Major spoilers for This Is Us are ahead:
This Is Us returned Tuesday night for its fourth season and there were shockers in the premiere episode, (titled “Strangers”) which actually didn’t feature much of the “Big 3″ at all and more so focused on the newly-introduced, but still mysterious, characters like Malik (Asante Blackk) and his parents (Omar Epps and Marsha Stephanie Blake).
Shadow And Act was among the media outlets that creator and showrunner Dan Fogelman spoke to ahead of the premiere, diving into one of the big reveals from the premiere, how the new characters will factor into the season, anticipating viewer reaction to the new characters and more.
A big reveal made during the premiere is that Kate and Toby’s son, Jack Pearson-Damon, is blind. This is shown through flashforwards that depict the character as an adult, portrayed by actor Blake Stadnik, who is legally blind and a musician. On the choice to write the character as such, Fogelman said, “We’ve always known for a while now that Kate’s son was going to be born prematurely, and blindness–retinopathy–is a very common thing that would come from that. But we’ve always known that this was where we were heading. It wasn’t kind of a debate about what type of thing may or may not happen as opposed to just kind of…it was always part of the character and the story that we were planning on telling. Music has always been a big part of this family’s story generationally and obviously continues on down the line.”
Fogelman says they do plan to return to this point in time with Jack as an adult, which is 10 years beyond the furthest future scenes with Rebecca. He explained, “It’s a difficult period to go to all the time cause we’re pretty deep into the future and it presents production challenges. But we do plan on returning. We have a plan, but I can’t get into too much. But he will be returned to. Right now, we’re telling stories in the beginning half of this season that focus a little bit more on the present-day stories. But, it is a place we’re heading towards again multiple times, especially because we had an experience with the young man who was acting on camera literally for the first time in his entire life. That was so rewarding for us and we fell so in love with the actor that sometimes those things happen and the parts get even bigger than you were planning on making them.”
On the future and prominence of the new characters introduced in the first episode, Fogelman says to expect to see them around but stresses the importance of their meaning to the greater storylines of the Big 3. “I think obviously these new characters are framed as characters who are going to have massive impacts on our main families’ lives,” he said. “It’s fair to say they’re massive parts of this season. They’re not just in a one-off episode as a person who was in a room when Nikki threw a chair through the window or to meet Deja at a party. It’s going to go far beyond that. And it’s a slow build. Part of the intent here was to establish these characters so that you met them kind of pure and outside of the purview of the Pearson family. And now, we slowly start building them into their worlds and see how they kind of effect and really change their lives. From Jennifer [Morrison] to Asante, they’re huge parts of this storyline this season.”
As for the timing of bringing these new characters into the fold, Fogelman says it was always planned and was always thought to be at this time during the series’ run. “We had always talked about in the middle of the series, to do this episode to start a season with these characters who were going to come in and kind of change the course of people’s lives. We’re just writing a show about the collective ‘us’ as people and different types of people from different walks of life. And I’ve always been fascinated with the idea that we can all go about our lives for 10, 20, 30, 40 years and there’s a person who will enter your life via work or you’ll meet them at a bar or a coffee shop, and you’ll end up marrying that person or working with that person for the next 30 years. Or that person will hit you in a car accident and that will kind of alter the course of your life. So I’ve always wanted for this show in particular, to go in the middle of the series to these new people who haven’t been a part of our story yet [and] really spend the time to get inside of their worlds a little bit and then say, ‘Oh, okay, that’s going to be an interesting, strange person to cross with one of my beloved characters at that moment in their lives.’ It’s not just to add characters to the story. These stories are really about Randall and Kevin and Kate and Jack and Rebecca. These characters are servicing them while also rounding out our world. I think by the end of this season, you’ll really see that the effect that these new characters have had on the lives of the people that we really know. This is just the starting point.”
Fogelman hopes that viewers will understand and not be taken aback that their faves are not the focal point of the premiere. “I have a lot of faith in our fans. I mean, it’s not like we’re doing an entire season of television without the Big 3 in it,” he said. “This is a starting point for our first episode, and our next three, four or five episodes are just wildly traditional episodes of the show. I think we’ve just always planned this and I think having Jack and Rebecca so prominent in this storyline anchors us in this really exciting time period where they are. I believe the payoff at the end earns it and sends us forward in a really exciting direction. We have many dozens of episodes left to make of this television series and it’s not going anywhere. The medium continues to stretch, in how stories are told. I think one of the great, exciting benefits of having so many seasons of the show picked up, the show [becoming] popular and our fans being so devoted and loyal is that you can do things like this and take people on a ride. And hopefully, we’ve earned people’s trust that we’re going to kind of get them back to their characters. We’re not doing a season without Sterling K. Brown or Chrissy Metz or Justin Hartley. We’re not lunatics [laughs]. By next week, they’ll be getting all of their comfort food.”
And on fans wanting to get back to the “her” mystery surrounding Rebecca, Fogelman said, “We’re going to get a lot of answers there…especially by the end of the front half of the season. Right now, by having shown the full endgame of where we are without giving all the details, we’ve kind of set ourselves up to start the slow process of telling the story of how we get there. So this is one that will be very answered in this season even in the first kind of half and two-thirds of the season, to set us up for bigger leaps in time in the future as we get a little deeper into this season and next. Obviously, we kind of know where our endgame is and now it’s kind of the fun of filling in those details, and also when we return there to add a little bit more information that informs those future scenes without kind of jumping all the way to it and showing everything.”
This Is Us airs Tuesdays on NBC.
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