'This Is Us' Fans, More "Sadness" Is Coming

by Caitlyn Callegari

I like to take pride in my TV cliffhanger predictions, but I must say that this time, I was dead wrong. Pun intended. Thankfully, series creator Dan Fogelman explained the This Is Us Toby cliffhanger that caught me off-guard in a way that put me at ease. Obviously, there are huge spoilers ahead. When Toby collapsed from what appeared to be a heart attack on the holiday episode of This Is Us, I thought that his time was up. Not because I wanted to see him go. Quite the contrary. Bbut the, "Nothing bad ever happens on Christmas Eve" felt a bit like the show was protesting too much. Well, that and the fact that Toby's surgery was paralleled with Dr. K's and we saw that Dr. K ended up surviving.

So all signs point to Toby kicking the bucket next episode, if not immediately than a bit belatedly, right? Uh, no. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Fogelman explained that he threw us all off on purpose. Why? Because he can, and because sometimes the signature This Is Us plot twists are actually deviously... uplifting.

In a compliment to his "sophisticated" viewers, he explained that,

...The show has a lot of heaviness and a lot of sadness — and some sadness forthcoming — so we wanted to strike that balance and also do what was just what we felt happened to the characters — and it didn’t feel like either of them died to us. With Toby, if I was a sophisticated television viewer, I might make him survive only to kill him at the end of the episode in a different way... Because at this point, you have to be aware of how sophisticated your audience is getting, so sometimes in order to play with expectations, you need to get ahead of guessing what the expectations of the audience might be.

While I'm all for happy surprises, and I am endlessly glad that my man Toby is going to be fine, uh... did you happen to catch that "some sadness forthcoming" line? Because, I sure did. But, what does that mean for the show exactly? Well, Fogelman talks about the obvious choice, William, who has "gone off chemo."

EW asked, "how much more or how little time with William we should brace for," and he said,

We introduced this character as a very sick man without a lot of time left. Miracles happen and things happen, but we’re also trying to play in a reality of this show, where we’re trying to show real life. So in terms of bracing for things, we’re trying to stay true to the characters and what really happens in these situations.

But despite the vague references to when William's terminal illness will take its toll, something tells me that's not the only source of "forthcoming sadness." In an interesting explanation of the Toby and Dr. K parallel, Fogelman said, as EW points out, that unlike The Walking Dead's killing of Glenn Rhee after initially saving him,

...we went the opposite way by surprising everybody with, 'Everybody lives. Multiple times.' To end that 10th episode, we always had the idea that it would seem like the older guy undergoing life-threatening surgery is the guy that’s on the line, and we’ll surprise everybody by out-of-the-blue dropping Toby... That was always in the plan — the misdirect/head fake of Dr. K versus Toby.

Considering that we know William is living on borrowed time and that, at some point in the Pearson's past, Jack has also died, could the "forthcoming sadness" possibly be that of a parallel of William's death with Jack's?

If the 'Everybody lives. Multiple times," trope panned out in this instance, I can't help but think that the exact opposite might happen later. You'd better get your tissues ready.