‘This Is Us’ Producer Explains Death And Family Connections In Light Of Jack And William Revelations

Last week’s episode of This Is Us, “The Game Plan,” featured some dramatic revelations about not one, but two, paternal characters on the show. That’s a spoiler alert warning for anyone who has yet to watch. Audiences finally got a glimpse into why Rebecca might have ended up with Miguel and also where the plot line involving Randall’s biological father, currently battling cancer, is going.

When Kate told her boyfriend Toby that she likes to watch the Steelers games with her father, she showed him an urn that had been on her shelf. This confirmed what many fans had come to suspect: that Jack, played by Milo Ventimiglia in early decades on the show, is not alive in the present. As

As Entertainment Weekly also noted, the episode showed what appeared to be Randall in the future, grieving William by packing up his clothes and cradling his hat.

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Producer Dan Fogelman told EW that the structure of those scenes and the place of death in the show itself is intended to convey a message about a person’s deceased loved ones, and about how they do not leave one’s life.

“[T]he ending of this episode is very much about how when people die, they don’t have to necessarily leave us and leave the big, giant painting that is our life, and that’s the message there.

“It felt important to thematically link [Jack’s death] to the theme of the episode as well, because logistically, on our show, a character could die tomorrow, but it doesn’t meant the actor leaves the show, because the character very much remains a part of the story.”

As for the revelation about William, Fogelman was quick to say that the death doesn’t necessarily happen immediately. Although EW termed it the show’s first flash forward, the scene may have been more about the inevitability of such a circumstance in Randall’s life.

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“The William part of it is meant to be this almost metaphysical glimpse at a hypothetical future. Ron Cephas Jones, the actor, is very much alive in episode 6, for instance, in present day. But we have this ominous thing looming in some kind of distant or near-distant future.”

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Meanwhile, the show’s actors had high praise for each other in discussion with Entertainment Weekly. Sterling K. Brown, who plays Randall, acknowledged Justin Hartley, who plays Kevin, and his chat with Randall’s daughters at the end of “The Game Plan” about the personal meaning the Broadway play in which he’s starring has for him. Kevin left a successful sitcom after being forced to say silly lines and look pretty.

Subsequent installments have shown Kevin to have been a child who struggled to get noticed, with parents Rebecca and Jack preoccupied with Kate and Randall. In an interview with Access Hollywood reported on by People, Hartley revealed he has had similar struggles as an actor cast as “eye candy,” but was okay with telling Kevin’s story on-screen, even if it meant showing off some skin in the beginning.

“[I]n order to tell that story you have to sort of show it in that story, right? So I then had to have my shirt off quite a bit in the pilot. That I don’t mind at all, you know storytelling. But the gratuitous stuff it does, it gets a little old sometimes, right?”

Hartley also noted that he’s more aware of those issues now that he’s raising a daughter, Isabella. The proud poppa noted the 12-year-old gets high grades and told her dad she also wants to be an actor.

This Is Us airs Tuesday nights on NBC. The show has received a full-season order from the network, which will total 22 episodes.

[Featured Image by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images]