This Is Us explored the pattern of how Randall and Kevin antagonized one another throughout their childhood to outline the brothers' much-needed conversation regarding their estrangement as grown men.
On Tuesday's episode, titled "Brotherly Love," Sterling K. Brown and Justin Hartley's characters, Randall and Kevin, took the first step to reconcile their relationship. Previously this season, their sister Kate (Chrissy Metz) faced the fact that she never before considered how Randall's race shaped his life experiences in a way that the rest of their white family never understood. And now, it was Kevin's turn to confront that.
The actor arrived at Randall's Philadelphia home, where the city councilman, who previously told Kevin that their father "died ashamed of you," was alone as Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) and their daughters went ice skating. After an awkward start, the siblings rehashed the history of their relationship as fans saw moments from when they were young kids having a boys' day with their dad Jack (Milo Ventimiglia). Audiences also saw when the siblings were young adults in Los Angeles pre-gaming before a failed attempt at clubbing.
Though Randall called out Kevin for his "monologue" of an apology, they were able to discuss contrasting childhood memories, specifically the prom which Randall never went to because his date's dad was a "racist prick." Though they got locked out of the house at one point, the brothers had their most emotional talk later that same night when Kevin confessed to previously "resenting" Randall and had "overlooked" things, a regretful acknowledgment that made Randall shed tears.
Below, the episode's director Kay Oyegun and writer Jon Dorsey tell PEOPLE about Kevin and Randall's day-long conversation about race and family, and explain why it'll be a "new beginning" for Randall going forward.
PEOPLE: Last March was when fans saw Randall and Kevin's ugly fight during which they took cheap shots at each other. Now, over a year later, they're finally talking face-to-face no holds barred. Why did it take so long?
JON DORSEY: To me, it felt like we owed it, for sure, for Randall and Kevin to have the conversation and story-wise, it felt like, naturally this episode just led to an opportunity to do that. Randall needed to go on a journey before they had the conversation. It couldn't happen too fast.
KAY OYEGUN: And similarly, for Kevin, both of them coming into this conversation, they had a bit, not even a bit, a lot of growth since their fight. Things that Randall are able to say now that he wouldn't have been before. Things that Kevin are able to say that he wouldn't have been before. The maturation process for both of them needed to take place over these episodes. We arc out a lot of these things and this one was finally arced for getting them to this place.
Their discussion about race was much different than the one Randall had with Kate. Was this necessary conversation between Randall and Kevin always a part of the overall storyboard of This Is Us?
KO: Hilariously, yes. In a way that is probably more surprising. I don't know if anyone remembers season 1, episode 7, Kevin and Randall when we first introduce the teenage years, they're having this fight on the football field. Then as adults, they're frustrated with each other in New York and Kevin said something to Randall. He points to a poster of Morris Chestnut, who is now the new Manny, and said, "Yet again overshadowed by another Black man." That's season 1. [laughs] So it has been a conversation that we've been having, it's been a conversation that we've never shied away from. It's been a conversation that has, sort of, been underneath the surface. Neither character had the verbiage and life experience necessary to really go where they needed to go as of then.
How much did the pandemic and Black Lives Matter protests following the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and now tragically Daunte Wright, accelerate Randall's identity struggles as a Black man raised in a white household?
JD: That's a tough question to answer but to me, it feels like Randall and Kevin needed to have this conversation regardless. Obviously people are going to make those connections to real world events going on right now because it's so relatable to each other.
KO: It's so important in those conversations through the course of the episode, they're talking about each other and not about the world at large. It's going to be really important to lock in on that. The world at large is going to continue to, sort of, reverberate as things change and happen. But the truth of the matter, and part of the reason why it's called "Brotherly Love," it's really about the core of who they are. What they are experiencing as people engaging with one another. Whenever we have these conversations about the lives of these characters, people are using the word "political" and it's something we've never engaged in any kind of way. I think a lot of people bring personal opinions and preconceived notions to a conversation between Kevin and Randall, two characters that people have known for years. We're not hanging more of a light on it than we did, again, in season 1 or 2, 3, 4, or whatever it is. These conversations, we've always had. I think because the world is waking up, to an extent, to a lot of things, now it feels like, "Oh my gosh, when did this happen?" But it's like, "No it's been like this for us for five-and-a-half years."
The episode started with Randall's Ghost Kingdom, the hypothetical world he creates when imagining his birth parents who were originally his favorite librarian and weatherman. How did that idea come about and what was the research like?
