Director Dan Fogelman and the This Is Us cast shared their thoughts on the series finale and explained the show’s poetic final scene.
WHY DID REBECCA DIE IN THE PENULTIMATE EPISODE, AND NOT THE FINALE?
“That decision was made really early on,” Fogelman told TVLine at the screening. “The reason was the theme of the show, the very thing that’s spoken about at the end of the series: Just because somebody leaves doesn’t mean the world doesn’t continue and that they don’t continue living on with the family. So it was important to me that the last episode not be all about Rebecca’s death, and the sadness that revolves around her death, but to actually focus on a day that was just a normal slice of life in this family’s history.”
WHICH PARTS OF THE FINALE WERE SHOT WELL IN ADVANCE?
“William and Randall’s scene outside the girls’ bedroom, as well as scenes from the Pearsons’ lazy Saturday, were captured long before Season 6.” Fogelman said he hadn’t seen that footage in a while. “I didn’t have a big, full-fledged backup plan, which is what made it all a little bit terrifying. It’s literally why I had to watch the first cut of the past footage with my wife [series star Caitlin Thompson], which I’ve never done before, because I was too scared to watch it alone.”
DOES RANDALL BECOME PRESIDENT?
“Randall’s political journey ahead of him is probably the closest we come in this show to our Sopranos going to black at the end of the episode. You’re left to choose your own adventure as to what you think happens with him,” Fogelman told reporters, chuckling. “In my mind, I know what happens to Randall and his family, but it’s meant to not be answered… It’s up to the audience to decide what they think happens next with Randall.”
“In my mind, I know what happens to Randall and his family. But it’s meant to not be answered and to just leave a hint of promise. And then I think it’s up to the audience to decide what they think happens next with Randall. Did we watch an origin story without realizing we were watching one of the future leaders of the free world? Or is the completion of Randall’s arc to not push further in his career and settle into a role where he’s comfortable. I think it was always more about Randall choosing to move forward because his mother has now freed him to do what he wants and to go for the big choices if it’s something he wants to do.”
Fogelman about the final scene
“In the back of my mind, I always thought that the final actual scripted spoken dialogue in the episode would be Jack and Rebecca just simply saying ‘I love you’ to one another. Technically there’s other dialogue in the background in the ‘Pin the Tail on the Donkey’ game… But the show is always about family and time and the way the family loves one another. This original love story, sentiment-wise, was the right language to end on,” Fogelman said. “The final shot would be some version of a child taking in their parent and carrying something forward from what they’re watching a parent watch. I kind of knew those two final things – the final word and the final image.”
Mandy Moore on Jack and Rebecca’s finale scene
“I loved that sense of comfort,” Moore says. “That no one could have gotten Rebecca through that moment but Jack. And the fact that in the end, as she’s crossing that threshold and transitioning, he’s there to hold her hand and to walk her through it, as an expert in a way. The idea of, ‘Don’t worry, I’ve been here for however many decades now living this and you can trust me in this. I know it seems strange that we’re saying goodbye, and you are in one way, but you’re also never gone.’
I think for all of us who are fearful of the unknown, it’s just such a beautiful note to end on, like, ‘Oh wow. I really hope that that’s the case.’ And I believe it is some degree — that energy never really dissipates and we carry around those people, and maybe they’re there, maybe they’re not. I feel like it’s such a fitting note to end on.”
The finale took viewers to the funeral of the Pearson matriarch, but Rebecca’s ride was far from over: she was welcomed into the great beyond by Jack, who explained that she’d remain with the family in spirit.
(Also, she did get to enjoy one last lazy Saturday in the ’90s.) “I loved that sense of comfort,” says the actress of the caboose scene.
“That no one could have gotten Rebecca through that moment but Jack. And the fact that in the end, as she’s crossing that threshold and transitioning, he’s there to hold her hand and to walk her through it, as an expert in a way.
The idea of, ‘Don’t worry, I’ve been here for however many decades now living this and you can trust me in this. I know it seems strange that we’re saying goodbye, and you are in one way, but you’re also never gone.’ I think for all of us who are fearful of the unknown, it’s just such a beautiful note to end on, like, “Oh wow. I really hope that that’s the case.” And I believe it is some degree — that energy never really dissipates and we carry around those people, and maybe they’re there, maybe they’re not. I feel like it’s such a fitting note to end on.”
