Culture


Jack Pearson is dead, and I am not doing so well either. Tonight’s This Is Us episode, “Super Bowl Sunday,” finally revealed the full story of Jack’s long-mysterious death—and, characteristically for this show, it didn’t go exactly as we expected. As it turns out, Jack did not die in the fire that destroyed the Pearsons’ house, but suffered a heart attack later that night as a complication from smoke inhalation.

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What follows is a play-by-play recap of the worst day in our collective TV lives. You have been warned.

The episode wastes absolutely no time on preamble: Jack wakes up to see smoke creeping into his and Rebecca’s bedroom, and opens the door to find the entire hallway ablaze. It’s terrifying. Rebecca immediately tells Jack that Kevin’s not in the house—which eliminates the theory that Jack is going to die trying to save Kevin, not knowing he’s at Sophie’s—and Jack springs into action like the bona fide everyday hero he is.

NBC/This Is Us

Jack goes to get Randall from his room and brings him into the master bedroom, and when he turns back around to get Kate, Randall stops him, clearly scared. “I love you,” Jack tells him, in that reassuring Jack Pearson way, and I’m just over here wondering if this is going to be the last time Randall ever sees his father. When Jack gets into Kate’s room, she’s hysterical, and the fire is intensifying in the hallway outside. It looks for a moment like Jack and Kate may be stranded, but Jack uses a mattress as a shield to get them safely back into the master bedroom with Rebecca and Randall, then helps everyone to climb safely down into the yard using bedsheets. Jack Pearson: the kind of guy you want around in a crisis, just in case there was ever any doubt.

Louie the dog barks pitifully from inside the house, and everyone realizes with horror that there’s no way this poor panic-peeing little guy can make it out on his own. Kate is distraught, of course. “I think I can get to him,” Jack says, and disappears back into the house while Rebecca—and every single viewer at home—yells at him not to go. Through the window, we see the fire intensify so much that there’s no way Jack can make it back out. Rebecca tries to run back into the house and Randall holds her back; the three of them are screaming and crying for Jack, and it’s horrifying.

But. Wait. Jack is FINE. He comes striding out of the house with Louie in his arms, covered in soot but smiling and triumphant, and it’s a true, epic hero moment. He survived the fire! We’re all good here! But he has second-degree burns and has inhaled a lot of smoke, so Rebecca takes him to the ER after dropping off the kids with Miguel. Oh, and Jack casually managed to rescue several of the Pearsons’ prized possessions—including their wedding bands, some photo albums, and that beautiful VHS tape he recorded of Kate singing.

This Is Us Sterling K Brown as Randall

NBC/This Is Us

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At the hospital, Jack is being heartbreakingly stoical about the pain he’s in, and refuses any pain medication when the doctor offers (“I can’t,” he says quietly, without explicitly saying it’s because of his history with addiction). Jack and Rebecca share a lovely, intimate moment in which it’s acknowledged that this is the same hospital where she gave birth to Kevin and Kate, and the same hospital where Jack found Randall. Rebecca goes to get them a snack from the hospital vending machine—Jack requests “no chocolate,” so I guess we’ve finally found his one flaw—and he lovingly watches her leave the room, which in retrospect makes it an incredibly bittersweet moment.

As Rebecca is on the phone trying to book a hotel room, we see doctors suddenly begin to rush around in the background behind her, along with some deeply ominous beeping. She’s oblivious, and when a grim-faced doctor approaches her, she’s totally preoccupied with the vending machine candy (which, in a final blow to Jack, only has chocolate left). And this, finally, is the moment we’ve all been dreading for more than a year.

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Jack Pearson This Is Us Milo Ventimiglia

NBC

“Mrs Pearson…one of the complications of smoke inhalation is that it puts a terrible stress on the lungs, and therefore the heart. Your husband went into cardiac arrest. It was catastrophic, and I’m afraid we lost him.”

