This Is Us Is Getting Hella Complicated. Here's Your Ultimate Explainer

We admit it: We’re obsessed with this show. But it’s so hard to keep up with all the twists and turns! Here, all the most common questions answered

Mandy Moore as Rebecca Pearson in This Is Us
Mandy Moore as Rebecca Pearson in This Is Us (Photo: Bell Media / 20th Century Fox)

In the era of streaming platforms and prestige television, it’s rare to find a good ol’ fashioned megahit like This Is Us. Airing on a major network, starring a large, diverse cast (including Sterling K. Brown, Mandy Moore and Milo Ventimiglia) and aimed at just about everyone, the show is the ultimate television comfort food, providing millions with the cry porn they need to get through their own daily traumas. Really, if the Pearson family can survive various horrible tragedies, so can you!

With all that being said, there hasn’t been a show since Lost that has played so fast and loose with narrative time or built up quite such an elaborate mythology. Is it the past? The present? The future? And how do the events we are witnessing impact the main timeline? Who is that? Do we know them? Why is everything so sad?

So. Many. Questions.

So, in the interest of clarity, we thought we’d answer some of the most frequently asked questions about the show. Then, we’ll flash-forward twenty years to a significant life event you will experience, but shroud it in mystery. (JUST KIDDING. Maybe.)

What year does This Is Us take place?

Trick question! The show’s primary story takes place in the present (anywhere between 2016 and 2019), but flashbacks have us at various points throughout the last six decades, with a few flash-forwards taking us well into the future.

Where does This Is Us take place?

Lots of places! The majority of scenes in the past (with Jack, Rebecca and the Big Three as they grew up) take place in Pittsburgh, but in the present timeline, Kate lives in Los Angeles, Randall lives in New Jersey (and later Philadelphia) and Kevin lives in Los Angeles and New York City.

Is This Is Us based on a true story?

It is not. It originally started its life as a feature film script and was to deal with eight individual characters who would be revealed to be octuplets. When series creator Dan Fogelman got a deal with 20th Century Fox to develop a series, he decided to adapt the concept to television and the rest is history. (That being said, certain characters were inspired by real people—Kate is based on Fogelman’s sister, for instance.)

How did Jack die?

Although the show teased out this mystery for a while, it finally revealed the answer in a second season episode that aired after the Super Bowl (just imagine all of the dude-bros hiding their tears in front of their buddies)—Jack died of cardiac arrest, brought on by smoke inhalation after saving his family from a fire started by a faulty slow cooker.

How old were the triplets when Jack died?

The Big Three (Kevin, Kate and Randall) were 17 when their father passed away.

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What happened to Kevin and Sophie?

Despite being childhood sweethearts, Kevin could never do right by Sophie, asking her to marry him in the aftermath of his father’s death (as more of a distraction than anything else), and eventually cheating on her, leading to their divorce. After a brief reunion twelve years later, they broke up once more when Kevin struggled with addiction. But the tale of Kevin and Sophie isn’t over, with many speculating that she is the mother of his son (seen in flash-forwards).

Where did Randall go to college?

Although his dream was to go to Howard University in Washington, Randall ends up going to Carnegie Mellon University to remain closer to home following the death of Jack. It is here that he meets his future wife Beth.

How did Randall meet his dad?

In the series premiere, Randall tracks down his biological father William in Philadelphia on his 36th birthday, and is disappointed to learn that he is a recovering addict. Overcoming his initial misgivings, he introduces the man to his own family, and builds a relationship with him before William’s eventual death from cancer.

Do Rebecca and Jack get divorced?

No! Despite a rocky period in their courtship and later in their marriage (due to Jack’s alcoholism), the pair ultimately remain together until his tragic death.

Do Randall and Beth get divorced?

No! Despite a marital rough patch over Randall’s political career and his reluctance to let Beth pursue dance (and ominous flash-forwards which never seemed to have the pair together), Randall and Beth were revealed to still be married in another flash-forward during the season three finale. Everyone can breathe a sigh of relief.

Does Randall’s wife die?

No, despite some flash-forwards where Beth was conspicuously absent, the series recently revealed the Randall and Beth are going strong in the future.

Why did Deja smash Randall’s car?

Over the series, we learn that Deja, Randall and Beth’s adopeted daughter, has had a tough go of things, whether it be her biological family or navigating the challenges of the foster care system. Wound up after learning that her biological mother is relinquishing parental rights so Beth and Randall can formally adopt her, an unfortunate comment from Toby’s mother (about her physical resemblance to Randall) sets her off and she takes a baseball bat to Randall’s Mercedes-Benz.

What happened to Jack’s mom?

This is still kind of a mystery, believe it or not. After Jack helps his mother Marilyn leave his abusive father Stanley, the timeline gets a bit muddied. Later scenes with Stanley suggest the separation stuck, and all evidence points to Marilyn dying young…but the pilot also has a throwaway line with Jack referencing onesies that his mother knit for the triplets. So, there’s a chance she will probably reappear on the series. Maybe.

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What happened to Randall’s biological mom?

Despite a run-in with a grifter in his teens who pretended to be his mother for cash, Randall learned his biological mother died in childbirth from his biological father, William.

Did Toby die?

Although he had a bit of a scare with a heart attack early in the series, Toby is still alive and married to Kate in the present timeline and alive (albeit seemingly alone) in the future.

Was Beth abused?

No! Beth came from a loving home, and her most significant traumas were losing her father to lung cancer and eventually being forced to give up dance, a passion she would return to later in life after losing her job.

Does Kate die?/Is Kate leaving the show?

Maybe! Although the show hasn’t revealed Kate’s fate, a flash-forward in Season 3 had Toby sitting alone and without his wedding ring—suggesting that the pair will not be together in the future. This, coupled with statements Chrissy Metz has made about a rough road ahead for the couple (along with her character’s miscarriage and difficult birth) has many fans guessing that Kate’s days could be numbered.

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