SPOILER ALERT: The story includes details about Season 6 Episode 7 of NBC’s This Is Us“Taboo.”
Thanksgiving is a big holiday for the Pearsons with family gatherings steeped in family traditions, including the Pilgrim Rick hat, so it’s not surprising that This Is Us did one final Thanksgiving episode despite its last season airing January-April. Appropriately, the episode, which airs tonight, was filmed just before the show’s Thanksgiving break.
The episode, titled “Taboo”, exposed the first big cracks in the Toby and Kate’s marriage, with Toby making a pretty abrupt 180° change from a supportive husband and romantic who would fly in after a long day to surprise Kate on her birthday a couple of episodes ago to a jerk who constantly picks up fights with her (and Kevin, too) as the two get on a path to a divorce, foreshadowed in the fast-forward last season.
Meanwhile, Kevin showed a sudden, inexplicable fascination with guitar playing and would carry on with his off-key strumming to everyone’s annoyance and protests, first in Los Angeles and then at the family cabin.
But the culmination of the episode was a Pearson powwow, in which Rebecca (Mandy Moore), joined by Miguel (Jon Huertas), sat down her adult children (Sterling K. Brown, Chrissy Metz, Justin Hartley) to relay to them her wishes for her care as she was preparing for the final stages of her Alzheimer battle.
She put Miguel in charge of making medical decisions on her behalf. “In the event Miguel God-forbid should not be around to make those decisions……Kate, I want it to be you.”
During a recent panel discussion with This Is Us creator Dan Fogelman and the show’s cast and in an interview with the episode’s writer, Laura Kenar, they discussed the heart-wrenching scene, and how it is “very much the setup for the back half of the season.” Kenar also explained why Rebecca, in her her “brave heart speech”, chose Kate as backup for Miguel. She addressed the rapid deterioration of Toby and Kate’s relationship, pointing out the simple reason behind it, as well as Kevin’s guitar hobby that sets up the upcoming trilogy of This Is Us episodes about each of the Big Three, all directed by main This Is Us cast members. (More on that later.)
How did the Piersons sit-down scene and Rebecca’s monologue come about?
FOGELMAN: That particular script I worked on with our whole group of writers and a young writer, Laura Kenar, who was a writer’s assistant on the show in Season 1 and has now become one of our writers on the staff and is one of the many people I ‘m very proud of.
We talked about that scene at length. It is very much the setup for the back half of the season. It was one of those scenes that we knew was going to take 7 minutes of our 42 minutes and 30 seconds of screen time we’re allotted every week and felt worthwhile. And, yeah, we worked really hard. I lost my mom. I didn’t I lost her quickly and unexpectedly, but I sometimes try and get inside of what if it had been a long, protracted illness that she was at the beginning of, what might have been the thing in a fictional universe she might have wanted to say to me, and I think that’s where we drove from a little bit.
Laura, did you draw on any personal experience for that scene and the rest of the Thanksgiving episode?
kenar: Having grown up with a grandfather who dealt with Alzheimer’s I personally saw how complicated the decisions become for the family and how overwhelming it is to care for someone with that disease. And there can be a lot of guessing about what the person would want. I feel like so much of this episode is about Rebecca’s empowerment of her: as a woman, a mother and a human. She bravely makes a plan for the rest of her life and unburdens her children from having any questions or guilt over her care of her. I think the writers were really aware of how the trauma of Jack’s death affected all of them and we wanted to show how Rebecca has learned from those experiences. She’s facing a disease that will take away so much of her autonomy from her and so for her to take control of the rest of her life and boldly share that plan with her family from her was pretty powerful.
Dan also said about the Rebecca scene that “It is very much the setup for the back half of the season.” Can you elaborate what that means?
kenar: Dan really wanted this monologue to be Rebecca’s “Braveheart” speech. Something that would “light a fire” (no pun intended) under the Big Three as we move towards the back half of the season. The next three episodes up are these really incredible trilogy episodes where they’re all facing these crossroads in their lives and making big and small moves. As we head towards the future time period of Rebecca’s death we’ll eventually see her “plan” de ella being put into place and experience the challenges Miguel and the kids face with her disease de ella.
