Spoiler alert: This story contains plot details from “The Big Three,” episode 2 of This Is Us.
Okay, they’re two for two.
That’s two weeks in a row that This Is Us has walloped viewers with an emotional twist/shocker at the end of an episode, with the second one showing that, yes, this show is more than just a flashy pilot.
Let’s recap: In the final minutes of the NBC dramedy’s series premiere, the dots were cleverly connected, and we discovered that the five thirtysomething individuals we had been introduced to were actually all part of the same family: Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) and Rebecca (Mandy Moore) are the parents of the Big Three, a.k.a. Kate (Chrissy Metz), Kevin (Justin Hartley) and Randall (Sterling K. Brown), and their story is unfolding in the late ‘70s while their (grown-up) kids’ tales are told in present day.
Next, the second episode opened with a bit of disorientation, as the Jack-Rebecca story flashed ahead several years to show find them struggling a bit to raise their now-8-year-old children, as Jack was having some problems at home (and with the bottle). Jack’s best friend/life counselor, Miguel (Jon Huertas), was quick to remind Jack that he had a great life and a great wife —like, a really great wife — and that he needed to hold tightly to that. “You married way, way above your station,” said Miguel. “I’d be careful not to give her a reason to notice.” Jack stumbled home (after stopping at the jewelry store), received a forceful be-a-man-and-fix-your-problems speech from Rebecca, and resolved to be more present in the marriage and in the family. Life was good again. And at the end of the episode, we prepared to see the parents’ story intersect with the kids’ for the first time. “Grandma and Grandpa are here!'” shouted one of Randall’s children. The door opened, and there stood Rebecca… and Miguel. Roll credits. Commence stomach drop.
“It’s a reveal that asks so many questions that are left to be discovered,” Ventimiglia tells EW. “The journey of all of this is the greater fun than the actual outcome, like on another show where [you ask], ‘Are they all dead? Are they all alive? What’s the thing?’” says Ventimiglia. “But this — you know that in the present day, Rebecca ends up with Miguel. Wow. When did all that happen? When did they fall in love? Have they always been in love or was there something that happened?” Chimes in Moore: “Were they divorced? Did they get divorced? Did he die? You just don’t know the trajectory of what their relationship was. It’s very much open-ended, even though that’s a big reveal. It’s like…” — she clutches her heart, feigns pain, and moans — “uuuuuhhhhhhhhh. There are so many question marks.”
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Here’s one: While the actors knew this gut punch was coming (“we didn’t quite realize it was going to be in the second episode,” notes Moore), how did Moore feel when she discovered that Rebecca’s present-day husband was not Jack, the man with whom she was so in love in the premiere? “The fact that she would be with somebody else… feels like a betrayal in some way,” she says, though is quick to add: “In my mind I don’t feel like it is. I don’t know the answer to that definitively at this point.”
“I’m rooting for Jack and Rebecca,” she continues. “I want to know their story, I want to know where that disconnect is, because I just love them so much from the first episode. I’m anxious to see where they go, what this journey is… And I’m excited, too, that we’re not married to having that storyline in any sort of real time, because we’re jumping around.”
NEXT: “You start to see the seeds of what’s to come”[pagebreak]
And jumping to the present day was something she did not know she’d be doing. She didn’t find out that plan until a few weeks before production began on the series, months after the pilot was filmed. “I got an email from Dan [Fogelman, the show’s creator],” she recalls. “He’s like, ‘So, here’s our idea. It’s not going to happen all the time, it’s going to be just spliced in every so often, and if it doesn’t work, if we all collectively agree that it’s only at 99 percent and not at 100 percent, we’ll cast an older actress to play you.” As you saw, they were able to keep it 100. “I’m not as worried about the physical,” she says. “I just want to make sure that I embody the physicality of somebody who’s older than me. But I’m excited to get to jump around so many decades.”
Both actors loved the idea of the second episode hitting you with a barrage of new information and opening abruptly in the late-’80s — at another important era in their characters’ lives. “Thee people that we meet in the pilot have definitely evolved and there’s a disconnect — a very definitive disconnect between them,” says Ventimiglia. “There’s still a deep love underlying, but I think it’s just every day rush of trying to maintain all the spinning plates.” Adds Moore: “You’re seeing the seeds of why people are they way they are — Randall the utter perfectionist, Kate has issues with food. You start to see the seeds of what’s to come.”
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While you won’t find out for awhile what transpired to set up this end-of-episode cliffhanger, you will see a little more Miguel — the present-day version — in the third episode. What to expect in the Rebecca-Jack relationship moving forward, given this new puzzle piece of information? “I think that their marriage definitely hits a rough patch at a certain point, and they may or may not be together, but I have a firm belief that nothing happens with Miguel while Jack and Rebecca are married,” says Moore. (That Rebecca is still wearing the moon necklace that Jake gave her — a gift she vowed never to take off — lends credibility to that scenario.)
“I know that Jack loves his wife,” declares Ventimiglia. “I know that Jack wants his wife to be happy.”
And you know that seven days is a long time to wait for episode 3.
To read what This Is Us creator Dan Fogelman had to say about that episode 2 cliffhanger and what to expect in episode 3, click here.