Milo Ventimiglia on their last scene
“I think everybody’s been waiting for that,” he says. “If we’re looking at Jack in the last several years as being very supporting — he’s still in the conversation — but he just hasn’t been as present. He’s faded just a little bit, faded in a way that people want to see [Jack] and Rebecca. I was really touched by it. I thought it was beautiful. I loved how Fogelman put that in with Randall [saying to Rebecca]: ‘Say hey to him.’ Doesn’t have to specify it. Doesn’t have to spell it out. Those three know their dad passed away and their mom is soon passing.
And boom, there we are. It’s almost like if you’re not paying attention and you’re seeing Rebecca let go, then, in very Dan Fogelman fashion, you get that satisfying moment of Rebecca saying, ‘Hey,’ and Jack saying, ‘Hey’ back…. You read something like that, you perform something like that, you kind of embrace humanity a little bit more. It falls in line with a spiritual quality that I like to hang onto — the idea that we’re all connected, energetically. And we don’t really leave our loved ones.”
The long-deceased Pearson patriarch showed up in a big way for Rebecca at the end of the penultimate episode — and the end of the finale — by helping her transition peacefully into the afterlife.
(And we mentioned on Moore’s slide, Rebecca and Jack were co-parenting to the best of their abilities in the ’90s-flashback story in the finale.)
“I think everybody’s been waiting for that,” Ventimiglia says of the caboose scene. “If we’re looking at Jack in the last several years as being very supporting — he’s still in the conversation — but he just hasn’t been as present. He’s faded just a little bit, faded in a way that people want to see [Jack] and Rebecca. I was really touched by it. I thought it was beautiful…. To have the journey that we had and to sum it up in something so simple as a conversation between a wife and her husband reunited — I felt like in its simplicity, there was so much that was said, and there was so much that was given to the imagination without it being specific, but you know exactly what’s to come. There was a confidence that I felt in it.”
Some scenes in the finale were shot 4 years ago
“We shot this episode years ago, primarily to capture [the kids] in a moment of time when it would feel nostalgic to us and to the audience,” Fogelman explained at the series finale screening and panel on Sunday. “We shot it at the beginning of season 3, but with the pandemic, it added time.”
“I never looked at it, so we shot four or five days worth of material with the kids and Milo [Ventimiglia] and Mandy [Moore], and some of Sterling [K. Brown] and Ron [Cephas Jones] and Eris [Baker] and Faithe [Herman] and then we put it away and never looked at it again,” he continued. “Then, about two months ago… I said to our editors, I was like, ‘Guys, I have to look at it now. I have to know before we go any further that it’s good and that it’s what we want it to be.'”
Justin Hartley weights on Kevin’s finale
The often-lost actor finally found his place in the world, taking care of his mother in her final years at the house he built for her, deciding to dedicate his time to the non-profit home-building company he started in honor of his father, and, oh, yes, winding up with the longest love of his life, childhood girlfriend/former wife/former girlfriend Sophie.
“The way the storyline was going, it could have gone many different ways, and I thought it would be interesting to see if he ended up with Cassidy or Madison,” says Hartley. “I was glad when I heard that we were going to make that work [with Sophie]. I love Alex and we work well together and she’s just such a joy to be around…. I liked [his focus on the non-profit and his children]. I thought it kind of sounded like Jack. Which I thought was very cool, a propos, and made sense. I think he’s making the right decision. He’s doing a lot. He’s accomplished a lot. And now it’s time to give back. He’s got kids and he’s got this nonprofit and he’s going to be all about other people for a while. What’s better than that?”
Sterling K Brown weighs on Randall’s finale
Randall learned with great exuberance that he was going to be a grandfather to a grandson, and his siblings learned that Senator Pearson is considering a run for the highest office in the land (if Beth, the DNC, and Iowa State Fair attendees sign off).
“I feel like there are the public servants who authentically want to make the world a better place and not because they want to be the person in power, but because they just want to see an equitable distribution of rights of resources for all of their fellow countrymen,” says Brown. “They are fewer and farther between than we would care to admit. I think if Randall were to step into that world, he’d be one of those individuals who just wants to see the world be a better place. So I’m excited about it for him…. For Randall, for a term — well, two terms, you gotta do two terms if you’re gonna do it — I would be happy for him if that was a role that he was able to step into.”
