“Miguel Through the Years,” was the simple description of Tuesday’s “This Is Us,” the penultimate episode of Dan Fogelman’s NBC family drama. While accurate, that logline doesn’t do the hour aptly titled “Miguel” justice, as it truly is the day-in-the-spotlight episode that fans of Jon Huertas’ Miguel Rivas have been waiting for six seasons – and that one too. in which the character dies.
The episode traces Miguel’s origins in Puerto Rico, how he came to Pennsylvania as a boy with his parents and aunt, how for the first time he didn’t get along with Rebecca (Mandy Moore), the wife of his best friend Jack (Milo Ventimiglia ), and how years after Jack’s death, Rebecca and Miguel found their way back to each other, this time as romantic partners. In the current timeline, Miguel cares for a deteriorating Rebecca — whose children Kate (Chrissy Metz), Kevin (Justin Hartley), and Randall (Sterling K. Brown) — would rather have a professional caregiver do that, and his own aging body rest. Finally Miguel admits he can’t do it anymore and has someone else take care of his wife with Alzheimer’s and for the change itself.
The episode ends with the Pearsons and Miguel’s children reunited with their father before his final days and saying goodbye to Miguel after his sudden death in between scenes.
Variety spoke to Huertas about filming the Miguel-centered “This Is Us” episode and whether or not we’ll see him again for the May 24 series finale in just three episodes.
How did you first hear about the Miguel episode and have something to say about the storyline?
I’ve known this episode for a few seasons. The way the timing worked, the episode is different than it would have been if it had come earlier because it’s so close to the end and we got to cover Miguel’s death in this episode. I knew the details of what kind of story we were going to tell, but two months before the holidays, we really got into it. And I jumped into the writer’s room with Dan and we helped come up with all these ideas and influences from my life. And our writer, Jonny Gomez, made it a really full episode.
What do you think the fans will be on the story of Miguel and his death?
There may be fans who say, “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 haven’t invested enough in Miguel. But when they think back to all the great moments and great little tidbits Miguel was able to inject in certain episodes and certain situations with the Pearson family, they’ll realize, ‘Oh, this all makes sense. The story they told us in this episode makes so much sense for who Miguel is and how he tapped into the dynamics of the Pearson family.” And I think they walk away feeling very full, very satisfied. But I don’t think they’ll be ready for the end when Miguel is gone. I really don’t think they will 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 period in this country where civil rights are still being fought for. There was definitely still a gap that immigrants and people of color faced. The thing with Latinx people is that we’re always made up of Indigenous people, and black people and a BIPOC demo, and the idea of assimilation has always been drilled in as Latinx people. This story is that classic story of a kid who assimilates and says, the only way to get ahead in life and be successful and have the things that make you an American is to assimilate. And as much as his father wanted to take him to this better place with more opportunities and for him to succeed, I think his father really felt guilty towards Miguel. And that’s what Miguel felt with his own son. It was one of those things he held on for so long, the idea that ‘I have to succeed. I need to make my life better.” Instead of realizing that his life might already be great. Maybe you have everything you could ever dream of, you don’t have to keep driving. And because he did, he pushed his own Even though he thought he might be doing it for his son and for his daughter and for his wife Shelly, he ended up creating this void between them—just like what happened to him and his own father.
Miguel’s romantic relationship with Rebecca is featured throughout this episode, all the way to the end. The caretaker phase means a lot to Miguel, and he won’t let it go easily, even if his stepchildren ask him to have a professional take care of Rebecca and him. Why do you think that is?
If Miguel has to be that caretaker, I think that’s a very important aspect of this episode. That people take something from that, never forget or underestimate what that caregiver means to that person. Whether they’re dealing with cognitive decline, or whether they’ve had an accident and can’t take care of themselves the way they used to. I loved the way 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 older makeup. Even when we were on stage and we weren’t filming in the scene, I wondered where Mandy was and I wanted to be next to her, I wanted to be close to her. I felt this way, I wanted to make sure she knew I was around. I fell in there almost by accident. I found myself doing it at the time, I didn’t come to work and said, “I’m not leaving Mandy’s side because this is what Miguel would do.” It just happened.
Miguel’s death is not shown on screen. Did you think it should have been?
I had this conversation with a very different show and showrunner, something I was going to be directing this summer. I feel like when someone dies, even if it’s a thriller or a horror movie, what’s more interesting to me is people’s reactions than actually seeing the person die. 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 emotion in our audience. So instead of actually seeing Miguel take his last breath and take his last breath, to see how it affects Rebecca, how it brought together these two guys who have seemingly had a breakup with Miguel for so long – his firstborn son and after that his stepson – come together and share in this moment of scattering his ashes. I think that’s much more interesting than watching Miguel take his last breath. And we see Rebecca on her deathbed and that’s where we’re going. And that’s Rebecca’s device, that’s before Rebecca’s death. So what’s another device we can use for Miguel? And I just love how we did it. It is also more surprising that way. It surprises me that Miguel is suddenly gone.
There are three episodes of “This Is Us” left. Will we see Miguel before the end?
I’ve been saying that the whole time I’ve been on this show, Miguel has been a time traveler. He is the one who goes from the 50s to the present. So you can never count Miguel. He could appear.
This interview has been edited and abridged.