This post contains spoilers from this week’s This Is Us. Proceed accordingly.
Though Nicky’s reunion with Sally and Déja’s first sexual experience with Malik — not to mention the flash-forward scene — were the headlines, Tuesday’s This Is Us also told the story of how Rebecca is starting to reckon with the progress of her Alzheimer’s Disease. (Read a full recap.)
“Sometimes I think about what my very last memory will be before the candle goes out,” Rebecca told Miguel, Nicky, Sally and Sally’s husband (!) Eric, musing about how being ill should make it easier to roll with life’s minor annoyances… but that hasn’t proven true so far.
TVLine spoke with executive producer Kay Oyegun, who directed the episode, and co-executive producer Kevin Falls, who wrote it, about Rebecca’s path as This Is Us moves ever closer to the matriarch’s (and the show’s own) ultimate ending.
TVLINE | We’re in this weird grace period, where Rebecca knows things are starting to go downhill a little bit, and she’s very aware of what lies ahead. How do you handle that delicate place for the character? How much discussion was there about how far to go with her deterioration, and when?
KAY OYEGUN | Kevin, I’ll let you speak to the writing, but for us in the [writers’] room, we’ve had many experts come in to talk to us. We’ve had doctors walk us through the process and the timeline. We know what the end game is, as far as the age and the timeframe that Rebecca finally passes, and so we knew that there would be a long period of this sort of deterioration. We just wanted to calibrate it properly and modulate it.
And Mandy [Moore], God bless her, has done such an incredible amount of homework about how to sort of perform this character and this process. For me, from a directing standpoint, it really is just sort of being patient with her. It really is just allowing a brilliant actress to embody a character that she knows so well. Honestly, it’s a bizarre thing to say, but just let the camera sit there, let her take her time.
I think you’ll see that the season is a very patient season, especially when it comes to Mandy’s performance, just because we always play with honesty. But yeah, research has been very much a part of it. All our scripts are read over by doctors, and I’ll let Kevin, who wrote such a beautifully mature episode, take the wheel on this.
KEVIN FALLS | Yeah, Kay nailed it. All the experts who come in, Dan [Fogelman, series creator/executive producer] always impresses upon us that we have to get it right, whether it’s Vietnam or Alzheimer’s. We also are aware that in the course of the season we did want to see her from the beginning, during the middle, in a state where she’s confused. And it’s interesting, Kay, now, because we are in the room, and really getting into and seeing scripts where we’re starting to see the deterioration, and her struggling with memory, which is important: that we can’t just have the TV version where it’s momentary, and she’s aware of it, and not really feel the consequences…
So, we want to make that real, too, and how it also not only impacts her, how it impacts the family… We tried to make it real, and we still have a ways to go on it, but it’s tough. It’s rough, right, Kay? This isn’t fun stuff.
OYEGUN | It’s a tricky thing. I think that’s why we wanted to — it’s such a weird thing to say, but — pace ourselves. As an opportunity to really sort of hold onto these memories and look back, we wanted to be able to play with that a lot. This episode is so much about love, and second chances, and second romance, and the nostalgia of first love. We definitely wanted that to be where her memory space lives. She still has those, and we wanted to explore those.
TVLINE | I know that people have been asking to learn more about Rebecca and Miguel’s courtship, and we definitely got a some of that in this episode. Is there more of that on the way in this season?
FALLS | Timely question. Go, Kay.
OYEGUN | One million percent, more of it on the way… There’s more coming.
FALLS | In fact, we’re working on it today.
OYEGUN | Literally.
TVLINE | I was touched by the moment where Rebecca says that there’s an ordeal ahead of Miguel, and he says that he’ll be “amazing” for her — which is a great sentiment, and I’m sure he means it, but the actual practice of that is so much harder. Can you talk to me a bit about the struggle ahead for Miguel, who is one of the heretofore most easygoing characters on the show?
FALLS | Yeah, and that easy-going Miguel, [the one for whom] things seem to roll off him, whether it’s Kevin busting his chops and thinking he might be a bit of a snake for stealing Jack’s wife, and all those things that he’s let roll off his back for the greater good, which is Rebecca’s happiness, and her family’s, and that’s what we’re also going to explore. But we will also be getting into the toll it takes, and the heroic gestures to support a loved one, whether it’s your mother, your father, or your spouse, or significant other.
So, we’ll see that, and he has to deal with it, and then slowly will earn not so much the begrudging respect, but the long-overdue respect from the The Big Three. He’s kind of a silent hero. I wouldn’t say he suffers. He doesn’t let anybody see that. But there’s a depth to Miguel that we are getting into that also impacts how he goes about supporting his wife through this difficult period.
TVLINE | During that dinner scene, whose idea was it to have Nicky and Miguel trade hair complements at the table? I loved it. Was it scripted?
FALLS | [Laughs] That was scripted. Dan does a pass of every script, and we’re always grateful for that, because he’s so wonderful. The hair thing, he put that in there, and I thought it was really funny, and it stayed in. I made the mistake of actually saying we could lift it, because we were running long, and that did not go over well. [Laughs] It stayed in, so I’m glad you like it.