- This Is Us -Randall's Mom Will Get A "Major" 'This Is Us' Episode, Says Executive Producer
Four months after my first conversation with This Is Us executive producer Ken Olin, a lot has changed. We’ve both, geographically, moved on from our original quarantine locations, the country has voted for a new president, and This Is Us has resumed filming.
The NBC show returned on Oct. 27 with a two-hour premiere that left fans reeling from the emotional toll the last eight months have taken on the Pearsons. Kate and Toby are considering adopting a new baby, Rebecca’s clinical trial was cancelled due to the pandemic, and Randall struggles to connect with his family amidst the killing of George Floyd and the rise of the Black Lives Matter protests.
The season premiere also left fans with a lot of questions: Are Kevin and Madison engaged? Will Randall and Kevin mend their relationship? And, after a shocking cliffhanger, will Randall find out that his birth mom did not die during childbirth?
Olin broke down all of these questions and more with The Dipp ahead of the Nov. 10 episode, “Changes.”
The Dipp: Can you break down the emotional and shocking elements of the premiere?
Ken Olin: Dan is so ingenious at giving people that cliffhanger. This was a big one. Big adjustments were made between our finale last year and when we came back in September. I thought it was brilliant the way the writers addressed some of these issues and doing them through a character like Randall. I thought that was really moving and unexpected.
What can you tell us about Randall's biological mom?
Olin: We have a major episode coming up that Kay [Oyegun] not only wrote but is directing. It’s her backstory, and it answers all the questions. There's nothing from a shocking [or surprising] point of view, but it's a real exploration of what her background is and where she came from. It’s beautiful.
You teased the return of Dr. Mason last time we spoke. What can you tell us about him, and when will he come back onto our screens?
Olin: He's not in the first few episodes, but I feel like that's going to come back when [Madison’s] pregnancy is further along. Then, I have a feeling we may revisit that and their relationship.
What can we expect about Madison's pregnancy? Will it be smooth? There was a bit of a scare in the premiere.
Olin: I think her pregnancy is going to be smooth, but there are going to be things that are complicated in terms of the stuff in their [her and Kevin's] relationship.
Randall fired Dr. Lee! I love Pamela [Aldon], and I got so excited when I saw a picture of you two on set. Is she back?
Olin: We actually took that picture the day she worked. I think it was really important for his [Randall's] character emotionally and psychologically to move on and find himself an African American therapist. That story will progress, but I do think that was meant to be conclusive.
What can you tease about what is in store for Randall in Season 5?
Olin: George Floyd rocked a complacency about racial issues. I think there was a real concerted effort to explore the ideas through Randall and his family because it's such a unique relationship. I have a feeling it will be a big part of the season: How he reconciles that background, the way he was raised, who is his, and who he wants to be right now as a man. I think that he's [Randall] feeling separated in some ways — or separate — from this family. That’s going to be a big part of the exploration.
We saw William and Jack brush into each other in the hospital, making it the first and only time the two fathers interacted — they were literally in the same room. What is your take on that scene?
Olin: Dan always loves to play with the way different periods of time resonate, whether other people know it or not. He doesn't talk very much about those things, but I think he feels that there are these connections. We don't always know them, but they're in there somewhere. That was just one of those serendipitous moments — that two men, that their paths, obviously, in some huge way, cross. But, you also see in a moment that they literally cross. There's something marvelous about that.
Do you think Kevin and Randall are going to reconcile?
Olin: I don't know whether they will. But I know it's something that's going to be explored for a while. But I can't tell you that I know, because I don't know. [Laughs]
What was it like to direct this two-hour premiere in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic?
Olin: It's just so different because there are all these protocols to keep people safe and protect the actors. When I direct, I’m interactive with the actors. [Now,] there's this thing that's a little bit of a barrier, but it also all feels a little muffled — it's literally muffled. It's just different. Some of it is not as playful in general because it just can't be. On the other hand, we're lucky because we've been doing this together for four years. It’s also really nice to be working. We're finishing our fourth episode now that I'm directing. I think we're really, really fortunate.
Is the ending of This Is Us already planned out?
Olin: We've done some things for it already. [Dan] has not shared the entire thing with me. I have some idea. I mean, the stuff we've already teased with Rebecca … she's old and dying. I think he definitely knows, but he's not telling me.
Is there anything else you can tease about Season 5 and what's to come?
Olin: There were some significant adjustments that were made because of the coronavirus. In the first half of the season, there's going to be a big thing with all the babies coming. That'll be fun and crazy. You're going to find out some things about Kate and what she went through that are going to be revealed in the first five or six episodes. You're going to find out about Laurel [Randall’s mom] and her background.
How drastically does coronavirus impact the plot?
Olin: I don't know how drastically it's impacted the plot. At this point, the focus is still on relationships and interactions, it's not on the virus. I think the Black Lives Matter situation and George Floyd… I think that we've really made an adjustment to. That needed to be addressed — the same way we all needed to address it. But, I don't think at this point someone's going to get very ill from the virus. I can't see that happening.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.