Well, showrunner Dan Fogelman did warn us that things were about to get dark… But this, of all things? Is Randall sick on This Is Us? Because if anything happens to him, we all riot. Fogelman, the creator and writer of the new hit NBC drama recently told Entertainment Weekly that, "The back half of the season — it’s heavy, and it’s not just heavy on an emotional level. It’s dark, and there’s some darkness that creeps into the show because that’s what happens in life." But I don't think any of us expected that darkness to manifest in some unexpected health crisis for Randall.
The man has been a rock through most of Season 1, juggling his family life, career, and his dying birth parent with aplomb. But the stress of that constant multitasking and his emotions over William's impending demise seem to have finally caught up with him: at the end of last week's episode, we saw as Randall could barely hold a glass of water steady because his hand was shaking so much. And in the promo for this Tuesday's hour, "Jack Pearson's Son," the voiceover warns that, "A son's devotion leaves him facing an even greater crisis," while Randall's hand gives that ominous tremor again.
So what's going on? This Is Us has been a tear-jerking show since its pilot; but until now, those have mostly been cathartic tears of joy, not tears of fear and sadness. For a show that was built on pulling the rug out from under its audience, it would be pretty much the ultimate twist to have William — whose death we've long been expecting — to survive while his seemingly healthy son tragically passes away. But surely Fogelman wouldn't do that to us, right?
Probably not. Randall's portrayer Sterling K. Brown has been the show's secret weapon since day one, hot off his success as Chris Darden on FX's The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story (a performance which earned him an Emmy award), and single-handedly representing This Is Us at the recent Screen Actors Guild Awards, where he earned the show's sole nomination. It would be a bit foolish to part with one of your most acclaimed players so soon into your show's run. But while Randall may be safe (for now), that doesn't necessarily mean the road ahead is going to be easy.
Any way you slice it, Randall's hand tremor isn't good news; but we also don't yet know what it's a sign of. Given that some cancers are hereditary, could he be exhibiting early symptoms of the same disease that is killing William? Or could he be developing a different disease entirely, like Parkinsons? Or is the illness less physical and more mental? According to Fogelman, we're looking at the latter scenario.
"Anxieties manifest themselves in many different ways for different people," the showrunner told Entertainment Weekly when asked about Randall's health scare. "For anybody who’s ever had even the simplest of panic attacks — which are never really simple — it can be a really devastating thing. You can feel and experience physiological symptoms that are so real that they show themselves with tics." While it's comforting to know Randall doesn't have a disease of the body that may take him away from us soon, it's hard to qualify this as "good news," given the apparent severity of his psychological issues.
Even though it took 14 episodes for Randall's panic attacks to manifest, Fogelman has actually been planting the seeds for this storyline since the very beginning. "In our second episode of the show, it was one of the things I liked best early on that we locked into — Beth telling the story of Randall’s breakdown and how his vice is his goodness and his desire to be perfect," he told EW, referencing Beth's revelation that Randall had once gone temporarily blind. "Suddenly this man is beset on all sides by various stresses, at his work and especially at his home. And this is the episode we start seeing the effect of it, and as we head into next week and the future weeks, we start seeing it in full."
Sadly, it doesn't sound like it's going to be a very pretty picture. Fogelman acknowledged that, "People build their lives based on avoiding [panic attacks] or dealing with them, and he’s had some form of a breakdown in the past, which we’ll explore a little further. And if it’s rearing its head, it can be a very dangerous thing."
Dangerous?? I don't think that's a word any of us want to hear in relation to our beloved Randall. Brace yourselves, This Is Us fans; we may have just gone from requiring a tissue to get through each episode to needing an entire box of them.