vulture investigates

Are Randall and Beth Getting Divorced on This Is Us?

Susan Kelechi Watson and Sterling K. Brown on This Is Us.
Susan Kelechi Watson and Sterling K. Brown on This Is Us. Photo: Ron Batzdorff/NBC

The midseason finale of This Is Us pulled some very This Is Us tricks on its viewers. There was both a big twist — Nicky Pearson is alive and living in a trailer in Pennsylvania! — and an extension of the future timeline the show has been meagerly parsing out since the middle of season two. And although the Nicky twist will have some major ramifications for the Pearsons, it’s that second thing that has people in a tizzy as we await season three to return on January 15. Why, you ask? Because it plays out in a way that has some viewers wondering if beloved, rock steady couple Randall and Beth Pearson are no longer together in the future. I know, it hurts to even type it. Could this really be the case? What evidence is there to support such a blasphemous suggestion? In search of a more definitive answer, Vulture takes a closer look at Randall and Beth’s future (timeline).

So, what actually happens in the future timeline?

Thus far in the future timeline, we’ve seen Future Randall make good on his promise from season two’s “Super Bowl Sunday” to have dinner with his grown daughter Tess (now a social worker who places foster kids) once a week; we’ve seen Randall and Tess get ready to go see a “her” who neither of them feel ready to see; and we’ve seen Randall call Toby, who is alone in a stark bedroom, not wearing his wedding ring, and convince a hesitant Toby that “she would want him there.” The midseason finale continues this story by having a very somber-looking Randall ask his daughter if she’s called her mother yet to tell them they’re on their way, while a very somber-looking Beth, at what seems to be the ballet company she now runs, tell her assistant that they’re going to see Randall’s mother. (So the mysterious “her” turns out to be Rebecca.) She also asks her assistant if she has the Pin the Tail on the Donkey game from Beth’s office — she promised she’d bring it.

Okay, so why are people freaking out?

It’s not so much the snapshot of the future on its own, but the fact that This Is Us intercuts that scene with Randall and Beth fighting in the present day timeline. Randall’s city councilman bid looks D.O.A., but he doesn’t want to bow out of the race. Beth tells him that she’s no longer on board with his political aspirations and he promised that if that were ever the case, he’d stop. He doesn’t care, he made a promise to the community, and he won’t stop. So while the future timeline is playing out, we see present day Beth putting blankets and pillows on the couch because there’s no way Randall’s sleeping in her bed tonight — she even pulls away when he tries to touch her. It’s a very dark moment. That paired with their complete lack of interaction in the future makes it clear that the show wants us to question the state of their blessed union.

But, listen: This show loves a good bait-and-switch, so one should be wary before jumping to conclusions. Lest you forget, when we first saw Randall and Tess talk about not being ready to see an unnamed “her,” it was cut with present day Deja taking a bat to Randall’s car and a random shot of Beth — so the internet blew up with theories that Beth was dead in the future and Deja had something to do with it. We’ve been here before!

But why do people think Beth and Randall must be divorced in the future?

Aside from the extremely leading editing, the biggest piece of evidence being used to support the theory that Randall and Beth aren’t together in the future is the fact that immediately after calling Toby about this family meet up, Randall asks Tess if she’s called her mother to tell them they’re on their way. Why wouldn’t Randall just call or text his wife? They must be estranged in some way! That questionable moment then tees up some interesting phrasing from Beth: She refers to Rebecca as “Randall’s mother” and not “my mother-in-law.” Isn’t that strange?

Couldn’t there be other explanations?

Oh yes, definitely. Haven’t you ever had your children check in with your spouse when you’re together, or hasn’t a parent asked you to quickly text or call the other one for them? Yes, when paired with heart-wrenching music and shots of Randall and Beth at their lowest, it feels dramatic and ominous. But take those things away and it’s a normal dad thing. As for the “Randall’s mother” phrasing, that too feels like it could be normal and also it serves a functional purpose for the plot. It clarifies that “her” is Rebecca — if she said “mother-in-law” instead, we’d get a whole other slew of internet theories as to who Beth really meant.

Oh! What about wedding rings? Are they wearing their wedding rings?

Great question! This scene in “The End is the Beginning is the End” is edited in such a way that you never get a look at either Beth or Randall’s fingers — which adds some mystery to the whole thing. It feels purposefully done, especially considering that in “Nine Bucks,” we are given a quick glimpse at Future Toby’s hand and clearly see he is not wearing his ring. There is a strategy to these scenes.

But if you go back and watch that flash forward in “Nine Bucks” again, we do see Randall’s hands and he is wearing his silver wedding band — the same one he wears in the present-day timeline.

Future Randall still wears his wedding ring! Photo: NBC

But when we were watching that episode, there was no real question as to the state of his marriage, so that detail didn’t matter as much. In the midseason finale, we were looking for it. The show was banking on our lack of long term memory.

Couldn’t Randall just be sad and refusing to take off his ring?

That’s what the divorce conspiracy theorists want you to think! But yes, that could be a possibility. Lord knows the Pearsons hang on to grief.

Why would Beth visit Rebecca with the entire family if she and Randall are divorced?

Another great question! We still don’t know why everyone’s heading over to see Rebecca, but based on how sad everyone looks — and the facts that neither Randall or Tess are “ready” to see her; that regardless of what’s going on between Toby and Kate, Randall thinks Toby should also be there; and that we’re like 15 to 20 years in the future — it’s most likely something grave having to do with Rebecca’s health. Whether she’s about to die and they’re saying good-bye, or she’s already dead and they’re spreading her ashes at Jack’s tree, who’s to say? But if it is a good-bye, it’s not a stretch to think that Beth would attend even if she’s no longer technically a Pearson. Especially with Toby getting an invite sans wedding ring!

There is also a fan theory being floated out there that Rebecca has Alzheimer’s and Randall and Beth, though divorced, are keeping up the ruse that they’re married just for her. The evidence for that lies with the odd detail of needing to bring the Pin the Tail on the Donkey game from the Big Three’s birthdays in their youth — maybe that is something Rebecca still remembers. I mean, sure? Again, anything is possible. But holy hell, can’t this woman die without it being the most gut-wrenching tragedy possible?

Beth looks so sad and lonely in the future. They must be divorced, right?

Again, this conclusion seems born from the editing together of future and present day timelines. This Is Us wants you to think this! If the family is going to see a sick, dying, or already dead Rebecca, Beth could simply be upset about that. She and Rebecca are close, and everyone they’ve shown in the future timeline so far looks very sad. It could just be a tough time for the Pearsons. (When isn’t it?)

But what about the present-day timeline? It looks bad!

Yes, it does look bad. And yes, perhaps it is a glimpse at the beginning of the end for Randall and Beth. But also, marriage is hard and every relationship has its ups and downs. Randall and Beth are basically the inventors of #couplegoals, but they’re allowed to have some troubling times too. We’ve seen them fight before — when Randall decided he wanted to adopt — but they worked their way through that. This time, things seems much more bleak, but that doesn’t mean all hope is lost.

In an interview with Deadline, series creator Dan Fogelman noted that everyone’s favorite married couple “have some heavy-duty stuff coming up,” and that “the back half of the season is a real showcase for them.” Which sounds more like: Things will be rough, but the strength of that relationship will win out. Honestly, could you even imagine a version of 1This Is Us where Beth and Randall aren’t married? Weighing all the evidence together, the whole thing feels more like a red herring for people to fret about for awhile.

Then again, This Is Us does love its twists. Happy theorizing!

Are Randall and Beth Getting Divorced on This Is Us?