"We get to be on that journey with them and it definitely won't be uneventful," Chrissy Metz tells PEOPLE of what's to come this season

By Karen Mizoguchi
October 27, 2020 11:00 PM
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This Is Us once again returned with a season premiere full of new revelations, more unanswered questions and one heck of a surprise ending.

On Tuesday, the fifth installment of NBC's time-hopping show kicked off with two episodes, titled "Forty: Part One and Part Two," during which audiences revisited the day Kevin (Justin Hartley) and Kate (Chrissy Metz) were born and Randall (Sterling K. Brown) was welcomed into the Pearson family. This time, fans learned more about Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) and Rebecca (Mandy Moore)'s experience of becoming first-time parents, while also uncovering details about Randall's birth through his biological parents William (Jermel Nakia) and Laurel (Jennifer C. Holmes). A particularly touching scene was when William prayed for someone to take care of his son in the hospital chapel, Jack walked in as William was leaving.

Elsewhere, in the present-day timeline on the Big Three's 40th birthday, the Pearsons found themselves handling the coronavirus pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement in different ways. Randall, for one, was overwhelmed with his many responsibilities as a city councilman, as well as his creeping anxiety issues — which he's kept at bay, for now, with therapy. Ultimately, Randall showed up at the family cabin, but not for the birthday celebration. It was to check on Rebecca, who got lost during an errand, the terrifying result of a mix of medications messing with her memory, which appeared to be declining — and unable to be examined in the now-postponed St. Louis clinical trial.

Credit: NBC

The elephant in the cabin was the rift between Randall and Kevin, which did not improve despite Kevin telling Randall he was the first family member to learn that he and Madison (Caitlin Thompson) are expecting a daughter and son. However, what Kevin did not disclose to Randall was that he sprung a proposal on Madison, even calling her his fiancée in front of the family.

While This Is Us will take a short break and return the week after Election Day, there were several major cliffhangers to keep viewers busy with questions and possible theories. In the final minute of the premiere, audiences saw Randall's biological mother Laurel, who was presumed dead after giving birth, exhale a large breath and shock paramedics — right after William ran out of their apartment to drop off their newborn son at the fire station.

So how will Laurel impact Randall's life in the present day? Series creator Dan Fogelman spoke with reporters on Tuesday to discuss the shocking ending, as well as what's planned for the rest of season 5. Meanwhile, Metz spoke with PEOPLE about how the pandemic could affect Kate's process to adopt a second child.

Credit: NBC

Randall

Questions surrounding Randall's birth mother Laurel will be answered "well within the first half of our season," Fogelman said, adding, "There's obviously a story to tell continuing onward from that moment. ... It's certainly not something we're going to drag on in mystery over multiple seasons. There's a pretty quick answer. I think it will be found to be elegantly done."

Fogelman also said season 5 will explore Laurel's background and will dive into Randall "coming to terms with some of his own questions about his identity."

"Randall's story, big picture, has always been a story of identity. He's a man that's constantly, like many people who come from different backgrounds, searching for who he is and where he's from. It's always been a part of his story, his story of his birth mother that we've never really filled out and told. I think for Randall, for that character, until he can get some answers there and some kind of closure, it will be the final step of coming to terms with some of his own questions about his identity," he said. "Randall's mother hasn't played a prominent part in our story thus far. Who is she? Where is she from? What is her story? So that's a big part of Randall's journey in the front half of this season."

Also in Randall's present-day life, therapy will be a major focus. During his drive home to Philadelphia from the family cabin, he called his therapist Dr. Leigh (Pamela Adlon) to tell her he would longer be working with her and would find a Black therapist instead.

"He or she will be a recurring part of this season," said Fogelman, who confirmed that Randall's search for his new therapist will come up in the next episode. "It's not as if he suddenly hires a new therapist and suddenly his whole world unlocks. That's not the way therapy works, nor is it the way Randall specifically works. There's a journey there. Randall is trying to put on a show a little bit."

Credit: NBC

Kate

Metz spoke with PEOPLE about the "really, really powerful" way the show addressed the pandemic and Black Lives Matter movement in the present-day timeline. "To see Randall and Beth and the girls, everybody going through this — what does that look like? How has it shaped who he was, and who he's going to be, and who he is? It's absolutely necessary and very, very important," the singer said. "I'm just very proud to be a part of a show that is brave enough to address this stuff that is so vital and so important."

At the family cabin, Kate and Randall had a tearful conversation about the country's racial reckoning. Her intentions may have been good, but her apology — "I'm so sorry about what's going on" — prompted Randall to unload on his sister about their upbringing.

"We grew up in the same house, things like this have been happening to Black people for years, but we never talked about it. Not once. Not once in 40 years," Randall said.

Fans learned that young Randall (Lonnie Chavis) was alone when he watched protesters on TV in 1995 after the killing of Jonny Gammage by Pittsburgh police officers. "Growing up, I had to keep so many things to myself because I didn't want to make you guys feel bad. I didn't want you to worry about saying the wrong thing," Randall told Kate. "Normally, I would try to make it all okay for you, but if I did that, Kate, where does that leave me? I'm sorry, I can't do that. That has been my pattern all my life and that has been exhausting."

