SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you have not yet watched "The Beginning is The End is the Beginning," the Season 3 midseason finale of "This Is Us."
The third season of "This Is Us" has entered into its holiday hiatus but true to form, it did not go out without one big twist.
Kevin (Justin Hartley) and Zoe (Melanie Liburd) traveled to Vietnam to learn about his father's past during the war. They learned that though Jack always said his brother Nicky (Michael Angarano) died in the war, his name was not among the fallen soldiers. But the show did not leave it there, instead of flashing to a previously unseen house, with an old man shuffling around in the background and envelopes addressed to Nicholas Pearson stacked on a table.
So, not only did Jack's little brother not die in the war as Pearson patriarch had led his family to believe – he did not die at all.
"We loved that Kevin was going to Vietnam in search of one thing – his father's war and his father's relationship with the necklace in the photos – and he ends up answering a question he did not even know he must be asking , which speaks to the unexpected nature of life, "says co-showr Isaac Isaac Aptaker Variety.
Nicky's story was not the only one in which the midseason finale, entitled "The Beginning is the End is the Beginning," provided insight. The flash forward sequence with Randall (Sterling K. Brown) and Tess (Iantha Richardson) was also extended to get a glimpse at Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson), revealing that the three were all going to see "Randall's mother." The reason why Aptaker confirms that it is Rebecca (Mandy Moore) they are visiting, not his "long-dead, biological mother," despite the vague word choice.
Here, Aptaker and co-showrunner Elizabeth Berger talk with Variety About the revelations learned in "The Beginning is the End is the Beginning," including when Kevin will learn what the audience has found out about his uncle, why they chose to reveal future Beth in this episode and how they crafted Randall's debate speech.
At what point did you decide Nicky was not going to be dead after all and why did you feel that was a more compelling story?
Aptaker: That was always part of the plan, pretty much since we conceived of the character going to Vietnam and everything. Jack has always been a guy who's had these secrets and these parts of his life that he never spoke to us there was something big there.
Berger: We loved the idea of figuring out a story where there was this broken relationship between brothers, and we look forward to telling that part of the story when we return.
Did you tell Michael when he signed on for the role?
Aptaker: We told him the whole story of Nicky right away, pretty much from the moment we called him and offered him the part. We wanted him to understand the trajectory of this guy and how he pulls in and out of the Pearsons' life.
The show has often said Nicky "lost himself" in the war, but that's coming from Jack's perspective. Are there any elements of his behavior in Vietnam that unencumbered by his father or even by Jack?
Berger: We always saw it as this very sensitive kid got thrown into this really terrible situation that was more than he could bear. That's the kid [Jack] has always known, and that's the kid that was sent to war, and that's the kid that breaks when he's out there. I think we believe that the true Nicky was really this sweet, innocent guy, and the war destroyed him.
Nicky's death is not the only thing Jack has lied about when it comes to Vietnam, but it's too big thing to keep from his family.
Berger: Jack holds himself to such a high moral compass, and he has such a sense of right and wrong, when things get a little murky, those can sometimes be trickiest for him to navigate, and obviously everything out of Vietnam and war is murky , so it plays right into that part of him that really struggles with that sort of uncertainty. It's obviously a really complicated thing to keep from your family, but at the same time it felt very in-line with Jack's character.
The audience now knows more about Nicky than Kevin does. Is the plan to keep the audience ahead through flashbacks for awhile or catch him up quick?
Aptaker: We're going to be pretty much experiencing the journey with Kevin from now on, except for that one little tease that you got at the end. And we're going to dive into this immediately when we get back – that's what the immediate back-half of the season is about. Kevin, having been given this little nugget of information as he's leaving Vietnam, what's he going to do with it? It's the vaguest of leads, but how is he going to use it to learn about his uncle? Definitely by the end of this year we're going to have all the answers in terms of what happened to Nicky.
How closely connected are the past timeline scenes in the final montage of this episode to the future ones? Is it fair to draw on the horizontally in the future, as well as Beth making Randall's sleep on the couch, to seeing them physically separated in their future?
Aptaker: Sometimes yes and sometimes no, and that's always been what I think is the nature of the show. Sometimes what we're watching in the present is a major, major moment that is going to ripple and affect the future in a huge way, and sometimes it's a little squabble that will get resolved. I think, much like life, you can take a step back at the end and reflect. In the past timeline when Jack is jumping into that water, it's a major, major moment in their lives, and it's a moment that will be explored in the back of the season. That's not something that we're going to make people wait months and years for; we're going to get those questions sooner rather than later.
Looking at the future timeline, how did you decide that Beth would be next the character shown?
Aptaker: We have this master plan where everyone ends up, as well, so we're no more debating that in the writers' room. What is to do the most exciting, when is the most dramatic? There was a lot of speculation that Beth had died or was in some kind of physical jeopardy in the future, and that was never part of our plan for the show. We want people to enjoy that Beth stories without wondering if she was to meet this untimely death, so it was important to show us was OK. But at the same time, that was a packed scene, and there was a lot of information there that asked a lot of new questions.
What were your inspirations for Randall's speech during the debate?
Aptaker: That debate scene was what we were building to all season and part of the reason we wanted to tell this story. [We knew] seeing Sterling in that venue and with his incredible acting chops would be so thrilling. And that's what we find this exciting about this race here is that it's this guy who has never done this before a professional politician who's had 8,000 debates, so seeing Ringall's going to be able to harness What makes us all love him in this very specific circumstance against this guy who knows exactly how to spin things and prod at him. He is a disruptor, which is so interesting in politics right now where people come from all kinds of background. Randall is this outsider, is he going to be able to win over this community?
Is he going to fight with how to actually deliver on the promises he's making? Is it really interesting to see him?
Berger: It was interesting to see Sterling and Randall in a situation where he is uncomfortable because he is such a natural connector. And then it was so satisfy for us to see him take a moment, realizing "OK it is not when I'm at my best, when I'm on this podium. I'm at my best when I'm sitting down on the stage, connecting with people. "And yeah, as much as he's a disruptor, I'd call him a connector. He reaches out in a lot of ways and it felt to us like he was born to do this.
Aptaker: Randall has not really considered how much it's going to affect his family and the sacrifices he's going to have to make as a husband and a father for this all-consuming campaign, a two-hour drive from his house. We're starting to see the cracks in a really scary way by the end of this midseason finale already.
Berger: They're definitely going to be tested. Their girls – at least two of them – are at a age where things are only going to get more complicated, Randall is only going to get busier whether it's politics or something else, Beth has to figure out what she wants to do. There's a lot going on in the home, so it's going to be a pressure cooker.
Speaking of Randall's family, Tess told her parents she thinks she likes girls. How much do you want to actually find her dating at this point in the story?
Berger: I think kids are a little bit more savvy about this stuff from a younger age than I think even we were growing up, and it's more naturally a conversation point in their lives. Now that we've brought it up, it's definitely something we're going to see her dealing with slowly this season and the coming seasons.
"This Is Us" airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on NBC.