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‘This Is Us': Sterling K Brown on Randall’s Terrifying Week and How Jack Fed His Bottled-Up Anxiety

Plus: Co-showrunners Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger say ”something big is coming“ that will ”tear“ Kevin and Randall apart

(Warning: This post contains spoilers for Tuesday’s episode of “This Is Us,”)

Randall Pearson went through one of the most horrifying experiences of his life on tonight’s episode of “This Is Us,” the first part of the NBC drama’s three-episode trilogy, “A Hell of a Week.” This hour focused on Randall’s (Sterling K. Brown) hell, which came in the form of a knife-wielding home intruder he encountered the moment he returned from his trip to California to be with his mother, Rebecca (Mandy Moore), as she underwent testing for her recent memory problems.

And this home intrusion that occurred while Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) and the girls were upstairs asleep was Randall’s worst nightmare, which led to some actual nightmares throughout the episode, and tied back to previous bouts of anxiety Randall has experienced ever since he was a child.

“I think that as a man, nothing would terrify me more than not being able to keep my family safe, my wife and my children,” Brown told TheWrap. “And the idea that someone invaded my bedroom, was in the presence of my wife while she was asleep and that anything — he had a knife, like, anything could have happened — then I would say if I can’t protect those people, then who am I? What good am I in this world if I can’t keep my wife and children safe? And I think Randall feels that to the nth degree. And it’s interesting when we were shooting the dreams we shot a lot of different iterations of how they could go, some more intense than others. And I think the ones we ultimately ended up using were somewhere in the middle.”

Brown says that the episode “really highlights that Randall Pearson is someone that throughout life has lived with a baseline level of fear that he’s constantly trying to keep at bay,” something he’s been “fairly successful at keeping it at bay” until this point when he realizes he might actually need more help than talking to his wife and brother Kevin (Justin Hartley) and running can give him.

“Randall’s got a lot on his mind right now with his mother’s recent diagnosis and what that means for her future and then he comes home and his sanctuary, his safe space, has been invaded,” Brown said. “And we have a series of times in which Randall is doing quite well, everything is happy-go-lucky, we’re doing alright at work, the move to Philadelphia is fairly successful, the wife and I, we’re getting along, yay. Then, all of a sudden, a few things throw all of that into chaos. And when things get out of whack for Randall, it takes him a while to put the pieces back together. It takes him a little bit longer than the average human being. He lives with anxiety, he manages his anxiety with physical exercise and, for the most part, that puts him back in a place of calm, where he’s able to move forward with his day-to-day. We’re going to see over the course of the season that that might not be the case anymore. Whether or not he chooses to find outside help is something that will be a struggle throughout the course of the season.”

Seeking professional help is something Randall avoided all his life, not “necessarily” because of the color of his skin — and “absolutely” because of who his late father, Jack (Milo Ventimiglia), both intentionally and unintentionally taught him to be.

“He and Darnell (Omar Epps) have the conversation about how for men of a certain color, it can be seen as an indication of weakness, something that you don’t necessarily do, talking about our problems. But that’s what therapy is, right? Talking about your problems,” he continued. “And Randall being African American, but being socialized in a very unique way — raised by Jack and Rebecca — doesn’t necessarily carry the stigma of being Black with regards to why he does not want to do therapy, but he does have the primary male figure in his life is Jack Pearson. And if anybody plays stuff close to the vest, it is he. I mean, Jack basically denied a whole section of his life to his family and said that’s the way I know how to move forward.”

Brown says the moment when the episode flashes back to a preschool-age Randall being asked by Jack to be good and go to bed, because Kevin and Kate are too much to handle and Jack and Rebecca need him to keep it together, is a key one that leads to how Randall bottles up anxiety throughout the rest of his life.

“I think his dad saying that combined with what he later sees his siblings do, Randall is like, ‘Somebody’s gotta keep it together, let it be me.’ And I think he does it in honor of his dad, he wants to honor his dad by being this person — he wants to be his dad.”

Things come to a head near the end of the episode when Randall beats up a man he comes across while running, who is trying to steal a woman’s purse.

” I think the show in this particular episode does a good job of highlighting the fact this person just lives with this fear,” Brown said. “And then ultimately, when he saw that woman being attacked, being mugged, I think more than wanting to be of service, yes– but also wanting to eradicate himself of the fear that is always inside of him was probably the greatest motivating factor and just beating that man until he couldn’t move anymore. So I think that act was probably a moment for him that ultimately made him get on the phone to call his brother and be like, I think I need you.”

Will this lead Randall to finally go to therapy as Darnell suggested? “This Is Us” co-showrunners Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger aren’t ready to answer that question just yet.

“I think it’s clear that Randall is someone that has found different ways to kind of cope with his anxiety and keep it brimming just below the surface — but what we’re seeing in this episode is that you can only do that for so long before there’s something of an explosion,” Berger told reporters during a conference call Tuesday. “So whether it be confiding in Kevin, in Beth, taking these long runs, at a certain point you’re gonna come up against something that none of those mechanisms are enough and you’re going to have to dig a little deeper and I think it’s clear that we’re reaching that point with Randall.”

Aptaker added: “Much earlier in the year, Beth suggested that Randall really begin to deal with his mental health struggles in a professional setting. And Randall is still resistant to it, for whatever reason he has this block. So I think the bigger question of the season is, when is Randall going to realize that talking to his wife, talking to his brother, white-knuckling this is not a long term solution and he really needs to seek professional help.”

The next episode in the three-parter “A Hell of a Week” focuses on Kevin, who we now know has spent the last few days in Pittsburgh for the funeral of his ex-wife Sophie’s mother.

“We’re going to follow him to Pittsburgh and see why he decided to go to Sophie’s mother’s funeral if he has any interaction with Sophie, what it’s like for Kevin to be back in his old stomping grounds,” Aptaker said. “So we’ll follow Kevin through the same time span that Randall’s episode just covered, roughly a week, and we’ll see what Kevin was up to and how his story intersects with Randall’s in these couple points where they call each other.”

Brown says the final episode in the trilogy will see the Big 3 — Kevin, Randall and their sister Kate (Chrissy Metz) — come together to catch up and finally find out what they’ve each been struggling with. But fans know, based on that flashforward at Thanksgiving, that the bonding won’t last long, as something will cause a rift between Randall and Kevin that causes them to be estranged by their 40th birthday in a few months.

“It’s definitely something that’s coming up in the near future run of episodes because by their 40th birthday, by the start of our next season, they’ve had this falling out and they’re not on speaking terms,” Aptaker said.

Berger added: “Something big is coming in the next run of episodes in our season that will tear these two apart.”

Fans will have to wait a while to find out what that “something” is, as “This Is Us” will be taking a few weeks off and return with a new episode, “A Hell of a Week: Part Two,” on Tuesday, Feb. 11 at 9/8c on NBC.