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If fans felt Randall was pulling away from the Pearson family, they may be right on the nose. "I find this scene between Chrissy and Sterling so complicated and so interesting. ... [The writers] are constantly reminding us that this isn't just a Black man and white woman having this conversation, these are family members who grew up in the same home. It's a specific dynamic. There's so much love amidst this really intense conversation," Fogelman shared. "At the end of this episode, when Randall kind of makes his move to change therapists and returns home to his family, he's pulling away a little bit for the moment — not just from Kevin on the heels of the fight, but from his family in general."

But the tension between Kate and Randall won't develop into another sibling rift, according to Fogelman. "They're in a complicated, nebulous place right now, and there's a reckoning required for this family, a little bit, and some healing required," he said.

After, Kate was left mulling over and reassessing her childhood until her husband Toby (Chris Sullivan) delivered the happy news from their adoption agency. In the final minutes of the premiere, audiences saw Kate and Toby looking over the RaiseAChild.org profile of 33-year-old Ellie from San Pedro, California, who matched with the hopeful parents-to-be.

"Of course, nothing is simple. And that's the thing, I think that's what people relate to so much, is that best-laid plans. We think things are going to be simple. And sometimes they're simple, or they're a little easier than we imagined. But it's a pandemic," Metz teased to PEOPLE about what's in store for Kate and Toby. "There's a pandemic happening and they're thinking about adopting. That's very big ... They might have bitten off more than they could chew. So we'll see. We get to be on that journey with them and it definitely won't be uneventful."

Credit: NBC

Kevin

After learning about the pregnancy, Kevin chose to live with Madison in her guest room and it's safe to say their relationship has quickly become complicated. Also, Kate and Toby, who drove cross country to the cabin with the parents-to-be, were just as surprised about the baby news as Kevin and haven't gotten used to the idea of him being romantically involved with Madison.

Then, Madison had a pregnancy scare after falling on her stomach. She and Kevin rushed to a local urgent care where the doctor initially was unable to hear one of the twin's heartbeat. While waiting in the doctor's room, fear and heightened emotions made Kevin go from zero to 100 real quick when he asked Madison to marry him.

"Our babies are gonna be fine, they're gonna be fine. And I know that sounds crazy but I can see it. We're gonna have two beautiful, healthy babies and they're gonna be amazing. And we're gonna be amazing parents together. Hell with it, I say we just get married. Let's shock the world and get married, live happily ever after and all that," he told Madison before he pulled down her face mask and she nodded yes.

Soon after, the doctor returned with a different ultrasound machine that revealed the second baby's healthy heartbeat. With the scare behind them, Madison gave Kevin the opportunity to take back his proposal but he didn't, so guess they are engaged? Even they aren't quite sure.

The next episode will highlight Kevin and Madison's rushed relationship, Fogelman said. "Things are happening in reverse and in hyperspeed," the showrunner explained. "This is a show that very much treats love very romantically. It's a lot of wide-eyed optimists who write and act in this show. People who fall in love at first sight and have these beautiful courtships and grand romantic gestures. Even Kevin has constantly on the show, as we've had different love interests for him, that's the one he's fallen in the past."

"Everything is mixed up and out of order. Combined with that, Kevin's wiring, which probably comes from his parents and siblings, is to be a little bit more traditional, so the combination of those two things creates an interesting dynamic going forward," he continued. "These two people who barely know each other, they're going to have babies together. There's still affection and chemistry there but they still don't know each other. It's fair to say they have an up and down journey ahead of them. It's not just going to be an easy love story, like some of our other love stories have been."

Credit: NBC

Rebecca

Speaking of love stories, Rebecca and Miguel have been "riding out" the pandemic at the family cabin. "It's something we've been really looking forward to," Fogelman said of exploring their relationship. "It becomes a bigger part of the season in the back half of this season and into the next. We'll be experiencing a post-Jack courtship period and what came to pass between them. We have big plans for them as well in the '60s and in the present day. I found in this episode it was really enjoyable to be with them and watch them be sweet with each other and watch them hold each other up. It's a place both as an older couple but also a younger couple when we've gone there, it's always been rewarding for us."

Also, Rebecca's participation in the St. Louis clinical trial has been postponed, and what was supposed to be a two-week getaway to the cabin has turned into months. "Obviously it's what's been happening to many people all over the country and all over the world, where health plans are being either postponed or kind of irreparably changed," Fogelman said.

"What we've been trying to do with every storyline we've shown is stick to our plan and roadmap for where the characters' arcs are going while still accommodating for these world events," he continued. "So on a functional level, yes, it's possible for Rebecca and Miguel to be in St. Louis for part of our season next year. In this case, they are still separated from the family in a slightly different way by quarantining at the cabin."

"In terms of her medical prognosis, there's a long journey ahead with this disease," he added. "And 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."

This Is Us returns Nov. 10 at 9 p.m. ET on NBC.