Rebecca and Kate have been growing closer this season after a lot of up and downs over the years. Was Kate always going to be Rebecca’s choice for the person making key medical decisions or did you also consider other options?
kenar: Dan always knew it was gonna be Kate for a lot of reasons. Rebecca understands the dynamics of her children so well. In Season Four she watched Randall and Kevin almost destroy their relationship over the first disagreement they had about her care of her (whether or not to do a medical trial)… so to choose either brother was a risky proposition. And Kate knows Rebecca in this really intimate way that the brothers do not because she lived with Rebecca after Jack’s death of her. In this episode we see teen Kate lying on her bed and comforting her after Miguel dropped the bomb that he’s moving to Houston. Rebecca and Kate have had a rollercoaster relationship but in the last few years they’ve really turned a corner and are now these empowering forces in each other’s lives. There’s more to be discussed about why Randall wasn’t chosen and how he feels about it in his trilogy episode coming up. And we always joked Kevin knew it would never be him! But he’s building her Jack’s dream house so he has his role in her.
Filming Rebecca’s monologue
FOGELMAN: Mandy was so special that day that our A camera operator for the life of the series, James Takata, wrote me a note about how he had never felt that kind of connection with an actor in his career at the moment when he was just completely present and filming Mandy do that monologue… I think Justin and Sterling and Chrissy felt it that day on set as well, and Jon just being there with her.
MANDY MOORE: I was super nervous because it was a huge, like, four pages of a monologue and it was right before Thanksgiving break. I’m like, I’ve just got to get through this and get to the holiday. But I get to look in the eyes of these extraordinary people and Justin and Chrissy and Jon and Sterling. And I get the honor and privilege of saying these words, and I have this relationship with everyone; we’re truly a family. And so, in that sense, there’s such an ease to it of just being able to look at each of them and tell them the truth of what these words really are.
STERLING K. BROWN: We were all sitting around the table, watching Mandy do her thing, and my first reaction was to just applaud. I clapped in my seat. Like, not super loud, not trying to distract my actor. And then I got up and walked around the corner, because we were in the cabin. I walked into the kitchen, and I did what Mandy would do in Season 1. She’d do this thing when she’d get ready and she’d throw her arms down. But I was doing it just out of the joy, just like, “This chick is f*cking killing it, son.” So that’s a scene that I was, like, Mandy Moore and I just want to wax poetically about it for a second. She’s played herself from about 16 to 80-something and without batting an eyelash, being the youngest member of our cast, but seamlessly going through time over the past six years. She’s a killer, man, and that scene really, really touched me.
JON HUERTAS: I will agree with that, Sterling. I think before you started clapping, there was this just really long breath before that all of us took. Because I think it was rehearsal. It wasn’t even when we were filming… and she brought it so hard in just the rehearsal that we were all in awe. Mandy, you really got all of us that day, that’s probably the thing that moved me the most especially at the moment.
Why was the Toby and Kate breakup storyline accelerated in the episode, with the two of them suddenly fighting all the time and Toby being pretty awful to Kate after their marriage seemed stronger than ever as recently as the previous episode?
kenar: Food and weight has always been at the core of Toby and Kate’s relationship so it made sense to us that Thanksgiving would be where the first big cracks in their relationship started to show. For people who deal with food issues and disordered eating (like Kate and Toby) I think Thanksgiving can be a complicated holiday filled with a lot of emotions. Kate has “battled” with food her whole life and eating has brought her a lot of shame. But food is more nuanced. It’s tied to family and traditions and joy and she wants her kids to love Thanksgiving. I think in general Toby and Kate are missing each other in the big and small ways. In Kate’s trilogy episode coming up she goes to San Francisco and faces the reality of her marriage in a big way. There are a lot more layers to unpack!
What was behind Kevin’s sudden obsession with guitar playing despite the fact that he is not very good at it and that it annoys everyone around him?
kenar: I think Kevin’s guitar playing stems from him trying to keep his mind off of the fact that his life is not where he wants it to be right now. He’s alone at Thanksgiving and Rebecca’s illness is weighing on him and he’s desperately trying to be good at something because he’s not sure if he’s failing at fatherhood or not. But Kevin’s trilogy episode coming up is actually called “The Guitar Man” so there’s a bigger journey ahead for the guitar and for Kevin!
This Is Us’ upcoming Big 3 trilogy of episodes:
608 – The Guitar Man (Airdate: March 15)
Kevin takes the twins to the cabin in hopes of proving himself as a father.
Written by: Kevin Falls & Jake Schnesel
Directed by: Milo Ventimiglia
609 – The Hill (Airdate: March 22)
Kate visits Toby.
Written by: Casey Johnson, David Windsor & Chrissy Metz
Directed by: Mandy Moore
610 – Every Version of You (Airdate: March 29)
Randall and Rebecca embark on a road trip and reflect on their past.
Written by: Kay Oyegun
Directed by: Justin Hartley