JD: It's a real term used within that community. I definitely read up on a lot of it. I'm blanking on the name of the doctor who coined the term. It's a real term, but it's much more complex than we portrayed it. I think we needed to melt it down to the most basic kind of concept so it's easier to understand — that alternate reality and safe haven for people who deal with these identity struggles.
KO: Betty Jean Lifton coined the term. We had a transracial speaker come into the [writers'] room and she walked us through her experiences as not someone who is personally affected but also someone whose work engaged with other transracial teens and adults and holds support groups. She actually gave us her personal Ghost Kingdom narrative. Her dad was Magic Johnson and her mom was Halle Berry, those are the people she imagined as her parents growing up.
The set visit to Mister Rogers' Neighborhood was just a small example of Randall and Kevin's dynamic when they were kids. What was the decision behind choosing that specific show and host Fred Rogers?
JD: That was just a general idea that popped up in the room. The fact that they filmed that show in Pittsburgh so we always had that in our back pocket. And when this episode came around it just felt like a perfect use for it because of what Mister Rogers stands for and a great opportunity to show the dynamic between Randall and Kevin in a different era to bounce off the present day. It just kind of all came together and using the Ghost Kingdom, obviously, and Mister Rogers' use of imaginary kingdoms.
There's that saying, 'You have to know your history in order to learn from it.' Has Kevin really grasped the significant differences between his and Randall's childhood, especially those "racial blind spots"?
JD: Man, I think he's learned but it's going to be little steps. I don't know if he will ever fully understand what it's like to be Randall. I think he's certainly learning to not just listen, but hear his brother. Frankly, that's a big step that a lot of people need to learn.
KO: Wholeheartedly agree. Again, it's the conversation of these two brothers for themselves and for each other. Being able to allow space. We always say the term, "hold space for someone." And they actually were able to do that for each other. Randall for Kevin and Kevin for Randall. The thing about Kevin's many-storied experiences, it's something that he's been so unabashedly open about. His addiction was something of a family issue, his relationships are fodder for everyone. His career has been something on his plate, very openly, but there are areas and corners of Randall's life that he hasn't even understood. So to actually have an opportunity to share that and for someone to listen, it's difficult for someone who doesn't even know the words that he needs to use to explain himself. Finally finding those and feeling like he can say those things, for Kevin, it's his ability now to hear his brother.
Want to get the biggest stories from PEOPLE every weekday? Subscribe to our new podcast, PEOPLE Every Day, to get the essential celebrity, entertainment and human interest news stories Monday through Friday.
With Randall's dream sequence of William and Laurel at the end, has Randall finally put a close to his identity struggles?
JD: I think he's got some more journey to go with his identity. I don't know, I mean, I turn 40 next year. I think everyone deals with some kind of identity issues and probably deals with them, to some effect, your whole life. I guess it's chipping away at becoming comfortable with what you may have perceived as flaws before. Maybe he's coming closer to accepting himself.
KO: Funny enough, I think it's the opposite. It's less of a closure, and more of, finally, an opening. It's a new beginning. The idea that you've never been able to have this portion of yourself fully accessed. Now you can at 40. It's like, "Whoa, where does this go?" [and] "What kind of peace do I now have?" and "How can I engage people around me better?" It actually feels like a brand new start in a way that is very exciting for us.
JD: It also speaks to the other episode that Kay directed. [In New Orleans,] when Randall had almost a literal rebirth by going into the lake.
KO: It's a beginning in a lot of ways. Sometimes we write Randall and we're so sad for him. I can't imagine that sort of constant weight of having to do that balance. A lot of people have retreats but for Randall, there are so many rooms in his mind that are locked. So scary and so sad. But we're grateful that he's opening some of those doors.
The topic of race in America can't possibly be summed up in just one conversation. Is this just the beginning of more talks between Randall and Kevin? Or will their schedules prevent them from having more heart-to-hearts?
KO: I'll say, I'm excited for where everything goes from here. The rest of the season I'm really excited for, season 6 I'm really excited for. Just because, when you all of a sudden have touched the third rail, you really can say anything. I think there's a freedom that they all have that is very exciting.
JD: I concur. [laughs]
KO: We're all people, we're not talking about the same thing all the time.
JD: Story-wise, you don't want to talk about race every episode, you know? From an entertainment point of view. Off-screen, I'm sure they're open to having conversations and phone calls, and who knows what the future of the show brings. What Kay said.
As for Randall being Kevin's best man in his wedding to Madison, will we get to see the brothers actually supporting each other?
KO: We will see the brothers supporting each other, the end. [laughs] They will support one another — and it will be glorious.
This Is Us airs Tuesdays (9 p.m. ET) on NBC.