Rebecca takes a bite of the candy bar. She literally cannot process what the doctor’s saying, and when he follows up, saying “Your husband has died,” she gets angry. After all, they were only here for a burn on Jack’s arm. “Are you out of your mind?” she snaps, and goes striding into Jack’s room to confirm that this is all a mistake. But then, she sees Jack’s body. Mercifully, we see only the reflection of it in a glass window. The camera holds on Rebecca’s face as she slowly breaks into tears, and the sound drops out. The silence is devastating, and Mandy Moore is incredible in this episode.

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Later, Rebecca has to break the news to Miguel, who almost breaks down on the spot. “We’re not gonna do that right now, Miguel,” she tells him, holding back tears because she has to go and tell her children what happened. “I’m gonna be strong for them, and if you can’t be strong for them, you need to take a walk around the block until you can.” Miguel leaves to process his best friend’s sudden death, while Rebecca goes inside to have the worst imaginable conversation with Kate and Randall.

Fortunately, we don’t hear the actual words Rebecca says; we just see everyone weeping (which is just fine by me, because I cannot take much more at this point). Rebecca eventually steps outside for some air, at which point we see that scene from the season two premiere: Kate tearfully saying, “We have to find Kevin. He needs to hear it from me.” And though we do see a glimpse of Kate finding Kevin (at the “party in the woods” where he’s been all night) and telling him what happened, the details of that particular emotional conversation are saved for a future episode.

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Meanwhile in the present day, we see how Rebecca and the Big Three honor Jack on the twentieth anniversary of his death. Rebecca reveals that her ritual is to make Jack’s favorite lasagne and eat it by herself while watching the game (it is unclear whether Miguel is allowed to also have lasagne). She admits to Kevin that she felt unable to measure up to Jack in the wake of his death, which is incredibly real. “I tried to wrap myself around you guys and protect you,” she says. “I tried. Your dad never had to try.” And she’s still haunted by the fact that her first reaction, upon hearing that Jack had died, was to take a bite out of “that stupid candy bar.” This is such a convincingly strange, human moment: She’d just unwrapped the bar, she couldn’t comprehend what the doctor was telling her, and she took a bite, because that’s the logical thing to do. This Is Us has this reputation as a dramatic and sentimental show full of Big Moments, but it’s the lived-in little details like this that make it consistently work.

Randall starts out the most chipper of the Pearsons; he’s literally doing a dance called the Super Bowl Shuffle, and explains that he likes to celebrate because this was Jack’s favorite day. But as ever with Randall, he’s not as fine as he appears, and later gives a moving and vaguely disturbing speech to a roomful of children about how sudden loss is “like a lightning bolt you can’t even see, reaching inside of you and tearing out your guts.” Randall’s storyline is also where the episode gets its two big non-Jack surprises: Deja is back (!!!), and we briefly flash into the future to show an older Randall visiting an older Tess at her office. This is a first—for all its timeline-hopping, the show has never gone beyond the present day before, and it opens up a whole new array of storytelling possibilities.

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This Is Us Recap

NBC/This Is Us

Kate’s Super Bowl ritual—which she first referred to early in season one—turns out to be watching that VHS tape which Jack rescued from the fire. The tape gets mangled in the VCR, but Toby’s friend is able to save it, and in the aftermath of that scare Kate opens up to Toby about her guilt over Jack’s death. “He died because of me,” she says, as we flash back to the moment teenage Kate was screaming for Louie, and Jack went back into the house to get him. “Because in the scariest moments of our lives, he couldn’t bear to disappoint me.”

Kevin, as we know from last week’s episode, has long felt like he needs to make amends with his father. In the episode’s most emotional present-day scene, he goes to visit the memorial tree. “I’m sorry that the last thing I ever said to you was awful,” he begins, before confessing to Jack just what a mess he feels he’s made of his life. “I haven’t turned out to be even close to the man that you—I just think you’d be really disappointed in me.” It’s a heartbreaking performance from Justin Hartley, on a level with that breakdown on the lawn last year—particularly when Kevin notes that he’s going through addiction just like Jack did, but “not doing it nearly as well.” He vows to do better, and to make Jack proud of him. But if there’s one thing we all know about Jack Pearson, it’s that he would never stop supporting his children. He’d never stop being proud of them, and he’d never turn his back on them.



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