This Is Us Season 4 kicked off with a series of twists that introduced three new characters. It seemed unlikely the follow-up episode, "The Pool Part 2," would top it. For most of the hour, it felt like a calming rejoinder to the premiere, a soothing reminder that the Pearsons aren't going anywhere. It even took fans to a familiar location in the flashback scenes, to the nearby community pool. But the show still had a surprise for fans, when This Is Us introduced the toddler version of The Big Three in the episode's closing minutes. Warning: Spoilers for This is Us Season 4 follow.
Series creator Dan Fogelman said these two episodes were conceived of as a pair early on in the process. The choice to take the audience back to a familiar location with the same set of child actors three years on, almost exactly to the week was deliberate. (Season 1 Episode 4 "The Pool" aired on Oct. 18, 2016.)
Speaking to Entertainment Weekly, Fogelman said in his view, it gave the audience a chance at perspective:
As kids get older, the problems don’t go away. They just get more complicated and nuanced, and the problems of our Big Three kids and the parental concerns of Jack and Rebecca are not going away. They’re just getting more fully formed, and kind of quieter.
But what he didn't tell viewers is that Jack and Rebecca would also experience perspective. The two flashed back both to the Season 1 episode and to the very first time they took the kids to the pool, as toddlers.
For fans, this is a super exciting development. Up until now, the Big Three have had four main eras of focus. The first was when they were born. The second is when they were elementary school kids, which in Season 1 was age 8. The third is their high school years when Jack passes away, and the final one is present-day.
But as the child actors in each of these eras age, new areas open up. It feels correct to go from Birth to 8 to 16, that's one set of kids every eight years. But with the "age 8" set now decidedly in their pre-teens, and the high-school-aged Big Three having graduated, there's a gap in the younger years that can be filled. Enter the Toddler Pearsons.
It's unclear at this time if the glimpse of a Toddler Pearson set heralds an entirely new set of flashbacks to explore. After all, This Is Us has quite a lot on its plate. Alongside the past and the present day, there's also the flash-forwards to two future eras. The first, the Big Three in their 50s, was fully established in the Season 3 finale. The furthest forward, Adult Jack, was revealed in the Season 4 premiere.
But This Is Us is more comfortable looking back than forward. With two sets of kids in their teens, rolling the clock back to a time when the Big Three were more innocent makes sense. It also gives viewers a chance to see Jack and Rebecca taking their early steps at parenthood. Bring on the babes.