‘This Is Us’ Creator Dan Fogelman On “Cathartic” Season 5 Premiere, Big New Twist & COVID-Impacted Storylines

Nellie Andreeva
·7-min read

SPOILER ALERT: The story includes details about the Season 5 premiere of NBC’s This Is Us.

Tonight, the No.1 broadcast drama series, NBC’s This Is Us, was the first to return on the air. It packed an emotional punch in the two-hour Season 5 premiere, which tackled COVID-19 and the George Floyd protests through the lives of the Pearsons, still reeling from the Kevin-Randall fight in the Season 4 finale that threatened to tear the family apart. In a signature This Is Us fashion, the opener also dropped a shocking twist at the very end, revealing that Randall’s birth mother, Laurel, known to have died of an overdose shortly after he was born, was actually revived by a paramedic. In a press call and a follow-up interview, This Is Us creator Dan Fogelman unpacked the two opening episodes, which he wanted to air before the election “because I think they are difficult and they are hopeful.”

BACK FROM THE DEAD

This is the second time This Is Us has brought to life a character that had been presumed dead, following Jack’s brother Nicky. There won’t be a third, despite some fans hoping against hope that Jack did not die from the fire, Fogelman told Deadline.

“No, Jack is definitely not alive, and no, nobody else is coming back to life,” he said of the series, which is poised to end its run with Season 6.

While declining to reveal whether Laurel is alive in present time, Fogelman promised that answers will come pretty quickly — within the first half of the season — on her fate and what happened after she took that deep breath at the end of the premiere. We will also get a glimpse at her origin story.

“That’s a big part of Randall’s journey in the front half of this season,” Fogelman said. “It’s about her, and it’s also really about Randall’s character and what learning her story does for him.”

THERAPIST CHANGE

Sterling K. Brown’s Randall was at the center of the premiere, expressing his anguish over George Floyd’s death while also reflecting on his Pearson family upbringing with no one to turn to on issues a young black man grapples with.

Struggling to process his feeling that had boiled up for decades, Randall felt the need to talk to a therapist but could not confide in Dr. Leigh (Pamela Adlon). He informed her of his plan to switch to a Black therapist. Fogelman said that Randall will start the search in Episode 3 and will find a new therapist who will be a recurring character this season.

“At the end of this episode, when Randall makes his move to change therapists and returns home to his family, he’s pulling away a little bit, for a moment, not just from Kevin, on the heels of the fight, but from his family in general,” Fogelman said. “This man who loved this family, and loved them fiercely, is having a moment to pull back and process a lot about his life.”

COVID COMPLICATIONS

Headed to a clinical trial in St. Louis, Rebecca (Mandy Moore) and Miguel (Jon Huertas) took a detour, quarantining at the Pearson cabin after the trial was postponed because of the pandemic. It was one of several changes to the story Fogelman and his team had to make in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Obviously, it’s something that’s happening to many people all over the country and all over the world right now, where health plans are being either postponed or irreparably changed,” Fogelman said. “It’s possible Rebecca and Miguel could be in St. Louis for part of our season next year,” he added.

As for Rebecca’s medical prognosis in light of her latest incident on the Big 3’s 40th birthday, teased in last season’s Thanksgiving episode, “there’s a long journey ahead with this disease,” Fogelman said. “Because of where the disease is currently in terms of research and science, there’s a path we can still stick to for what our plan is for Rebecca that is not altered forever by the pandemic but more in the short-term, in terms of her location and where she’s living.”

REBECCA ❤️ MIGUEL

Rebecca and Miguel got a significant airtime in the premiere being romantic at the cabin. That is a precursor of things to come this season, Fogelman said as This Is Us will finally tell the duo’s love story.

“It becomes a bigger part of the season in the back half of this season and heading into next, where you’re really experiencing, post-Jack, this courtship period, what came to pass between them. We have big plans for them, as well, in the sixth season of the show.”

While editing their scenes from tonight’s opener, “I found it really enjoyable to be with them and watch them be sweet with each other and to watch them hold each other up,” Fogelman said. “It’s a place, both as an older couple but also the younger couple, that when we’ve gone there, it’s always been rewarding for us, so it’s something we’re looking forward to doing more of this season.”

KEVIN ❤️ MADISON?

Kevin (Justin Hartley) and Madison’s (Caitlin Thompson) relationship storyline also underwent an adjustment because of the pandemic.

“There was always a plan to focus on this kind of new, strange, odd moment between Madison and Kevin, for instance, but now, it’s under the prism of them being strangers who are somewhat quarantining together,” Fogelman said.

Kevin and Madison, whose relationship started with a one-night stand that resulted in a pregnancy, got engaged in the Season 5 premiere when Kevin proposed after a pregnancy health scare. For the new couple, “things are happening in reverse, in hyper-speed, in a show that very much treats love very romantically,” Fogelman said.

Despite the seeming bliss, engagement and twin babies on the way, “it’s not just going to be this easy love story like some of our other love stories have been,” Fogelman said. “There’s affection and chemistry there, but they still don’t really know each other. So, it’s fair to say they have an up-and-down journey ahead of them.”

Fogelman confirmed his statement after the Season 4 finale that “There are many more chapters in Kevin’s romantic story,” indicating that the This Is Us resident bachelor is not spoken for just yet.

MIA ELI

The pandemic also impacted Kevin and Madison’s prenatal care. The Season 4 finale introduced the characters of Madison’s OBGYN Eli (Josh Hamilton) and his horse whisperer teenage daughter Sadie (Glory Rose). We were supposed to see more of Eli this season but that is now very much up in the air, and neither was in the Season 5 premiere.

“That’s one of the few things that we had to change a little bit,” Fogelman said, “It’s complicated, as I had a baby during this period in quarantine, and it really changes what doctor appointments look like and feel like.”

Will we see the doctor and his daughter at all? “My hope is to see them, but I’m unclear on a couple of logistical things,” Fogelman said.

PEARSON VS. PEARSON

After the big Randall-Kevin fight in the Season 4 finale, there was another sibling face-off in the Season 5 opener. Randall (Sterling) and Kate’s (Chrissy Metz) exchange in front of the cabin was as gut-wrenching but in a very different way.

“I think the scene, which I can’t really take credit for, came a lot from Kay’s soul,” Fogelman said of his co-writer Kay Oyegun. “For me, it’s a conversation between two family members who love each other. Randall’s pointing out a point of view to a white person who’s reckoning with something.”

There are a lot of “very cathartic” moments in tonight’s premiere, and the Randall-Kate scene stands out among them, Fogelman said. “I hope people respond to it the way I do, because I really love it.”

The This Is Us two-hour opener was written by Fogelman, Kay Oyegun & Jake Schnesel and directed by Ken Olin.

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