Spoiler alert! The following contains details from "This Is Us" Season 4, Episode 1, "Strangers."
"This Is Us" just got a little bit bigger.
NBC's tearjerker family drama returned for a fourth season Tuesday and greatly expanded its world, introducing three story lines that have the potential to shake up life for the Pearsons, now and in the future. The new narratives, and the new characters that go with them, could add energy to the series after a woefully tiresome Season 3. If the premiere episode, "Strangers," is any indication, the new trio (and talented actors who play them) are just what "Us" needs.
The premiere takes place across four story lines, but only one is familiar to "Us" fans, a dinner, early in Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) and Rebecca's (Mandy Moore) relationship, where Jack meets her parents, and we meet her father (who's not a fan of Jack) for the first time. (He's played by the inimitable Tim Matheson.)
Far more time in the episode is spent on three new characters: Cassie (Jennifer Morrison), a soldier struggling to reintegrate with her family after military service; Malik (Asante Blackk, "When They See Us"), a teen father desperate to make a better life for his baby daughter; and Jack Damon (Blake Stadnik), the grown son of Kate (Chrissy Metz) and Toby (Chris Sullivan), a blind musician who's just met his future wife, Lucy (Auden Thornton).
Considering where we left the Pearsons at the end of Season 3, there isn't much time spent with them in the episode, other than a brief glimpse at the end. We find out, only in the episode's final moments, how the new strangers relate to our main characters. Cassie is at the Department of Veterans Affairs in Pittsburgh when Nicky (Griffin Dunne) has a violent episode. Malik lives in Philadelphia, and catches the eye of new resident Deja (Lyric Ross) at a party. And New Jack, of course, is another glimpse into the Pearsons' future.
Here's what we know about the new crowd after the quiet but moving episode.
Cassie's story is the saddest. We see her stressed and serving in the Middle East, having barely any time to video chat with her husband (Nick Wechsler) and son. Cassie is seemingly a high-level officer, integral in gathering intelligence about a terrorist from a contact in a village. She promises her contact a visa to the USA and water for the village, and though the Army can deliver on the former, a devastating drone strike to take out the terrorist renders the latter irrelevant.
Cassie already seems like she's on edge, and the drone strike doesn't help her mental state. Haunted by eight civilian deaths on her hands, Cassie returns to civilian life, where she's detached and leaning on alcohol. When a PTSD-like moment of déjà vu ends with her hitting her son, her husband throws her out. She seeks help at the VA where, in the middle of a group therapy session, someone throws a chair through a window.
That someone is Nicky, who clearly has not resolved his own issues with military service. He's arrested and shares a significant look with Cassie. Nicky calls Kevin (Justin Hartley) to bail him out, hinting at a possible future relationship between Kevin and Cassie.
A young father with a big heart, Malik is set up as a potential love interest for Deja, but there are also echoes of William (Ron Cephas Jones) in the teen. Like William, Malik is seemingly alone with his child (whether the mother left, died or is otherwise unavailable isn't clear), but he has a far better support system than Randall's biological father ever did. He's a good kid who seems like he might be flirting with criminal activity in his quest to provide his daughter with the best life has to offer. Malik's father (Omar Epps, a "House" alum just like Morrison) works hard to keep him on the straight path.
Malik's chemistry with Deja is instant (they meet at a barbecue through Skye, a tenant of Randall's building), and she's all smiles when she gets to the new Pearson Philadelphia home.
We see New Jack through more life stages than anyone else in the episode, and the reason becomes clear when his identity is finally revealed. He's the only new character not in the present timeline. (So we might not see as much of him this season as the other two.).
Jack is legally blind (he can see some light and shapes) and a struggling musician when he meets and charms waitress Lucy. The pair eventually become engaged and later marry, as evidenced by his wedding band. Lucy ends up pregnant earlier than they anticipated, but the young couple are all positivity and aspiration as Jack walks onto a very big stage to sing.
This scene is interwoven with the past, when Kate and Toby receive the news that their baby Jack will be mostly blind, and they come home to celebrate the Big Three's birthday.
How big a role Cassie, Malik and Jack will play in the new season isn't clear, but so far, they're a worthy addition to the Pearson circle.