The season three premiere planted another clue to one big question fans have been asking since the end of season two: Who is "her"? If you recall, the sophomore finale revealed a salt-and-peppered Randall (Sterling K. Brown) and an adult Tess (Iantha Richardson) sometime in the distant future, ominously discussing visiting "her." "It's time to go see her, Tess," a somber Randall says. "I'm not ready," Tess replies. "Me neither," Randall acknowledges.
In Tuesday's episode, This Is Us went back to that same conversation between father and daughter, only it revealed a significant piece to the puzzle, that Randall also calls up Toby (Chris Sullivan), now with a beard and in bed without Kate (Chrissy Metz). "You coming down?" Randall asks. "Yeah, I don't know if I should," Toby says with a sigh. "She wants you to be there, Tob," Randall assures him. "All right, I'll see you soon," Toby concedes. For much of the summer, fans speculated that the "her" mentioned was Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson), but after this latest reveal, the attention turned to Kate. But is this latest twist just a misdirect?
"We're always conscious of towing the line between frustrating people and keeping people excited and peeling back the layers of this family. That's one we're being really careful in calibrating it. It's something we are going to answer sooner than later," co-showrunner Isaac Aptaker told ET following Tuesday's premiere. "This isn't a grand three-year-long thing to find out who 'her' is and we're going to be slowly revisiting the future at pointed moments throughout this year, getting to where Randall and Tess are headed."
Aptaker said it was a "big decision" in the writers' room having Toby be the other character revealed to be alive in the future amidst the "Who is 'her'?" mystery, sharing that there were dinners where the writers were "passionately debating" the specific "details they were ready to give" in that pivotal scene.
"Whenever you know that a moment is going to be under such scrutiny, you think very carefully about what you want to show," co-showrunner Elizabeth Berger told ET. "That decision to show him in his apartment and leave people with questions in terms of 'Where's Kate?,' 'Is Kate OK?,' 'Does Kate live there?' We were conscious about everything we revealed and everything we didn't reveal, so yes, there was a lot of discussion around it."
So how does Metz feel about Kate being the subject of fans' anxiety over the fate of her beloved character? "The writers are genius [with] what they've already manipulated," she told ET, playing coy. But she offered this tease for when the "her" is ultimately revealed later this season: "It's going to be heartbreaking."
Sullivan expressed relief over making it to the future timeline and revealed that there were several versions of the scene that he shot, featuring different pieces of dialogue.
"I was, one, surprised and, two, glad that I make it that far in the This Is Us world and, three, really excited to get into a different timeline," Sullivan told ET of his initial reaction to reading the script, admitting that he doesn't know much about the future version of Toby. "We shot that scene a couple of different ways, a couple of different configurations, a couple of different lines so I was interested to see which one they used."
As the puzzle pieces start to come together for the "her" mystery, Brown -- who confirmed that the identity of the "her" is a woman (not that there were any doubts) and someone we've already met -- confessed no matter which way you slice it and who it turns out to be, it won't be pretty for the Pearson family.
"No relief, whether it's my sister, my wife or whomever the 'her' may be. There is no relief because somebody is in trouble and it's somebody, who as a Pearson you love and care for, so there's no relief in it. But I like to see people guess and try to figure it out who it is because it delights me to keep people in surprise," Brown told ET with a laugh, dropping a nugget to tide fans over: "One of the reasons why you see Randall and Tess in the future is because of something that happened in the past."