SPOLER ALERT: Do not read if you have not watched “Miguel,” the May 3 episode of “This Is Us.”
“Miguel over the years,” was the simple description given for Tuesday’s “This Is Us,” the fourth-to-last episode of Dan Fogelman’s NBC family drama. While accurate, that logline doesn’t do the hour, aptly titled “Miguel,” justice, as it’s really the day-in-the-limelight installment fans of Jon Huertas’ Miguel Rivas have been waiting six seasons for — and also the one in which the character dies.
The episode shows viewers Miguel’s origins in Puerto Rico, how he came to Pennsylvania as a boy with his parents and aunt, how he first didn’t get along with his best friend Jack’s (Milo Ventimiglia) wife Rebecca (Mandy Moore), and how years after Jack’s death, Rebecca and Miguel found their way back to each other, this time as romantic partners. In the present timeline, Miguel is looking after an increasingly deteriorating Rebecca — whose children Kate (Chrissy Metz), Kevin (Justin Hartley) and Randall (Sterling K. Brown) — would prefer he allow a professional caretaker tend to, and let his own aging body rest. Eventually, Miguel concedes he can’t do it anymore, letting someone else look after his wife with Alzheimer’s and himself, for a change.
The episode ends with the Pearsons and Miguel’s children, having been reunited with their father before his final days, saying goodbye to Miguel after his sudden death between scenes.
Variety spoke with Huertas about filming the Miguel-centric “This Is Us” episode and whether or not we’ll see him again before the May 24 series finale in just three episodes.
How did you first learn about the Miguel episode and did you have any say in the storyline?
I’ve known about this episode for a few seasons now. The way that the timing worked out, the episode is different than it would have been if it had come sooner, because it’s so close to the end and we had to address Miguel’s death in this episode. I’ve known the details about what kind of story we were going to tell, but we started really taking about it two months before the holidays. And I jumped into the writers’ room with Dan, and we helped come up with all of these ideas and influences from my life. And our writer, Jonny Gomez, made it a really full episode.
What do you think fans’ reactions are going to be to Miguel’s story and his death?
There might be some fans that are like, “Yay, he’s gone!” But you know where those fans can go. There are other fans that it’s going to hit them really hard. They’re going to worry that they didn’t get to invest enough into Miguel. But if they go back and think of all the great moments and great little tidbits that Miguel was able to inject into certain episodes and certain situations with the Pearson family, they’ll realize, “Oh, all of this makes sense. The story they told us in this episode makes so much sense to who Miguel is and how he played into the dynamic of the Pearson family.” And I think they’ll walk away feeling very full, very satisfied. But I don’t think they’ll be ready for the end, for Miguel to be gone. I really don’t think they’re going to be ready for that.
What were the parallels you saw between Miguel’s relationship with his father and his relationship with his own son?
When he was brought to this country, it was a time period in this country when civil rights are still being fought for. There was definitely this divide still facing immigrants and people of color. The thing about Latinx people is that we’ve always been made up of indigenous people, and Black people and a BIPOC demo, and the idea of assimilation has always been drilled into as as Latinx people. This story is that classic story of a kid assimilating and saying, the only way to move forward in life and have success and have the things that make you an American is to assimilate. And as much as his father wanted to bring him to this better place with more opportunity and wanted him to succeed, I think his father really felt this guilt with Miguel. And then that’s what Miguel felt with his own son. It was one of those things that he hung onto for so long, the idea that, “I need to succeed. I need to make my life better.” Instead of realizing that maybe his life is great already. Maybe you have everything you could have ever dreamed of, you don’t have to keep driving. And because he did that, he pushed his own kids away. Even though he thought he might be doing it for his son and for his daughter and for his wife, Shelly, he ended up like creating this void between them — just like what happened with him and his own father.
Miguel’s romantic relationship with Rebecca is seen throughout this episode, all the way until the end. The caretaker stage means a lot to Miguel, and that he won’t let go easily, even when his stepchildren are asking him to let a professional take care of Rebecca and him. Why do you think that is?
When Miguel has to be that caretaker, I think is a very important aspect to this episode. For people to take something away from that, to never forget or underestimate what that caretaker means to that person. Whether they’re dealing with cognitive decline, whether they’ve had an accident and they just can’t take care of themselves the way they used to be able to like. I loved the way that we told that story.
And Mandy and I really talked a lot about that. I found myself never wanting to leave Mandy’s side while we were in our elder makeup. Even when we were on stage and we weren’t filming in the scene, I would wonder where Mandy was and I wanted to be next to her, I wanted to be close to her. I was feeling that way, I wanted to make sure she knew I was close by. I fell into that almost by accident. I noticed I was doing it in the moment, I didn’t show up to work and say, “I’m not going to leave Mandy’s side because this is what Miguel would do.” It just happened.
Miguel’s death isn’t shown on screen. Did you think it should have been?
I had this conversation with an entirely different show and showrunner, something I was going to direct this summer. I feel like when someone dies, even if it’s a thriller or a horror film, what’s more interesting to me are people’s reactions than actually seeing the person perish. It’s when you see someone’s reaction to that person, that’s where the emotion comes from. And our show is built on emotional moments that hopefully evoke emotions from our audience. So instead of actually seeing Miguel take his last breath and last gasp, to see how it’s affecting Rebecca, how it brought these two boys together that seemingly had this rift with Miguel for so long — his first-born son and then his stepson — coming together and sharing in this moment of spreading his ashes. I think that’s way more interesting than watching Miguel take his last breath. And we see Rebecca in her deathbed and we’re moving towards that. And that’s Rebecca’s device, that’s for Rebecca’s death. So what’s a different device we can use for Miguel? And I think it’s just great the way that we did it. It’s also more surprising that way. To me, it surprises you that Miguel is suddenly gone.
There are three more episodes of “This Is Us” left. Will we see Miguel again before the end?
I’ve said the whole time I’ve been on this show, Miguel is a time traveler. He’s the one that goes from the ’50s to present day. So you can never count Miguel out. He might make an appearance.
This interview has been edited and condensed.