It’s not every day that an episode about a car ride home from the hospital can be interesting, but that’s the brilliance of This Is Us. In “The Ride,” which marks the halfway point in the series’ fifth season, viewers saw young Rebecca and Jack bring their kids home from the hospital interspersed with scenes from the present day as Kevin/Madison and Toby/Kate did the same.
“We were really interested in exploring the realization that what you’ve undertaken is about to hit home for you,” co-executive producer—and writer of the episode—Julia Brownell, tells Glamour. “I remember when I left the hospital for the first time with my son and I was like, ‘They’re just letting me take him? Do they know I don’t know what I’m doing?’ We wanted to explore the fear and the joy in that moment.”
Naturally, things didn’t go according to plan for either couple, with Kevin and Madison being trailed by a determined paparazzo and Ellie—the birth mother of Toby and Kate’s daughter—deciding it would be too difficult to be in Hailey’s life.
But the biggest reveal of all was the introduction of adult Déja. She’s an intern at a hospital, presumably in Pittsburgh, and expecting a baby of her own. (In true This Is Us fashion, we’ll have to wait a little longer to find out who’s the father.) Viewers were also introduced to adult Annie, now in her 20s, as she picked up Déja from the hospital and they drove to uncle Kevin’s house to visit an ailing Rebecca.
In the end, as Randall and Déja were heading inside, a car pulled up to the house and left us with a new mystery: Who else is coming to see Rebecca? Could it be Kate, who we have yet to see in the future? Kate and Toby’s kids? Madison? Someone else? With plenty of questions, we had Brownell fill us in—and she gave us a major clue in the process.
Let’s start at the end of the episode—“the future”—when a car pulls up to Kevin’s house and Randall says to Déja, “Hey, look who’s here.” When will we find out who that could be?
It’s not way off. I think viewers will continue to get pieces of the puzzle of the future, and that will certainly be by the end of this season. They’ll be able to put a couple more pieces together of who might be in that car and who might be arriving. Of course, there’s only a few people left that we haven’t seen at Kevin’s future house so they can probably start to guess. But it might be someone you don’t know as well.
Randall’s tone indicates he’s looking forward to welcoming whoever it is that’s arriving. My first thought—or hope—was that it’s Kate.
[Laughs] I will tell you it’s more than one person.
We haven’t seen Kate and Toby’s kids, either.
Right. We haven’t seen Jack or Hailey.
In the future, Déja is pregnant and not wearing a wedding ring. When might we find out more about her life?
This is a show with a lot of storybook love in it. I think she’s experiencing that right now with Malik, but we’re also aware that some people end up with their first love and sometimes they don’t. It’s certainly been something we’ve explored with Kevin. There will be new developments in Déja and Malik’s relationship by the end of the season.
The actors that play Déja and Annie in the future (La Trice Harper and Iyana Halley, respectively) look so much like Lyric Ross and Faithe Herman, who play present-day Déja and Annie. When did you start looking to cast those actors?
They are so spot on, right? It’s credit to our amazing casting department. When they come across actors they think have a resemblance, they put them in their back pocket. So when we’re like, “We need a future Déja,” they’re like, “We have just the perfect person for you!” It made me emotional on set to see them together, as well as Sterling in his age makeup. The passage of time really hit me. It just seems really real.
There’s something really comforting knowing that Randall and Beth’s family is still very much in tact in the future.
Yes, totally! And going back to your casting question, we even had a conversation in the room where we were like, “Does the actor (La Trice Harper) playing future Déja look too much like Lyric Ross?” But then we were like, “We don’t care, because it’s just such a fun ride for the audience to be on.”
Let’s talk about Kevin and Madison, who are now officially engaged. She keeps him grounded while managing to keep their anxieties in check. And her exchange with the paparazzo following them home from the hospital made me love her even more. Was that your goal?
