Warning: The following piece contains spoilers, pertaining to tonight’s episode of This Is Us.
While tonight’s episode of This Is Us, “The Dinner and the Date” was about Déjà and Malik, This Is Us creator Dan Folgeman promises that the Kevin Pearson will be a fixture in the midseason finale.
This season we’ve seen Kevin fall off the wagon again after spending time with Uncle Nicky who is also an alcoholic. The entire season, Kevin has been depressed, wondering what he should do with his life in the wake of breaking up with his girlfriend Zoe, thinking himself into a depression, while trying to help his uncle.
This Is Us creator Dan Fogelman told Deadline last night at the screening “The Dinner and the Date” at the London West Hollywood, “Kevin’s storyline will, in particular, kind of come through a crescendo and a build.”
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“It’s a real midpoint for our season, as it always is, and when we have these midpoint episodes, people will get a lot of answers to some things they’ve been asking about, or a lot of half answers that will be answered [later in] the season. I think it’s going to be a really big midseason finale that’s going to have people talking,” says Fogelman.
Last night, Fogelman, This Is Us scribe Kay Oyegun and several cast members discussed “The Dinner and the Date” (which aired tonight) which tackled complex issues revolving around race and class. Black-ish creator Kenya Barris moderated the session. Fogelman was particularly proud of this episode, for the way in which it became “strangely subversive, especially because of what this show is and how it airs, and the reach of it.”
“The Dinner and the Date” opens with Déjà Pearson (Lyric Ross) and Malik Hodges (Asante Blackk) on a bus, deciding to skip school and grab some cheesesteaks, even as Déjà’s adoptive father Randall vows to keep the young couple apart. Malik shows Déjà “[his] Philly,” as Déjà reminisces about her first encounter with the city, at age 4 or 5—a moment spent with her late grandmother, which she wishes she remembered more clearly. Making their first stop at Max’s Steaks—a Philly joint named after Malik’s grandfather—the pair get to know each other on a deeper level between stops at Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens and Rita’s Custard. A beautiful afternoon culminates in a romantic moment between the two, at the park where Malik takes the child he had at a young age. Malik grabs Déjà’s hand and the pair stare into each other’s eyes before Déjà gets scared and runs off, unsure of whether she can trust this boy who seems so interested in her.
That night, Déjà is home with Randall and Beth, busted for playing hooky—but not before Malik pursues Déjà and gains her trust, taking her to see the lights that Déjà realizes as the same she once saw, on her trip into Philly with her grandmother. Déjà is told she is “grounded for a decade,” as Randall and Beth prepare to welcome Malik and his parents into their home. Randall doubles down on his plot to split Malik and Déjà up, while Beth intends to meet the Hodges family with an open mind.
That hope goes out the window after an awkward encounter in which Mrs. Hodges (Marsha Stephanie Blake) makes a passive-aggressive comment about the Pearsons’ adoption of Déjà. At this point, the couples face off, each with preconceptions of the others. The Hodges cast judgment on the Pearsons’ commitment (or lack thereof) to their faith, while Beth calls the Hodges out on their parenting, which has resulted in their having to parent “the child of [their] child.” Perceiving that Darnell Hodges (Omar Epps) has judged his family as “bougie,” Randall has biases of his own, casting judgment with regard to the Hodges’ socioeconomic background, and the gang tattoos visible on Darnell’s arms. Ultimately reconciling with the Hodges, Beth and Randall recognize that they were quick to judge the couple, as well as Malik—granting Déjà permission to spend time with the boy under parental supervision, after they see how fond she is of him, calling her day in Philly with Malik “the best day of my life.”
Juxtaposed with the awkward encounter of families above is one between Jack and Rebecca Pearson, young Randall (Lonnie Chavis)’s favorite teacher, Mr. Lawrence (Brandon Scott), and his wife (Skye P. Marshall). Initially, Rebecca doesn’t understand why Jack’s invited the couple over, while Jack insists that it’s important to get to know the man that his son so looks up to. Ultimately, however, this dinner, too, gets awkward, when Jack realizes Mr. Lawrence can teach his son things he alone cannot—answering questions Jack doesn’t know how to address, while exposing Randall to aspects of African-American culture that Jack doesn’t personally understand.
Jack gets testy and passive-aggressive with Lawrence during dinner, and afterward, Rebecca encourages Jack to think about what he’s doing. If forced to choose between Mr. Lawrence and Jack, she says, Randall will always choose his father. At the same time, forcing Randall to make that choice would be depriving the boy of something he really needs in his life. Ultimately, Jack apologizes to Lawrence, while Lawrence leaves Jack with a copy of “The Weary Blues,” a book of poems by Langston Hughs that Randall loves. At episode’s end, in a beautiful father-son moment, Randall recites for his father Hughes’ iconic poem, “I, Too.”
During the panel that followed the screening of Episode 7, Fogelman came to the stage, along with Barris, Oyegun, Milo Ventimiglia, Mandy Moore, Sterling K. Brown, Susan Kelechi Watson, Lyric Ross, Asante Blackk, and Marsha Stephanie Blake. “[This episode] was an amazing opportunity to see true talent in so many different forms, and they aggregate into one amazing piece that takes us to a place of where we’re at today in the world,” Barris said. “It was an interesting place to be able to see race talked about within a family unit, and to do it not from an outsider’s point of view.”
Fogelman then touched a bit on where the topical episode’s story came from, and the way in which it was written. “We have a collective group process, but I felt like this one really just came from Kay’s gut a little bit. I mean, Kay grew up in Philly,” the series creator said. “We’ve talked about this episode for a couple of years now… It was from a selfish place of like, ‘We want to do Before Sunrise, with these two young kids.’”
“That was sort of the genesis of it. Dan wanted to do a whole like eight episodes, just the two of them, and all of us in the room were like, ‘Hey, that won’t work,’” Oyegun deadpanned. “We usually do a room break, where we map out everything that we’re going to do for the episodes, and we know what our timelines are going to be, we know what each of our storylines are going to be. With this one, it was interesting because we had the framework, but it really was found in the writing process of it.”
“We do these screening with all of our scripts. We bring all the writers in, we bring in the actors. We sit, and have big conversations. I was leaning toward a bunch of our writers going, ‘Are we okay here?’ in this episode that is so beautiful about race. Then, I got one of these knocks on my door from Kay and other writers and they were saying, ‘No, we’re good—and if anything, we could even allow it to go further. But I think we’re at the right level,’” Fogelman explained. “It was a conversation where I was just going, ‘You can’t be overly careful,’ because these are flawed, real characters, and we’re dealing with race, and I’m a white dude, and I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t taking anything too far. That’s where, when you have somebody [like Kay] who’s been with you since day one, who wrote the episode from her gut, and she comes to you and says, ‘We’re good’…That’s not the only answer, but you’ve got to take the opinions of your collective group of writers and kind of make your decision.”
Said Fogelman, “Just by description, you’re watching a single 16-year-old father and a foster child, and there’s no dramatic story here. You’re just watching a slice of life of young, nostalgic love that everybody in this room can relate to,” the creator explained. “I remember when I was in love in that kind of way; I remember when everything was that exciting and that fresh. And suddenly, on network television, on NBC, you’re not thinking about any of the other stuff. You’re just watching these two beautiful children.”