'This Is Us': What Causes Kevin and Randall's Fallout? 'Something Big Tears These Two Apart,' EP Says
By Philiana Ng
Warning: Spoiler alert! Do not proceed if you have not watched Tuesday's episode of This Is Us.
Is this the start of Kevin and Randall's schism?
The first part of This Is Us' Big Three trilogy -- Tuesday's episode, titled "A Hell of a Week: Part One" -- focused squarely on Randall's (Sterling K. Brown) life-long battle with anxiety, which was exacerbated by the terrifying home intrusion in the middle of the night that unraveled every aspect of his life. While Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) and Malik's father, Darnell (Omar Epps), urged Randall to seek professional help (translation: therapy) for his anxiety disorder, that didn't happen. Instead, Randall leaned on his brother, Kevin (Justin Hartley), to quell his anxiety attacks, even though the former Manny star was going through quite a bit himself. (More on that later.)
This Is Us executive producers and co-showrunners Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger spoke to a handful of reporters on a conference call Tuesday to shed light on Randall's state of mind and the discussions they had with Brown about approaching his performance in a nuanced, unfettered way.
"You don't have to have many acting discussions at this point because he is obviously a genius and he knows this character inside and out, and he's been playing someone who has this anxiety disorder for almost four seasons now," Berger told ET. "I think he really, deeply understands what's going on internally with this character and how great he's been at keeping it below the surface, why this episode is pushing buttons that have previously not been pushed. That is really all coming from Sterling and the character he's built over these years."
"That being said, we have a couple of writers who have been through home intrusions, so we all definitely all shared our stories. People talked about how they reacted in the moment. They talked about the things that they had done, what they wished they had said," she revealed. "Perhaps Sterling used some of that to inform his portrayal throughout the episode, but it is mostly SKB all the way."
Aptaker shared that over the course of writing this episode, Brown was deeply involved in Randall's arc, especially the question of "why Randall isn't in therapy by now." "For a guy who seems so in touch with his emotions and so present and so emotionally empathetic and there for his family, why does he have this block in his own life?" he told ET. "I remember we picked it apart with Sterling. It was really interesting -- writers and actor together trying to dissect this character and what is it about letting yourself be vulnerable and giving up control element of going to a therapist that Randall is really resistant towards. Having that conversation helped Sterling get a deeper understanding of this guy."
But breadcrumbs were already dropped throughout the episode of what Kevin's main conflict will be when his This Is Us hour, the second part of the Big Three trilogy, airs Feb. 11. During one of their phone calls, Kevin mentions that he's back in Pittsburgh to attend the funeral of Sophie's mother after Sophie (Alexandra Breckenridge) unexpectedly gave him a ring at the end of the winter premiere while he was on the set of the M. Night Shyamalan movie.
"We're going to follow him in Pittsburgh and see why he decided to go to Sophie's [mother's] funeral, if he has any interaction with Sophie, what it's like to be back home again on his old stomping grounds," Aptaker teased. "We'll follow Kevin through the same time span that Randall's episode just covered -- roughly a week. We'll see what Kevin was up to and how his story intersects with Randall at these couple of points when they call each other."
What Kevin doesn't mention is the mysterious woman sleeping next to him. Though Sophia Bush's Lizzie turned out to be married and using Kevin as her "hall pass," could she be back in the picture sooner than we thought? "All I'll say is we love Sophia Bush," Aptaker said, expertly skirting the question. "We have her on this show and our other [Disney+] show based on Love, Simon. We're huge Sophia Bush fans and read into that as you will."
While Randall's episode was tonally on the heavier side, expect Kevin's to take on a more reflective mood as his rocky relationship with Sophie is dug into more deeply. "You'll see some heaviness and some lighter moments," Berger previewed. "I think it is a really beautiful deep dive into Kevin's past and his relationship with Sophie. Tonally, I think this will have a bit more of a nostalgic note that we're really excited to share with people, as we see different parts of this relationship that maybe we haven't gotten to just yet."
But by the Big Three's 40th birthdays, Kevin and Randall are no longer on speaking terms, a stark contrast from their supportive brotherly bond in Tuesday's episode. What changed so dramatically in the matter of mere months?
"It's definitely something that's coming out in the near future run of episodes. By the 40th birthday, by the start of next season, they've had this falling out. They're not on speaking terms. In this episode, they're so beautifully there for each other and they have this pretty incredible brotherly relationship. So something big is coming in this next run before the end of our season that will tear these two apart," Aptaker answered coyly.
And teenage Kate will be going through her own troubles in her own hour, airing Feb. 18, when it comes to her bad news beau, Marc (Austin Abrams). In Tuesday's episode, Rebecca frantically tells Randall to drop everything at college because of something that's happened with Kate involving Marc.
"People can tell by now that Marc is not the greatest guy and probably is not the guy that Kate should be with," Berger said, referencing that brief, but ominous, scene. "We are definitely going to see things come to a head in that relationship in a way where potentially the family is going to really have to rally around Kate and sort of step in and say, 'Perhaps this is not the guy that you belong with.'"
As for the Big Three trilogy as a whole, Aptaker noted that the episodes are coming at a time when they're experiencing "a very difficult week in each of their lives, whether it's emotional or painful or for Randall, anxious, and so each of them are really going through the wringer." "That results in this end-of-the-[trilogy] phone call that they have where they realize that they've all been through something," he said, "and they have to step up as a trio of siblings and be there for each other."
This Is Us returns Tuesday, Feb. 11 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on NBC for Part 2 of the Big Three trilogy.
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