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'It's probably as proud as I've ever been of an episode of the show'
[Warning: The following contains spoilers for Tuesday's series finale of This Is Us, "Us". Read at your own risk!]
Season after season, This Is Us has made headlines for its time-bending twists and turns. The NBC drama made Tuesday nights appointment viewing so fans could see how the Pearsons fared in their latest crises across multiple timelines. Tears and hugs were shared through house fires, surprise pregnancies, divorces, first and last loves, and so much more. You would expect a series known for making its audience gasp so often would end on a crescendo, but that is the opposite of what happened in the This Is Us finale.
Instead of a gimmicky twist like finding out how everyone dies, the finale oscillated between Rebecca's (Mandy Moore) funeral and a lazy Pearson Saturday, exactly like the one Rebecca described as the thing she feared forgetting the most when she was first diagnosed with Alzheimer's in Season 4.
"I probably felt the most pressure in these final two episodes to get it done as close to the way that I intended to get it done," This Is Us creator and executive producer Dan Fogelman told press, including TV Guide, during a conference call discussing the finale. "Amidst all the talk of twists and turns and deaths and house fires and appliances that cause house fires, where the show really lived was just with a family… I always felt that the boldest and most confident step in ending the show was pulling out one final magic trick at the end, and the one, big, obviously emotionally sad ending and death. Then allowing the final episode to be a simple reflection on family and time. In some ways, that's the most challenging stuff. ... The most ambitious stuff and the most challenging stuff has always been the simple stuff. That's also the most rewarding, and that's why even if there aren't a lot of bells and whistles on the final episode, it's probably as proud as I've ever been of an episode of the show."
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As the Big 3 said goodbye to their mother and ruminated on where their lives would go next in present day — Kevin (Justin Hartley) focusing on his non-profit, Kate (Chrissy Metz) taking her education plan international, and Randall (Sterling K. Brown) potentially running for president — a flashback saw Rebecca and Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) entertaining their tween children on a random Saturday. Jack taught his boys how to shave for the first time and Kate schooled everyone in Pin the Tail on the Donkey. They were flashbacks that could have been embedded in any previous episode of This Is Us, but to Fogelman's point, perfectly embodied what has made this show so special for six years and thus made the perfect end piece to the Pearson family story.
It's a good thing that it worked out so well, because the flashback scenes were all shot at least three seasons ago and Fogelman didn't watch the footage until a month before shooting the rest of the finale.
"I did not have a backup plan, which is what made it so scary. I felt confident because I'd been there on the days when we shot that footage all those years ago. Ken Olin and I had been really intensively on top of it because we knew how important it was going to wind up being. So I felt confident globally that it was going to work," Fogelman explained. "I knew how good Milo and Mandy and the kids were going to be in it. It was more that, 'Is it all working as I planned or, do I need to make slight adjustments?' Not overhaul the entire plan, but do I need to consider altering a storyline in the present to accommodate for something small that might not be working in the past? I didn't have a full-fledged backup plan which is what made it all a little bit terrifying. It's why I had to watch the first cut of the past footage with my wife, which I've never done before because I was too scared to watch it alone."
The final shots of the series intercut between adult Randall in the present taking in his family as they sat around the new cabin after the funeral and young Randall watching Jack do the same thing with their family in the past. It was set up to showcase the show's relationship with time and to show how the bonds of parents and children continue on whether those parents are still physically with us or not.
"I thought in that shot, older Randall is indicative of the grown children, or a child who has fully grown. And Milo, in that moment, is representing a parent who is taking in his entire family. I just wanted the simplicity of that shot, of the child taking in their parent at a moment when the parent is taking in something bigger, and knowing that that child will carry it forward in their own lives."
Now that the series has officially wrapped, Fogelman plans to take a vacation before starting any new projects, and no, he doubts there will ever be a spin-off. In the meantime, finally sharing the final episodes, especially with his inner circle, has driven it home that the This Is Us journey is officially ending.
"As we speak today on the day of the finale, I'm feeling a lot of things but for the first time, it's kind of sinking in," he admitted. "I think seeing the core group of people that I made this show with watch these final two and react to them has been the most I've been able to allow myself to feel, and that includes not just the main cast but the executive producers I've been working with all these years so closely and spending every minute of my life talking about the show with. When I finally show it to people, when I care so much about their opinion, and they react positively, it's been especially meaningful and moving me the most in this entire exhausting ending."
While there will be no new episode of This Is Us anymore, the series can be streamed on Hulu and Peacock.