling her. She understands.
Back to Miguel and Rebecca: She's afraid of forgetting the little stuff more than the big life moments. She singles out playing games like Pin the Tail on the Donkey, which references the scene in the future when Beth brings the game to Rebecca's bedside. Miguel takes Rebecca outside and says they're going to plant a tree that will bear fruit in 6 to 10 years. For now, they will take one day at a time. (You'd better believe we're going to see this fruit tree come into play down the road.)
Meanwhile, Kate is inside the cabin and tells Toby she can't stop thinking about what Randall said. She's going to have to sit with these feelings for a while, and I'm looking forward to seeing more honest conversations between the siblings. In the meantime, Toby has news for Kate: The adoption agency called, and they have found a match (a young woman named Ellie, who is 33).
As the episode comes to a close, we see everyone enjoying special celebratory moments, and Beth and Randall talk about all the tragedy and loss of the last few months. “I'm not falling apart or having a breakdown,” Randall says. “I'm just really, really sad.” Beth says that while tragedies define our lives, Randall is a “beautifully resilient man” and they will “fight on.” She reminds him that it's always darkest before dawn.
Just then, Randall says that they can only hope for a year without surprises, which means in traditional This Is Us fashion, we are about to get one hell of a surprise. Sure enough, it's a bombshell. As we flash back to the paramedics ready to call time of death on a lifeless Laurel (William has already fled and taken baby Randall to the fire station), they find a pulse. Not only did Laurel not die, as we thought, but Randall's birth mother might still be alive today.
So what's next? How did the pandemic change what the writers had planned? Here, creator Dan Fogelman explains all…well, as much as he could.
Pre-pandemic, This Is Us was planning to film in St. Louis for Rebecca’s clinical trial.
If the pandemic hadn't happened, would Rebecca have gone to St. Louis and returned in time for the Big Three's 40th birthday? Most likely yes, Fogelman says. “It was one of the things we'd talked about doing, but that's obviously really tricky right now. [In everyday life] health plans are being either postponed or being irreparably changed by the pandemic, so what we’ve tried to do in almost every storyline on the show is stick to our plan and our road maps of where the character’s arcs are going while still accommodating for these world events.”
In terms of Rebecca's medical prognosis, “There’s a long journey ahead with this disease, and there’s a path we can still stick to that is not altered forever by the pandemic, but more in the short term in terms of her location and where she’s living.” Still, they hope to get to St. Louis perhaps in season six. “Sterling is from the area, so we thought there might be an opportunity there, but that’s one that had to kind of go by the wayside,” he says.
Rebecca and Miguel’s love story will finally be told.
Ever since season one fans have been wondering how Miguel and Rebecca embarked on a romance. (All we know for now is that the reconnected on social media about a decade after Jack died.) “We’ve really been looking forward to telling this story,” Fogelman shares. “It’s something that becomes a bigger part of the back half of this season and into next.”
You’ll find out about Randall’s mom sooner than later.
Fogelman says that while he doesn't want to reveal too much, viewers will learn Laurel's fate “well within the first half of our season.” He says it's not something the show will drag out over the next year or two. “There's a pretty quick answer, and I think it's elegantly done.”
But why tell the story of Randall’s birth mother now?
“For us, Randall’s story has always been one of identity, and the story of his birth mother is one that we’ve never really filled out or told,” Fogelman says. “So this first half of the season is to do just that. It sticks with the plan of the when and the how and why of Randall’s big-picture arc.”
Kate and Randall will need time to heal.
“The scene with Chrissy [Metz] and Sterling [K. Brown] in front of the cabin was so complicated and interesting,” Fogelman says. “This isn’t just a Black man and a white woman having this conversation. These are family members who grew up in the same home, so it’s a very specific dynamic. There is so much love amid this intense conversation.” Fogelman explains that when Randall makes his move to change therapists and returns home to his family, it's his way of creating some space for the time being. “Not just from Kevin on the heels of their fight, but from his family in general. This man loves his family fiercely but needs to process a lot about his life. Kate and Randall are just in a complicated, nebulous, place right now and there’s a reckoning and some healing required. It's not just on Randall, but on all of them to have conversations that have never really been had before. That’s the bigger arc for our show this season. It wouldn’t be right to open and shut it in one episode.”
Kevin and Madison may be engaged, but they won’t have an easy love story.
“Things are happening in reverse and in hyper speed,” Fogelman says of the pair. “Everything is kind of mixed up and out of order.” While there is affection and chemistry between them, Fogelman notes they still don't really know each other. “It’s fair to say they have an up-and-down journey ahead of them. It’s not going to be an easy love story, like some of our other love stories have been.” (Um, as far as I remember, those love stories haven't been so easy either!)
Who will play Randall’s new therapist?
Fogelman says they've cast the role, but isn't ready to reveal who will play Randall's new therapist. However, expect he or she to appear on camera soon and be a recurring part of this season. “It's not as if Randall sees a new therapist and suddenly his whole world unlocks,” Fogleman says. “That’s not the way therapy works, nor is it the way Randall specifically works.”
This Is Us returns with a new episode on Tuesday, November 10.
Originally Appeared on Glamour