‘NCIS: Los Angeles’: How Gerald McRaney Played Key Role in New ‘This Is Us’ Episode

by Suzanne Halliburton

NCIS: Los Angeles fans are used to seeing Gerald McRaney as cranky Hollace Kilbride. But This Is Us borrowed him this week for their sob-fest of an episode as that show bid a major character a sad goodbye.

Before McRaney started making regular appearances on NCIS: Los Angeles, he won an Emmy for best actor in a guest role for his part in the 2016 pilot of This Is Us. He played Dr. Nathan Katowski, a recent widower who ended up delivering Rebecca Pearson’s triplets. He wasn’t supposed to be Rebecca’s OB/GYN for the birth of the babies, which happened in a This Is Us flashback to the 1980s. One of the babies died at birth, but Rebecca and Jack adopted a baby boy who was born on the same day but was left abandoned at a fire station.

McRaney played Dr. K on eight episodes. Two more appearances were uncredited. On Tuesday’s “The Train,” he was dressed in a white dinner jacket and black vest, while serving cocktails and wisdom on the train’s bar car. The episode was in the future as the Pearson family gathered at Rebecca’s death bed to tell her goodbye. The train really didn’t exist, save for Rebecca’s subconscious. It was taking her from this life to one on the other side. The cars were filled with people Rebecca loved in her life but had died before her. Plus. she saw her children at all different ages. She’d stop and listen as she heard voices of them talking to her from her death bed.

Rebecca ordered a vesper, a fancy word for a martini, from Dr. K. He told her “You survived just to lose a child and then a husband, and still, what a thing you made of it all. What a big, messy, gigantic, spectacular thing.”

Dan Fogelman, who created This Is Us, tweeted a photo of McRaney and Mandy Moore, who portrays Rebecca. He wrote: “As a wise doctor once said: “You’re as tough as they come, Rebecca Pearson. And you, my dear, have earned a rest.”

Appearance By NCIS: Los Angeles Star Was Brief, But Powerful

Dr. K’s appearance was a brief one. He was a conduit to the next car and the next stop Rebecca would make. But the advice he gave Rebecca and Jack long ago linked the Pearson generations. Jack even passed it along to another family the night of his sudden death. Those words of wisdom? “Take the sourest lemon that life has to offer and turn it into something resembling lemonade.” 

We’re not sure how many fans watch both NCIS: Los Angeles and This Is Us. But Dr. K made the internet cry Tuesday night.

One fan wrote: “When I die, I want Gerald McRaney to tell me “what a thing you’ve made of it. You’re as tough as they come.”

Another wrote: “Gerald McRaney is cleaning a glass with a Terrible Towel and I don’t think I’m ever going to stop crying.”

The NCIS: Los Angeles star wasn’t the only ghost to return to help Rebecca go home. Ron Cephas Jones, who played William, served as Rebecca’s guide through the train car. Jones now is a recurring character on Law & Order: Organized Crime. Coincidentally, he also plays a Kilbride on the crime procedural. Jones won two Emmys for portraying William, the birth father of Randall, the adopted brother among the Big Three triplets.

William Kept Us Crying for Entire Hour

William led Rebecca from car to car. on her journey to heaven. But he stopped and bid her goodbye before she opened the door to the caboose, the end of the train and Rebecca’s life. And while he was guiding her, William, ever the poet, told Rebecca to examine her emotions from a different angle.

“If something makes you sad when it ends,” William says, “it must have been pretty wonderful when it was happening.”

Both these terrific actors will be appearing in season finales this week. Law & Order: Organized Crime closes season two this Thursday. NCIS: Los Angeles finishes season 13, Sunday.