Spoiler alert: This story contains plot details from Tuesday’s episode of This Is Us, “The Graduates.”
After that Vietnam mystery tour, that not-quite-warm-and-fuzzy two-part meeting with undead Uncle Nicky, and that emotionally resonant deep dive into Beth’s past, This Is Us returned to traditional drama as usual in Tuesday’s night episode. Kate (Chrissy Metz) grandly graduated community college (remember? she had returned to school?), as Toby (Chris Sullivan) elevated the completion of eight credits into an event. Kevin (Justin Hartley) secretly spiraled into relapse (though he ultimately couldn’t hide it from his twintuitive sister, Kate). Randall (Sterling K. Brown) and wife/new dance teacher Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) juggled their increasingly busy lives. And back in the year of 1998, the Big Three graduated high school, an event that rattled Rebecca (Mandy Moore) as she struggled to face the reality that time was moving on without her husband (Milo Ventimiglia). R.I.P., Radio Shack Jack.
And then… the final minutes of the episode did something that viewers have been fearing: It placed Kate’s highly anticipated baby into jeopardy. Kate’s water broke three months too early, prompting Kevin to drive her to the hospital — scratch that; he was too drunk to drive — prompting Kate and Kevin to rush to the hospital in someone else’s car, where doctors were able to stave off her labor… for now. Randall would join the other two thirds of the Big Three at the hospital, having learned the ominous news while in the middle of an unfair request to Beth that she sideline her dream. It’s time to stop that Whoopi Goldberg marathon, put down your Commence-Mint, and read what another “behind-the-scenes guy” besides Jack — TIU executive producer Isaac Aptaker — had to reveal about Kate’s emergency.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You have previously indicated that Kate, who’s already had a miscarriage, will have this baby. Her water broke, which means she’s going to have it sooner than later. Babies born at 28 weeks have a decent rate of survival, but they often are left to fight for their lives in a neonatal care unit. How grave is this situation?
ISAAC APTAKER: I think it’s like you said. She has carried the baby long enough that it has a total chance of survival, but it’s really scary and it’s really fraught. Ideally, she would’ve continued to grow this baby inside of her for a lot longer. The doctors are going to do everything they can, as they would in this case, to keep her from going into full labor. But it is a very nerve-racking situation.
I assume you don’t live to see this woman suffer, but what intrigued you about this story that you’re currently unspooling? Did it feel just like a realistic outcome to a high-risk pregnancy?
Exactly. Never wanting to be masochistic, never wanting to torture these characters, but from the beginning we said because it was the truth, this was a high-risk pregnancy, given all the factors for Kate, and the fact that it would all go seamlessly and she would carry to term and have this perfect, easy delivery did not feel real to us, or any of the doctors that we spoke with. So this felt like what would actually happen, which is always what we strive for.
How much clarity will the following week’s episode provide on the baby’s health and likelihood of survival?
Quite a bit. This isn’t something that we’re going to drag out. We know it’s a very sensitive area and something that a lot of people have been through, and we’re going to — with a commitment to reality and honoring people who have lived this experience — get through it and give some answers next week.
Toby was clearly frustrated with Kevin being too drunk to drive her to the hospital when her water broke, and he sort of seemed to wave Kevin off, you know, when she was being wheeled into the operating room. How would you describe relations between the brothers-in-law in the next episode?
Well, not great. I’d be pretty pissed off if I was Toby. Toby’s wife was in this incredibly vulnerable position and you’d hope that her twin brother would be able to be there for her, and he was not. So I think there’s definitely some repair that needs to happen between those guys.
Kate busted Kevin in his hotel room with empty liquor bottles. Unable to drive her to the hospital, Kevin was seeing the consequences of his drinking. Right before her water broke, he had agreed to go to a meeting, as long as Kate didn’t tell Zoe [Melanie Liburd] just yet. How committed to sobriety is Kevin right now, or is he just telling Kate what she wants to hear?
It’s so hard to say. In that moment, he’s very much trying to protect Zoe and his relationship with her, and he’s willing to do anything. But at the same time I think he really does want help, and he does want to beat this. One of my favorite parts of the episode is Justin’s performance at the very end of that scene, when Kate’s getting ready to take him to rehab, and his voice just cracks and he breaks, and you see. It’s so easy to forget that. You want to say, “Kevin’s being selfish. How could he do this?” But this is a guy with a disease, and this is a guy in pain. I think that moment really reminds you of that.
Rebecca bonds with Kate over how they really didn’t want the next big moments of their lives to come. How much of a relief was it to tell a Rebecca-Kate story without it devolving into a fight that was weighed down or even prompted by their baggage from their past?
[Laughs] That’s a relief, and I think so earned. Mandy and Chrissy love that we’ve gotten their relationship into such a much more positive place, because they get to play scenes together that are beautiful and don’t devolve into these vicious fights. But back in season 2 we started this trajectory of them very slowly repairing, of having that nice culmination in the wedding where they have that really beautiful scene together where she says, “You weren’t in my way, you were my way.” And this is kind of an extension of that. They really are just connecting more and more and able to have this mature, more easygoing relationship that we love.
What’s one more hint you can drop about next week’s episode?
It is our “This Is Us: The Play.” It’s all our characters in one room, which you can probably guess what room that is now, waiting around and getting into it as they await some news.
How would you compare it to the long, intense rehab therapy scene from last season? That had the feel of a play, too.
That was the scene that made us want to do this episode. Seeing what it’s like when you put all those actors in a space and just let them hash it out and act their faces off for, that was like a 10-11-minute scene made us go, “Well, let’s try doing one the whole hour.” So that is what we’re doing here.
Do you feel like it’s as incendiary as that one?
Oh, definitely. Absolutely, if not more. It’s such a spectacular hour that Bekah Brunstetter wrote; she is a playwright. We had Kevin Hooks, who’s this incredibly seasoned television director, do it for us, and we just built this waiting room and threw everyone in it. We were so, so excited with how it came out.
For more with Aptaker on Randall’s ill-fated conversation with Beth, check back later on EW.com.