Spoiler Alert: This story contains details about the Season 2 premiere of This Is Us.
All those This is Us fans clinging to the idea that Jack might not actually die–you may now officially abandon all hope. In Tuesday night’s Season 2 premiere episode, entitled My Father’s Advice, we finally see solid proof of Jack (Milo Ventimiglia)’s demise. First there was his confession to wife Rebecca (Mandy Moore) that he was an alcoholic, then we saw his personal effects in a plastic police-issue bag. Next came his crying children, and then, finally, the ruined burned-out shell of their home with his wife shrieking beside it.
So Jack’s officially dead? “I think that’s what we’re saying to people,” Ventimiglia said during a panel with the cast and This Is Us creator Dan Fogelman following a screening of the episode on Tuesday.
“But did he die in the fire? Did he get out of the fire? Did he start the fire?,” Ventimiglia said, adding wryly, “We didn’t actually see the house on fire.”
Added Moore, “That’s not the full story, that’s just a piece of the puzzle…we have 18 episodes.”
Indeed, while it’s pretty clear Jack is dead and likely in the fire itself, we’re still not 100% sure how it all went down.
For Ventimiglia, the burned-out house reveal comes as a relief, since fans continually ask him the manner of his character’s death. “It’s like a pressure valve release for a little bit,” he said. “But like Dan has always said, with this answer there’s still a lot of questions. People are going to have to pay attention over the course of the season and understand what our Big Three are experiencing, and where they happen to be in the moments before his death.”
In fact, as Moore pointed out, several clues were planted in the episode as to what might have preceded Jack’s death. “Kate is holding a dog, Randall’s got a girlfriend and Kevin has a broken leg,” she said. Rebecca was also wearing a Steelers shirt, a clue Fogelman would not further explain.
“We flash forward to the day Jack died,” Fogelman said. “You’re seeing a lot of little pieces that will all come into play. This was always the plan for the Big Three characters. We had talked about the fire and what ultimately happened to Jack pretty much from day one, when we started. This is not something we figured out in the off-season.”
For Moore, shooting the scene at the burnt-out house was “very emotional” she said. “This was only shot like a week and a half ago, we waited until the very last minute to shoot that little piece of the episode.” Fogelman noted that what is in the episode was Moore’s first take, as they captured her genuine surprise at seeing the set.
In fact, Fogelman had gone to great lengths to conceal the reveal of Jack’s death–so much so that he’d hidden the set and kept it out of sight of even the cast. “This was six months of planning,” he said. “We built a house, we used fake signs even.”
The only way to know where Fogelman is taking this story is to keep watching as the unexpected continues to unfold. As he said, the next episode will also be surprising. We’ll see more than just the taste of Chrissy Metz’s singing we got in the premiere. “Chrissy got cut off tonight (she briefly sang in an audition in the episode), but next week she sings for real on the show and it’s pretty awesome,” Fogelman said. “I texted it to everybody and Sully (Chris Sullivan as Toby) and Chrissy together have this amazing story with Mandy and it’s really fulfilling.”
Fogelman also promised Kevin (Justin Hartley) will have some twists and turns coming up this season. “Kevin’s storyline is not going to go exactly where you’d expect it to go,” he said, “but he’s going to knock people’s socks off. It’s really interesting and really surprising and he’s crushing it.”
It also turns out one person especially enjoying the series is Fogelman’s father. Having previously hinted that his characters are inspired by real life, Fogelman said, “My 73 year-old Brooklyn-born father thinks he’s Milo. I just let him think it.”