We’ve cried a lot while watching This Is Us. However, tonight’s episode following the Philadelphia Eagles’ historic 41-33 rally over the New England Patriots was indeed one of the hardest cries for any fan of the Dan Fogelman drama series.
Because we finally know –really know– how Jack Pearson dies.
And Thanksgiving isn’t the only holiday that means a great deal to the Pearson clan, but Super Bowl Sunday as well.
When we last left the Pearson clan on the Jan. 23 episode “That’ll Be the Day,” papa Jack forgot that he had a faulty crock pot following the Big Game, which, despite being shut off, was the spark that started the fire which burnt down the house.
But Jack didn’t go so easily into that great night, and as we might expect, he went out like a super hero saving wife Rebecca, son Randall, daughter Kate and Louie the dog (Kevin wasn’t home) from a very catastrophic fire. Just when Kate begged her father to go back into the house to save Louie, we thought we lost the big guy to flames. But alas, Jack came busting out of the front door with dog in hand. Kate has always griped that she’s felt guilty for her father’s death. We can see why with this scene: Her reasoning stems from the fact that he never left any stone unturned; he always went the distance.
Jack and Rebecca make it to the hospital. He’s suffered a lot of smoke inhalation. They have a tender moment, as he jokes about missing the last quarter of the Super Bowl game. But then Rebecca makes a trip to the public phone and a candy vending machine in the waiting room; it’s a walk she’ll likely regret for the rest of her life. As she is on the phone trying to get a hotel for the family, we see in the background hospital personnel running around in slow-mo. And, of course, it’s obvious we know the answer. Soon enough the Doctor approaches Rebecca and reveals that Jack went into cardiac arrest from the smoke inhalation.
“Mrs Pearson, your husband has died,” he tells Rebecca — words which she refuses to hear. While we all talk about how tonight’s episodes is Milo Ventimiglia’s, it’s arguably Mandy Moore’s as well, as she expresses a nuanced roller coaster of emotions from disbelief to absolute anguish.
In the present day, we see how the Pearson children and Rebecca deal with the annual anniversary of Jack’s death. She makes his favorite lasagna and eats up the whole pan. Kate enjoys watching the videotape (which Jack saved from the fire) that her father made of her singing for a college audition and crying every drop of water out of her soul. She nearly loses the tape to the teeth of the VCR, but thanks to beau Toby, he knows a good repairman.
Kevin tells his mom point blank that he usually deals with dad’s death by getting crazy drunk and banging the hottest model he can find. However, post rehab, Kevin can’t give into those indulgences. It’s at this time while living with his mother that they both realize they’re meant to be in each other’s company on this particular anniversary of Jack’s death. That’s their catharsis.
Above all, Randall handles the anniversary of his adopted father’s death the best, throwing himself into the festivities of the Big Game and making it a family event. After his daughter’s lizard dies, his heart-to- heart talk with her, and fatherly promises to always look out for her are reminiscent of Jack himself: Randall carries the torch and all the great qualities in caring for his kids that he’s learned from his father.
Jack’s death has been a mystery on This Is Us for the last 32 episodes. Some critics believe it went too long. However, without the series pulling a complete Laura Palmer overkill, it’s grounded emotional arcs of the Pearson clan that keeps us coming back.
That said, there was always a gravitational force with Jack’s death and the million-dollar question now is what emotional vacuum does This Is Us fill now? Fogelman at TCA last summer promised that there would in fact be more “big whoopers”.
One of the takeaway story lines we can look forward to is that it looks like Randall and Beth Pearson might be foster parents again.
However, is it with young Jordan? No, he’s part of a twist: A fast-forward to the future where Randall’s older daughter is a social worker who works in the foster kid/adoption field.
The next big cliffhanger for This Is Us fans: Deja, the adopted daughter that Randall and Beth adored, returns to their door.