The Season 5 finale of This Is Us, like so many other major episodes, ended with a surprise twist. It shouldn’t have been too surprising for longtime viewers of the NBC drama, though, that the episode that was supposed to focus on Kevin (Justin Hartley) and Madison (Caitlin Thompson), the mother of his twin babies, tying the knot didn’t actually end with the duo walking down the aisle.
Instead, it was a different Pearson sibling getting married. The opening scene of Kevin rehearsing wedding jokes in formal wear turned out not to be from his own wedding in present-day, but rather five years in the future at his twin sister Kate’s (Chrissy Metz) second wedding — to her boss, Phillip (Chris Geere).
Yes, that’s two huge developments in one sentence — not only will Kate and Toby (Chris Sullivan) be divorcing, but she’ll also soon embark on a romance with her superior at the school where she’s now teaching. Marriage problems for Kate and Toby have been telegraphed for a long time, and Toby taking a new job in San Francisco while Kate stays in Los Angeles is clearly the beginning of the end for their relationship. The future paramour is certainly surprising.
It’s ultimately not a shock that Kevin and Madison didn’t actually get married, though — their relationship began after a one night stand led to twin babies, and he has certainly not been as enraptured with her as he has with his other love interests on the series. But it was a bit surprising that she was the one who broke things off because he wasn’t in love with her. She certainly deserves better than that, but she hasn’t always known how to speak up for herself in the past. (Madison is present at Kate’s second wedding, of course, since they’re best friends, though it’s unclear what her and Kevin’s relationship status is.)
The five-year flash-forward also revealed a New Yorker profile on “Rising Star” Randall Pearson (Sterling K. Brown), although it’s unclear exactly what the story is about. He is a Philadelphia councilman, so political phenom is not out of the question.
The difference between the fifth season finale and other years, however, is that the sixth season is officially the last for broadcast’s No. 1 drama — which means creator Dan Fogelman and his writers are going to have to assemble the puzzle pieces they’ve gradually revealed throughout the years before the show ends its run in 2022.
Here, Fogelman answers the biggest burning questions about the finale episode and the upcoming final season, including when they decided Phillip and Kate should get together, how Kevin and Madison will handle co-parenting post-breakup and what will happen regarding Rebecca’s (Mandy Moore) deteriorating health.
The seeds of Kate and Toby’s marital discord have been planted for years, and Fogelman says he and his writers knew all along that Kate’s curmudgeonly new boss (who reluctantly hired her to teach music to special ed students, then refused her resignation because it turns out she’s incredible at the job) was going to be her new flame. After appearing in two Season 5 episodes, Geere will return as a series regular for Season 6.
“We actually had Chris come down and meet with Chrissy much earlier in the season under severe [COVID] testing protocols so we could put them together and feel them out, because it’s been such an unusual season of shooting,” Fogelman explains. “[Kate’s] second wedding, it’s been part of our plan all along. Obviously, we’ve hinted at many times in the deeper future that something was amiss between [Kate and Toby], and here we are.”
As for Phillip, the fact that, at present, he’s actually Kate’s boss makes a relationship between the two of them a very thorny prospect. So, how will the show handle the fact that he’s her superior at work?
“That’s one that we hadn’t really talked about,” Fogelman tells Variety backstage at the show’s Rose Bowl FYC drive-in event. “We kind of know the course of the relationship, but it’s really good question, especially considering the power dynamics in play, and all things that are going on. I guess in a way, because I know some other answers that go beyond that, I’m not as worried about that part — because of some other things that happen.”
Kevin and Madison
Kevin and Madison didn’t end up getting married, but they still have to parent their children together and Madison is still Kate’s best friend, so they will still continue to be in each other’s orbits. While the two didn’t get married in the present-day of Season 5, Fogelman says it’s not entirely out of the question in the future.
“Despite the heartbreak of that beautiful scene between them and the unusual breakup between them, clearly something is very right with them in that future timeline at the end of the episode,” he points out.
While anything more would spoil that particular plot point, Kevin’s romantic life will be a focus of the final season.
“A big thing driving us for next year is who will Kevin end up with? Will he wind up with anybody we know? Does he wind up with anybody at all? I think one way or another that question will be answered,” Fogelman says.
Rebecca and Miguel
The Pearson children aren’t the only ones whose romantic relationships will get attention next season. The courtship of Pearson family matriarch Rebecca and second husband Miguel (Jon Huertas) will also play a major role in the season, along with the progression of Rebecca’s Alzheimer’s.
“Mandy’s going to have a tremendously ambitious season next year as an actress,” Fogelman reveals. “Obviously, as you’re traversing these timelines into the future and have a character battling Alzheimer’s, it’s going to be quite a ride and I think quite a showcase for a young woman who I’ve been beating the drum [about] for a while but who I think is doing something extraordinary on television.”
Randall and Beth
No, Randall and wife Beth’s (Susan Kelechi Watson) relationship isn’t in trouble, but their bond will continue to evolve throughout the show’s final season.
“I think you’re going to get to see Randall in full color — really centered and balanced and being there to support his family,” Fogelman says. “One of the things we’ve always talked about in the show is how often in the marriage between Randall and Beth, Randall has been a driver and Beth has been support. I think there’s also an opportunity to watch those roles reverse a little bit.”
The final season will also be one of resolution for Randall, whose newfound political career could really be taking off. If Randall’s getting a profile written in a national magazine, then clearly “something is happening with his career,” Fogelman previews. “We do have a plan. We’ve had it for a while. I think we’ve built it successfully with his early rise and slight indications of his local and even borderline national profile just growing in small doses, so that’s a journey we owe and in traversing time a little bit, we’ll be able to tell that story.”
While Fogelman and his writers love a narrative twist, the show’s most consistent employment of that device has been with the frequent skipping back and forth through time. But the various story threads scattered throughout the years (and throughout multiple time periods) will have to tie together at last now that the show is wrapping up.
“We always knew that Season 6 would be ambitious in terms of the way it jumps time — even more ambitious than other seasons,” he says. But, “all of those timelines are going to be brought to completion and explained. There will be no looming questions when we get through the end of next season — everything will be resolved, and you can’t always claim that 100% of your audience is going to like every single decision you make for the characters, but I don’t think anything will be left on the table. So all those locations you’ve been to, all those future timelines we’ve been to, they will all get resolutions.”
At the start of the series the show’s parallel storylines took place in the past and the present. Now, in the sixth season, the touchpoint is in the future. Much more of the story will take place in the two different future time periods the series has established: the new locale where Kate’s second wedding is occurring and the house where Rebecca is lying on her death bed.
“In the past, those have served more as places you go to answer a question,” Fogelman tells Variety. “You go there for a moment or a scene. I think it’s fair to say those places will be bigger parts of our storytelling next season, whereas we’ve lived often in multiple past timeframes. There are going to be many occasions where we might have multiple present and future timelines. That was always the plan for how the show went — rather than looking backwards, [we’re] looking forwards a little bit.”
A show that’s consistently turned out tearjerker episodes as “This Is Us” will surely have an emotional series finale episode. But will it be as emotionally resonant as one of the most memorable TV finales ever, “Six Feet Under”?
“People always talk about the crying on the show and certainly the show has been framed by a couple of very famous deaths and some really tough stuff,” Fogelman tells Variety, “but I would say a lot of the crying has come just out of the melancholy, beautiful heartbreak and romance of life and family. Hopefully if people are crying at the end it’s not because we’ve killed a beloved character at the last minute, but because there’s something beautiful being said about the human condition and what it is to be a family.”