This is it for This Is Us. In conjunction with tonight’s emotional series finale of the NBC family drama (You can read our recap with additional details here), creator/executive producer Dan Fogelman breaks down the episode and answers questions about key moments and scenes, including his choice of final lines of dialogue and shot and the decision not to show Big Three’s eulogies of their mom. He also speaks about filmed but unused footage, Randall’s political future, potential spinoffs and addresses dog Audio’s fate.
As Fogelman has previously revealed, about two-thirds of the finale had been written by him and shot about four years ago. (The other third he had loosely mapped out in his mind long time ago). That included the scenes of Jack, Rebecca and young Big Three spending Saturday together in the old house as well as Randall and William discussing mortality and the joys of being a grandparent.
The choices of This Is Us‘ final lines and shot:
As imaginary Jack and Rebecca in the caboose tell each other “I love you,” the finale ends with a montage to a sweeping score previously used in the Season 1 episode when Kevin showed his painting to his nieces. The camera takes turns on each of the Big Three, with the last shot being Randall as a child and Jack from the Saturday scene with the camera focusing on Jack as he looks on his family.
Fogelman: “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… I thought this original love story, sentiment-wise was the right language to end on.”
Jack and Rebecca’s final train scene dialogue was one of the hardest scenes to write in the finale, Fogelman said.
“That started really getting to me, I think it was the moment when he says ‘We did good You did so good.’ For me, as a new parent and having had parents, the idea that moves me, at the end of the day, that you get to sit down potentially and be told a job well done by somebody because it’s so hard.”
This is how Fogelman described the final shot in his script: “Interior: Living Room. Jack is sitting down on the couch, his family is laughing and wrestling and playing Pin the Tail On the Donkey. He’s taking them in.”
As to why he chose to end with the shot of young Randall and Jack:
“In that shot, older Randall is indicative of the grown children or a child when it’s fully grown. And [Jack] in that moment is representative of a parent who’s taking in his entire family. I just wanted the simplicity of the shot of the child taking in the 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. It was less about these two men, who have been cornerstones of our show, obviously, but it was less about Randall and Jack and it was more about a child and parent in that moment.”
Why the Big Three were seen but not heard eulogizing Rebecca at the memorial service:
While we saw Randall struggling with writing his eulogy of Rebecca (“Mom was magic” was all he could muster on a cue card), the show opted for a music montage of the memorial service, including the Big Three’s speeches.
Fogelman: “It was scripted that way, there were a couple of reasons for it. Number one, so much of the previous episode was about people emoting, people saying this stuff to Rebecca and Lord knows Randall could give the world’s perfect eulogy, but what else is he going to say about his mother at this point that he hasn’t already said on the show? So on a logistical level, that was partially it.
But for me, more importantly, I lost my mom, and very similarly, sat up all night the night before, deciding that people were waiting for the perfect eulogy from me, it had to be the right levels of touching and funny, and it had to be well written and I had to deliver it well. And I stayed up all night, like a lunatic and frankly, like a martyr, trying to write my mother, whom I adored, the perfect eulogy. My experience of the day and frankly, the week or two after was that, as I described in the script, I just kind of floated through space and time and didn’t hear anything. I worked so hard on that eulogy, and I don’t remember a single word I said. I remember locking eyes with my best friend who was sitting in the audience and crying, but I don’t remember anything. And I wanted to visually capture that.
So on the day when we shot those eulogies, there had been nothing scripted, the guys didn’t even know they were going to be doing that. And Sterling [K. Brown] and Justin [Hartley] and Chrissy [Metz], along with me, we came up with ideas of what they might talk about, and then they just improvised stuff, because I wanted it to feel like a funeral, and I wanted the people listening to be listening to something. But at the end of the day, the eulogies were never scripted, it was always about a son floating through a funeral of his mother as if it’s almost in slow motion.”
Randall’s political future And This is Us’ Sopranos Moment:
In the finale, The Big Three shared their plans for the future. Kate will be opening more music schools for the visually impaired, Kevin is focusing on his nonprofit while Randall, whose rising political career had been teased for a couple of seasons, is exploring a run for President with a trip to Iowa. What happens to Randall and was there ever a plan to show that in a flash-forward?