Chrissy Metz weighs on Kate’s finale
Metz was informed a while back that Kate was indeed alive in the future, a big fan question prompted by her absence in the flash-forwards over the years. That said, “I didn’t know that she would be on a plane, just white-knuckling to get there before her mom goes,” says the actress. “And so when I learned that part of the puzzle, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh!’ Because it’s so relatable. I was in that situation with my grandmother and… [she starts to cry]… ooooh, sorry. I’m getting emotional!”
In the final episodes, Kate married her work colleague Phillip (Chris Geere), enjoyed a peaceful co-parenting relationship with ex Toby (Chris Sullivan), and concentrated her efforts of opening music schools for the blind.
“It was wonderful to see her finally come to her own,” says Metz. “And so much of it was what her mom said. And then finding another relationship that she felt supported in. That she was so driven by the lack of schooling in music particularly for people who were visually impaired that it was like, ‘Oh, this is her mission and the way she gives back.’ But I was like, ‘Wait, is she going to do any more singing? Wait, is she fulfilled? These are questions that if the show were to continue, I’m sure they would be answered. But I think that it’s lovely that she’s found her happiness and her joy through her son and the disability that he was born with, and, of course, he becomes a massive pop star. I think it’s very sweet.”
Chris Sullivan weighs on Toby’s finale
While Toby and Kate wound up divorced, he found a new partner with whom to crack wise (in the not-seen-much Laura), and he managed to transform his rocky relationship with Kate into something special (if not almost line-crossing). In the finale, he told his ex that he’d hop in a DeLorean, go back to the past, and do it all over again, even knowing how it would all turn out.
“It was sweet,” Sullivan says of Toby’s final landing place. “I think that the love that we have for people never dies, even if it evolves. So it is possible. And I think that everybody ended up exactly where they were supposed to.”
Susan Kelechi Watson weighs on Beth’s finale
It was revealed seasons ago that Beth would become the boss of a prestigious dance academy, but the finale also revealed that she might even wind up as First Lady. But Watson sounds equally thrilled for Beth to just be an empty nester with Randall.
“I was like, ‘I want to be Beth when I grow up, because it felt really stress-free,” she shares.
“I kept looking at our adult kids and being like, ‘Oh, we did a good job. They’re off on their own. I don’t have to worry about that anymore!’ And then I would look over at Kevin and his son was being a brat, all of a sudden I was like, ‘Ooh, sorry, y’all gotta go through those wonder years!’ I’m thinking, ‘I get to just be with my man and we can figure out our life together at this point.
We’re not thinking about retiring or putting ourselves on a shelf in any way. What is this next thing going to be? This might be even bigger than the last thing.’ It was an ending for the show, but I felt a real beginning for them, which was really lovely.” Indeed, there is something bigger looming in the future: Randall’s possible run for President: “If he does run and we ever did anything about it, I would need Dan to set up a conversation with First Lady Michelle Obama, so that I could speak to her about how this feels,” she says. Whatever the case: “I’m still going to run my dance studio, though. He better not stop my dream!”
Jon Huertas weighs on Miguel’s finale
Finally, the spotlight shined on him in the show’s fourth-to-last episode: “Miguel” revealed so much more about the bittersweet life of Jack’s best friend and Rebecca’s second husband. He took care of her right up until he died (at an old age), and his passing was not shown onscreen.
“Not seeing Miguel die is more way more powerful than seeing him die,” notes Huertas. “It shakes people. And for me, it represents that in life, you don’t know when something is going to happen to someone you love, you don’t really know when you’re going to be faced with loss.” Miguel also popped up at the end of Rebecca’s train ride into the afterlife, savoring a glass of wine and another encounter with his “favorite person.”
“It’s a perfect note to the song that this episode is,” he says.
“It’s just beautiful soliloquy as she’s going through the train, it’s like your life flashing before your eyes right before you die. And Miguel was a huge part of her life. So why wouldn’t he be here? Why wouldn’t he toast to her crossing over? Miguel always tried to lighten the mood in a very grounded way in the show.”
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