This Is Us finally returned tonight with Kevin on the hunt for a very much alive Nicky, his relationship with Zoe on shaky ground, and a tense election night for Randall and the rest of the Pearsons. And that’s just the beginning—caution: spoilers ahead.
In the episode, Zoe recruits her politician ex-boyfriend to help Kevin get answers on Nicky, but in the process reveals that she dumped this ex via email. This doesn’t sit well with Kevin, who questions her choices and whether she’d do the same to him. They split, but eventually reconcile at Randall’s election headquarters and decide to move in together (complete with Zoe’s own John Stamos key ring. Long story).
Meanwhile, Randall and Beth start off the episode at odds (with Randall mainly to blame). But Beth feels bad for trying to stop her husband’s dream and gets back on board with the campaign. Randall—who was way behind in the polls—discovers some damaging information on his opponent, Sol Brown, but decides to try to win the election on his own merit. And in the end, he does.
Throughout all of this drama, Kate and Toby bond over vintage action figures—and a Three Rivers Stadium replica—but otherwise things remain status quo. Now, though, the big question is what will happen when Kate and her brothers and Rebecca find out that their uncle Nicky is alive. Plus, what’s in store for Beth and Randall’s marriage now that he’s a big city councilman (with a two hour commute)?
So we asked executive producer and co-showrunner Isaac Aptaker to tell us what to expect next week. Oh, and he has some info on an easter egg you might have missed. Read on for more.
As soon as we heard Nicky was discharged from Walter Reed Medical Center, it was clear Jack had to have known he was alive. Turns out he did—so will we see them together post-Vietnam in the weeks and months to follow?
Isaac Aptaker: Yes, next week’s episode is such a huge episode of the show. It’s a do not miss. We’re going to give all the answers people have been waiting for—about what happened to Jack and Nicky, who knew what, what went down in Vietnam. It’s an incredibly packed episode that will answer everything people are wondering about that story.
Is the entire episode just Jack and Nicky next week, or will we see other characters?
IA: There’s a present day storyline, too. We’re going to learn what happened to Nicky across all of our timelines, including him in the present day.
I was looking at the postcard Nicky sent Jack. When he wrote “last one,” that must infer it’s his last attempt at reaching out, correct?
IA: Yeah, that’s certainly what I would think. [Kevin] has this handful of artifacts of Jack’s that survived the fire, so that’s just one piece of their correspondence. That’s not the whole story, but we will dive into exactly “last one” of how many, “last one” of what, all of that, next week.
How much thought went into that particular postcard that Nicky sent Jack? If you look closely, the image on the front is described on the back as “Young brothers fishing the rivers of Pennsylvania.”
IA: Yeah, that was not an accident at all. [Laughs] We had all of these postcards to see what [the right one] would look like. They were brilliantly designed by our props department. Everything had to be [authentic to the time] period and have little hints about their story but not too on the nose. They were all very carefully designed and selected.
The postcard is also dated 1992, so…
IA: That’s when our big three are in their adorable 12-year-old period.
So if Jack died in January 1998, could we maybe see Jack and Nicky in scenes between 1992-1998?
IA: Totally possible. Totally possible.
I think that means yes.
Last year viewers first saw Jack and teenage Randall in Washington D.C. Tonight, we saw more of their dialogue there. Had you shot all of that at the same time last year, or did you have to go back and film the part where Jack tells Randall it’s too sad for him to look at Nicky’s name on the war memorial?
IA: We shot part of it [last year] because we had to plan for Nicky back then, so we knew we had that piece of it. Part of it we were able to recreate with some very clever green screens and angles to fill in the rest. But we knew the part of the war memorial back then.
That’s just frightening how much you guys have planned out that far in advance.
IA: Well, we have a really big writers room with so many things on the wall. We’re always putting in these little easter eggs that we know we can go back to.
Let’s talk about Randall and the election. As soon as he got the call with the results, I knew he won based on the look of disbelief that washed over him. But before he told Beth, I wondered if he would say “I won” or “We won.” He says, “I won,” but was that even a conversation in the writers room?