Yes, that was the intention. Kevin is a character that is sort of always searching and self-criticizing. We really wanted the moment for him to be, “Look at what I have in front of me, look at this amazing woman, look at these two beautiful babies. What am I waiting for? This is it.” We really wanted it to be crystalized for Kevin in that moment.
The scene where Kevin dreamt he saw Jack interacting with his newborn twins broke me. What was it like to script that moment?
Our director, Jon Huertas (“Miguel”), welled up on set too. We have a number of writers on our show who have lost parents in their teens and 20s. One of them, Elan Mastai, told us a story about losing his mom when he was about 25. He had a dream where he saw his mom holding his baby daughter in the window. As soon as he told us that story, we were like, “We have to put it in there.” After he saw the cut of the episode, he said it was very close to what his dream was. For me, when I had kids, I never felt more connected to my parents. I can imagine that feeling of wanting to talk to your parents and have them tell you it’s OK. We tried to give that moment to Kevin with Jack.
Did you go back and forth about what age to show Jack in Kevin’s dream? Perhaps in his 50s versus his 70s?
We did! We thought about if Kevin would picture him how he looked before he died, with the sort of goatee and slicked-back hair. We finally decided that time period was the formative time period for him. That’s why we chose it.
Let’s talk about Kate and Toby bringing baby Hailey home from the hospital, and Ellie’s decision not to be part of their lives. It now makes sense why she wanted to hold her first at the hospital.
This whole adoption storyline was something we took very seriously. We were told by the adoption experts that the TV trope where the mom changes her mind at the last minute and keeping the baby doesn’t often happen. In fact, sometimes it can be a deterrent to potential adoptive parents [if they see that on TV]. So it was really important for us to tell a different kind of story and not play the jeopardy of, “Is she going to keep the baby?”
Still, we did want to tell an emotional journey for Kate and Ellie as friends. We thought the interesting story would be the loss of the friendship Kate had with the birth mom. And, because this is our show, you never know when Ellie might come back and if she might be a part of Kate and Toby and Hailey and Jack’s life. We definitely wanted to give her that moment to say goodbye.
Toby getting laid off was a gut punch, as realistic as it was. How will that impact him as a father and husband, especially with his on-going struggle with depression?
Kate is a really natural, loving, hands-on mother and that doesn’t come quite as easy for Toby. He struggles with it at first. I think what we’re interested in exploring is, how does this family adapt when the structure of what their life looks like changes? We danced around for a while with Kate’s career and her own aspirations, and we’re really interested in looking at what is it when one parent has to step up and the other one has to take on the full-time parenting role in a way they might not expect. I think especially in the last year with the pandemic, that’s something a lot of parents can relate to—taking on those roles more than they might have anticipated.
I can’t get David Gates’s song, “Everything I Own,” out of my head now. What a beautiful way to close out the episode and show the Pearson kids at various ages.
I know. Dan Fogelman has a few This Is Us songs in his head that he knows he wants to use, but is waiting for the perfect moment. As soon as Jon Huertas and I heard “Everything I Own,” we were like, that’s the one.
Speaking of Jon, it was his first episode directing. He did an amazing job.
He did so great. It’s really fun to work with actors when they have the chance to direct. They don’t want to mess up because this is their day job! These cast members are their co-workers, so they’re ultra prepared and there’s so much passion. We were joking that when Jon was directing Jack in the ghost sequence, Jon should just fill in and be like, “Actually, Miguel’s the ghost here!”
Meanwhile, we’re at the halfway point of the season, so what can you preview for what’s on the horizon?
When babies are born, family members often come to visit. I think we can expect our cast members from previous seasons to show their faces in fun and surprising ways. We have that to look forward to.
I hope it’s Dr. K, because we can always use more Gerald McRaney. We also haven’t seen the doctor with the daughter and her horse from earlier this season. I feel like they’re due to appear sometime soon.
We will see!
Jessica Radloff is the Glamour West Coast editor. You can follow her on Instagram at @jessicaradloff14.