‘This Is Us’ Was Always Meant to End That Way, Says Creator Dan Fogelman

Still, the creator admitted to having fun with the possibility, comparing Randall’s teased political journey to The Sopranosfade-to-black series finale. “In my mind, I know what happens to Randall and his family, but it’s meant to not be answered and to just leave a hint of promise,” Fogelman said. “I think it’s up to the audience to decide what they think happens next with Randall. Did we watch an origin story without realizing we were watching one of a future leader of the free world?”

Throughout writing the show’s six seasons on NBC, Fogelman has copped to borrowing from his own life. “I should say that my dad, who’s a big Jewish guy from Brooklyn, is convinced that Jack is him,” Fogelman said of the beloved This Is Us patriarch. “So I will let my dad take that one to the grave.”

The parallels are even more obvious when it comes to Fogelman’s late mother. In the finale, Randall—a man born to wax poetic—struggles with how to capture Rebecca’s life in one last speech, one that the audience never hears. “I stayed up all night like a lunatic—and, frankly, like a martyr—trying to write my mother, who I adored, the perfect eulogy,” Fogelman remembered. “And my experience of the day—and, frankly, the week or two after—was as I described it in the script. I just kind of floated through space and time and didn’t hear anything. I worked so hard on that eulogy and I don’t remember a single word I said, and I didn’t remember saying it.”

TV endings are far simpler than real-life ones, and Fogelman was absolute about the last words of This Is Us. “I always thought that the final actual scripted, spoken dialogue in the episode would be Jack or Rebecca just simply saying ‘I love you’ to one another,” Fogelman said. He felt similarly certain about the show’s final frame, in which a young Randall looks to his father as Jack gazes upon the rest of his family. “I just wanted the simplicity of a shot of the child taking in the parent at a moment when the parent is taking in something bigger,” he explained, “and knowing that that child will carry it forward in their own life.”

Naturally, the conclusion of a show that takes place across multiple time frames invites spin-off conversation. But Fogelman was quick to squash any speculation. “I think I’m pretty set on this being it,” he said. “I feel, outside of some understandable questions about Audio the Dog, for the most part, we’ve really answered the questions of the show.” (Of the once-central, now seemingly abandoned pet, Fogelman said: “I believe Kate and Toby, postdivorce, shared custody, and he lived happily ever—a very long, happy life.”) Still, he left the door to This Is Us slightly ajar, should his mind change: “Who knows what change of heart my ensuing midlife crisis brings, but I really feel we’ve put these stories to bed now and certainly for quite a bit of time.”

After 106 episodes full of interlocking story lines and elaborate reveals, Fogelman—like Rebecca Pearson—has earned a rest. “My wife and I are gonna find a beach somewhere and hit it for a little bit. I’m gonna hang out with my kid. And I’m not really thinking about any kind of storytelling at the moment,” he said. But like his heart-on-their-sleeve-wearing characters, Fogelman couldn’t resist one last reflection on the show that was. “Even though there aren’t a lot of bells and whistles on the final episode,” he admitted, “it’s probably as proud as I’ve ever been of an episode of the show.”

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