IA: That’s really interesting. I can’t remember a particular conversation about that, but I love that you brought that up. He’s been trying so hard to include Beth in this and for her to find her place in his campaign, but also as her own person in this marriage. When someone wins a job like that, the whole family’s life is going to change. It’s not like he’s the president, but he’s going to be a public figure in a big way. He’s going to be working hard from home, and their whole lives are about to change. What I love about that scene is the look on both of their faces. Neither one was entirely expecting this, and they are having a million thoughts at once. What does this mean for their marriage? What does this mean for their three children? What does this mean for their finances? He got what he wanted in one sense, but also this huge bomb has just been dropped on this home that’s had a pretty rocky year.
And he has this two hour commute between his district and his home.
IA: Right. The logistical problems alone of this new job are just tremendous.
Randall will obviously change as he takes on this new role, but will he change for the better or the worse?
IA: I think the immediate storyline we’ll be tackling—because it’s a bit of a slow burn—is once you’re in this position, you’re not actually sworn into office for a little while. There’s a period of time when you’re assembling your staff and applying for committees and such before you begin your work as a city councilman. So the immediate stories are that he won, he wasn’t really expecting that, and what does that mean for him and his family? There are much more family-focused and marriage-focused stories coming. He’s beginning this new job as his wife is at this total crossroads in her life and coming to terms with what she wants as a career woman outside of being a mom and now a political wife. The immediate stories coming up are everything’s changing; how do we continue to be amazing parents to these three amazing daughters who are also going through [things]? Deja wants to see her biological mom, Tess has just come out. Everyone in this family, except for stable, wonderful Annie, is sort of in crisis and in flux, and how do we maintain that amazing family unit that we love when everyone’s in crisis?
By the way, it was such a Randall thing to do when Randall ordered Ellen DeGeneres’ mom’s book on her daughter’s coming out. How much more will we see in the coming weeks and months of Tess’s journey now that she’s opened up to her parents?
IA: I love that scene, too, but at first I was like, “This is too broad, you can’t just make up books.” Our writer Laura Kenar was like, “No, no, look!” She pulled up the Amazon page and was like, “Ellen’s mom really wrote this book.” I was like, “That’s amazing, we’ll keep it in the script!” As far as Tess’s coming out storyline, that’s a slower burn, sort of like a bigger picture through the whole series. It’s not like next week we’re going to be jumping into a dating story for Tess, but it’s something that we’re going to see play out over the course of the rest of the series as Tess struggles when to tell her sisters and her friends at school. Of course, we’ll also see what comes of her romantic relationships in the future storyline as we get to know more about adult Tess. It’s now part of the fabric of our show.
Creator Dan Fogelman recently teased that the cast gathered for a rare table read for episode 15 and that it’s “so intense that our cast called for it. These guys are not messing around right now.” Explain what that means.
IA: I think it was Sterling K. Brown who rallied the troops [to get everyone together for the table read]. Bekah Brunstetter, who is one of our writers and also a very established playwright, wrote this script. I don’t want to tell you too much about it, but it’s very contained and sort of all our characters in one space in almost real time. It’s almost an extended version of that season two, episode 11 rehab family scene we did last year. We just started shooting it today. When Sterling first read the script he was so excited that he said, “Guys, we have to read this through together so we can all hear it out loud before we start.” We hadn’t done that since the fifth episode of season one since it’s so impossible with our production schedule to get everyone in the same place at the same time. But we made it happen and hearing that group of actors perform this incredible script that Bekah wrote was just so exciting. It’s a special one. The episode takes place in the present, and it’s all of our adult siblings and Miguel and Rebecca. It’s a bunch of amazing actors thrown into a situation, and they’re just going to act their faces off.
Dan said it’s an intense episode, but is it shocking as well?
IA: I’d say it’s all of that. It’s also really funny! Jon Huertas (Miguel) was so funny at the table read. He would tell a joke and it would be a minute of laughter before someone could tell their next line.
Finally, let’s talk about Kate. Will we see her give birth this season?
IA: That I cannot answer without giving too much away, but our show progresses pretty much in real time. So if you look when she got pregnant, there’s a good chance that will happen over the course of our year. We try to stick to a normal schedule aside from little [time] jumps here and there.