Fogelman: “I think Randall’s political journey ahead of him is probably the closest we come on the show to kind of our Sopranos going to black at the end of the episode, and you’re left to choose your own adventure as to what you think happens with him. Does he even decide to run at the end, do him and Beth decide they’d rather settle at home? If he runs, how much trashing does he get? Does he win?
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.
But we were never tempted to flash forward. There were definitely a lot of conversations about how we were showing the end of Randall’s political journey. We all felt that if we had hypothetically flash forward to Randall sitting in the White House, that wasn’t what the show is, it would have broken a little, a little bit. So we loved ending it on the hint of promise of further and further stardom to this exceptional, extraordinary character without going all the way there.”
Unused Footage, which may see the light of day
Almost all material filmed four years ago for the finale found its way into the episode. Almost.
Fogelman: “Towards the opening of the finale, you see the three little kids waking up, intercut with the three adult kids waking up on the morning of their mother’s funeral. And then Jack’s voice calls them downstairs for breakfast. I recorded stuff that we barely scripted, Jack’s flipping pancakes and making pancakes and then intercut with Randall, his much younger family in the old house flipping pancakes and making pancakes. It was so charming, and it was speaking to the theme at the end of the episode — which is what the entire series has been about — that you carry this stuff forward with you without even thinking about it.
But it was a little bit abstract. The kids were younger, you were in a different timeline with Randall and as cute as it was, I thought we spoke to it better at the end of the episode, and so I didn’t keep it but I was so charming and the kids are so young. and I think I’m going to put it online at some point.”
The Inevitable This Is Us spinoffs question:
Fogelman: “I think I’m pretty set on this being it. I think that this show was always about this generation of the family and the sprawl of their family within those times. Obviously there’s more stories to potentially be told on the adult lives of their children and grandchildren but that was never the intent of the series. Every generational family novel can go back further and go forward further if you so choose. We had the beginning, middle and end points of where our timeline would start center and end, and this was always the plan.”
This Is Us: The Randall & Deja Story?
For Randall and Deja’s story, this little girl who was adopted by him to end her journey by calling him dad naturally and casually and saying, I’m pregnant with my childhood sweetheart, and I’m going to be naming my son after your father who was such an instrumental… that feels like the completion of that journey.
There’s always going to be another part of the story if you continue to go further, which is the whole theme of our show. But my well is pretty dry right now, and I think we wanted to end the show when we felt we were at our creative strong point before it got too tiring and too hard for us to come up with ways to keep it special and interesting. So I feel we’ve hit the right endpoint and, who knows what change of hearts and minds midlife crisis brings but I really feel we’ve put these stories to bed now and certainly for quite a bit of time.”
Keeping the finale simple and twist-free
While This Is Us is well known for its surprise twists and turns, starting with the revelation at the end of the pilot episode that Jack was dead, the series finale was relatively simple episode by design.
Fogelman: “I always felt that that was the ending of the show and that, amid all the talk of twists and turns and death and house fires and appliances that cause house fires, where the show really lived was just with the family and with stuff that the family was exploring. I always thought that the boldest and most confident step and ending for the show would be pulling out one final magic trick at the end. And then one one big, emotional, sad ending and allowing the final episode to be a simple reflection on family and time.
I think in some ways, that’s the most challenging stuff. The twists and turns, while you always want to make sure you do those right, the most ambitious stuff and the most challenging stuff has always been the simple stuff. And that’s also the most rewarding and that’s why for us, even though 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.”
Audio’s Happy Tails
There had been a lot of fan concern online about the fate of Kate and Toby’s furchild, which has not been seen on the show for a long time.
Fogelman: “The dog is there. Nothing’s happened to him. We just we were dealing with 15,000 screaming babies in the final season, and Audio is resting comfortably. I believe Kate and Toby post-divorce, shared custody, and he lived happily ever after a very long happy life.”