‘This Is Us’ Ending Explained: Creator Dan Fogelman on Series Finale

SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you have not yet watched “Us,” they May 24 series finale episode of “This Is Us.”

NBC said goodbye to the Pearson family on Tuesday with the series finale of “This Is Us.” The end of the drama’s sixth and final season focused heavily on older Randall (Sterling K. Brown), Kate (Chrissy Metz) and Kevin (Justin Hartley) and their families adjusting to their lives following the passing of their mother, Rebecca (Mandy Moore), on last week’s episode, decades after losing their father, Jack (Milo Ventimiglia), as teens.

But as with almost every episode of series creator Dan Fogelman’s “This Is Us,” the installment also featured many flashback scenes, with a special twist added in for the series finale: More than half of the scenes were shot three or four years ago when the original child actors who played Young Randall (Lonnie Chavis), Young Kate (Mackenzie Hancsicsak) and Young Kevin (Parker Bates) were all still young enough to portray the pre-teen stage. These scenes all take place on a rather uneventful day in the Pearsons’ past, when the whole family had a lazy weekend to share together.

“I always wanted and always had planned for the final episode of the series to revolve around the epilogue of the continuing story of the family, rather than the moment, and for us to be able to live heavily in a really normal day in the life of a family, long before anything had befallen them like this,” Fogelman told The Hamden Journal. “It felt important to me to go out making the show about how the human condition and the human spirit kind of endures and moves forward, rather than just a moment that would leave everybody hysterically crying because somebody passes at the end.”

Iyana Halley Annie, Iantha Richardson as Tess, Sterling K. Brown as Randall, Susan Kelechi Watson as Beth, Justin Hartley as Kevin and Alexandra Breckenridge as Sophie
Ron Batzdorff/NBC

See more from The Hamden Journal‘s interview with Fogelman about the “This Is Us” series finale, titled “Us,” below.

How did you decide on the final shot for “This Is Us”?

It was between two, because they’re both pretty powerful. The final message of “This Is Us,” what the ending is all about and what the whole show has really been about, in a lot of ways, is a very simple promise that people who you lose live on through the people left behind. And that’s always been at the core of the show. We’re all going to, in our lives, inevitably experience great loss and great grief. And there is something about knowing that, in both little and big ways, they’ll live on with you. And it’s a bit of a hard thing to wrap your head around, but when you widen out — as the show has hopefully done by spanning multiple generations of the family — you can see the connective tissue and can see how the people you lose remain in the picture the entire time. And so I think that’s what the ending is about and it’s kind of what the final shot was saying.

Why did you pick Randall looking at Jack for that frame?

I knew I wanted to end on the sentiment of children looking at their parents, locking in on something they’re going to carry forward into their lives. Ultimately, as Randall finds out he’s having a grandson, it was that little Randall taking in his father and taking in his family, that was always going to be the shot that we ended it on.

What parts of the episode were filmed earlier on in the series?

The entire past story in the finale was filmed three or four years ago. It was mainly to capture our original kids at a younger age, which would feel nostalgic for the audience. So we shot everything except Milo and Mandy’s toy store scene. So about half to 2/3 of the episode was shot years ago.

Why is Randall so prominently featured in the episode’s present-day storyline?

There wasn’t a reason other than he was the character that was having a grandchild. This episode is so much about legacy and moving forward. I tended to think of him in this final episode as representative of the big three — until we get to the end and they all have their gigantic scene together — meaning he’s the one, at that moment, who’s becoming a grandfather for the first time. He has the older children, so the idea that he has a daughter who’s having a son just as he’s processing losing a mother, that felt appropriate.

The show was always about, not just a death of a parent but how we move forward and how we move forward in our lives carrying pieces of people with us. Literally and structurally, I wanted that to be the case with how we ended the show.

As much talk as there’s been about how much people cry watching the show and how sad it is, I’ve always found the show remarkably beautiful and uplifting, not because of me but because of the people who work on it. And I wanted that to be the feeling in the end.

Did you consider airing the audio of the eulogies?

No. It was scripted very much after what I experienced at my mother’s funeral, which was I spent all night staying up writing the eulogy. I went out of body and don’t remember any of that ceremony, let alone the week following. In this script, it was simply written that we would process the funeral with Randall, he would float through space and time and he would not hear a single word. What they were all saying and doing at the funeral was all improvised stuff that we gave them on the day to do, which is actually really beautiful and lovely. We told Sterling, Justin and Chrissy, don’t worry, you can do whatever you want. We’re not going to hear it but I want to feel you doing something, I want to feel the audience reacting to something.

What did you learn from these six years that you’d take into the next job?

People say it all the time, every time you go on to a show, the person in my position says, “I have a no assholes policy.” Then there’s a bunch of assholes. This particular case, more through, I think, luck, we really didn’t have any. We had this beautiful, outstanding thing that we get to do and get paid for — make stories up and film them and it doesn’t have to be filled with terrible people! That’s something I’m going to be trying to replicate.

This interview has been edited and condensed.