Like with Titanic, we knew how last night’s episode of This Is Us would end, with super dad Jack Pearson dead. The show went right into it, opening its post-Super Bowl hour — watched by a whopping 27 million viewers — with the raging fire at the Pearson home that was started by a faulty slow cooker switch at the end of the previous episode.
Amid all the sadness and mourning by his family, both on the day of Jack’s death and on its 20th anniversary in the present, there still were a couple of the type of twists and surprises This Is Us has become known for. For instance, Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) did not die in the fire saving Kate’s dog, as clues had been pointing to, but later in the hospital, giving him a few more scenes with Rebecca (Mandy Moore), Kate and Randall.
And in one of the biggest surprises, This Is Us, which had been alternating between the present and multiple time periods in the past, now added a new dimension — the future, showing Randall and Beth’s grow-up daughter Tess as a social worker, meeting with her much older dad. (Spoiler alert: It looks like Randall has a long and happy life ahead of him.)
In a brief interview with Deadline, This Is Us creator Dan Fogelman, who wrote the Super Bowl episode, directed by the pilot’s helmers Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, talks about Jack’s passing, its Super Bowl timing and why the series opted not to show his dead body. He also addresses last night’s twists and that time jump, as well as what to expect from this week’s episode, devoted to Jack’s funeral. (Hint: it focuses on the Pearsons family car and features the return of Dr. K.)
DEADLINE: Was Jack always supposed to NOT die in the fire, or did you add that wrinkle to add a surprise to the big reveal? And was the timing — the night of the Super Bowl — decided by the series getting a post-Super Bowl time slot, or that had been part of the plan?
FOGELMAN: Yes, this was always the way Jack passed away in my mind’s eye. It’s been the plan from the start, since the pilot script. We have always had a few markers — long term — for the series. This was one one of the first long-term markers… Jack going back in for Kate’s dog and passing away unexpectedly hours later.
As for Super Bowl, I always knew that we were going to show Jack’s death towards the end of Season 2, in the same episode where we throw forward to the future. I wanted some occasion or holiday to mark the event for the family. I thought maybe Christmas originally, or even something like Valentine’s Day or April Fool’s Day. But when the show got so popular, so quickly — and when I saw that NBC had the Super Bowl this year — I asked (top NBC executives) Bob Greenblatt and Jen Salke for the slot. As always they came through for us.
DEADLINE: The final scene between Jack and Rebecca did not feel like a goodbye scene; they didn’t even say “I love you” to each other at the end. Did you deliberately want to keep it simple, and how hard was it writing it?
FOGELMAN: It’s one of my favorite scenes they’ve ever done together because it’s simple. It’s not a goodbye, because it’s not intended as one. Life doesn’t always provide the perfect cinematic goodbye. I thought the guys captured something truly beautiful there. Milo and Mandy are just so wonderful together.
DEADLINE: Now that we found out how Jack died, will you be introducing another mystery in the mythology of the show? At TCA last summer you promised other “big whoppers.” Will the death continue to be a big part of the Big Three’s lives?
One of our big new turns started at the end of last night’s episode. We show a new timeline, in the future, which is extremely exciting for a show that plays in time and has till-now played in the past/present. But there is other stuff coming, too … there is a plan for the show, there always has been, we aren’t just shooting from the hip.
DEADLINE: Let’s talk about that new timeline. Is the next generation element, introduced with Randall’s daughter, here to stay? Will we get to see more of the Big Three in the future?
FOGELMAN: That’s the promise here, yes. We didn’t do it as a one-off. After Tuesday we only have three episodes left this season, and we still have a lot to resolve here first, but it’s safe to say the future can play a big part in seasons to come.
DEADLINE: Did you deliberately not show Jack dead, and what can we expect from the funeral episode next week?
FOGELMAN: Yeah, we know people watch this show emotionally. Even when it’s happy. And knew this was sad. Really sad. We wanted to treat Jack’s death elegantly, and not push it over the line. Our directors John Requa and Glenn Ficarra designed that shot with our DP Yasu Tanida and I think it toed the line perfectly.
As for Tuesday’s upcoming episode — it moved me at fundamental core level when I watched it fully finished and realized the other day. It’s a beautiful script — (co-showrunners) Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger wrote it and they’re so talented it hurts my brain. Ken Olin directed and did yet another unbelievable job. It revolves around Jack’s funeral, but the episode is framed by the Pearson family car. Every act tells a different story involving the family car, as the family heads to/attends Jack’s funeral in the same vehicle. It’s a real showcase for Milo and Mandy, as well as our young teen actors who I’m very proud of. The ending is one of my favorite things we’ve done — it’s cathartic and it’s decent and it’s wildly hopeful after a very hard two episodes. And Dr. K is back. Gerald McRaney can make anything better.